Episode 39: Transcript
Episode: 39 – Monstrous Women and the Women Who Make Monsters
Transcription by Keffy
Annalee: [00:00:00] Welcome to Our Opinions Are Correct, a podcast about the social meaning of science fiction. I'm Annalee Newitz. I'm a science journalist who writes science fiction.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:08] I'm Charlie Jane Anders. I'm a science fiction writer who thinks a lot about science.
Annalee: [00:00:13] Are you? Do you think about it like in the bathroom?
Charlie Jane: [00:00:15] Yeah, for sure. I mean, especially—
Annalee: [00:00:17] That is science, right?
Charlie Jane: [00:00:18] I mean, when I'm at your house, you have all the New Scientist magazines in the bathroom. So that is actually a big site of scientific research for me, is like, reading your New Scientist magazines in the bathroom. Like that's, you know.
Annalee: [00:00:32] No, I think they'd be pleased to hear that.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:34] Yeah, I learned a lot.
Annalee: [00:00:37] So in this episode, we're not going to be talking about Charlie's bathroom habits. We're going to be—
Charlie Jane: [00:00:41] I mean, are we? I don’t know.
Annalee: [00:00:44] In this episode we're going to be talking about female monsters, both in books, on the screen, in comics, anywhere you can look for monsters, you're going to find women who are being associated with monstrosity. So we want to talk a little bit about representations of female monsters, but also women who create monsters. Women who write about them. Women who build them. And if there's any difference between the two things.
[00:01:15] And we're also super lucky to have guest Mallory O'Meara on with us in the second half of the episode. She is a filmmaker and writer who wrote the book, The Lady From the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters, and the Lost Legacy of Millicent Patrick. And it's all about the woman who designed the monster in The Creature From the Black Lagoon. So I'm really excited to talk to her. All right, let's get monstrous.
[00:01:38] Intro music plays: Drums with a bass drop and more science fictional bells and percussion.
Charlie Jane: [00:02:05] So, Annalee, how did you start thinking about this topic? I feel like there was a tweet or something that you did that kind of addressed this issue.
Annalee: [00:02:12] Well I have been thinking about this topic since the 90s, but the tweet that I did was pretty recent and so I will now read you my tweet. That's what we've come to in this podcast, is I’m just—
Charlie Jane: [00:02:21] We’re just tweet reading.
Annalee: [00:02:22] —reading a tweet. “I am not interested in horror movies where the scariest possible thing is, 1) disfigured women or girls, 2) old women, 3) disfigured or old women who are naked, 4) women, possessed by male demons, 5) women you thought were young and pretty but are actually one through four on this list.”
[00:02:45] So, that led to an amazing, exciting Twitter thread of people, you know, talking about their own feelings about this issue. Like I said, I hadn't really realized how much of a nerve this would touch, but I will admit that I was basically the movie Hereditary, which had all of these things, including gross naked old women and creepy young women and creepy girls possessed by male demons.
Charlie Jane: [00:03:15] So where does this begin, this idea of like, the female monster? Where do you think it starts in pop culture? In literature?
Annalee: [00:03:21] We've seen women as monsters a lot in of course mythology and fairytales. And you can go back that far if you want. But in the kind of modern era, starting in like the early 20th century, we see it a lot in film. Everything from the movie Metropolis where there's like a kind of demonic robot lady to something like the Bride of Frankenstein. And then later you get all kinds of crazy stuff like the Wasp Woman. And in more modern era you have things like aliens where you have like an evil alien queen who's obviously got lady parts cause she keeps laying eggs all the time. So it's something that's been going on for a while. And, I think the question for me is, kind of what unites these kinds of images?
[00:04:08] And one of the most iconic horror girl monster images comes in The Exorcist, which is an early 1970s movie that I think a lot of people view as being basically the scariest movie ever made, especially in the west. I think people really see it that way. I wanted to play a clip from that film that kind of for me captures a little bit of what I was screaming about in that tweet. And also kind of the crux of this kind of naked, ugly girl kind of thing. All right, so here's the clip.
Exorcist Clip: [00:04:44] Jesus. Fuck you! Fuck Jesus! Fuck you!
Lick me! Lick me!
[Screaming, crying, the sound of something slamming.]
Annalee: [00:05:04] So, those of you who've seen the movie recall that this is a scene relatively early on where the pubescent teenager, whose name is Reagan in the movie has recently been possessed by Satan. And she is starting to already look kind of gross. And her mom comes into her room and catches her with her nightgown pulled up. She has a crucifix in one hand and she's stabbing it into her vagina and screaming, “Fuck Jesus. Fuck you!” And then she grabs her mom's head and forces her mom's head between her legs and says, “Lick me!” And then like beats her mom up. It's this kind of table setting for the movie about what is going to be scary here. So partly what's going to be scary is that a cute girl who starts out at the beginning of the movie as just this kind of innocent little pubescent girl is being violently sexualized. She's also blaspheming. And she's also in this kind of weird lesbonic incestuous thing with her mom.
