119: Queer Horror
June 9, 2017 11:14 a.m.
Episode 119: Queer Horror
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts’ 2004 film “Hellbent" was billed as the first gay slasher film. I speak with him and a quartet of new, young filmmakers to see how Queer Horror has evolved since "Hellbent." I also speak with FilmOut San Diego's programmer Michael McQuiggan about his first queer horror shorts block, FrightOut.
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Related Story: Podcast Episode 119: Queer Horror
Beth Accomando: Welcome to another edition of listener supported KPBS Cinema Junkie podcast. I’m Beth Accomando. All right, in case you can't tell, I love horror films. And I make no secret about how I think the genre lends itself to exploring serious issues while still delivering thrills and chills. One sub genre that merits attention is queer horror. Queer horror is not anything new. Many would point to James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein and his 1935, Bride of Frankenstein as memorable early examples. But while Whale was openly gay, his characters were not. So for this podcast, I want to focus on some more recent examples of openly gay horror films that use genre troupes to make us rethink stereotypes and to make us consider social issues from a radically different perspective. And that perspective is one of these new filmmakers prefer to label as queers says Canadian filmmaker, Daniel Sterlin-Altman.
Daniel Sterlin-Altman: I think at this stage, it makes sense for films to be classified as queer be because it isn’t part of mainstream. You can't just say that it isn’t queer because you want it to blend in with the rest. I haven’t seen the other films, but I can imagine that queer horror does take on a different sort of lens than typical horror would do because I have an understanding that horror itself is sort of charged sexually a lot of the time. So I can only imagine that’s sort of the -- especially male eye over mainstream horror compared to a more queer lens would have a different effect.
Beth Accomando: He also likes the history of the word.
Daniel Sterlin-Altman: Queer, before I was alive having been like sort of a dirty word, so it would be exciting to reclaim it and it’s like that sort of -- it still maybe has that dirty elements that makes it still exciting.
Beth Accomando: So queer horror today is coming from openly gay filmmakers who choose to do genre films and aren’t afraid of making their gay characters serial killers, demons or monsters because there’s a much larger pool of gay characters out there in the mainstream media to make it easier for some of those characters to be less than perfect and being able to explore a greater range of characters through the genre of horror opens up exciting creative and artistic opportunities.
This year, FilmOut San Diego hosts its first ever block of gay horror short called Fright Out. That’s something programmer Michael McQuiggan is thrilled to be doing. He’s a devoted fan of horror and every year he tries to bring genre films to the festival. Over his 13 years with FilmOut, he’s programmed the first gay slasher film Hell-bent, brought LGBT monsters to town with bite marks and ZMD and showcased disturbingly dark dramas like Drown and Downriver. Having attended FilmOut for the past two decades has allowed me to see a wide array of queer horror. So when I was asked to cosponsor this year’s horror block with the chance to interview all of the directors, I jumped at the opportunity. And when one of the young filmmakers, Jesse Cline mentioned the impact of Paul Etheredge-Ouzts’ 2004 film Hellbent, I decided it was time to track down that director and find out what it was like to make a film that was promoted as the first gay slasher film. For this podcast, I speak with Michael McQuiggan about programming gay horror and then with Paul Etheredge-Ouzts about making Hellbent as his first feature film and how that affected his career. And finally with a [indiscernible] [00:03:46] of young filmmakers about what queer horror means to them.
Before I begin my interview with FilmOut programmer Michael McQuiggan, let’s hear a little of the trailer for the landmark gay slasher film, Hellbent which McQuiggan programmed his first year at the festival.
Video: This is where it happened. You guys were murdered on this spot. Their heads were cut off so cleanly the tubes, they weren’t crushed at all, they were wide opened.
Beth Accomando: Michael, you're a big fan of horror and I remember very distinctly back in 2004, you programmed Hellbent. So tell me about finding that film and why you felt it was important to screen it.
Michael McQuiggan: I love Hellbent. Back in 2004, I think that -- you know, there was a little bit of buzz on the LGBT film festival circuit because they were billing Hellbent as the first gay slasher film. So of course my radar went right up. So I kind of wanted to just experiment with a few different types of genres and Hellbent kicked some ass for us. I mean we did extremely well with that title.
There really haven’t been many gay slasher films that had been showcasing on any of the festival circuits that I’ve known. Maybe there’s a few titles here and there. But they're not slasher films. They maybe fall into the thriller genre. But nothing like that film. I’m proud that we screened that back in 2004 and actually it might be coming back to FilmOut sooner than later we’re hoping. So more on that to follow.
Beth Accomando: Now, you did well in terms of selling tickets. How was the audience’s response after they saw it? Were they appreciative of it or were there some people who were feeling that it may depict gays in a negative light?
Michael McQuiggan: I don’t think it depicted gays in a negative light. I think the movie was o high energy that people were really excited after it ended because it was fun. And you notice -- a film like that with 300 people, it gets your adrenaline pumping. So I didn’t have any negative feedback from any audience members, from the community, from anybody that can recall at this point. It did really well. We’re excited. It was exciting, it was thrilling. So I’m proud that we screened that.
Beth Accomando: That was back in 2004. You have made a commitment to showing films that are dark and some that are horror. But this year is going to be the first year that you actually have a block of horror shorts. Is this something that it’s just taken time before you had enough films to choose from to create a horror block?
Michael McQuiggan: It was always on the backburner of my mind to try something like this. But we really -- we didn’t have many genre films that was submitted to us through a FilmOut. We have 900 titles submitted last year and then maybe you get a handful of horror titles. But this year, we got a handful that I thought to myself, you know, these are all worthy titles. I don’t want to just discard these and not screen these because they're horror.
I know there’s an audience for it here in San Diego. I decided to just come take a chance and do an LGBT horror block on Saturday night at 10 o'clock. And I selected with Jeff [indiscernible] [00:07:11], my lead programmer five titles that I think audiences will enjoy. I mean it’s their roller coaster rides, they're exciting, they're thrilling, you’ll jump, you'll laugh. It’s a good time. So I’m hoping maybe ask me the same question in a few weeks after we see how the screening goes.
But if there are a 100 people, 150 people that show up for this horror track, I’ll consider that as a success. So I’m excited. And you know, for people who are like no, it’s horror, I don’t really want to -- I can't go down that route, just give it a chance. They're all quality films. Two of the filmmakers are going to be there and it’s -- if you're kind of spooked to see this kind of a genre, the best place to see it is with other people in a packed house. So then you can go and have a drink after.
Beth Accomando: And do you think we’ve come to point where there is something that can be considered a sub genre of either gay or queer horror and is that something that you think labeling it that way is a good thing or…?
Michael McQuiggan: No, I think that’s a great thing. Honestly, I would love to do an LGBT horror festival that just kind of showcases that type of work. Maybe this will encourage filmmakers to make a 10 or 15 minute short film or to make a feature film, go for it. You have more of a chance of getting something original and off beat into any festival if it’s not a cookie cutter. So I encourage film makers -- make these genre of films. You have more of a chance of getting selected for film festivals if your art is original.
