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NIGHTMARE ROYALE # 5: WHO LET ALL THESE SCARY-ASS WOMEN IN? YAAAAY!!! (ON THE VISCERA FILM FESTIVAL, CONVENTION BONER PROTOCOL, BAD APPLE SYNDROME, AND THE FUTURE OF HORROR)

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Women in horror. Women in horror.  It’s a subject so near and dear to my heart, and one I’ve gone off on so many times, that I’m not even sure what’s left to say beyond…

a) The field really needs you, and is insanely lucky to have you.

b) I think you’re fantastic, and am insanely glad you’re here.

c) Men need to show you the respect you deserve, both professionally and personally.

d) When one of you fucks up, expect to hear about it to no end.

Three stories brought this all home last week, from three very different directions. First and best was the Viscera Film Festival, which held its 2013 awards ceremony at the legendary Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. Because this is a showcase for short horror films by female directors, writers, and producers, the classy venue and its red carpet action led to a lot of smiling faces in the pre-game warmup, both male and female. Mine included.

It felt like an event because it was an event. In an industry where money is king, not queen – and a  cinematic genre where women are front and center onscreen as cinematic eye candy, splat mannequins, and heroic “final girls” (as some weird subconscious sop to the cultural inequity)  – it’s a waaaay different story behind the camera, for the lady creatives who actually want to tell you their stories..

TheMeetingVisceraIf you fiction-writing horror women think you have it rough – and in many ways, you still do – just try to imagine how fucked-up it would be if you had to raise hundreds or thousands of dollars every time you wanted to put out a short story. And the bare minimum you’d have to come up with for a novel-length tale (aka feature film) was $100,000, or $500k, or a million, or ten million, or two hundred fucking million.

My point is: when a bunch of talented women actually rise to that challenge – pulling together the budget, the team, and the creative badassery to make something well worth screening – then I am gonna be one of the first boys in line.

Over the last three years as a Viscera attendee (and two years as a judge), I have seen some astounding shit, and this year was no exception. Chief among these was Karen Lam’s THE MEETING, which much to my delight won Best Film with its creepily incisive and hilarious invocation of the charmers we might meet at Serial Killers Anonymous. By the time the walls started bleeding, I was in love with this razor-sharp black comic take on the banality and absurdity of evil.

Former Viscera honcho Stacy Pippi Hammon has succinctly posited the trifecta of potential clichés that women in horror are mostly likely to succumb to: a) scary children; b) rape/revenge; and c) body image. And I’m pleased to report that only one of the batch fell into any one of those categories: Jovanka Vuchovich’s SELF-PORTRAIT, which she parlayed with meticulous hardcore skill.

If anything, this schedule was a little over-zombified, although every take brought something fresh and cool to the table. Jessi Gotta’s ANNIVERSARY DINNER superbly coupled tragic living/dead romance with massive laughs and a handful of the fest’s most jolting pure horror moments. Gigi Saul Guerrero brought an insane Robert Rodriguez level of kinetic energy and skill to DEAD CROSSING, a Mexican border tale that made me think she might be the perfect director for Shane McKenzie’s Tex-Mex Chainsaw Massacre novel MUERTE CON CARNE (reviewed here). And Best Director Jen Moss never even shows the zombies in MY BROTHER’S KEEPER. But the fate worse than death she evokes – being stuck babysitting your useless idiot teenage slacker brother through the zombie apocalypse – brought much-deserved howls of joy from the crowd.

Was also a huge fan of Kate Downer’s ORANGE COUNTY HILL KILLERS, which packed a feature’s worth of this-is-how-it’s-done redneck mayhem and SCREAM-style teenage post-modernism into under ten extremely fun minutes. Can’t wait to see her first feature. Also was stunned by the haunting, gruesome economy of motion in Lark O. Arrowood’s PHANTOM LIMB, a Beast With Five Fingers riff that thoroughly spooked and gripped me from first shot to last.