[00:06:01] So she's radiating ugliness and sexuality that is inappropriate on like every kind of register. Many, many critics, of course it pointed out that this is about, you know, teenage girl sexuality and how fucking scary that is for men who made this film and wrote this film and wrote the book that it's based on and star in the film. Really, the only women in this film are either the mom who's totally freaked out and sidelined or this horribly disfigured teen who mostly speaks in the voice of Satan. So she doesn't even have her own voice. She just gets to have Satan's voice.
Charlie Jane: [00:06:36] And then meanwhile of course in Carrie you have menstruation as like the beginning of Carrie's journey into horror and her clash with her mother who is, it's kind of the opposite. Her mother is kind of being weirdly religious and abusive towards her.
Annalee: [00:06:49] Yeah, that's a really good point. It's kind of a reverse Exorcist in a way. It's like religion is what causes the horror. Also bullying, of course.
Charlie Jane: [00:06:57] What is it about teenage girls’ bodies in particular that you know is so horrific to male filmmakers or to male creators?
Annalee: [00:07:04] As I was just saying, I mean obviously, part of it is sexuality and part of it is the idea of a sexuality that's aggressive, which is exactly what we're seeing in that scene in The Exorcist. It's also something that we see in Carrie, where she becomes powerful and there's something about the fact that she's powerful and she has the ability to move things around with her mind. Part of that tweet that I think is true is that it's also old women's bodies that are scary. It's not just teenage bodies. And of course there's the iconic scene in The Shining where Jack Nicholson's character is menaced by this beautiful woman who turns out to be an old ugly woman with like scabs on her body. And like, it's so scary because like I guess it wasn't scary when she was like a naked ghost lady who looked hot, but like as soon as she’s like a naked old lady, it’s like AAH!
Charlie Jane: [00:07:54] Yeah. And that is a common motif in a lot of horror movies, especially horror comedy is you know, the kind of beautiful woman who turns out to be old and ugly and like you start hooking up with her, but the cis dude doesn't realize that this hot chick is actually not.
[00:08:08] It kind of goes along with things like Species, I guess, and like that whole trope that was so big for a while of like the hot naked alien chick who's actually kind of all tentacly.
Annalee: [00:08:18] Mm-hmm. She has spines.
Charlie Jane: [00:08:20] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:08:20] That's in the Transformers movies too.
Charlie Jane: [00:08:24] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:08:24] There’s a sex scene where it's like, but you thought you were just getting laid, but actually she's secretly got 20 penises coming out of her body or whatever. I mean if you think of a tentacle as a penis, which obviously I do, so.
Charlie Jane: [00:08:37] Right, well, duh. It is this sort of, this fear of inversion and of women's sexuality becoming more aggressive and less kind of quote unquote receptive.
Annalee: [00:08:48] One of the things I was thinking about as I was prepping for this episode is the trope of Dark Phoenix, because this is something that we see not just in the X-Men comics, but you know, throughout these kinds of stories where women who have lots of power go dark. You know, they become evil and destructive and so it's that same idea of like, oh they seem pretty on the outside, where prettiness is coded as goodness.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:14] Being well-behaved or whatever.
Annalee: [00:09:15] Yeah, being well-behaved. Exactly. Because what is the real problem with Dark Phoenix? It’s that she won't do it Xavier tells her to do, right?
Charlie Jane: [00:09:22] She's a bad girl.
Annalee: [00:09:23] She's a bad girl.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:24] She’s a rebel.
Annalee: [00:09:24] And isn't it the whole backstory for Jean Gray that like the only reason she's able to stay sane is because Xavier like puts all this crap in her head to like hold her power back?
Charlie Jane: [00:09:35] That's, I mean in the movies, I can't remember if that's true, in the comics or not.
Annalee: [00:09:37] So, at least in the movies, that's part of the idea, is that she's kind of going outside the lines.
[00:09:42] A common thread here is that men are making films about the ugliness and horror of female power. Uncontrollability of female power. I feel like this is one of those situations where there's the Freudian idea that everything that isn't sexual as actually secretly sexual. But if you kind of turned that on its head and you look at The Exorcist scene, the “Let Jesus fuck you” scene, and you say, well maybe this is a case where the sex is actually about something else. Like that there's a subtext that's not sexual to that sexual scene. That subtext is something about women coming into their own and having power. And women being assertive and aggressive. And also women rejecting ideology that's been smashed into their head. You know, in this case, it's the ideology of Catholicism, but it's also about being obedient and about always doing what Mommy says.
