FROM FINAL GIRLS TO FILMMAKERS: HOW ROGER CORMAN HELPED GIVE WOMEN A VOICE IN HORROR!
(Just click on the movie titles to go to our full length reviews!)
Catching up with some Corman produced 80s horror, I came to realize just how ahead of his time legendary producer Roger Corman was in giving women a voice in horror as filmmakers and not just final girls!…
Roger Corman is legendary for his exploitation flicks and while some may debate the involvement of women in those films as objects of T&A elements and/or final girls in his horror flicks, they may not be aware that Corman was also boundary breaking in giving women opportunities as filmmakers behind the camera, which, especially in the horror genre and at the time…the 80s…was practically unheard of.
Today women have been showing their voice in the horror genre behind the cameras more than ever. With the starkly original works of the Soska Sisters and their American Mary or See No Evil 2, taking the horror world by storm…along with filmmakers like Jennifer (The Babadook) Kent and Leigh (Honeymoon) Janiak…that voice is louder than ever. The boundaries are starting to come down finally in a very male dominated genre and it’s a blessing to horror movie fans to be getting the works and perspectives of a whole new generation of female filmmakers, previously unheard from…but as these talents tear down the walls, is it possible there were already cracks there from an earlier time?
Three decades before this refreshing opening of doors, those doors were unlocked partially by a man that some may unfairly claim made his money exploiting women in movies, Roger Corman. During the 80s, women were just starting to make waves as filmmakers, let alone in the horror genre and Roger Corman not only produced numerous horror flicks with women writing and/or directing, but gave start to the careers of some renown producers too, like Gale Anne Hurd and his own wife, Julie Corman as well!
Corman, under his New World Pictures banner, produced Humanoids From The Deep with Barabara Peeters at the helm in 1981 and a year later gave the directing reigns to Amy Holden Jones on the slasher Slumber Party Massacre, which was also written by Rita Mae Brown. While the 1983 Suburbia, was not a horror flick, Corman gave new filmmaker Penelope (Wayne’s World) Spheeris a chance, producing her unflinching vision of a group of outcast punk rockers. It is now considered a cult classic and she a very successful filmmaker. After selling New World and starting Concorde Pictures, this trend continued. Sorority House Massacre was written and directed by Carol Frank and between 1987 and 1990 there were second and third installments of the Slumber Party Massacre series, helmed by Deborah Brock and Sally Mattison respectively. Corman even gave one of his regular actresses a chance behind the camera. Kat Shea (Barbarian Queen) co-wrote and directed Stripped To Kill for Corman in 1987 after starring in a few of his productions and doing some second unit work and writing for the legendary producer. She made a few more films for Concorde and Corman afterwards, including the immensely underrated vampire romance Dance Of The Damned in 1987. Shea…then Shea-Rubin…went on to a prolific career as a writer/director after striking out on her own. I personally find her to be a highly underrated filmmaker, whose most well-know film is probably the sexy thriller Poison Ivy with Drew Barrymore.
Corman was not the only one shaking the boundaries that are now finally coming down. John Carpenter stood by the late Debra Hill as his producer and she produced a number of his most classic films with him, including the horror masterpiece Halloween and that was only the beginning for this now legendary producer. Kathryn Bigelow burst on the scene with the vampire classic Near Dark in 1987 as did Mary Lambert in 1989 with the Stephen King adaptation, Pet Semetery. Rachel Talalay killed Freddy Krueger in Freddy’s Dead in 1991 and if not for the vision of Mary Harron, we wouldn’t have the modern classic American Psycho, which also showed us what a relatively unknown Christian Bale could do in front of the camera. Corman was not solely responsible, but certainly led the way during the 80s giving women a voice in horror behind the camera as well as in front of it…long before today’s generation of female horror filmmakers are making their presence known.
So, we are finally getting to see women make a strong mark as filmmakers in the horror genre. Their emergence was a long time coming, but there were pioneers that paved the way. While Roger Corman was not the only producer to give female filmmakers a chance on the creative end of the horror genre…and there were a handful of female directed horrors before the 80s, too…he did do it at a time where it was practically unheard of and he did it often. Do today’s filmmakers like Jen and Sylvia Soska have Roger Corman to thank for putting cracks in the barriers that they are now tearing down with their unique and talented visions as women in horror?…I’ll let you decide that for yourselves!