Beth Accomando: And what I noticed about this particular group of short films was that it seemed to take a lot of stereotypes that exist and turn them on their ear through horror. So it’s -- some of the gay characters seem to be victims initially and turn around to be the thing that’s most scary in the film or where you're thinking that the story is about someone being gay, but it turns out that maybe it’s not about being gay so much, it’s about being a serial killer.
Michael McQuiggan: Exactly. I mean there are some stereotypes in some of these short films. But they flip it over. It’s not -- I think with at least three of the films there, they kind of -- you think it’s going somewhere and then it just takes a wrong turn. And you're like, oh, I get it now. But no, I mean -- just because you're LGBT, you can't be a serial killer or a cannibal? I mean come on; they're all over the place. So let’s get down.
It’s like back in 1980 when Dressed to Kill and Cruising and Windows came out and people were like blah, blah, blah… I don’t agree with that at all. I was like, you know what, LGBT people can be killers, they can be murderers. They can be rapists. Can be cannibals. It’s across the board. It’s not just because you're LGBT you can't be any of those things. It happens.
Beth Accomando: Do you think we’ve come to a point now where -- just the fact that with more representation it seems like you can have more diversity. So a single character doesn’t have to carry the weight of being the only gay character in a film?
Michael McQuiggan: You know what; it would have been great for the upcoming remake of Murder on the Orient Express. Make that an all gay cast. Make them who cast gay characters, try something like that. Flip it. Make it fun. Make it exciting, make it original, make it different. Step up your game.
Beth Accomando: McQuiggan will be highlighting a group of young filmmakers who have done just that on June 10th with a block of queer horror shorts. But to lay the groundwork for what those filmmakers are doing now, let me first have Paul Etheredge-Ouzts provide some background on the making of what was built as the first gay slasher film, Hellbent.
Video: The one night of the year Halloween when you get to indulge in the most twisted fantasies -- [indiscernible] [00:11:05] penis. You’ve got three right here. Don’t swallow, you’re hooked. [Indiscernible] [00:11:12].
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: I’m not a slasher fan or I wasn’t growing up. So that was the furthest type of film I wanted to make. But I was working with a production company, had for a couple of years as a supervisor and various things around the office helping the films get made. And I was walking down the hallway one day and our head producer jumped out and said -- and dragged me into a pitch session. And there were two money guys who wanted to make a gay horror film. They said what have you got.
We bonded over a couple of films from the 1960 that we’re both familiar with, the Black Orpheus being chief among them and they really liked that idea of a killer at some kind of crazy Halloween festival. Then they sent me off to write the scripts. And I struggled with that thing. I’ve never written that script before.
Beth Accomando: When you were working on that, did you feel that you were breaking new ground or doing anything that was different from what had been done before?
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: What I was chiefly aware of is that in slasher films, the victims, the young people are punished for having sex. And that’s kind of the part [indiscernible] [00:12:44] and I felt very strongly that should not be something I drag into Hellbent. I danced a lot around that. That was really my main focus because I didn’t want to demonize gay sex or have people [indiscernible] [00:13:01] in the audience cheering because you know; sexually active guys were being killed.
In this day and age, had I to do it again, I probably would have changed it up and I think it’s more permissible to -- be more acceptable for gay guys to be seen having sex where at that time, not so much.
Beth Accomando: And this was made in 2004. So what kind of was the industry like in terms of someone wanting to make a gay slasher film like this? I mean you said you had a company that wanted to make it. But was this I think that was considered a risky gamble or something that…?
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: Definitely. Yeah. Definitely. This was before the Red camera came out. So making a film like this was very low budget and technically challenging to make because the technical resources just weren’t there yet. Now the Red camera has a great picture and it’s acceptable to everybody. It just wasn’t that way at the time. So Hellbent had a tiny budget. I’m not even really sure what the final -- half a million or less.
The producers were straight, white men. Honestly I don’t know why they wanted to make something gay. They never told me that. But they were very sensitive about the subject matter. I had to make revisions to the scripts to make sure that nothing was going to be ruffled and the audience -- yeah, it was challenging. And also getting actors, that was a challenge.
Beth Accomando: The other thing that seems challenging and this seems to be the case whenever you're dealing with a group of people who are underrepresented in the mainstream media is you get a pushback because I’ve seen this with women who do horror and want to depict like a female killer or a female serial killer. And the pushback is oh, you should be ashamed of yourself for not depicting women in a better light.
And your killer -- if I remember, it’s been over a decade since I saw your film. But if I remember right, it’s like the sexual identity of the killer or his sexual orientation was not entirely clear. There was this sense of you weren’t sure if he was homophobic or if he was deliberately targeting gays. So I’m just curious if you had any kind of pushback or feeling that you met with criticism for like hey, you shouldn’t be depicting gays in any kind of a negative light.
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: Sure, yeah. I mean there’s plenty of criticism all over the board. It wasn’t gay enough, it was too gay, it was -- how dare you give the enemy any sort of fodder to use against all of that. That’s expected I guess. I’m trying to remember if there’s anything really specific. It wasn’t very upsetting. I mean they were plenty of legitimate complaints to… but yes, absolutely.
Beth Accomando: FilmOut is going to be showing a collection of short horror films in their first gay horror block. And what's interesting is that a number of those have the gay characters as the killer or as the character that is meant to be scary or threatening and not in a negative light. I mean the killers are kind of like the main characters that you are sympathetic to.
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: They're justified in their killing.
Beth Accomando: It’s an interesting array. Some of them are comedies. There’s one that deals with a comedy, that’s a serial killer, the opening scene. This is the filmmaker who actually mentioned your film as something he had seen and had stuck in his mind. But it opens with a therapy session where the guy is confessing that he’s a serial killer and he’s talking about the burden this is. And you find out by the end what he’s really in therapy for is to get rid of the gay demon.
These horror films seem to be taking kind of an interesting look at gay issues in the sense they're not afraid to depict characters who might not be role models. And they also seem to be taking an interesting way of pushing back at a lot of the stereotypes and prejudices that they may be experiencing as filmmakers to those people. So horror is always an interesting genre I feel for dealing with kind of social issues.
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: Absolutely. It gives you a lot of leeway to really push some boundaries. I think that’s awesome that these filmmakers are feeling confident in portraying their gay characters that way. Like I said, if I were to do Hellbent again now, I would approach it differently. At the time, so many of the gay representation in horror films were a killer and because they were like haunted or twisted or somehow broken and I was very sensitive about that.
And that’s great that they're -- these new filmmakers are able to -- let’s be more nuanced I guess and have it more of the roles and -- I’m very curious about it.
Beth Accomando: I’ve always felt too that with underrepresented groups, that for me, like -- for seeing women characters on screen, the goal for me has never been like there should be more positive representations. I always felt like there should just be more representation so you could have variety and not feel that -- because there’s only one film with a female director or one film with a strong female character, like that one has the burden of…
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: Yes. Oh, I agree. I agree with that. Yes, you're sort of the only one, then all eyes turn to the character that you're creating and those have to represent everybody. So there’s not enough -- not enough voices.