[00:10:35] So, I think sometimes that the sexuality that we see in these stories is a cover for something else. That we kind of throw the sexuality at the screen because people are like, oh women, that means sex. But actually, we're talking about something else.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:49] Horror movies obviously as a genre are notorious for punishing women for being sexual. And that's where the kind of idea of the final girl comes in. But the final girl is usually, like, the good girl as well. She's the girl who kind of follows the rules when nobody else does.
Annalee: [00:11:04] Yeah, I mean the idea of the final girl comes from this great book called, Men, Women and Chainsaws by Carol Clover. And she was writing about slasher films and I think the movie Halloween was kind of her main text, one of the main texts that she looked at.
[00:11:20] And so she was interested in how, the girl who survives, as you said, she's not sexual. She's often a tomboy. So she's almost coded as male and she gets to survive because she hasn't been out humping in the woods the way the kids are in the first Jason movie, basically, which was called Friday the 13th. And, actually, I would like to point out that in the first Friday the 13th movie, the monster is a woman. It's actually Jason's mom who's killing everybody. And everyone always forgets that. They're like, Jason the ultimate dude. Dude killer. And it's like, well it all started with Mrs. Jason.
Charlie Jane: [00:11:55] Right?
Annalee: [00:11:55] Murdering a bunch of kids for humping in the woods.
Charlie Jane: [00:11:58] So can we talk about the Alien movies a little bit? You know you mentioned Alien and there's all that imagery of cis women body parts in the alien spaceship. There's basically like vaginas everywhere. And then the horror is that men get impregnated.
Annalee: [00:12:11] The horror of gender inversion or sex inversion, really.
Charlie Jane: [00:12:16] And the horror of just reproduction and of this intrinsically, you know, cis female experience.
Annalee: [00:12:20] Well, as I was saying, like a lot of this stuff about sex is really code for something else maybe. But I think in this case, men making monster movies with female monsters just always come back to reproduction as the scariest possible thing. So, it's true. We were talking earlier about how like naked old women and naked disfigured young women are like number one scary thing. But it seems like number two is like menstruation, as you mentioned with Carrie, anything that feels like reproduction, like with the Alien movies. Also the David Cronenberg movie Videodrome where James Woods grows a vagina and sticks a VHS tape into it. Which like every time James Woods tweets, I just think about that and I'm like, take this VHS tape into your vagina now James Woods.
Charlie Jane: [00:13:08] Oh my God.
Annalee: [00:13:10] So I think there is like a terror of the feminine. There's the terror of the cis woman's body. Where does that come from? Well, misogyny.
Charlie Jane: [00:13:18] Right?
Annalee: [00:13:19] I'm like, I'm at a loss. I'm sure, you know, someone who is really interested in mythology would claim that there was some kind of, you know, Jungian explanation. But I reject that. I think it's just, I think it's just misogyny.
Charlie Jane: [00:13:31] And that's a lot of body horror, right? Like you mentioned Cronenberg, a lot of his stuff is about the horror of female bodies.
Annalee: [00:13:37] Yeah. Like, how horrible would it be to be a cis woman? You know, like that's literally just like the proposition of a lot of these movies. Like what if you had a hole in your body and a baby could come out? Oh my God. And it's like, yeah, that's just normal. Like what if you had a hole in your body and poop could come out? Like it's just like—
Charlie Jane: [00:13:56] That would be horrifying.
Annalee: [00:13:58] I think we need more butthole horror movies.
Charlie Jane: [00:14:00] I mean I'm down with that. Wasn't there like a huge butthole movie a few years ago about like an evil butthole that like goes on a rampage or whatever. It's called Bad Milo, and it's about a man who learns his stomach pains are being caused by a demon that lives in his intestines. And it's Ken Marino from like Veronica Mars and various other things. And he has like an evil butt demon.
Annalee: [00:14:23] There you go. That's awesome. And Brian Yuzna’s film, Society, which you and I have talked about probably more than once on this show cause we both love it. It does have a guy whose head comes out of his butt. So that's exciting. It's funny because I think we're going to get more butthole horror the more that gay men start making films. You know, as it's about sexuality. And we've already been discussing how sexuality as a kind of way of talking about these other issues. So I eagerly await hot butthole horror.
Charlie Jane: [00:14:49] Yeah, for sure.
Annalee: [00:14:52] So let's turn now to talk a little bit about what happens when women start making these kinds of stories. When women write these kinds of stories, when they, when they're filmmakers who are creating monsters, how is it different? And, of course, the very first monster story that we have in English that is a kind of sci-fi story is Frankenstein, written by a woman, Mary Shelley.
