Film: Meet Bristol’s queen of feminist horror
“Women can throw as much blood around as men while making a film,” enthuses Melanie Light. “Everyone gets excited when you’re on set and the big blood pump comes out. We’re all rubbing our hands with glee and shouting: ‘Throw it over there!’ It’s just fun.”
February is Women in Horror Month. Who knew? Well, this is a fairly low-profile celebration of the under-represented work of women in the horror industry. It originated in the US nearly a decade ago and has slowly begun to make inroads over here. For the last couple of years, Melanie has organised an annual event in London. “It was just a get together: directors, writers, feminists – creatives who work in the macabre. We’d all just meet up in a bar and chat and hang out. Each year it seemed to get a little bit bigger.”
Having had her own award-winning short The Herd (of which more shortly) screened at the Cube by local filmmaker Ben Steiner, Melanie decided that this would be the perfect venue for Bristol’s first Women in Horror event after she relocated to the city last September. “It’s a way of saying: ‘Hi – we like horror movies too’,” she explains. “And to challenge the way that women are portrayed, especially in ’80s slasher films, where they just run around waving their breasts and screaming. We are sick of seeing that. We know how to make horror films too, and we’re not going to objectify women.”
Her diverse programme of seven award-winning shorts takes in films from Britain, America, Australia and Japan. It also includes two stop-motion animations. “It’s a bit of a mixture, which I think is quite important. There’s even a bit of humour in there.”
Is this just about redressing the balance as far as representation is concerned, or is the argument also that women bring a different sensibility to horror? “I’d say it’s a bit of both really. I don’t know if you can tell when you’re watching a film whether it’s made by a man or a woman – maybe depending on the content. But I think men and women do see the world through different eyes and have gone through different things growing up.”
But must horror flicks directed by women necessarily be feminist films? “I think they’re naturally going to be feminist anyway, because feminism is about inequality between men and women. Film directors are mostly men. So straight away, whatever you’re going to do is going to be feminist because you’re trying to become equal. But I don’t think a lot of women go out saying, ‘Right, I’m going to make a feminist film’ – which is kind of what I end up doing.”
She certainly does. Not only that, but her accomplished 20-minute short The Herd, is a vegan feminist film, putting an imaginative and provocative spin on the tired ‘women chained up in a basement’ sub-genre of torture porn. The brilliantly simple premise is this: what if women were treated like dairy cattle? Ed Pope’s script certainly had an effect on her: “I went vegan overnight. It was the easiest thing ever.”
Since The Herd became available to watch online less than a year ago, it has clocked up more than half a million views. Naturally, Melanie is delighted that her film seems to have struck such a chord. “It’s so nice to have made something that means something. When I show it at festivals, people don’t know what to expect. They clap – and then there’s that pause before the credits sequence at the end, when they suddenly make the connection. Then they tend to go very quiet. I think some of them want to come and have a go at me. But that’s their own guilt kicking in.”
Of course, there are plenty of great horror features directed by women. Melanie reels off a list of them, from Kathryn Bigelow’s magnificent vampire film Near Dark to Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook and Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. (For the record, women have made some bad ones too, including the crappy Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.) More by coincidence than design, Women in Horror Month sees the release of Sightseers co-writer and co-star Alice Lowe’s feature debut as writer/director, on which Melanie worked as art director. Prevenge is a pitch-black comedy about a pregnant woman who’s instructed by her unborn child to slaughter people.
Next on Melanie’s agenda is her own debut feature, Covetous, which she hopes to shoot in Bristol. Raising the £300,000+ budget is inevitably proving a challenge (“It’s a constant up and down rollercoaster. At the moment It feels like it’s on the up again.”), so she’s busying herself with TV work – most recently as stand by art director on ITV’s period drama The Halcyon – and is planning an anti-fur film very much in the style of The Herd.
Local bands may also wish to note that she’s keen to do more music videos, having directed Poison for her old friends The Lounge Kittens. “That was really good fun. It’s a great way to keep shooting stuff. I also did a fun little low-budget one for the Meow Meows [Pretty If You Smile]. We spent about £500 on that. I scraped all my mates together and we ran around beating up boys who were cat-calling women…”
The Women in Horror screening takes place at the Cube on Friday, February 17. Go here for the full programme.