The Soska Sisters, the writers and directors of the cult favorite American Mary have been working with WWE films as of late and are trying to get a film going with WWE Superstars, the Wyatt Family. I was inspired to do one of my faux posters of such a flick and it looks like it was a hit with the Twisted Twins!
poster art: MonsterZero NJ
The Soska sisters, who brought us the disturbing and original American Mary with the lovely Katharine Isabelle, have followed that up with a sequel to the slasher See No Evil which featured WWE superstar Kane (Glenn Jacobs) as homicidal madman Jacob Goodnight. I was not a big fan of the original but, the Soska’s involvement and now this really cool looking trailer have my interest very peaked… not to mention it stars Isabelle and Danielle Harris, two of today’s most popular scream queens!
Filmmaker/musician Rob Zombie is headed back to the director’s chair this fall with a new and original horror film simply titled “31” referring to Halloween night. The controversial writer/director has been rather tightlipped about the film’s plot and details, save to say it is an original idea not based on anything previously seen. While details are still slim… for now… we at least have these two production photos to wet our gruesome appetites…
(click on pics to enlarge)
I’m not a big fan of top 10 lists and all that year end fuss but, I thought I would give a bit of a look back at what I liked and didn’t like in the horror genre this year and, or course, share it with all of you. These are just my opinions and since the world is filled with different tastes and preferences and each horror film effects, or doesn’t effect, everyone differently, I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with my selections but, this is how I look at what the horror genre had to offer this year…
BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR
EVIL DEAD (2013)
To a degree it’s sad that the best horror of the year was a remake but, I had a blast with Fede Alvarez’s re-imagining and it had some nice scares, plenty of gore and Jane Levy rocked in the lead. Alvarez showed he’s a director to keep an eye on and he paid tribute to the original while doing his own thing. Fun horror! Read my full review HERE…
BEST HORROR RUNNER-UP
THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013)
Rob Zombie’s latest horror is not for everyone but, I enjoyed this out-there story of a Salem Mass. DJ (Sheri Moon Zombie) who is sent a record that, when played, sets in motion the return of a coven of Devil worshipping witches and their plan to bring great evil into our world. Zombie’s flick has some really disturbing visuals and some very subtle and creepy scenes to go along with it’s more shocking moments and evokes the works of some of horror’s best directors while remaining a Rob Zombie film. His most solid directorial effort and a refreshingly off-beat and very unsettling movie. Even the soundtrack was disturbing and, as usual in a Zombie film, there are some great songs included in it that almost become a character in the film themselves. An acquired taste but, I really enjoyed it. Read my original review HERE…
BEST HORROR HONORABLE MENTION
For a guy who bitches a lot about all the horror remakes, it is quite ironic that two of my favorites this year are in fact remakes but, Franck Khalfoun’s re-imagining was a vast improvement over the sleazy and overrated original and Elijah Wood gave me the creeps. There were some truly shocking and disturbing moments, strong tension and the film made creepy use of it’s POV shooting style. An art house style horror that really worked for me. Read my full review HERE…
MOST ORIGINAL HORROR
AMERICAN MARY (2013)
Sure Mary isn’t perfect but, this story of pretty Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle), a down on her luck medical student who is lured into the world of underground body modification surgery for money and then is turned into a sadistic killer when horribly wronged, is a breath of fresh air in a genre saturated by generic haunted house and home invasion thrillers. A wickedly fun and disturbing flick from the Soska Sisters and one that made me second guess myself and I give it a lot of credit for that. Read my full review HERE…
ORIGINAL HORROR RUNNER-UP
Yes, this film is from 2012 but, I didn’t catch up with it till this year and it deserves a shout out for being one of the more original flicks I watched during 2013. Another surgery themed flick has a troubled teen Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) whose obsession with surgery and bizarre fantasies leads this demented ugly duckling to commit some horrible acts. A trippy and disturbing little movie with a really strong performance by McCord who disappears into the role. A nice turn by Traci Lords as well as Pauline’s overbearing mother also gives this flick some weight. Read my full review HERE…
ORIGINAL HORROR HONORABLE MENTION
JUG FACE (2013)