Charlie Jane: [00:15:14] Right, and it's all about reproduction.
Annalee: [00:15:15] It is about reproduction, but interestingly different from the kinds of reproduction horror that we see in male narratives, right? Because this is not about somebody growing a vagina or like squirting weird aliens out of their face or like any kind of like goopy blobby stuff. This is about putting together a person out of dead body parts and using electricity.
[00:15:39] It's very, in a weird way, it's very antiseptic. Even though of course every film version of this, especially in the modern era is very gloopy and like they kind of add a bunch of goobers to it.
Charlie Jane: [00:15:50]Yeah, I mean, Kenneth Branaugh literally like has everybody just covered in lube like wrestling and stuff.
Annalee: [00:15:54] I know, there's like a K-Y Jelly wrestling scene in that film, which is kind of amazing. But I mean, the early Frankenstein films don't, it is much more just kind of as if this is a person being put together out of rocks or something like that. They don't bleed. You know, the Frankenstein monster is kind of a Cyborg. He’s really part machine.
[00:16:14] I'm really persuaded by a recent book published by Lita Judge about Mary Shelley in which basically she—Judge argues that the monster is supposed to be a woman and that it's all about how women were kind of marginalized. And one of the things that Judge talks about a lot is how the monster learns to speak and read by looking in a window where a guy is teaching his kids. Judge talks about how this is basically how a woman would have to learn, like women couldn't go to school. So if you are going to learn, you'd be kind of like peeking in on your brother's lessons and you'd be watching from the shadows to kind of get information.
[00:16:57] And so I thought that was really interesting because one of the things we see in a lot of the monsters created by women is that the monsters are sympathetic. We identify with the monsters, you know, so there's Frankenstein's monster who we certainly identify with, but then Anne Rice and Tananarive Due who come along in the ‘70s, and ‘80s and ‘90s, and they're writing about classical monsters like vampires and the undead and ghosts. And those are all very sympathetic characters in their work.
[00:17:27] And then you get a movie like Ginger Snaps, which was written by a woman where we kind of sympathize with the werewolves.
[00:17:37] It's interesting that we kind of see women exploring that idea of a sympathetic monster. And of course also as we'll talk about later with Mallory O'Meara, a woman created the creature from the black lagoon and that's one of the very first sympathetic monsters that we see in kind of monster movie land coming from Universal.
Charlie Jane: [00:17:56] So, and then of course there's C.L. Moore who was like a massively underrated, amazing author of science fiction and other genres. And you know, she did her own retelling of the Medusa myth in her story, Shambleau, which we actually have a clip for of her reading.
C.L. Moore: [00:18:10] The myth of the Medusa, for instance, can never have had its roots in the soil of Earth. That tale of the snake-haired Gorgon, whose gaze turned the gazer to stone, never originated about any creature that Earth nourished. And those ancient Greeks who told the story must have remembered, dimly and half-believing, a tale of antiquity about some strange being from one of the outlying planets, their remotest ancestors once trod.
Charlie Jane: [00:18:35] I love how like blazé she sounds in that clip. She sounds very kind of chill about it.
Annalee: [00:18:40] She's just, she's a super chill lady. So, that was published in 1933 in Weird Tales magazine.
Charlie Jane: [00:18:46] Oh my God.
Annalee: [00:18:47] I think she was one of the only, if not the only woman who was ever published in Weird Tales.
Charlie Jane: [00:18:53] Wow.
Annalee: [00:18:52] And apparently when the editors got that story in the mail from the slush pile, they all took the afternoon off and drank because they knew it was going to be so great that they didn't need to do anymore work that day.
Charlie Jane: [00:19:03] Oh wow.
Annalee: [00:19:03] So she contributed a lot to Weird Tales. And this was a very popular piece that—Shambleau won a bunch of awards and it's kind of her calling card. And the thing that's interesting to me is that it's a retelling of the Medusa myth where Medusa is an alien and she has these tentacles on her head and she uses them to kind of hypnotize men and get men addicted to her and stuff like that.
[00:19:28] So it's kind of a succubus thing, but also an alien. Like I said, it's just, it's revisionist female monsters. So she's taken a classic female monster and said, well actually what if this was just an alien? And this was just how the alien lives is like by eating people, you know? And it's like just kind of natural that she gets people addicted to her. I think that ends up also being kind of a theme in a lot of these stories by women is kind of changing our perspective on a monster that maybe we already know.
Charlie Jane: [00:19:59] And sort of turning things upside down. Like in The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, there's hints that is not really a ghost story, right? It's a ghost story that’s kind of turned on its head.
