For BEV 2011 we’ve embarked on a mission to slash some stereotypes and uncover women’s contribution to all things horror, from gothic psychodrama to vampire chic. And – because we can never resist a pun – we’ve called it Bloody Women from Gothic to Horror. Since Bloody Women was announced, it’s become the most talked-about part of our programme, leaving some abuzz with excitement and others questioning our sanity.
But if you think the idea of the Birds Eye View Film Festival celebrating the role of women in horror seems mad, you’re missing out. Delve a little deeper and you discover some cinematic treasures – from 1920s silent classics to contemporary vampire flicks – that not only show horror at its most terrifying, but also at its most progressive and powerful as a storytelling form.
The minute you think about it you hit upon the most famous, canonical text of them all: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein . Women are clearly going to have something to say for themselves. And the UK’s increasingly popular Horror Channel is currently fronted by actress and passionate genre advocate Emily Booth, who will be joining us for our Bloody Women Panel Event at the ICA Theatre on Wed 16 March.
There’s certainly something of the zeitgeist about it. The 2008 release of Let The Right One In was a revelation to many, with its surprising and powerful portrayal of a girl coming to terms with her identity as a young vampire. On the small screen, Charlaine Harris’s incarnation of her Sookie Stackhouse novels as HBO’s hit series True Blood
The current vampire renaissance is surely indebted to Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s seminal Near Dark showing at the Prince Charles Cinema on March 10th. Made in 1987, the film reignited the vampire – long lost to Bella Lugosi’s anachronistic Dracula – as sexy, modern, revitalised for our time.
In doing so, Bigelow laid the ground for what was to come, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Blade. Stephen Woolley, producer of Interview with a Vampire (1994), explains its importance: “Near Dark pushed the genre into other dimensions, away from the Bram Stoker Dracula. Kathryn directs action so well, but the film also had that quality of humanising vampires, which made it great.”
But let’s not forget women’s vital role in the origins of the horror film way back in the silent era. Here, the work of female writers and directors developed themes of repression and fear of the unknown, with a tendency for terror to be psychosexually manifested, rather than embodied by fantastical creatures bent on physical mutilation.
These ideas are perhaps most perfectly realised in The Seashell and the Clergyman directed in 1928 by Germaine Dulac. The near-surrealist film, follows the violent and erotic hallucinations of a priest lusting after the wife of an army general. For this screening, Birds Eye View has commissioned an original score by Grammy Award-winning Imogen Heap which will be performed by the Holst Singers at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, Friday 11 March.
The Wind scripted by Academy Award-winner Frances Marion and accompanied by a specially commissioned live piano score by Lola Perrin, embodied the characters’ repressed desires in extremes of weather capable of driving a woman mad . Another classic example is Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, adapted in 1920 by prolific screenwriter Clara Beranger, in which the idealistic doctor’s alter ego provides a savage outlet for the desires suppressed by his extreme selflessness. This will be accompanied by an original score by Blue Roses. Both films will be screening at the BFI Southbank on Wednesday 6 and Friday 11th March respectively.
With all this and more, there’s life in the genre yet. And, if our programme of horror shorts at the ICA on Saturday 12th March by emerging female directors is anything to go by, women’s creative vision will be vital to its future. Watch this blood-splattered space.