Chad Crawford Kinkle gave us an unsettling and offbeat little horror about a rural backwoods community presided over by a supernatural creature that resides in a large sink hole just inside the woods. The creature watches over the village and even cures ills as long as the residents feed it the appropriate sacrifice when it calls for it. When one of the intended sacrifices has other ideas, she brings it’s wrath down upon her entire village. Read my full review HERE…
BEST DIRECT TO HOME MEDIA HORROR /
CURSE OF CHUCKY (2013)
This flick sadly went direct to home media but, Chucky’s first horror in almost 10 years is a fun, gory and suspenseful tale that returns to the series’ more serious roots and sets Chucky loose in a spooky old house. It had some nice suspense, some vicious kills, Fiona Dourif made a plucky wheelchair bound heroine and there’s some nice surprises for fans of the series too. Chucky was back in style and didn’t get the attention/respect he deserved. Read my full review HERE…
MOST OVERRATED HORROR
THE CONJURING (2013)
Don’t get me wrong, The Conjuring is a well made and fairly enjoyable horror flick especially in it’s spooky first act, but with a second act that gets not only theatrical and a bit hokey, but climaxes with yet another routine exorcism, it lost it’s grip on me much like Wan’s Insidious did in it’s second half. A good flick, but not the masterpiece internet hype makes it out to be. Also doesn’t hold up under repeat viewings as the scares have lost some of their effect and the flaws only get more obvious. Read my full review HERE…
MOST DISAPPOINTING HORROR
YOU’RE NEXT (2013)
With all the positive buzz and internet hype I heard about this flick, it was a major disappointment when I left the theater having seen this predictable and routine home invasion flick with transparent plot twists and a completely contrived excuse for the lethal skills of it’s final girl… though Sharni Vinson was effective in the part. Otherwise the bland cast recites some really bad dialog and does incredibly stupid things to set themselves up as victims both invaded and invader alike. A weak script and a shaky cam obsessed directer make this not only one of the year’s biggest disappointments, but one of the weaker horrors I saw this year. See my full review HERE…
THE LAST EXORCISM PART II (2013)
After the entertaining and effectively chilling first flick, this shameless and stupid cash grab sequel is awful in almost every way. A poor script and story, lame direction and a laughable climax makes this hands down the worst horror I saw this year. Ashley Bell does try really hard, but the actress is given garbage to work with and garbage is what this sequel is. Read my full review HERE…
WORST HORROR THAT I STILL ENJOYED
TEXAS CHAINSAW (2013)
I’m not going to defend this flick, it had some glaring story problems, a highly questionable timeline…our plucky heroine Heather (Alexandra Daddario) should be in her forties not a nubile 20 something…and numerous other issues, but it gave me some chuckles and a couple of real hotties being chased by a chubby, balding Leatherface…who should be like 60 here…there were also some gruesome kills and did I mention it’s got Alexandra Daddario? A guilty pleasure for sure for, as bad as this was, I had fun watching it and it did have some nice cameos and homages to Hooper’s original masterpiece. Read my full review HERE…
HAVE A HAPPY AND SAFE NEW YEAR!
WARNING: If you haven’t seen American Mary, then be aware there are some MAJOR SPOILERS in this article…
I’ll start off by saying that I have been watching and loving movies for almost 5 decades and I certainly don’t consider myself any kind of expert and I am not going to sit here and tell you that I always ‘get’ what a filmmaker is trying to accomplish. But I have seen a lot of movies and will admit I am a bit cynical and hard to please at times, so when a movie comes along that either challenges me or makes me second guess myself, it isn’t often, but it is very refreshing. Which brings me to the Soska Sisters’ American Mary. American Mary is a horror thriller with a very intriguing story… down on her luck medical student Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) in an effort to pay her way through medical school gets involved, by a series of bizarre circumstances, in illegal body modification surgery. Worse still, she is drugged and raped by her arrogant professor and uses her surgical skills to exact a cruel and brutal revenge. Mary’s path in life goes from struggling medical student to underground body modification rock star to sadistic killer. Upon first watching the film, I was definitely intrigued by the Soskas’ original story and their focusing on a segment of society that is rarely glimpsed in film, those who use their very own bodies as canvases for surgically altered sculptures. But I had some issues and while some of those issues still stand, my biggest conundrum came with the character of Mary herself.