Beth Accomando: Did you look to any other films? Did you feel any other films were an influence on you when you were making Hellbent?
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: Sure. Yeah, absolutely. I watched Halloween a lot partly because one of my producers was heavily involved in the original Halloween. So I know that that was sort of playing up to what he was familiar and comfortable with especially since that it made some money. I also looked at films like -- just to help influence my visual style, films like the original Invaders from Mars, because I know it wasn’t going to have a lot of money. But I wanted to have a look. Let’s see; what else did I watch? I wanted a lot of -- probably a lot of blind [indiscernible] [00:19:55].
Beth Accomando: It’s Hollywood -- yeah, it’s West Hollywood during Halloween which is -- you mentioned that you wanted it to be during some big crazy event.
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: Yeah, we chose the West Hollywood festival probably in the first meeting, in that first pitch session. The idea was, there was this -- people in masks and costumes and nobody knew who the killer was. It was going to be very colorful, a lot of pageantry, that kind of thing, I mean in part to help separate it from the Halloween series and a lot of the films that are set in Halloween. We wanted to really embrace the dressing up and the kind of the [indiscernible] [00:20:43] elements. And we shot for 2 years at the actual West Hollywood parade which was interesting.
Beth Accomando: I was going to say how difficult was that to do.
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: It was very challenging. In part there’s a technical stuff -- you are going to get photo releases from people that you're filming and avoiding costumes that are too topical. So we shot right after 9/11, it means on our first -- that’s before we even had a script. We just went out and shot a bunch of footage and of course we had to avoid anything that pinpointed 9/11 first responders and whatever. But also there’s a -- the elements of -- everyone that’s getting drunk, everyone in the crowd is getting drunk. Lots of drag queens [indiscernible] [00:21:31] to the camera and vomiting, that kind of thing. Like it would be real there.
Beth Accomando: How did you decide on the direction that you did want to take that script and the story you did want to tell?
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: That was a real process. Like I mentioned before, I wasn’t a fan of slasher films. I’m actually made pretty queasy by people getting killed which is funny because I love horror. Initially I was like there will be no blood in my movie. Of course it’s actually pretty bloody. And I wrote a number of versions of Hellbent before it became anything like what it is. And they were kind of awful and gruesome and I was so unsettled by them. I mean a lot of cannibalism and the handsome guy -- I think the gay killer who is hot and -- drills into people’s heads and [crosstalk] [00:22:35].
Beth Accomando: Was it Jeffery Dahmer?
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: Jeffery Dahmer, yeah. Those sorts of elements. I can't live with this story for as long as I need to make a movie. My kind of gentler sensibility started taking over. You know what; this is going to be a gay romance. They're just going to have this killer obstacle. So that’s kind of how I focused on it. And once I got into it and kind of broke the ground on the story that is Hellbent, I started embracing the killer more and the violence and understood how fun it could be. It was definitely an evolution for me.
Beth Accomando: Describe your killer because he is masked. So describe how you wanted him to come across in the film and look?
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: I wanted him to be very sexy and appealing and eye catching. I actually cast [indiscernible] [00:23:32] model in that role. I think the devil is such a distinctive silhouette, that’s what I focused on. I knew I would be backlighting him a lot. The horns were -- still were threatening, yet still kind of sensual. I liked that image. I did put him in shoes that had different sized heels so that he would walk with a kind of a funny crookedness.
But I kept around that pretty much because it just did not work. He looked really pretty ridiculous when he was moving around. That is -- that’s something that you kind of discover on set. But I did want his sexuality to be nebulous, like he weren’t entirely sure what was motivating him. My thought was that this was a celebration for him as well. This was his [indiscernible] [00:24:32] way of expressing it. Everybody was fair game.
This [indiscernible] [00:24:40] of guys just happened to be the ones to attract his attention because of their encounter in the park. And then it became the game of stalking. I never saw him as like an angry guy, just as someone who has a different sort of lust.
Beth Accomando: And he didn’t really have the kind of boogeyman supernatural elements.
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: Not quite, no. I mean he is still alive at the end after being shot in the head. So there’s that bit. But it wasn’t -- I never thought of him as being something supernatural.
Beth Accomando: Do you remember how the film was greeted by gay audiences? Was it embraced by them or…?
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: Yeah. Mostly people had fun. To be honest, my relationship with the film at that point -- it’s the first film, I had a lot of emotional rawness at that point. I’m trying to remember how other people reacted to it. I definitely still get people writing fan mail or coming up to me in the bar saying, oh my God, I loved your movie. I watch it every year. We make it a ritual and I definitely appreciate that. There were plenty of gay crowds or people in the gay crowds who did not respond well to it. But there you go; I guess it’s just -- that’s just how it goes.
Beth Accomando: And do you feel that making that as your first film, did that kind of color or changed do you feel the way your career went or how you ended up in the industry?
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: Yeah, I do. I’m very proud of it. It’s the most personal thing I’ve created. There’s a lot of me wrapped up in that, a lot of my own experience. And I’m grateful for the opportunity and all of that. I do feel that what I expected to get out of the film never materialized. It was very hard for me to get another directing job after that or it’s mainstream agents and all of that -- just, they didn’t really know what to do with that. It wasn’t… it was rough. It wasn’t shot on film.
And subject matter was still a little taboo. So yeah, I mean I think it did. It did make it a little rockier right after the release than I had anticipated. I thought I was going to get shot out of the cannon. And no.
Beth Accomando: Well, horror as a genre by itself is always -- I always think it’s kind of a tricky genre because in some ways, it’s easy to make a horror film and people expect it to do well at the box office and it can get you some notoriety. But a lot of people don’t want to stay in the genre. And then some people feel like they get tainted by it. I mean I love the genre and I really admire the filmmakers, David Cronenberg and Clive Barker -- filmmakers who stay in the genre and expand it.
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: I love horror and I do not regret. I mean I still play around in it. I still hope to make more horror films. There was a whole decade where we were kind of stuck in the Saw and the torture porn an all of that. I don’t respond to that at all. I don’t think it has a softness. But the Cronenberg, I don’t know that that’s necessarily scary stuff, but it is horror commentary I guess and I love that. I like the smart challenging types of horror and the visuals that you can put with it. That’s kind of the stories that you can tell, that can be so outlandish and yet disturbing and moving in ways you don’t expect, I love that. So I don’t regret doing horror at all.
Beth Accomando: Yeah, I had a chance to interview Cronenberg and what he -- and the thing that he said that always struck me -- I think his films are in the horror genre, they're not conventional horror by any means. What he gets to is far more disturbing than what most mainstream horror does. But the comment he made, he says, I’m not interested in making comfortable cinema. That seems to sum up his films. It’s like they just they're disquieting and they're disturbing and they're uncomfortable and they get to something that’s really kind of core to what horror is about.
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: You don’t even know that’s there in you. Love that, love that.
Beth Accomando: What other horror filmmakers do you admire or do you like? Like I mentioned before [indiscernible] [00:29:30] I grew up with [indiscernible] [00:29:32]. My mother is a huge Bryan [indiscernible] [00:29:33] fan. I was scared to death of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, even seeing it. I saw like the first three minutes of it and turned it off and I couldn’t watch it for probably 15 years. I have grown to appreciate that movie quite a lot.