Annalee: [00:20:08] So I haven't seen the new series, The Haunting of Hill House, which is a huge gap in my pop culture consumption and I apologize, but the original novel by Shirley Jackson, which came out in the late ‘50s is similar to the show where you know, people have come to this house because they want to investigate the possibility that ghosts are real. And the character of Eleanor who is eventually kind of, well we're not really sure, but she sort of possessed by the house. In the book, it's hinted that maybe she's telekinetic and that she's causing all the things that other people are reading as being ghosts. And to me that's interesting because it's kind of showing that a woman could have that much power, the power to move things with her mind is considered to be ridiculous and no one considers that. But like the idea that ghosts might be real. Well, of course. You know, but that seems just logical and we're going to use science to find out more, but we won't investigate the possibility that like, well, maybe a woman is just doing all this with her mind.
[00:21:07] Which indeed, of course a woman was, Shirley Jackson used the power of her mind to haunt us with this story and it's been made into two different movies and that TV show just scared the shit out of people, so… So her mind continues to haunt us into the present.
[00:21:22] I have a question for you because one of the things I was thinking about a lot is that J.K. Rowling has created one of the most memorable monsters of the modern age, Voldemort. So do you think it makes any difference that a cis lady created Voldemort?
Charlie Jane: [00:21:38] I mean, I think it's interesting because Voldemort is kind of this creepy kind of phallic looking dude, right?
Annalee: [00:21:45] Right, he's a snakey guy.
Charlie Jane: [00:21:45] He’s a snakey dude. He's got the snake girlfriend. He’s, you know…
Annalee: [00:21:50] He does.
Charlie Jane: [00:21:51] I mean, he’s sort of—
Annalee: [00:21:52] The controversial snake girlfriend.
Charlie Jane: [00:21:53] He's sort of creepy and we keep being told that like his problem is that he doesn't understand love or that he doesn't believe in love and that's why he loses. And he's sort of, you know, in some ways the archetypal male control freak, but he's also like weirdly feminized, especially in the movies. He's so smooth and kind of sultry, I dunno. I’m just kind of making stuff up now, but I feel like there's something to that. And I feel like often movie villains and like horror movie villains, even if they’re dudes are kind of feminized and kind of like part of what's creepy about them is that they're not manly or that they're not—I think that that's one of the fears that a lot of horror and fantasy narratives kind of tap into.
Annalee: [00:22:34] One of the things about Voldemort that's also really interesting is that he is an authoritarian leader. He's kind of a classic Shitty Dude. And that's another theme that we see in women's monster movies. We see like Shitty Dudes either creating monsters or being the monster. The movie American Psycho, which was directed by Mary Harron is about like a classic Shitty Dude. I mean he's also killing people, so that's not really classic. Like there's lots of shitty dudes out there who don't take it that far.
Charlie Jane: [00:23:03] Right.
Annalee: [00:23:03] Again, that's something we just don't see very often in kind of cis male-authored monster movies. We don't see that sort of, the bad snakey guy is also fitting this mold of like a crappy guy.
Charlie Jane: [00:23:16] So I keep thinking about the movie, the Babadook, directed and written by Jennifer Kent, which is all about this woman's anxiety of being a bad mother. And she and her son kind of conjure this monster from like a storybook who is, you know, kind of just like your typical creepy dude character. But he also symbolizes all of her kind of anxieties about motherhood and being a bad mother and all of the pressure she's getting from the other moms and all of the anxieties that she's suffering. All of her anxieties about herself as a woman are kind of projected onto this like scary dude figure, who kind of externalizes it.
Annalee: [00:23:52] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:23:51] And I think that cis men take all their anxieties about their, their manhood or their manliness and sex and whether they're going to be able to boink hot ladies or not and project them onto these scary images of unboinkable, or you know, too powerful or too disturbing women. I think that there is a case to be made that female horror creators turn around to do the opposite. They take all their anxieties and insecurities about being women and about inadequacy and nobody wanting to boink them and you know them not getting to boink any hot dudes or whoever they want to boink and they project them onto kind of these like scary weird dude figures.
Annalee: [00:24:28] Yeah, that's super interesting. I was thinking a lot about Lauren Beukes’s novel, The Shining Girls, which is about a shitty dude who travels through time and kills women that before they're able to achieve any kind of power because he kind of can sense when there's women who are gonna make a difference in the world. And he kind of seeks them out and destroys them in this really super scary way. Like it's, it's really, I can't recommend that novel enough. It's not anxieties about so much about who gets to boink who, but it is anxieties about power and I think that's what Voldemort is about too. It's like that fear of for women, for cis women and trans women… One of the biggest fears that we have is that some person or some group of people, it's gonna rip away our power because it's just so easy to do, you know?
