Love Letters to Horror
Women in Horror Month presents an opportunity to dedicate time to lifting up voices of women in our beloved genre, a genre which hasn’t always treated women – or other minority groups – in the best way. Things are changing, but we still have a way to go.
There have always been strong women in horror, as creators and characters, and women have always been consumers of the genre. Of course, we should strive to shine a light on women in all forms of horror throughout the year. But this month gives us more of an opportunity to do so.
So what better time than now to have our lovely Dead Head Ladies featured, in their own love letters to horror.
A Journey to Horror
As a kid, I mostly watched Disney films, and ran from anything remotely horror related. My brothers dragged me into rooms just as zombies jumped out in Resident Evil, I stayed on the other side of the door as they played AtmosFear, and the moment the X-Files theme tune started, I was gone.
Everything terrified me.
Except, there are those moments in Disney, aren’t there? The ones I’d rewind to, for some reason I couldn’t then name. Snow White running through the woods, Prince Philip battling the dragon to get to Aurora, Ariel swimming through the underground cave with worm-like creatures reaching for her. They scared me, but I loved it.
Despite still being scared of aliens and zombies, I picked up my brother’s Point Horror and Goosebumps books. The horror genre reached out its tendrils, and ensnared me. In high school, I watched The Ring and The Others and realised, maybe these films weren’t that scary after all. But I wanted that fear, that tingle-up-the-spine feeling I got from X-Files, the gasp-shock from zombies in Resident Evil, forcing me to look away from the screen.
I watched any horror film I could get. Late nineties/early noughties Slasher flicks, anything with vampires, kindled by Buffy (which I’d oddly never been scared of) and a love of the Anne Rice books, and zombie films. I read Stephen King. With each dose of horror, my love grew. For an A Level essay, I tackled vampires, charting the changes in film from Nosferatu to Lost Boys to the then-new TV show, Being Human.
Doing American Studies at University, I got to take the module Hollywood Horror. I will never forget the lecturer telling us about studies which discovered women were more likely to become lifelong fans of horror. Most cited their first experience of horror as being that moment in Snow White, where our beloved princess runs through the forest, and darkness reaches for her.
Is it any wonder women are drawn so much to the genre? In Horror, we are not just victims, love interests, or side-characters, but often take centre stage, as heroines, final girls, fighting against everything making our lives hell. Where women can grapple with the pressures put on us, the horrors of everyday lives brought to the forefront.
Additionally, I have yet to see any online community as accepting as Horror. Everyone is embraced, no matter their background, and established writers are so willing to help newbies, or give their time to fledgling websites getting their feet off the ground. It’s a genre for all, and though there’s still some way to go in making it truly and utterly inclusive, Horror feels further along the line than anything else.
Really, how could you not love it?
From Elle Turpitt
Horror, Better Than John Travolta
Horror was my first love, preceding my crush on John Travolta by a solid five years. It’s always been my preferred genre, but at times in my life we took a break, often because I had a hard time finding new titles in my library’s limited selection. When I was putting myself through college, money was scarce. Later, I convinced myself we didn’t have the shelf space for me to own any more books. By this point I was writing horror, in large part because I wasn’t finding what I wanted to read. There didn’t seem to be anything new out there.
2018, I’ve become fond of saying, was the most batshit crazy year of my life. My son was born at the end of January, and the following months were a blur of exhaustion and love. I had little time to read, let alone write, and was surprised as hell to hear from my agent that Journalstone had picked up Whispers in the Dark, which had been languishing in rejection limbo for over a year. Suddenly the gears were in motion. I had editing deadlines and was scrambling to get an author photo that didn’t make me look as crappy as I felt. I’d hardly gotten that squared away when my husband went into the hospital on his forty-ninth birthday, with an initial diagnosis of leukemia that terrified us both. It ended up being chronic, which means he just takes a pill every day for the rest of his life, who knew that was a thing? We dodged a .50 caliber bullet, and I was grateful, but I’d also been rode hard and put away wet by 2018. I was buried in motherhood, adjusting to my husband’s illness, and working full-time. Everything that used to define me had gone by the wayside, and it left me feeling winded.
Which is where horror came in. I started delving into the horror community and as I attempted to navigate marketing my book, my narrow view of horror exploded into an incredible wealth of titles and authors that were on offer. It was ridiculous to expect anyone to support my writing if I didn’t purchase books myself, so I gave myself permission to clear off shelf space and devote at least some of my budget and free time to soaking up all the indie market has to offer. The reading ramped up my writing – the ideas I was getting, the formats I wanted to try. 2019 was the best year for me from a reading and writing standpoint, but it did more than that. Rediscovering horror, in its present iteration, helped give me my life back. I’m still a mom, and a wife, and a paralegal, but I get to be a writer and a horror fan, too. Sorry, John Travolta, you’ll just never get close to that.
From Laurel Hightower
The Heart of Horror
As a lot of horror fans will say, the genre plays a huge role in my life. I can’t recall a time where I wasn’t intrigued by the macabre. In fact, as a young girl, and this is one of my father’s favorite stories, I asked my father just how much a serial killer makes. His response? Whatever is in their wallet at the time. That should give you an inkling as to who gave me my wonderful sense of humor and twisted ideas.