I actually was at a friend’s house on Valentine’s Day several years ago and Tony Hooper showed up to this party of like 14 gay guys with a new print of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and screened it for us. But what I remember vividly at the beginning of it, he said I shot this to be a comedy. And I watched as though it were a comedy and completely changed my experience. I loved it was so much fun.
Aliens is my favorite horror film. I had to -- I go into therapy after seeing that movie. There are some recent horror films that I have appreciated as follow. I really enjoyed the Babadook. But don’t know if those directors have enough under their belts to say this is a horror film director. But there you go.
Beth Accomando: So it’s a genre that you are -- you would like to return to. Do you have any like concrete ideas which you…?
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: Mainly I have been, in my head -- yes, I do have one concrete idea that I’ve been fleshing out for, I don’t know, a couple of years. I was asked to do like a gay horror comic book at one point. And I came up with something that has never left me and I’ve been retooling that. Usually when I think about horror I think of it in the short [indiscernible] [00:31:14] because there is something very specific that I want to address. I mean I’ve got some ideas for that too. I mean I’m not out there pitching horror currently and trying to do more -- easier to [indiscernible] [00:31:29].
Beth Accomando: You mentioned that if you were making Hellbent now, it would be a different film. What kind of things would you change if you were to make it… if somebody came to you and said, let’s do a remake of Hellbent tomorrow, what kind of things -- how would you kind of re-envision it for today?
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: I would develop the killer more, not necessarily give him a back story and a horrible scene with his mother or anything like that. But one of the complaints I heard most frequently was we don’t really understand anything about the killer. So I don’t ever want us to know his name or anything, but I would develop him more so that you sort of understood his motivations. Hellbent was conceived as being more than one film, at least in my mind. And we talked about doing a sequel for a while.
So I think I made the rookie mistake of holding on to too much to reveal in the second film and then of course the second film never came. I’d also make it more sexual. I wouldn’t shy away from that. I think that now that we are the apps -- the dating apps and that aspect of anonymous meeting and that is sort of -- for me it’s our gay culture, I would involve that more, the willingness to be risky.
We didn’t have that when I made Hellbent. We didn’t have iPhones yet. So I mean I think that would be an interesting element to bring in, talking about sex again, you know where preps have now freed us from some concerns -- there are other things that we choose to not look at when we’re having sex with strangers. I’d probably incorporate a lot more of that. I’d be more willing to point to some of our darker impulses than I was when I wrote Hellbent. And I wanted to [indiscernible] [00:33:32] angels.
Beth Accomando: Do you think that there are enough films or film makers at this point to have kind of a sub genre of gay horror films?
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: I go back and forth on what is gay horror. I remember being asked a lot when Hellbent came out, what did I think about gay horror. And when I was writing it, I wasn’t certain that there was gay horror because everything that was horrifying and terrible to gays was also to straight people, being chased, being hacked up, watching their lover get killed, that’s all terrible stuff.
But now I think that for me it’s more queer horror that takes it out of sexual necessarily, about being homosexual or lesbian or what not and just turns it into being somehow radically different from what you expect of yourself or what your peers are, what other people expect of you, that’s what I think of when I think of gay horror now. Are there enough people to do it? I don’t know. You tell me.
Beth Accomando: There’d definitely more than there has been. So that’s promising.
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: Yeah. I mean I’m glad that filmmakers have access to making these things. Yeah, I don’t know. I mean I would love to see what that looks like because I wrestle with those questions. What is this, the gay horror or the queer horror, what does that mean to people now?
Beth Accomando: And I’ve seen a few films made by gay filmmakers where it feels like on a certain level, there’s an anger that they have that they're against a lot of the prejudice that they’ve dealt with and they use the horror genre to depict a character who initially seems like maybe a stereotypical weak gay character, a stereotype -- of like a white male, straight guy. And that character turns on those people and proves to be the dangerous -- you know when you think like these redneck guys who were picking on him are the ones that are dangerous and then there’s a turn and then suddenly like, oh no, the guy you're picking on is actually a demon and he’s going to devour you. So next time you think about stereotyping us like that, think twice, kind of.
So it seems like horror is taking an interesting -- it’s offering some interesting opportunities to kind of turn stereotypes around and say like -- like instead of the gay character being the victim or being the one that’s put through all that. That character turns around to be the one that is the strong one.
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: We fantasized about when we were in high school, right, and we’re feeling pushed into the corner, like only I were the super hero or -- you know, the one to watch out for, I clearly understand that in both. That’s what your -- what the shorts are.
Beth Accomando: There’s one…
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: That’s being expressed?
Beth Accomando: Yeah. There was one short -- and I also, I’m on a selection committee for a horror film festival here in San Diego, Horrible Imaginings.
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: It’s you?
Beth Accomando: I do love the genre. I’ve always felt it’s a bit maligned, you know.
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: Yeah. It’s a [indiscernible] [00:36:59] genre.
Beth Accomando: And it’s funny because working at a horror film festival, I have people tell me all the time, like oh -- I’m not really into horror and I said I think you’d be really surprised by how broad that genre is and like -- you can't -- saying you don’t like horror is, you know, saying you just don’t like movies because there’s a really…
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: I mean it is -- essentially it’s all metaphor, you know. That’s -- it’s poetic. That’s what I loved about it.
Beth Accomando: You mentioned films like It Follows and the Babadook. Are those kinds of the recent examples of the genre that you look to us kind of hopeful for what the future of the genre is for…?
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: Yeah. I do. There’s part of me that is just relieved that we’re moving away from the torture porn which I just couldn’t stomach horror for a long time. And I felt like it was -- so cynical whereas the Babadook and it follows, quite the Babadook more, they were playing with ideas and the situations simply horrifying, plus, the acting was really good in both of those I thought. Moving into areas that felt really -- types of fears that were relatable and personal, I don’t get very fearful on these kinds of cataclysmic movies. It’s just too big to comprehend the world, you know, falling into the sun or whatnot.
Get Out -- I loved Get Out. That was another one where I mean it’s not terrifying, not necessarily need to be there terrified, but I was so uncomfortable -- having been at those parties thinking, oh God, we’re awful and just how clever it was.
Beth Accomando: Well, thank you very much and thank you for making Hellbent and kind of changing that horror landscape just a little bit.
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: Well, you're very welcome. Great talking with you.
Beth Accomando: That was Paul Etheredge-Ouzts, director of Hellbent. Now let’s chat a little with some young filmmakers serving up new examples of queer horror. Let’s begin with Jesse Cline, director of the short film Demons. He explains where the idea for his film came from.
Jesse Cline: So it started probably like two years ago. The script was pretty much straight out of a dream actually that I had. Like I had been watching like too much nudes and I had just seen too many, like anti-gay protests out there and it kind of like resonated with me a lot. So I think the dream world just had something to say about it. That’s how I came about.
Beth Accomando: So just so people have a little bit of a sense of what your film is, I’m going to play the opening scene with begins in a therapy session.
