Bring on Women in Horror Month 2016

I went to my first horror convention in 2007, covering it for a French magazine that I freelanced for at the time, and the event they really wanted me to focus on was a horror indie that would show in the evening. I was at the con the entire day, and though it was male dominated, I didn’t feel uncomfortable until it came time for me to do my job and watch the film. Right then, just as the lights went out, a guy who had been roving up and down the aisles with a walkie-talkie took a seat next to me, saying, “I’ve seen you sitting here all day, and you’re kind of cute.”

 

He was so close that I could smell the peanut butter on his breath, but I didn’t respond. I stared straight ahead, trying to get the gist of the story line and take notes, which miffed him, making him say next, “Now, I just want to fuck with you.”

 

I had to get up and move away from him, but the harassment threw me, and I was off my game for the rest of the night. This con introduction came to color my experiences in the horror industry, where I wasn’t taken as seriously as my male colleagues. Once I piped up during a convention panel on horror comics, wanting to talk about Alan Moore and his revolutionary work on Swamp Thing and then perhaps segue to the wonderful work being done by horror manga writers and artists, but I was shut down and told to “go read his work and then report back.” I’ve been reading his work since I was twelve.

 

I struggled as the only woman in a theater full of men viewing Gary Sherman’s 39: A Film by Carroll McKane (2006) movie and had to leave the Q-and-A afterward, as serial killer specialists argued about how there had never been a female serial killer and Aileen Wuornos didn’t count.

 

So I was thrilled when Women in Horror Month began, where the entire month of February celebrates females working in the horror industry. To me, it’s obvious that there’s a problem—so often I open a horror short story collection and there are only men listed in the table of contents, or maybe a token woman. Caitlín R. Kiernan has shared, “It is genuinely frustrating—and somewhat bizarre and also embarrassing—how often I’ve found myself the only female author in a collection. (Note: Once would have been too often.)”

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With my writers’ group and others, though, I’ve heard the argument, “I don’t think we should have to divide things according to gender.” And in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to, but the division is going on now, and I so want to be represented by fair numbers and stories. I want everybody to be represented in horror, to be able to find that one spooky story that speaks to them and scares the daylights out of them. But until that happens, we need to put in the hard work to get there, and part of that is reminding people that women write horror, very good horror.

 

I was part of New York Comic Con last year, after a several-year absence, and right before the attendees came in, I immediately got anxious, ready to be challenged on my horror cred. But things had loosened up since my last con. While behind the table for the Horror Writers Association, I saw both female and male faces, in pretty equal proportions, looking for a good scary story. But unfortunately most of what was represented on the table were male stories. When women and girls turned away, not inspired by the choices, I tried to give them recommendations of other authors that they could try. But what I really wished for was that I had those stories to give them, stories about girls who look like them and are totally badass, slaying the monsters or even being them. The audience is definitely there; now we need to give them the books.

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Listen to Fareena Samad tell you about the stories she cares about, and let’s try and get some more into her hands.

 

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Hellboy II: The Golden Army

I’ve been a fan of Guillermo del Toro’s work since I saw The Devil’s Backbone. And then I saw him speak, introducing Gary Sherman’s Death Line, a very low-budget horror film made in England during the 1970s. Del Toro was a large, round-shouldered guy who I first saw in my peripheral vision in the aisle adjacent the row I was sitting. I had an empty seat to the right of me and was worried that he would claim it for his own, jostling my writing arm (I was working on an article about Death Line at the time and had never seen del Toro before, so I mistook him for a latecomer). He clutched a leather-bound notebook and approached the stage once he had been introduced. I loved him immediately; he was a funny, funny guy who was heartily Catholic and steeped in stories.

My Death Line story fell through, but I got an even better story in the process because del Toro talked about his upcoming movie Hellboy and his fascination with subways and sewers, pet subjects of my own. That leather-bound notebook held sketches for the Hellboy characters. I was not disappointed when the first Hellboy came out, but the second installment in the series did not touch me with the same sense of wonder, the idea that I had been touched by genius. Of course, it must be difficult to be a genius all the time. I’ve just come to expect it from del Toro with such masterpieces as Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth.

I’m coming to recognize del Toro’s stylistic flourishes and could easily pick them out in Hellboy II: The Golden Army–the cogs, wheels, and clockwork that he’s fond of; a clutched rosary and other Catholic imagery; and his arsenal of the most fantastic, most glorious monsters since Jim Henson’s. I feel bad for Selma Blair’s Liz Sherman who must compete against men with monster makeup while she only has a corona of fire to set her apart. Her very human character is at a disadvantage when matched against her red devil boyfriend Hellboy and the philosophic fishman Abe Sapien. In the first Hellboy there were more human characters so Liz Sherman wasn’t lost onscreen, but in the second installment, it’s hard for her to command attention when appearing with elves, trolls, and toothfairies. The eye always goes to the creatures, though many of them aren’t as important to the story as Liz is.