I wish I could tell you a story of when I watched my first horror movie or what movie made me fall head-over-heels in love, but unfortunately, it all blurs together. From Halloween marathons to staying up late watching Nightmare on Elm Street. At this point, it’s just been a huge part of life.
And as much as I want to go on and on and tell you about how much I love Robert Englund and Elvira, or how Silent Hill 2 will always be one of the greatest games of all-time, or list all the horror authors that keep me up flipping pages, I’d prefer to dive a bit deeper and discuss what’s keeping my love for the genre alive.
If you’re reading this, it is safe to assume that you’re a part of the reason. You see, the horror community might seem a bit off the rails; we scream about our favorite horror film kills or argue about who’s the best clown in horror (… totally Art the Clown), but at the end of the day, we are some of the kindest and most supportive humans on this planet. We spend our days cheering each other on and our nights rooting for the final girl (or the misunderstood killer). We are some of the most passionate people, and quite honestly, some of the most empathetic.
Granted, there are times where we might run into a rotten egg in the bunch. But fortunately, those are rare. At least from my experience. It’s hard to put into words just how proud and grateful I am for being in such a wonderful and absolutely spooky family, but I am so forever happy that I get to be here. Horror is going strong, and I’m so thankful for all of you for keeping my love for the genre alive.
From Becca Futrell
The Empathy in Horror
I’ve been drawn to horror and the more morbid side of things ever since I can remember. I know a lot of people say that, but how many remember drawing Dracula on construction paper during recess during kindergarten at a convent (I went to day care at a convent, it’s a long story) surrounded by nuns? Bizarrely, they were unphased. Also bizarrely, that’s not the story today.
Even from a young age, I could tell that women in horror were something special. I saw female characters as clever, strong role models that could rise up and meet any challenge. But more importantly, they meet the challenges while also balancing emotional and, sometimes, physical trauma. I’m a cis woman, and, like the vast majority of women out there, I was raised to be prepared for a world that is a cruel and unyielding mistress. But in horror novels and films, there was always at least one woman surpassing all expectations and making it to the finish line.
As I grew older, those inevitable traumas of life began to come hurtling at me. Each time there was something new to unpack and comprehend, I would almost serendipitously find a movie or book with a character going through something similar. It enabled me to heal and work through the emotions I was feeling, enabling me to bounce back just a tiny bit faster than I may have otherwise.
Another thing that I became aware of was the distinctive difference in quality when the stories came from women writers or directors than when they came from the pen of a man. This most clearly stood out when I had to read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in high school. The masterful way she wrote about how a seemingly ideal village can easily flip to something horrifically dark resonated in a new way. I connected to that story in a way like never before, because I knew people exactly like those townsfolk, and I could see them behaving in such a manner. It hit close to home.
On that day, the pieces fell into place. Women writers and directors know the way the world works for other women. It’s an important distinction, and one that can’t be understated. The best way to build empathy in someone other than yourself is to experience things through their eyes via books, film, television, etc. Without those same people penning the stories that are being told about them, the messages, and therefore the empathetic elements, will get lost.
I seek out women in horror because they tell stories of things I can relate to, and I want others to seek out women in horror to add to their world view. If a story written or directed by a woman resonates with someone even a little bit, it broadens that audience’s views and leaves them open to seek more media like that. In turn, they learn more about someone completely different from themselves.
From Regi Caldart
A Love Song
Ah, yes, Horror, the category for which I have the highest regard and appreciation. It allows me a safe space to explore grief and trauma while simultaneously providing some much-needed escapism. I wracked my brain trying to craft an essay that best expresses my love and devotion for the macabre movies, shows, and books of the genre. I deliberated on various concepts for days, but finding a good starting point felt like wading through quicksand. Until, suddenly it hit me: what better way to profess your love for someone or something than with a song? And so it is without further fanfare or ado that I present to you my Love Song For Horror.
♫ “A Love Song, For Horror” ♫
(To be sung in the tune of “My Favourite Things” from The Sound of Music)
Blood droplets on carpets which trail to the kitchen
Creepy killer smiles and we’re instantly smitten
A Final Girl’s crying, she’s tied up with strings
These are a few of my favourite Horror things
Teens sucked into nightmares by ol’ Freddie Kreuger
Zombies who eat brains and entrails just like noodles
Mothman soars by with a flap of his wings
That’s just a taste of the terror my fave genre brings
A girl’s dress is torn, ripped by violent slashes
Blood drips off her face, down her nose, her eyelashes
She’s using her mind to control everything
This one’s certainly written by my man Stephen King
When the knife strikes, the Holy Water stings
*gasp* The killer’s someone’s dad
I can simply remember these real creepy things
And real life doesn’t seem so bad
Buffalo Bill smiles and writhes as he dances
Hannibal Lecter asks Clarice about the Lambs(es)
The girl puts the lotion all over her skin
She really doesn’t wanna get the hose again
Creepy-eyed dolls, old books written in Latin
Somewhere off-screen a disembodied voice is laughin’
Creaky old houses with dark, eerie wings
They’re probably filled with dead bodies and things
When Cujo bites, Candyman’s bees sting
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember these real creepy things
And then I don’t feel so bad
From Ellen Avigliano