Male Speaker: Okay, where do I start?
Male Speaker: Well, I’m Matt. I enjoy sports. And I also enjoy reading. I enjoy drinking every now and then. I -- one -- I’m gay. And I kill people. I’ve never actually admitted that out loud before. And my parents would literally murder me if they found out. I guess I just want to be normal.
Male Speaker: Matt, thank you for sharing. I see that that was really hard for you to admit. But I’m going to do everything in my power to help cure you.
Beth Accomando: Your kind of choice is to how to tackle this subject was through humor and through horror. What led you to kind of choose that route to kind of to respond to the feelings you were having about seeing all these anti-gay protests on TV?
Jesse Cline: I guess my main goal with the film was to try to bring like a non-LGBT person into the driver seat. And so I created a kind of relatable character and to just that -- create like a very extreme world that you sit in that I want to make it a very -- like over the top, so the person really gets like kind of the LGBT experience, like living in a world where sometimes it’s perceived that a lot of people are against you and where you might honestly be doing -- you know, you can't help -- everyone’s inner demons are kind of out there.
And your inner demons are people -- some of the things that’s like the worst thing out there. But I don’t know. I just wanted to show it in a different light.
Beth Accomando: It also kind of a little bit of the twist is, you have this therapy session and you're thinking that maybe it’s about being a serial killer is the problem. But it’s actually he seems more afraid to admit that he’s gay than that he’s a serial killer.
Jesse Cline: Exactly, yeah. I guess going back to what inspired me for the short -- just watching these LGBT protests, people protesting, they announce themselves; there is equality, like all those things with [indiscernible] [00:42:42] like it’s like the worst thing, like it’s in the 10 commandments, like I must protest this, like this is equality is just -- it’s too much for me, you know. So just kind of going back to that therapy scene, just having them talk about like drugs, like it’s nothing. It doesn’t affect anyone or murdering people or whatever [indiscernible] [00:43:04]. So being gay is just like, oh my gosh, like you are hurting everyone -- with who you used to -- like get sometimes.
Beth Accomando: And is this your first horror or have you been working in the genre before?
Jesse Cline: I’ve done a couple of shorter horror films, yeah. It’s my favorite genre actually. Definitely, it will be more for me in that genre.
Beth Accomando: And what is it about the horror genre that appeals to you?
Jesse Cline: I just love how kind of over the top you can be with your message. It’s definitely not like a subtle genre. I love -- specifically, I have one scene that’s kind of just like my parents, you know -- or the guy that goes on like a killing spree and there's blood everywhere. I just loved how artistic it can be and also have like such a strong message to it that kind of like hits you over the head or to be very subtle. And you just walk away that horror films, it’s kind of like thinking about it very well and -- yeah, that’s what I hope to do with my short films.
Beth Accomando: It seems like it’s taken a little while for there to be like a good core group of gay horror films; the festival that we have here, the programmer loves horror movies and I remember he programmed one of the first gay horror slasher films, Hellbent, I think it was.
Jesse Cline: Yeah, that’s -- it’s the only one I know about.
Beth Accomando: Back when that came out and it seems like it’s a genre that hasn’t been used that much by LGBT film makers and I was just curious if you felt it was a trend towards that now or is there a fact that there are more LGBT films out there now, so it feels like film makers are more willing to kind of go into genre film making?
Jesse Cline: Yeah, you know that’s funny you mentioned Hellbent, that’s literally like the only gay feature length horror film that I’ve ever seen, horror. That’s like our only representative in -- that’s actually what inspired me to kind of go down that path. There’s definitely a lot more LGBT content out there which is awesome, a lot more film festivals cater towards LGBT people, so that’s amazing.
And they even have this category -- I think I just learned from another interview that it was the first time ever that they have like this category for gay content which is amazing. Hellbent is still the only feature length horror film in LGBT that I know about.
Beth Accomando: You mentioned Hellbent was a bit of an influence on you. Are there other films or film maker that kind of influence you in terms of getting into this career?
Jesse Cline: Oh yeah, definitely. So I love [indiscernible] [00:45:36], the Evil Dead series, Drag me to Hell and the Scream series [indiscernible] [00:45:41]. Those are probably the main horror series. I just love how they approach horror with that comedy aspect as well and they have that over the top fun quality, like an excess of blood in Evil Dead, that slasher, just like mystery quality that’s also told with a sense of humor and cheeky quality, like they fun of like the horror role narrative like that. Yeah, they don’t take themselves too seriously and they have like a very strong message. Those are probably my two main influences.
Beth Accomando: And is your goal eventually to move into feature films?
Jesse Cline: Yeah, my next one I’m working on fully right now -- I’m not a writer. So that’s going to take me a while. But I’m open to create another horror feature length film out there. Yeah, my next film is definitely going to be a feature -- I think. It’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be fun.
Beth Accomando: And you're going to stay in the horror genre?
Jesse Cline: Yeah, that’s going to be another horror pseudo comedy, but more horror thriller I guess.
Beth Accomando: That was Jesse Cline whose short film Demons is being showcased in FilmOut’s first ever horror block, Fright Out. Also showcased in that block is Dominic Haxton’s Tonight It’s You. Here he explains what his film is about.
Dominic Haxton: My film is about a guy who meets up with another guy via an online hookup app like Grinder and he goes to the guy’s place which is in the -- sort of the mountains and very rural area. A series of very strange things happen and leads him into a situation where he basically his life is at risk. I don’t want to give too much away. But yeah, it’s basically about what could happen when you meet a stranger online.
Male Speaker: Okay. Why don’t we just go inside now?
Male Speaker: My parents are sleeping.
Male Speaker: What's up?
Male Speaker: I’m [indiscernible] [00:47:52].
Male Speaker: CJ; you know you don’t really look like your picture.
Male Speaker: No, I know. Well, it’s me.
Male Speaker: Okay, I believe you, for now.
Beth Accomando: So how do you feel about your film being part of FilmOut’s first ever gay horror block?
Dominic Haxton: I think it’s great. I think gay horror is a huge sub genre that is only growing and there’s a huge interest in horror films from LGBT audience. More recently we’re seeing more examples of overtly queer horror films whereas before I think it was more coated. Like when you had James Whale’s Frankenstein films and films like the Interview with a Vampire. But yeah, I think a lot of the LGBT film festivals are now having horror sort of programs. And they're very popular too. So I think it’s definitely a good thing.
Beth Accomando: And for you personally, what attracts you to working in the horror genre?
Dominic Haxton: I think that horror is one of the remaining types of movies that people are still going to see in the theater. That’s still like the super hero action movies. I think it’s a way as an independent film maker to make something with a certain, I guess [indiscernible] [00:49:29] view point where you can have it kind of like a subtle theme throughout or like the meaning behind it, but also play on a certain level to a mainstream audience as long as it’s scary and it has a lot of tone and atmosphere to it. Like some of the greatest horror films, it can be appreciated on multiple levels, like the Shining and the Exorcist and you know, more recent ones like It Follows and the Babadook and Good Night Mommy and The Witch.
Beth Accomando: And do you think there’s something in particular about the horror genre that you find appealing for -- to deal with gay themes or issues?