Charlie Jane: [00:25:13] Yeah. And control over our bodies and you know, yeah.
Annalee: [00:25:16] Control of our bodies, control of our fate, control of where we get to work. Whether we get to work and, you know, women, trans women and cis women are still groups that are incredibly vulnerable to that. And you know, as we can see from the #MeToo era, this is still an ongoing problem. And so I think one of the terrors that women do project onto their monsters is like a shitty guy who's gonna take it all away.
Charlie Jane: [00:25:42] So in Haunting of Hill House you have that thing where the woman is possibly telekinetic but everybody is just insisting that it's all just ghosts. Is that a theme? Is the thing of like women having power but being gaslit about it is that, you know, thing that you see in horror by women?
Annalee: [00:25:57] I think that's a big part of it. I mean, Voldemort has kind of mind control, which I don't mean to keep picking on Voldemort, but I do think that one of the issues that we see coming up in women's horror often has to do with somehow people not believing them. Or, when they insist on something that people don't take it seriously.
Charlie Jane: [00:26:20] Right.
Annalee: [00:26:20] And interestingly, of course gaslighting comes out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. So a guy kind of invented that idea, or named it or actually he named the movie and then later women kind of used the name of his movie to talk about this thing that guys do all the time. I think it does come up a lot. I think in a lot of the stories that we've been talking about, I mean including actually The Shining Girls, there's a ton of gaslighting in there.
[00:26:45] And it's the same thing with like a lot of stories about vampires, which kind of glamor people.
Charlie Jane: [00:26:50] Right?
Annalee: [00:26:50] That’s obviously like the ultimate gas lighting. And I think that goes into what we were talking about before about this fear of losing your power. Like what if someone tricks you into thinking that you don't deserve to have power because you've become Dark Phoenix. Oh my God, I totally want to see like a revisionist, Dark Phoenix thing where actually she's really good. But like if Xavier is just gaslighting her into thinking that she's bad and that’s why she needs to—
Charlie Jane: [00:27:13] And that her power is dangerous and it's actually just like he's being a shitty dude. I mean, I feel like that's the logical end point of that story that we've just never quite gotten to.
Annalee: [00:27:21] Oh, I really hope that that like somebody makes that at some point or makes another comic that kind of deals with that because that's… I feel like that's what's going on. Like Xavier's the ultimate gaslighter.
Charlie Jane: [00:27:31] He really is.
[00:27:34] So I wanted to finish by talking about a couple of movies that we both love that are kind of about women who become supernatural and powerful and how that messes everything up. The movie Bit, which came out recently and Zombie Strippers.
Annalee: [00:27:48] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:27:48] And you know—
Annalee: [00:27:49] Both of which are made by men.
Charlie Jane: [00:27:51] Both of which are made by male directors, but I love them both so much. Like, Bit is a movie that it's just kind of out in limited release. It's doing the festival circuit right now. It's about a trans girl played by Nicole Maines from Super Girl who gets recruited to join a gang of basically like queer lady vampires who go around killing men who are, you know, problematic.
Annalee: [00:28:12] And sometimes just random men.
Charlie Jane: [00:28:13] And sometimes they just kill random people. I like how in that movie, at one point the main vampire is asked like, so do you only kill bad people? And she's like, eh, 80-20, you know. I mean—
Annalee: [00:28:23] We try.
Charlie Jane: [00:28:24] We do our best like four out of five times we kill bad people. The fifth person is just random.
Annalee: [00:28:29] Chance.
Charlie Jane: [00:28:29] Random, you know—
Annalee: [00:28:30] Random vampire shit.
Charlie Jane: [00:28:31] —bystander or whatever. Yeah. And then the movie Zombie Strippers, which is all about like there's some kind of weird chemical thing that happens and all these women that come zombies and they use it to be basically better strippers until of course it all goes horribly wrong and they start killing their patrons.
Annalee: [00:28:45] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:28:46] But at first there’s all these great scenes of like just incredibly athletic, super-fast, crazy pole dancing done by zombies, which is amazing.
Annalee: [00:28:56] Yeah. Both are kind of stories about women seizing power in ways that are, you know, a little morally ambiguous cause you know, killing people and eating people is probably—is not the best way to solve patriarchy. But yeah, I think it's interesting. Bit is a great example of how I think a feminist sensibility or even just like a female-authored sensibility is kind of creeping into male-authored films. I think the movie Ex Machina, which was a written and directed by Alex Garland, for whatever problems you might say it has, it's definitely trying to incorporate that idea of like how women are turned into monstrosities by men and what that means. And I think it does a relatively good job of thinking about that.
