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Women in Horror Month: Gale Anne Hurd, the Harbinger of Mainstream Horror

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While February is primarily considered to the Black History Month, genre fans have also adopted the month for another cause: Women in Horror Month, recognizing and celebrating the often underappreciated women who help make the genre what it is today. While by no means demeaning the work of men within the genre, Women in Horror Month asks horror fans to turn their eyes beyond just the scream queens and final girls, but rather to the hard-working women who struggle to make great work specifically for the genre they love. Therefore, FANGORIA is celebrating Women in Horror Month by shining a light on some of the most instrumental women to the development of horror as we know it…

If you’re not familiar with the name Gale Anne Hurd, don’t fret; Hurd has spent the majority of her career outside of the limelight. Yet, just as a puppet is only as good as it’s puppeteer, a filmmaker is only as good as the producer who stands beside them. And in Hurd’s case, she learned from the best, and those lessons paid off through a confident vision that has helped reshaped the horror genre as we know it.

For the aforementioned unfamiliar, Hurd began her career in a way very similar to Stephanie Rothman, working as an executive assistant to Roger Corman at New World Pictures. While managing the various administrative responsibilities of her job, Hurd used her time with Corman to become intimately familiar with the production side of filmmaking on the sets for cult classics such as SCREAMERS, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. Hurd soon learned the economics of the film business, including how to parlay creativity and imagination into current cinematic trends (as Corman had so masterfully done before) as well as the importance of a hands-on producer to guide a film into a specific direction. Yet even though Hurd broke into the business at New World, it was another Corman cohort that would cement her future in the business: James Cameron.

Even though Hurd had worked on non-Corman productions, including Lewis Teague’s ALLIGATOR, Hurd officially left New World in 1981, and Cameron approached her shortly after to produce his next feature film, THE TERMINATOR, under the condition that he’d be the director. From there on, Hurd advised on the script (earning her sole ‘written by’ credit) and took the film to friends who had graduated from New World to Orion Pictures, who agreed to distribute the film after Cameron and Hurd found financing from Hemdale Pictures. But what Hurd truly brought to THE TERMINATOR was an important outside voice to help wrangle in Cameron’s passion for the piece, helping the film earn an authenticity in terms of its portrayal of Sarah Conner and Kyle Reese, who were both much tougher, more generic characters before Hurd came aboard.

Hurd on the set of ALIENS

Hurd on the set of ALIENS

THE TERMINATOR ended up becoming a commercial and critical darling, earning $78 million on a $6.5 million budget, which opened the door for both Cameron and Hurd to the studio system. Hurd and Cameron reteamed for another sci-fi horror project, a sequel to Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, which would further explore the universe of that film and bring back Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley. While Hurd, who by that time had married Cameron, was instrumental to the film’s production, advising on multiple departments and sequences as well as restoring crew morale following Cameron’s firing of original cinematographer Dick Bush, Hurd did face gender inequality while on the set of ALIENS, with the crew sometimes mocking Hurd and accusing her of having the job via her marriage to Cameron. Nevertheless, Hurd stayed steadfast and saw the project through, resulting in another massive hit for Cameron and Hurd, which gave Hurd considerable production clout.

And while high concept sci-fi horror had become Hurd’s niche, Hurd also recognized the potential in both standalone genres. Outside of her work with Cameron, Hurd produced Andrew Fleming’s supernatural revenge horror BAD DREAMS as well as the socially conscious sci-fi film ALIEN NATION, with both bringing in moderately successful box office and enjoying longevity as cult classics. Hurd and Cameron would reunite again on the sci-fi film THE ABYSS, but unfortunately, the film was not a massive box office success, grossing only $90 million worldwide on a budget of $70 million. Soon after, Hurd and Cameron were divorced, and while Hurd was given executive producer credit on TERMINATOR 2 and TERMINATOR 3, as well as a ‘characters by’ credit for all future TERMINATOR entries, the two would never actively collaborate again

Yet Hurd’s sensibilities for horror, especially horror that could appeal to the mainstream, was undeniable, and Hurd was determined to break out of Cameron’s shadow. Hurd immediately moved on to another high concept horror film entitled TREMORS, a project which Universal Pictures had been riding high upon. Hurd was an on-set force for TREMORS, and her efforts paid off: TREMORS was a surprise critical hit and a success at the box office but moreover, the film behemoth on the burgeoning home video market, leading the series to become a late-age franchise, in which Hurd returned to in 1996 as an executive consultant on in TREMORS II.

While TERMINATOR 2 was sweeping up the box office, Hurd used her clout to produce a film with her new husband, Brian De Palma, who had just come off the fiasco of THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES. Reteaming De Palma with John Lithgow, Hurd produced the erotic thriller RAISING CAIN, following the trend set by FATAL ATTRACTION and was continued by the likes of BASIC INSTINCT and, later, SINGLE WHITE FEMALE. While not a critical smash, RAISING CAIN was another profitable production for Hurd and De Palma, who was firmly re-established as a director and went on to helm CARLITO’S WAY.

Hurd and Frank Darabont on the set of THE WALKING DEAD

Hurd and Frank Darabont on the set of THE WALKING DEAD

Though Hurd and De Palma would split shortly after RAISING CAIN, Hurd would stay close to her horror roots, producing back-to-back monster movies with the animal attack horror THE GHOST IN THE DARKNESS and THE RELIC. While both carried hefty budgets (over $50 million apiece), only the former was a financial success; even though THE RELIC opened #1 at the box office, the film did not gross enough to cover it’s price tag. Still, THE RELIC is considered to be one of the better monster movies of the era, and has retained a cult audience ever since.

Yet Hurd’s penchant for tapping into the zeitgeist was still as strong as it had been a decade beforehand, producing two films that captured the socially-charged disaster paranoia with back-to-back thrillers DANTE’S PEAK and ARMAGEDDON. While DANTE’S PEAK reunited Hurd with TERMINATOR star Linda Hamilton and was a worldwide box office success, ARMAGEDDON was a box office and pop culture beast, tripling it’s massive $140 million budget. And while Hurd returned to horror with John Bruno’s VIRUS shortly after, the film didn’t do big business, allowing Hurd to turn her head towards bigger budgeted mainstream fare.

But Hurd was not done with the horror genre, not by a long shot. In 2009, Hurd was announced to be returning to horror with a risky yet exciting proposition, as she would be reteaming with director Frank Darabont for a television adaptation of THE WALKING DEAD. An expensive and ambitious series, it would be the first time a long-form zombie tale would be translated to the small screen, and one anchored by an ensemble of relatively unknown character actors. But Hurd had faith in the project, guiding it to becoming the biggest horror sensation in television history which she is as involved in today as she was 6 years back.

And, luckily, Hurd is one of the few major women in the horror genre that has received due recognition for her work. Before even producing THE ABYSS, Hurd was selected for the dramatic jury at the 1988 Sundance Film Festival, a rare feat for a female filmmaker, let alone a producer. Furthermore, Hurd received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012, literally cementing her place in Hollywood history. And to this day, Hurd’s name is rightfully plastered on the opening of every episode of THE WALKING DEAD, which is seen by almost 16 millions viewers per episode.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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