Katharine Isabelle as Mary Mason
In my initial review I questioned how Mary was portrayed by both star Isabelle and the directors. First off, let me say that I am a big fan of this underrated and very hard working (since 7 or 8 years old) actress, so the fact that I was questioning whether she portrayed the character with a bit too much of an even tone or emotional detachment, already didn’t sit right with me. Obviously playing a character like Mary more over the top would have not worked well with the tone of the film, but I felt there should have a bit more of a difference between the Mary we meet and the person she becomes as the film takes her on this bizarre and dark path. She seems to adapt too easily to both becoming an illegal surgeon catering to the whims of this sect of society that alters their own bodies and then a sadistic killer when she is horribly wronged. I also questioned whether the Soskas properly portrayed the gradual changes in Mary as her path takes her from a medical student who calls her grandmother to check in on her, to a woman capable of some very vicious and cruel behavior. But it seemed odd that they would miss the point of their own character and story. So was it me who missed something? I have watched the film a few times since my initial view…actually watching it now as I write…and I still wasn’t quite getting the impact of Mary’s transformation. Then I considered something I hadn’t upon first watching it…what if Mary hadn’t changed? What if this wasn’t a story of s good girl turned bad or Jekyll and Hyde? What if Mary hadn’t transformed…but was freed? It would explain why Isabelle’s Mary really doesn’t show much of a personality change…except for a more confident air…as the film progresses and the Soskas’ don’t present us with any moments of dramatic alteration in her personally…this person was inside Mary all along and the events in her life did not create her, but unleashed her. Had I missed the point initially? Was I mistaken in expecting this to be a more traditional story? Now really needing an answer to my pondering…I turned to the Soskas.
Writers, directors and actors “The Twisted Twins” Jen and Sylvia Soska.
Thanks to the power of social media we can now actually talk with some of our favorite celebrities and filmmakers and was able to Tweet the Soskas… who just finished filming See No Evil 2 with Isabelle, Danielle Harris and WWE Superstar Kane… and asked them my question, “Was Mary changed by her experiences or did it awaken someone who was already there inside her?”…and the Soskas’ were gracious enough to give me an answer… “It was inside her always. There are situations in life that bring out our darker nature, that was hers.”… so, there it was. And watching the film now as I type this, their answer makes sense. Mary was lost and unhappy in her life as a broke medical student and becoming this diva of underground surgical procedures gave her the purpose and direction her life needed. This also gave her the tools to fight back and get revenge for her brutal violation by her Professor. Her validation from her new life gives her the strength to get back at a man who took advantage of her…and who knows how many other girls…sadly, this does push Mary into a very dark place and awakens her ability to use her skills to be very sadistic, cruel and commit murder. Was Mary mirroring her patients and only becoming her true self after some drastic and unconventional alterations to her life as they to their bodies? I now think this could be. You might even consider that altering the physical form of her patients gave her a bit of a God complex and she now felt punishment and death was hers to give out. It does parallel Grant and his fellow surgeons view that others were theirs to act out their perverted desires on, whenever they chose and without consequence. Though, oddly enough, I do think Mary had somewhat more of a moral center, if not a very skewed one. After all Grant and his cronies victimized innocents while she killed for revenge and, in the one case, panic/self defense. Despite her treatment of Dr. Grant…and the unfortunate security guard…Mary does seem to have moments where she appears a bit remorseful or seems to be questioning herself, but we may never know where she was going to finally end up as Mary’s darker deeds don’t go unpunished and karma catches up with her in an ironic and bloody way. Not a traditional story or character, so it now makes sense not to view it with tradition expectations.