Charlie Jane: [00:29:34] And you and I both Bit and Zombie Strippers are about kind of marginalized, queer women and sex workers and what happens, you know, they become powerful. But is it okay? Is it, are they actually becoming too much like men in the process, which is—
Annalee: [00:29:46] Or just too powerful? Or are they sort of Dark Phoenix?
Charlie Jane: [00:29:49] Are they Dark Phoenix? Yeah.
Annalee: [00:29:51] It's like, it kind of goes into that hole.
Charlie Jane: [00:29:54] So we're going to take a quick break and when we come back, we'll have our super special guest, Mallory O'Meara.
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Charlie Jane: [00:30:12] So we're incredibly lucky now to be joined in the studio by Mallory O'Meara, the author of The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters, and the Lost Legacy of Millicent Patrick. Welcome.
Mallory: [00:30:24] Thank you for having me. I'm so honored to be here.
Charlie Jane: [00:30:26] It’s totally our thrill and our pleasure to have you here. So, maybe you can start it off by just telling us like how did you find out about Millicent Patrick? What made you interested in writing this book about her?
Mallory: [00:30:36] So I first found out about her when I was a teenager after I had watched Creature from the Black Lagoon for the first time. And I did what all of us nerds tend to do when we either read or watch or listen to something that we fall in love with. And I had to go online and find out all kinds of facts and behind the scenes pictures and trivia about it. And in amongst all the things that I found while I was a teenager was this picture of a woman working on the monster suit. And it really blew my brain open because up until then I had never seen a woman doing anything on a movie, let alone working on a monster. All my heroes were, you know, horror dues there, Tom Savini and Rick Baker and all those guys and I just, I had never been able to envision myself in this world until I saw this picture of this amazing looking woman making monsters and it changed my life. And I didn't really plan on writing a book about her. I didn't ever plan on being an author.
[00:31:26] But several years later after I got a tattoo of her, I got into a conversation with the person who is now my literary agent and they were like, who is this woman? And I was like, well, you know, this woman named Millicent Patrick, she designed the creature but nobody knows anything about her. And he said, “Oh wow, you should write that book.” And I laughed and he said, “No, no, you should write that book.”
Charlie Jane: [00:31:45] Wow.
Mallory: [00:31:45] That, and my life changed.
Annalee: [00:31:47] I'm really glad you did because her life story is so interesting. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you think that she changed the way monsters were made because there really was this shift after her creature toward, it seems like, monsters that were more, I don't know, sympathetic. Or, like something about it felt different.
Mallory: [00:32:09] Oh, for sure. I think Millicent absolutely changed the face of monster movies. I mean from a technical standpoint alone, the creature is really the first big iconic monster that was a full suit like that. You know, it had to go in the water, he had to be out in the daylight and he really is like a complete monster. He's not just like a head and hands. But at the same time, like you said, the creature is really the first monster that we feel a lot of empathy for. A lot of the other Universal monsters, we're like, oh, we feel bad for them, but they're still very monstrous to us.
[00:32:40] When you watch Creature, Creature’s not the bad guy. And I think a lot of being able to feel that way about him is the way that Millicent designed him. And then after that we see such a huge legacy of a lot of sympathetic, empathetic monsters, whether they're vampires or werewolves or even you know, giant monsters like King Kong or Godzilla, you know, that is sort of the key to making a classic monster movie is being able to fall in love with the monster. And I think Millicent changed the name of that game.
Charlie Jane: [00:33:07] So what is it about the creature that makes him lovable or sympathetic when you know Frankenstein or the wolf man or whatever weren’t?
Mallory: [00:33:14] Well I think for Creature, in that film, they really play up the evil scientist bad guy more than they do in a lot of other ones. You know, the creature is just like hanging out in his lagoon. He just wants to swim and not have people flick cigarette butts at him and he just wants to like hang out. These scientists come in and you really see in this film that's a little bit different than other ones. A lot of more inter-human conflict. You know, there's one half of the scientists and they're like, oh well let's bring them, let's bring them back alive. And the other guy's the bad guy who is explored even further in Guillermo del Toro’s Shape of Water. He is that sort of stereotypical toxic man who's like, no, let's kill him and we're going to kill them. We got to take him back.
[00:33:51] And there's a lot more human conflict. In the midst of all of that, the creature’s like, hey guys, you can just leave me alone. I'm just here. I'm hanging out. And that, sort of mixed up with the way that Millicent designed his face. Like when you look at that, that design, he almost, the face almost looks articulated, but it's just a rubber mask. You know, it's not, those aren't different pieces. It's not a makeup, but it's so emotive the way that she designed it and that you could… He looks like he's feeling pain or anger and you know, a lot of that is because of the great way that he was played by Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning. But a lot of that is Millicent's design.