Dominic Haxton: I think that growing up gay, you identify with being the other -- with being alienated, with being kind of outcast. And that’s definitely a theme, common theme in horror films. It’s the monsters and the villains usually are that character. So we identify to certain extent to horror films because of that. I mean I don’t know if you’ve seen my film. But it’s like -- yeah, the character who you think is being victimized is actually the one that you should be afraid of.
It was my goal to kind of subvert that expectation and I think it’s important too that we don’t -- you know, you have these character who aren’t just the ones who are getting -- you know, at least they kind of -- they have power. Even if it’s a dark power, they still -- they're not the ones who are being defeated.
Beth Accomando: I’m wondering if you get any pushback in the sense of if you're doing horror, like wait a minute, maybe you shouldn’t be depicting characters -- gay characters in a light that could be construed as negative.
Dominic Haxton: Yeah, I mean I feel that comes from -- because anytime you have a certain group that’s underrepresented in films, media, when you do see a representation of them, it is in a negative way, they're depicted as a building of the monster then, you get a huge backlash, like you saw with a lot of films like Silence of the Lambs where the serial killer was transgender and Basic Instinct when the girlfriend who was lesbian and she ends up getting killed.
I don’t think I do those films and a lot of other films are assaults for that. I think it’s just how people react to things when they don’t see them often. But I think that more representation of queer character, the less I guess reactive people would be to seeing them as villains. And I think it’s important to -- now we have stories that where queer characters can be the villain and they can be the victims.
And it’s not viewed as like -- it’s not viewed as a negative thing. Like the film maker is sending a negative message because especially in the case of my films, because I have seen a lot of comments about -- on YouTube and stuff about people saying, oh, the guy turns out to be a demon, it’s somehow associating homosexuality with that. But I think it’s a stretch and I think you look at the -- I’ve made other LGBT films and I’m gay.
So it just -- it doesn’t really make sense to leap to that conclusion. And I think that it’s a story where the character should happen to be gay. It’s not like they could have easily, I could have made one of the characters a woman and it could have just been a heterosexual hook up and nobody would have said anything. But the fact that they're both gay men living in a small rural community, people can make conclusions about that.
Beth Accomando: As you mentioned, when the characters are underrepresented in the mainstream media, since there are so few of them, those -- each of those tends to carry more weight whether it’s fair to that character or not.
Dominic Haxton: Yeah, I mean -- like I said, you look at this as just a horror film where the characters happened to be gay, then you don’t make those conclusions. It’s like -- I mean I think nowadays when you think films like Moonlight [indiscernible] [00:54:11] and we have gay -- you know, it’s not like [indiscernible] [00:54:14]. I think we can start moving beyond kind of these identity politics of being so PC about everything in terms of -- these types of representations. Because I think you know, why shouldn’t we have characters like this? I think it’s more interesting.
Beth Accomando: Definitely. And your film also brings up kind of different layers of horror because there are also in the film these kind of religious rite people who are attempting some sort of exorcism and that kind of extreme religious perspective has its own kind of horror to it.
Dominic Haxton: Yeah. And that’s kind of something that I was playing with and I wanted to have the audience expect it -- the story to go a certain way. Like I said, this character, he’s being victimized by these fanatical fundamentalist Christians who -- you think is probably performing a gay exorcism because you think oh, the dad jus caught him hooking up, at least that’s what we think. And he’s calling the preachers and they're going to do a -- get the gay out of him. But then it’s like no, he actually is possessed by a demon. And they're just doing a normal exorcism. And he was being kept in a house because he was possessed. The father was just angry that he was going out into the shed. He probably didn’t know what he was doing in the shed.
Beth Accomando: And is there also kind of touching on a horror element of the whole meet up scene where you're hooking up with a total stranger and like that has a whole series of kind of horror troupes associated with it because it’s like you don’t know who these people are.
Dominic Haxton: And also playing with the idea that there’s some transference of energy there and like the sex scene I shot it’s the real way because that is the scene where the hunter -- the character hunter transferred the demon to CJ. And that’s why [indiscernible] [00:56:26] in the film, you see him -- one, he is showering, trying to like scrub himself clean. You see his eyes are white. And then at the end, you see that hunter has come back for him to kind of like collect his soul in a way.
Beth Accomando: And do you think that there is -- you talked about there is this kind of a new sub genre of gay horror. And do you feel that it’s kind of reaching a point of like here it’s -- it’s reaching like a critical mass where there are a lot more being made and that there’s a trend towards it?
Dominic Haxton: There’s not a lot of feature gay horror films. There’s a lot of short ones that I’ve seen and like I said, most of this LGBT film festivals have the horror program. But I think as I’m working on a gay horror feature right now, so I think there’s definitely the audience for it. I just think more film makers need to venture into that and explore the sub genre.
Beth Accomando: Are there any films that you remember influencing you that you felt had elements or that had gay characters that were horror films?
Dominic Haxton: I think -- and it’s kind of in a different way. But movies like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and Mommy Dearest -- the characters aren’t gay, but they're definitely queer, if that makes sense. Like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, you have these two women who are very kind of over the top and like campy and they’ve been outcast and they have lived in their house. They keep growing up and seeing these, there’s something that speaks to me in that and trying to think that other films -- well, definitely Psycho, Anthony Perkin’s Psycho, say was like a queer character and Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. Yeah, for sure Whatever Happened to Baby Jane .
Beth Accomando: That’s a brilliant film on so many levels.
Dominic Haxton: Yeah, and Mommy Dearest too -- like Faye Dunaway’s performance was definitely horrific and like -- like wire coat hanger scene, that gave me nightmares.
Beth Accomando: And is horror something that a genre that you want to stay working in?
Dominic Haxton: Definitely. I’m working at a series right now -- queer and [indiscernible] [00:58:43] horror anthology series. And I’m also adapting a novel -- the young adult novel, that’s a queer horror.
Beth Accomando: I would be curious to talk to you again after you see all the films to see…
Dominic Haxton: Yeah, I’ve actually seen a lot of them already from the other -- like other -- like [indiscernible] [00:59:05], the film that’s similar to mine and my program. But like some really weird -- like we use the same moon, like stock footage moon shot. And our film started out almost identically. Like the characters are watching horror movies, while they're texting on Grinder. I mean it’s a troupe. It’s not like we’re the first ones to do that.
But I think it’s also interesting like when you talk about queer horror films and both my film and his film have become this -- merging sex and horror, like -- it’s an interest -- I mean you see it a lot in other horror films. But I think when it comes with -- gay, LGBT films, we can do it without having it labeled as misogynous to having it labeled as -- you know, because it’s just two men in a situation as opposed to man killing a woman or putting a woman and like it’s -- my film was a man and a woman meeting up, there would be a certain dynamic.
I have to be very cautious of not making it seem like -- you know what I’m saying, like it’s a different -- it’s a completely different thing. Like when a woman is going into an unsafe situation because a man can overpower -- you know, it’s like a different dynamic, whereas if it’s two men, I mean it still can be that situation. But I see it like -- it doesn’t have that like -- I don’t know how to articulate it. But I think you get what I mean.