So there it is. I feel a lot more satisfied with the film now that the Soskas confirmed my suspicions and I gotta give them credit with giving this grizzled movie geek something to think about and chew on with their flick. And it’s been a long time since a movie did that. I still feel the film has it’s flaws. Some of the subplots and character relationships could have been better explored and the end seems to come out of almost nowhere. But this is an intriguing and original horror thriller and gives us a lead character who isn’t your typical heroine and is actually still likable despite her sadistic and homicidal sides. I appreciate this film making me second guess myself and intriguing me and presenting me with a character that wasn’t black and white and took me a few viewings to figure out…if I truly have. While I’m going to leave my original review here on the site as it is, as some of the points within are still valid, but I am going to now link it here, so readers can see how my perception of this flick and it’s lead character have changed. And again, if a movie can challenge me like this one did, it makes me want to keep an eye on this creative duo even more. Thank you very much to the Soskas for answering my question and keep messing with my head ladies, I think I like it!
Halloween Hotties focuses this time on the beautiful and talented Katharine Isabelle. The Canadian actress has been working hard at her craft since she was a kid and her work in both genre movies and television certainly qualifies this versatile lady as a scream queen!
click on the highlighted links to read the reviews of Miss Isabelle’s films that I’ve covered here at MonsterZero NJ’s Movie Madhouse!
Katharine Isabelle first started acting at the young age of 7 for the 1989 film Cousins and continued to work steadily with appearances and roles in both films and TV. But it wasn’t until she starred in the 1998 sci-fi/ horror Disturbing Behavior that she had her first genre movie appearance though she had done some genre TV including roles in Goosebumps, Ray Bradbury Theater and The X-Files. It wasn’t until Isabelle got the lead role in the cult classic 2000 werewolf flick Ginger Snaps that the now grown-up actress really caught our attention as the ill-fated high school Goth girl Ginger, whose life turns upside down when bitten by a werewolf. After that, an appearance in Freddy v.s. Jason and reprising her Ginger character for the sequel and prequel respectively Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning cemented her status as one of today’s reigning scream queens. But, she shows no signs of slowing down as she’s appeared in quite a few more genre shows such as The Outer Limits, Smallville, Supernatural and Being Human and continues her prolific film work including roles in the horror flicks Hard Ride To Hell, 30 Days Of Night: Dark Days, Rampage and the disturbing and original 2013 flick American Mary from the Soska Sisters. She has the horror films 13 Eerie and Torment on the horizon and is starring with fellow reigning scream queen Danielle Harris in the currently filming See No Evil 2 which reunites her with the directing team of The Soska Sisters. A gorgeous, talented and hard working woman who seems to be only just getting started…
UPDATE!: Not only can Katharine now be seen on season 4 of SYFY’s Being Human but, it’s just been announced, she will have a reoccurring role on season 2 of NBC’s Hannibal. A busy woman whose star is on the rise!
As hero James Marsden’s little sister Lindsay in Disturbing Behavior…
…As tough girl Gibb in the bloody fun Freddy vs Jason…
…and as the beautiful but deadly Mary Mason in the disturbing and gruesome American Mary…
…a rising star full of talent, beauty and surprises!
And don’t forget to check out our Halloween Hotties focusing on Melanie Papalia, Amber Heard, Alexandra Daddario, Katrina Bowden, Briana Evigan and Danielle Harris! (just click on their names to go to their pages!
I know that I have reviewed these films within the last few months, but I think these two unconventional films that both deal with a lead female character with an interest/skills in surgery and the disturbing stories within which our leading ladies find themselves in, make for a very provocative and chilling Saturday night combo…
AMERICAN MARY (2013)
Flick tells the interesting story of pretty med student, Mary Mason (Katherine Isabelle) who, when in need of cash, finds herself getting accidentally involved with illegal surgery and body modification. But it’s not till she is drugged and raped at a party by her arrogant pervert of a professor (David Lovgren) that Mary’s skills get put to horrifying use and her inner Frankenstein is unleashed.
