For a genre that loves nothing more than a final girl trope, horror always seems to be incredibly saturated by men. Don’t get me wrong, I loves me some Stephen King and John Carpenter, but horror was built by both men and women.
So this Halloween let’s put some time aside to celebrate 4 female forgotten horror heroes, without whom the genre would be nothing but a lone bucket of out of date fake blood.
1. The Writer: Daphne du Maurier
When you think of horror writers, you might not immediately look to Daphne du Maurier; the author of books and short novels including, Rebecca, The Birds, My Cousin Rachel and Don’t Look Now, is often categorised as a romantic author.
Personally I think this a hangover from when Daphne published her work (starting in the 1930s) because if you read her work, 9 times out of 10 it sure as f ain’t romantic!
Hers is a prose that hints to a quiet slowly unravelling menacing dread, it’s gripping and ever turning.
You may also have noticed that all of Daphnes work listed earlier went on to become classic horror films.
This isn’t coincidence! Daphnes work lends itself to timeliness horror; its undercurrent of dread and fear making her stories work for audiences across the generations.
From the gripping thriller, Don’t Look Now (which includes Donald Sutherland rocking some amazing facial hair), modern horror, My Cousin Rachel and of course Hitchcock’s seminal classics, Rebecca and The Birds (AKA why I’m scared of flocks of pigeons)
The thing that makes Daphnes stories stay with you is the unique brand of evil they contain.
You won’t encounter a mask clad chainsaw wielding maniac here; hers are the monsters that tread in the daylight, the ones who might just step off the page and into your every day…
2. The director: Ida Lupino
Though she started her Hollywood career as an actress (she described herself as a ‘poor mans Bette Davis’) Ida made her mark behind the camera; becoming know as the Queen of the B’s (as in B movies…not a swarm of overly coifed Hollywood bees)
In 1953s taut noir/psychological horror, The Hitchhiker (which btw was the first noir by a US female director) Ida shows that when in the right hands, psychology and emotion can be just as powerful as a jump scare.
The claustrophobic film revolves around two guys off on a fishing trip; on the drive up they pick up a hitchhiker…who sadly turns out to be a serial killer (life lesson: hitchhikers are not your friend)
True to form, their new murder-ey pal then happily points out that he’ll kill the men as soon as they’re no longer useful; as he psychologically breaks the men, the film explores what happens when masculinity and fear are trapped together.
You can still see the lasting impact The Hitchhiker had on psychological horror (seriously elements of it are all over!)
But for me, Ida’s biggest legacy is the sheer amount of doors she opened for other female filmmakers.
As well as being the first US woman to direct a noir, she was also the first woman to direct an episode of iconic horror series, The Twilight Zone
Through Ida’s use of emotions she succeeded where many male directors had failed; using the human psyche to delve into our deepest desires and show us our darkest fears.
Whilst we’re on the subject of groundbreaking lady directors…may I introduce you to:
3. The pioneer: Alice Guy Blanche
Alice was arguably the first female director in history. Directing 1896s, La Fée aux Choux when she was just 23.
A secretary for Leon Garment -one of the worlds first film entrepreneurs- Alice created a script for a fictional film (then unheard of!) and demanded Gaument let her use one of his cameras to shoot it.
This film was La Fée aux Choux, which depicts a fairy who skitters about pulling babies from cabbages (because…reasons) though shot as a slice of fantasy fiction, the film is now sometimes referred to by modern audiences as a horror film.
I reckon that might have something to do with the whole nightmare fuel situation of a women yanking squirming newborns from vegetables and then dumping them on the floor to twirl around them – who knows.
Over her career, Alice made around 1000 films. I’ll repeat that
These films included the rather fantastically (and now bleakly) named, In The Year 2000, When Women Are in Charge.
She was also the first female director to tackle the horror film, making film adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe’s, The Pit and The Pendulam, as wells as films The Monster and The Girl and The Vampire.
These films contained groundbreaking techniques that now appear in horror flicks across the globe; including double exposure (for all you film nerds out there!)
And, ass kicking pioneer that she was, Alice’s work in the horror genre didn’t stop with her!
Two of her mentees Louis Feuillade and Lois Webber, went on to help forge early horror film making and Alfred Hitchcock cited Alice’s work as vital inspiration.
Yet Despite all her pioneering work, Alice was largely written out of history. When her old boss, Leon Gaument, published the history of his film company, Alice was nowhere to be seen (despite her essential body of work and role as Head of Production!)
Subsequent books around this period also largely overlooked Alice’s contributions and it’s only recently that we’re starting to rediscover this titan of early filmmaking.
So far we’ve been pretty heavy on pyscholigcal horror and I know what your thinking:
WHERES THE BLOOD?!?!?
Well I’ve got you covered with our final forgotten horror hero:
4. The scream queen: Paula Maxa
Paula (real name Marie) was the original scream queen. In fact, as well as being the first in the genre, I’d argue that Paula was the hardest working scream queen in history; having died over 10,000 times.
Paula was one of the most famous actors at Paris Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol. The theatre specialised in gory horror and from 1917 to the 1930s, Paula was killed so many times on stage that she became known as the worlds most assassinated woman!
Here are just some of Paulas on stage deaths:
– Eaten alive by a Puma
– Chopped into 90 pieces
– Disembowelled (with her intestines then stolen)
– Murdered by an invisible knife
She once even ‘decomposed’ on stage, a feat of stunt work and special effects she managed for 200 performances
Paula loved her work; she’d had a morbid fascination with death and horror from childhood and her work allowed her to fully immerse herself into this world.
And she really threw herself into the blood and gore! Plays at the Grand-Guignol were so horrifying that a doctor was on hand for each performance to tend to passed out patrons.
Fresh blood was mixed up for every performance to ensure it looking fresh just like the real deal.
And if a performance finished without walk outs, fainting spells and maybe the odd bit of sick…then it was considered a failure.
Sounds like my kind of theatre
This was interesting where can I find out more? There’s a book all about the weird world of The Grand Guignol (Grand Guignol, French Theatre of Horror, 2015) which covers Paula’s life and career (thats otherwise weirdly tough to read up on!)