Beth Accomando: No, I think that it’s completely accurate because I think that does take on -- those gender roles come into play in a different way.
Dominic Haxton: And a film can easily be labeled as misogynous or sexist or whatever. If you see a woman being like overpowered in a situation like that or attacked or violated in anyway. But I think with two men, we don’t have to worry about that.
Beth Accomando: I look forward to seeing you at the FilmOut festival and I appreciate you making some time to talk about your film.
Dominic Haxton: Yeah, thank you so much.
Beth Accomando: That was Dominic Haxton, director of Tonight it’s You. Blake Mawson’s Pyotr495 presents a similar starting point with a young man seeking a hookup online. I asked him how he felt about having his film showcased in FilmOut’s first ever queer horror block Fright Out.
Blake Mawson: It feels great. I think that horror and the genre film in general has always had a very underlined current -- with queerness and the idea of feeling like an outsider -- I think as a gay person there’s something very relatable to a lot of the characters in horror. And I think that from what I’ve seen from all the other horror blocks that have been in queer festivals around the country, they're always sold out and hugely popular. So there’s definitely something there that connects.
Beth Accomando: Do you think that gay horror is something that has been kind of coming into its own recently or is it something that has been a long time, kind of in the making?
Blake Mawson: It’s been a long time in the making for sure. I mean there’s a lot of films from the 80s, Nightmare in Elm Street 2 in particular which was just so gay and you watch it now, it’s just like it’s amazing how no one -- it just kind of went under the radar for mainstream audiences. I mean no one really picked it up. But there’s a lot of camp in horror as well which I think appeals to the queer community and the LGBT people and we can appreciate that. And I think that’s just the idea of feeling ostracized or cursed or like you're being chased by angry towns people with burning torches, I think that a lot of gay people can relate to that in a lot of ways.
Beth Accomando: You mentioned being chased by people with torches and that brings -- that goes all the way back to James Whale’s Frankenstein in the 1930s.
Blake Mawson: Yeah, exactly or the Hunchback of Notre Dame where -- it’s somebody in the city square for being different.
Beth Accomando: And explain what your film is about and give away as much or as little as you would like.
Blake Mawson: Sure. The film is set in present day buzz amidst the anti-gay attacks, the dated catfish targeted attacks that have been taking place there where they bait young gay men online to come over for a hookup and they're met by usually a group of people who then hurl [indiscernible] [01:04:05] violence abuse at them and document it and then upload the videos online to further embarrass them and out them to their families and coworkers.
So it was inspired by actual documented footage that had been uploaded online.
Male Speaker: [indiscernible] [01:04:42].
Beth Accomando: I don’t know if this is giving away too much. But your story kind of takes a turn in the sense of the person that you think is going to be the victim may not be quite so much the victim.
Blake Mawson: Yeah.
Beth Accomando: And is that partially also kind of a way for to kind of take out some of your feelings about the way gays are often stereotyped and treated?
Blake Mawson: Yeah. Like I think being a member of the LGBT community, I feel -- you know, I’ve faced discrimination at the hands of homophobia before as well, but it still doesn’t change that I grew up to feel like I don’t really feel like -- I feel empowered by being LGBT and I don’t feel like a victim and I don’t feel like standing down or letting that happen. I feel like standing up and being proud and persevering. I feel like that fire within me is expressed in the film. It’s the refusal to just sit down and take it.
Beth Accomando: And do you think horror gives a very good way or an interesting way to attack that?
Blake Mawson: Absolutely. It allows you to things in a subversive way and express things without the confines or reality and express them in an explosive colorful vibrant way and make people think and also put people in the shoes of the people that this is actually happening -- terrify them so that maybe the audience will understand that this is something that is awful and it is terrifying and kind of see it firsthand that way.
Beth Accomando: I’m wondering, did you get any pushback in the sense of -- I know like with women film makers or female characters, sometimes you get this pushback of like you should only be showing positive images. Like you shouldn’t be showing anything negative. Do you get that kind of pushback sometimes?
Blake Mawson: I have read that in -- like a comment here or there or a review saying that the person’s personal taste thought that portraying gay people as monsters or as demons are that. But in fact, it was something that was very considered in the making of our film and we’re very aware of the fact that we’re doing that. It’s kind of a tongue and cheek nod to -- if you think we’re going to hell if you think we’re the devil, we’re the demons, then in this case, maybe we are just that.
It’s a little bit of like us sticking out our tongue and giving them just that and throwing it back at them. It was very thought through in that sense -- the idea of feeling like you're cursed growing up and having [indiscernible] [01:07:53] curse or anything like that in a film can be tied together in this case.
Beth Accomando: And where did you get the inspiration to do this particular story?
Blake Mawson: Through the real documented attacks which can be seen online and that were uploaded around the time of the Olympics in 2014. That was the original inspiration for me writing Pyotr.
Beth Accomando: And when you had seen that -- I mean did you feel that you wanted to kind of make some sort of statement about them, but to necessarily do something that would be a documentary or an overt reaction to them?
Blake Mawson: I think I had tried to -- I felt very frustrated and angry about what I had seen. I wanted to imagine a situation where I could see these teenagers find their way out of a very hopeless situation. And realistically, there wasn’t one. So the only way that they could find themselves out of that situation in those particular scenarios would be through something out of the realm of reality. So that’s kind of how I went down that way.
Beth Accomando: And is horror something you’ve always been interested in or did you choose this for this particular film?
Blake Mawson: No, horror has always been something I've been interested in and I think as an artist, it’s the voice I feel most comfortable speaking through. It’s something that I’ve been with since I was a child when I used to look at my father’s old black and white VHS tapes of classic Hollywood creatures like Dracula or something -- the wolf man -- Frankenstein or whoever. So I think it’s kind of been -- I watched a lot Vincent Price and Mistress of the Dark. So it’s -- all those kind of been engrained in me.
Beth Accomando: This year because there is this block of horror shorts here in San Diego at FilmOut, do you feel that there is something particular about films coming from gay film makers or about the LGBT community that are in horror films, do you feel that there is something of a sub genre or gay horror or would you prefer not to be like separated out like that?
Blake Mawson: You know what, I’m very happy to connect with people of gay who are fans in particular. It’s one of the nice things about being a film maker is you start o meet people who are likeminded people who are passionate about the same things that you are and approach you because of what you brought to the table with your work. And you would never have met them otherwise. So I definitely don’t mind it being boiled down into like a sub genre.
I think it actually really serves our work in a lot of ways because it brings forth the people that appreciate it in such a great way. But bodily I like it and I think it’s one of the great things about what we were able to do with this film that does have a broader crossover. We showed it such as in Fantasia and a lot of big horror sci-fi fantasy festivals and we were able to reach an audience that normally wouldn’t be exposed to queer subject matter or gay rights or anything like that or even be challenged to think about that at a screening. So I think it’s great when we can cross over and bring it into that realm as well.