Jenn Wexler brought two short-shorts from the Drew Daywalt school of kickassery. Both were good, but the closing images of SLUMBER PARTY hit jaw-dropping heights of wowness. And the sumptuous 70s Italian horror cinematography of Helen Truong’s IN THE DARK made me drool more than a little in Mario Bava’s direction.

SlumberPartyViscera

SLUMBER PARTY, Dir. Jenn Wexler

My point is this: these are real directors, with real cinematic technique and vision, prepped to take the modern horror movie to places it’s never been before. If the least they accomplish is clearing the leering frat boy jockstrap locker room reek of juvenalia out of the field, that’s a mighty step indeed.

But if horror ever wants to grow up as a genre, without killing the little kid inside it, it has to get past the cootie stage and invite the girls into the clubhouse, especially at the creative/production/actual filmmaking end. Do male horror fans really want another hundred years of stunted sausage-fest cinema, where women just show up to flash their tits and die? ARE YOU KIDDING? That’s like a recipe for irrelevance to me.

But it’s really gonna come down to execs and financiers taking a gamble on some of the immense talent coming out of Viscera and beyond. I dearly hope they’re taking note.

Which brings me to the darker Subject # 2.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about sexual abuse on the convention circuit, where artists and industry folks and fans convene in person to celebrate the art-o-tainment we hold dear. The busting and subsequent firing of a noted New York publishing fuckstick – with decades of ugly, unchecked sleazery behind him – has brought the subject to much-needed light, particularly at the literary end of the field.

At the media-con end, it’s been largely manifest in ogling, cornering, and groping of cosplay hotties, or complaining online about the dire temptations they represent, and who in the hell they think they are. This latter group routinely gets its ass kicked by thoughtful men and women alike, who mock their blogs into skulking retreat. Which is precisely as it should be.

But when it comes to aggressive sexual bullshit on the convention floor – or in the bars, hallways, and parking lots adjoining – women need to know that others will stand up for them, and back them up, if shit gets weird. There are a lot of cool people in this field, all up-and-down the fame scale. And they will want to help, if you need them.

So don’t be afraid, or let yourself get shamed out of calling bullshit when it happens. Don’t wait till it’s too late. Sometimes all you need is a friendly, no-nonsense fellow horror fan to step up and go, “Whoa, dude. Pin it back.”

The fact is, horror conventions are sexy. And a lot of consensual monkey business goes down. Which is great. (Believe me, I’m the last fucking person to complain on this count.) There are few things more fun than flirting with like-minded souls. And if things get good, that’s why God made hotel rooms.

The key word is consensual.

If it ain’t, it’s not cool.

So if you’re one of the people who isn’t clear on the difference – whether because you’re stupid-drunk or just sociopathic – lemme put you on notice. That kind of shit is gonna be harder to pull, from here on in. The gates have been opened. The conversation is out. And if we don’t catch you before the act, we will sure as shit catch you after.

Just sayin’.

This brings us to Subject # 3: When Women Fuck Up. Because fucking up isn’t a uniquely male attribute. Human is human. And we are all sporting ass.

Last week, one of my Fango compatriots took a shocking career nosedive, when it was discovered that she was ripping whole sentences and paragraphs out of other people’s reviews and critiques, then claiming them as her own.

You may think this is a victimless crime – and indeed, all the people she ripped off are now getting way more attention than they’ve ever had before – but it’s a serious fuck-up nonetheless. Largely because it does not fall into oops mode. It was a calculated strategy, at which she got caught.

What breaks my heart about it is that I’ve always thought she was pretty cool, with a serious dedication to all the crazy-ass films we love as well. So these blatant acts of plagiarism make me wonder…

a) Is she a genuine fan who, in her urgent climb to fame, insanely overbooked herself to the point where she felt she had to swipe from others to meet her deadlines? (A deeply stupid idea.) Or…

b) Is she a person so shallow and careerist that she has no real opinions of her own, and therefore has to pirate the ones she thinks are cool, just to have something to say?