American Mary is intriguing, but never fully decides what it is really about to make it completely captivating, or gets truly twisted enough to make it cult film material. This Canadian flick written and directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska (who also play twins in the movie) has a nice visual style and some very gruesome moments, but never really grabs us completely or shocks us enough to solidify itself the cult status it aims for. The cast is decent and there are a few interesting and eccentric characters, but lead Katherine Isabelle, who was so good in Ginger Snaps, plays Mary with a bit of an emotional detachment for the most part or maybe a bit too low key. With all that befalls Mary, the tone of the character seems to remain the same despite that her life gets sent in disturbing directions and the changes it makes to her. She’s still good, but there should have been a bit more of a difference between Jekyll and Hyde. It would have made more impact. But Isabelle is a good actress and maybe it’s not her fault as she is not given a lot of time to develop Mary before the story sets in motion, so we don’t really see the changes in the character as the film progresses. Perhaps the Soskas get things moving too quickly and as Mary gets drawn in deeper and deeper into this bizarre world, we haven’t gotten to know her well enough to really add resonance to her life’s sudden macabre twist and the changes that occur within her. After her brutal rape, we can understand her emotional shut down, but even before that she seems to adjust a bit too quickly, despite the absurdity of what she’s asked to do and after, her cruel revenge seems to come a bit too easily. After the story events that have the most impact on Mary occur, the moments the Soskas give us to experience what Mary is feeling are all too brief and don’t sink in properly and that robs us of appreciating the true gravity of her transformation from down-on-her-luck med student to illegal body modification diva to sadistic murderer. I’m not saying what occurs doesn’t have any effectiveness, it does. But we needed a little more time with Mary at those transformation points to really appreciate what’s happened to her. To a degree Mary seems likable, but we never really get truly emotionally involved as she embraces her dark and sadistic side or begins to revel at being a rock star of underground body modification surgery…and we should in order to give the story the weight it needs to elevate it to something unique and special. There’s just something missing. The Soskas seem to be far more interested in who Mary is to become and forget that we need to know her better as who she is first to appreciate that.
I won’t take away that this is an original story in a genre filled with remakes and sequels and it still held my interest throughout despite it’s flaws. This real segment of society has never really been touched on in films and we wish the Soska’s would also have delved even deeper into this sect of people that see their bodies as ever evolving canvases and physically alter them through illegal surgery such as Mary provides. There are also a few story lines going on during American Mary and none get fully developed, such as what is going on between Mary and strip club owner Billy (Antonio Cupo), who first hires her to perform an illegal surgery. A partnership/relationship between them then forms that the parameters of which are never really made clear. And then there’s the bond between Mary and Lance the bouncer (Twan Holliday) that I would like to have seen more of. And that’s what restrains American Mary, it is an interesting story with some equally interesting ideas that never gets fully developed enough to really get our complete attention or becomes bizarre and twisted enough to make it more memorable…though it has it’s moments. Worse still, the ending feels forced and sudden as if the Soska’s didn’t know where to go with Mary’s story at that point and add a plot contrivance to wrap things up in a bloody bow. It’s abrupt and not very satisfying.
An intriguing diversion and a nicely original story idea that’s worth a look and has it’s effectiveness, but could have been much more with a little more development of the story and it’s lead character. In conclusion, I did like it and find it intriguing, but it is a flawed film as much as an interesting one…and if anything, I’ve re-watched it a few times and it has made me second guess my feelings about it and the film at least deserves credit for that.
A generous 3 bones saws!
Richard Bates Jr. writes and directs this original, trippy and really disturbing horror/drama about emotionally troubled teen, Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) who escapes from her repressive mother (Traci Lords) by immersing herself in an interest in surgery complete with gruesome and bizarre fantasies. But fantasy and reality may collide as the disturbed Pauline grows desperate to win her distant mother’s love and plots to do so by saving her little sister, Grace (Ariel Winter) from her cystic fibrosis in the only way her demented mind sees possible.
Not only does Bates weave a drama that mixes with equal parts horror, but also gets great performances out of McCord, who really surprised me with how well she disappeared into Pauline’s demented ugly duckling persona, and Lords, who shines as her overbearing mother. It’s the performances all around that really make this haunting, off-center and sometimes gruesome character study really work. He also vividly creates the fantasies inside Pauline’s head and makes them both visually beautiful and highly disturbing at the same time. It gives us a chilling idea of just how unhinged this high school outcast really is.
Not for everyone, but for those who don’t mind something different and unnerving, this is a really good watch. Also features appearances by Malcolm McDowell, Ray Wise, Marlee Matlin and John Waters.
3 solid bone saws!