Beth Accomando: I also work here in San Diego with a horror film festival called Horrible Imaginings and we’ve had a side bar on a couple of occasions where we call it horror for humanity which is horror films that have some sort of social message. Sometimes -- because when I tell people like oh, you should come to this horror festival, some people go like, oh, no, no, horror is not for me. But it seems like there’s such a broad way to take horror in that and there does seem to be this whole kind of collection of horror films that do have a social context and do find a way to make comments about real issues.
Blake Mawson: Yes, I think there’s an -- and horror can be an incredible vehicle to talk about things that are really happening in the world. Not everything is puppy dogs and daisies all the time and there is a lot of degree of that that’s really happening and I think horror has the guts to talk about it and address things in a very raw and visceral way. I think there is horror for everyone. I believe that is -- I think that’s such a broad genre and there’s so m any different types of horror. There’s camps. If you're not a fan of slashers and gore, there’s creature films, there psychedelic horror. Like there's a huge spectrum to explore. So I’d like to believe that people can find something like within it.
Beth Accomando: And it also seems like when you are tackling issues or real things that horror has a way of kind of slipping those in and getting to a different audience that if you made a film that was overtly a socially conscious movie.
Blake Mawson: Yeah, I think it frames it differently. It frames it in a way that allows a viewer to maybe see it from a different perspective; the Night of the Living Dead, there’s a lot of talk around how that was around race in America or the trauma after the war in Vietnam. There’s a lot of talk about the Exorcist and the religious aspect of it. I think there’s a lot of films that have a lot of substance that is kind of beyond just what you see at the surface.
Beth Accomando: I want to thank you very much for making some time to talk to me about your film.
Blake Mawson: Oh, thanks. I appreciate your calling.
Beth Accomando: All right. Well, look forward to seeing another film from you in the horror genre.
Blake Mawson: Thanks. Yeah, I’ll keep you posted.
Beth Accomando: That was Blake Mawson, Director of Pyotr495. The only animated film in the horror block comes from Canadian film maker, Daniel Sterlin-Altman and it’s called Hi, It’s Your Mother. Here’s his spoiler for your description.
Daniel Sterlin-Altman: It’s a story about a woman who has a bit of an intense relationship with her mother which you only really gather through a phone call.
Female Speaker: Hi Lisa. It’s your mother, Martha. I don’t like to nag, but it feels like you're hiding my grandson from me. So give me a call when you get this. Here’s my phone number again. 463555.
Daniel Sterlin-Altman: So it’s a story about a mother feeling affected by the overbearingness of her own mother meanwhile trying to not to be too involved in her son’s life while he lives it right behind her.
Beth Accomando: And this -- that doesn’t quite get at the potential horror element in it, but there is a comic horror turn in this.
Daniel Sterlin-Altman: I think it is a bit hilarious that this film is part of a horror section so I think real horror fanatics would not classify this as a horror film and it’s certainly not. But there is a drive -- I guess if that counts. Yeah, I do appreciate horror and I don’t think that I necessarily lace that into this film. But I guess it does have these sort of -- gore that gives the shock value that you look for in a horror film.
Beth Accomando: I think so. It does have a comic element. But there’s definitely and it’s -- I think it’s the excess of it; little like excess of blood that I think pushes it into the horror genre. I mean if you take horror in a very broad sense, and a broad and positive sense, I think it does fit into that genre.
Daniel Sterlin-Altman: Okay, that’s good.
Beth Accomando: So what inspired you to make this film?
Daniel Sterlin-Altman: First and foremost, I wanted to make a queer animated short because that sort of queer content doesn’t really fits in the animation world that much. And particularly not in the short sections and particularly not as -- not a coming out story or sort of a sad anxious story. So I thought I would be able to have like a unique angle of just having queer content in the film about it being such a central burden. And then with that, I sort of created scenarios that I thought would be fun to see on screen including a couple of having animated sex and a mother walking in on them.
Beth Accomando: And what is it about the format or that style that you enjoy working in?
Daniel Sterlin-Altman: It’s just something about stop motion that feels so real. But then it brings you back because it’s so clearly isn’t. So I really like the tactile nature of it compared to CGI, like computer generated -- and if I pick something -- 2D, hand drawn animation, I find that -- when you see stop motion, it’s sort of -- no matter what the content is, it become more loveable because you can sort of imagine it in your own hands. You can imagine what it feels like to touch. So I really appreciate that. And I also like the idea that I can -- so in my film I have a lot of realistic effects, so I put a lot of work into making very fine tuned detailed settings for the characters -- the puppets themselves are quite cartoony. And that contrasted just like -- I just love watching it.
Beth Accomando: Yeah, you said that you don’t really consider this horror exactly. But is that a genre that you would be interested in working in, in the future?
Daniel Sterlin-Altman: I wouldn’t know enough about horror to say this, but I think I’m very drawn to the narrative. I think that’s my priority, like a good intimate narrative. So I think if I can fit that into horror, I think it’s sort of a fun way to maybe add a new facet that you wouldn’t expect.
Beth Accomando: It’s just interesting because this year -- because these films are all being grouped together in this horror block, being able to see them kind of altogether back to back, I think points out some -- like an interesting way that some of these film makers are coming at horror and also at incorporating issues about growing up gay. And so I think it’s a really fascinating block of films because of that and I’m just curious of the genre kind of attracts you for dealing with those issues.
Daniel Sterlin-Altman: I think yeah -- I think like you were saying it’s interesting because it’s so new to have queer content as anything but -- because I think initially queer content would just be specifically -- like a melodrama or a tragedy that’s exciting to see. I think -- or even a comedy sort of almost part of, as just a pure like comic relief. So I think it is really interesting to see the horror approach -- the queer narrative. For me, I’m not sure if I think I would be more likely like this time to accidentally encounter horror as a -- I just -- I guess the product of my mind rather than a pure intention.
Beth Accomando: Are there any film makers or films that you see has an influence on you?
Daniel Sterlin-Altman: Yeah. I can't help but be influenced by other people in the stop motion medium. Adam Elliot who is the filmmaker who created -- who has recent features with Mary and Max, his work is a real inspiration. The touching -- like how touching the stories are and how intimate they are even though it is -- I mean I guess just as cartoony as mine are -- I think a lot of stop motion animators, stop motion film makers they sort of like take it to the next level. I think another example yeah, Wes Anderson even with the [indiscernible] [01:20:12] I find that he used the medium really beautifully to tell the same sort of intimate story that I would really love to be able to tell.
Beth Accomando: I’m sorry you're not able to come to the festival and see some of the other films. But thank you very much for taking some time all the way from Australia to talk with me.
Daniel Sterlin-Altman: Thank you so much Beth.
Beth Accomando: Daniel Sterlin-Altman’s Hi, It’s Your Mother is part of FilmOut’s Fright Out horror short films this year. Thanks for listening to another edition of listener supported KPBS Cinema Junkie podcast. Coming up soon will be another TCM centered podcast this time focusing on Alfred Hitchcock and new online class about the master of suspense. If you enjoy Cinema Junkie, please leave a review on iTunes or consider feeding the Junkie with a donation at kpbs.org/feedthejunkie. Till our next film fix, I’m Beth Accomando, you're resident cinema junkie.