My inclination is toward the first. But the fact is, she has ripped the veil of trust to the point where I just don’t even know. And things don’t get much more fucked up than that.

The one thing I do know is, she has opened the door for all hot blondes (or otherwise attractive females) to be painted as guilty-by-association. And in that, she has provided the greatest disservice to her fellow horror women that she possibly fucking could.

71ZoiZf2h+L._SL1000_Cut to Sarah Pinborough: a seriously talented and hard-working British author of horror and suspense novels, who also happens to be blonde and lovely, despite the fact that she writes every word of her own quite excellent shit.

Sarah got in hot water with a couple of recent blogs, in which she suggested that a) women would be better off stepping up and kicking ass than complaining about how nobody gives them a chance, and b) that there were actual good men in the field, who didn’t sexually harass her, and for whom her looks were not the deciding factor as to whether or not to buy her work, or otherwise treat her with respect..

The most interesting thing to me is the fact that most of her attacks came from other women, who characterized her own path as easy. Thereby sorta-kinda-totally suggesting she fucked her way to publication or something. Which naturally pissed her off. And pisses me off, too.

This is how the waters get muddied.

So let me wrap up with this:

LET’S NOT BE ASSHOLES, OKAY? Working in horror is hard enough. And we’ll be wrestling with anti-genre bias till the end of time.

But last time I checked, men and women need each other. We’re flip sides of the same human coin. Man, woman, hetero, homo, hermaphroditic or whatever the fuck, we’re all in this together. Dancing in the dark, so that the light might shine through.

You wanna know where the future of horror lies? Lemme give you a hint.

We stand together, or we die alone.

And with that, I rest my case.

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About the author
John Skipp
John Skipp is a New York Times bestselling author/editor/filmmaker, zombie godfather, compulsive collaborator, musical pornographer, black-humored optimist and all-around Renaissance mutant. His early novels from the 1980s and 90s pioneered the graphic, subversive, high-energy form known as splatterpunk. His anthology Book of the Dead was the beginning of modern post-Romero zombie literature. His work ranges from hardcore horror to whacked-out Bizarro to scathing social satire, all brought together with his trademark cinematic pace and intimate, unflinching, unmistakable voice. From young agitator to hilarious elder statesman, Skipp remains one of genre fiction's most colorful characters. Visit him at Facebook, or on Twitter @YerPalSkipp
  • Pingback: Six Degrees of Skipp, Pinborough, Barron, Lockhart, and Arcuri-Moran… | Brian Keene

  • gillt

    Read the article and liked most everything you had to say on
    women in horror and your views on cons. But I really don’t see the logic of
    your last bullet point. You call it women fucking up, but then immediately
    start off with this “Because fucking up isn’t a uniquely male attribute.
    Human is human.”

    Sexual harassment and sexism aren’t uniquely male attributes either,
    but we all know that in the instances you mentioned the majority are
    perpetrated by men. However, plagiarism isn’t gender based at all, so to
    compare these two things: sexism at cons by men and plagiarism by a woman is a
    false equivalency, perhaps stemming from a motivation to be seen as
    balanced.

    John Skipp:
    “The one thing I do know is, she has opened the door for all hot blondes (or
    otherwise attractive females) to be painted as guilty-by-association. And in
    that, she has provided the greatest disservice to her fellow horror women that
    she possibly fucking could.”

    I don’t think you know this at all. And besides, it’s
    irrelevant. You are scape-goating this women, this plagiarist, for things she
    has no way of controlling and on top of that giving those who benefit from the
    status-quo an easy excuse to keep on perpetuating it. Don’t do that!
    Guilt-by-association is a logical fallacy and those committing it should are
    the only ones responsible for it.

    FWIW, I’m glad to see Fangoria isn’t shying away from this
    issue. I hope to see more pieces like this here.

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