Charlie Jane: [00:34:25] So it's that the mask has like human-looking features or that it's got something that makes us feel empathy towards it.
Mallory: [00:34:32] Yeah. The first design of the creature that Millicent sort of took over from the director and the producer, the producer William Allen, he wanted something that was very empathetic. He wanted a monster that people felt bad for. He did not want something scary. And the first version of it looked terrible. It was like a frog who was wearing a spandex onsie and it was bad, bad, bad. And the studio wanted something that was a little bit more, little bit more scary. And so Millicent had to strike a balance between the two. And I think the way the, especially with the eyes and just the way that his nose is, he is sort of in that uncanny valley area where he looks just human enough that we can feel bad for him.
Annalee: [00:35:13]Yeah. He also sometimes looks kind of surprised and outraged when we see him. Because he's kind of, he's doing that thing where he kind of opens his mouth like he's a fish a little bit, but it also has this, I don't know, it has this feeling of him being like, “What the hell are you doing here in my Amazonian pond?” Like you know, “Why are you invading?” He doesn't seem—
Mallory: [00:35:35] Oh, definitely.
Annalee: [00:35:35] He doesn’t seem like a tooth-baring, angry guy. He seems like a, “Wait, what?” You know?
Charlie Jane: [00:35:40] Aww.
Annalee: [00:35:42] Yeah.
Mallory: [00:35:41] He definitely has more of a range of emotions. I think a lot of the other Universal monsters, I mean, like, my favorite Universal monster, the wolf man. Wolf man has like one mode. He's like angry-horny. That’s the wolf man. He doesn't have a big range. But the creature, like you said, he can be, you see him being outraged. You see him being a little heartbroken or sad. You see him being scared, feeling helpless and tired. And again, this is all up against other monsters that are just faces and masks. Or faces with makeup on. And the fact that a full latex rubber mask can compete against those other characters is incredible.
Annalee: [00:36:19] You brought up The Shape of Water and I wanted to talk about that a little bit because of course the monster in Shape of Water who's not really monster, but the creature in Shape of Water is designed by a guy. It's a movie that's like, basically a guy's movie with, you know, some women in it. Does it make a difference that a woman designed the creature in The Creature from the Black Lagoon and a guy designed the creature in The Shape of Water? Do you think that it makes a difference that the story is different or that the design is different?
Mallory: [00:36:47] Oh, I think it absolutely does. I think that's why it's so important that we need a more inclusive group of people behind the scenes making these monsters. In The Shape of Water, Mike Hill did an incredible job. I love the asset in Shape of Water. I think it's fantastic, but it definitely is a departure from the original. It feels like a little more that The Shape of Water creature almost feels like a man designing something that he would think a woman would want.
Charlie Jane: [00:37:14] Oh.
Annalee: [00:37:14] That's interesting. Yeah, I kept wondering about that as I was watching because I was like, yeah, like what is different about this creature? And I mean there's that kind of scene in the film where like the main character is telling her friend that basically the creatures dick can pop out or something. I forget how she kind of explains it. But it's like I just don't think of that as a kind of conversation that would necessarily happen. I mean, maybe, but is that really the first thing that we would talk about? Where does he hide his dick in this costume?
Mallory: [00:37:46] Part of it, I think it is good and I think the film succeeds in a way. But it feels like men trying to imagine what the female gaze is, you know? And it felt like Guillermo del Toro and Mike Hill had a sit down. And Mike is a friend of mine. I feel like I should ask him. It was just like, they had to sit there and go, “What do women find sexy?” He has that butt, he has these abs.
Charlie Jane: [00:38:06] Oh, yeah.
Mallory: [00:38:07] You know, he has these big eyes. He definitely—he feels like—it almost feels like a reversal of a lot of monster movie tropes where there’s… In a lot of classic monster movies there’s the beautiful woman and she doesn't really have a personality besides being pretty. That’s her main personality trait. And in The Shape of Water, it's interesting to see that reverse because you don't actually see a lot of buildup in the chemistry between the main character and the asset. She just sees him and she's like, oh, he's a hot fish dude. I'm into that.
Annalee: [00:38:37] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:38:38] Hot fish dude.
Mallory: [00:38:38] It's the same dynamic that you see in a lot of monster movies where there's not a lot of buildup. You're like, oh, this monster, or this guy loves this woman just because she's pretty. And you see that in this and I think it's interesting to explore, but it definitely feels like a man's idea of what a woman would fall in love with.
Annalee: [00:38:55] So what do you think are good examples of female-created monsters now or female-created monster movies now where we kind of get to see what—basically the kind of heritage of Millicent. What are women doing now that's different from what men are doing?
Mallory: [00:39:14] Well that's the heartbreaking thing is that no one has done it since Millicent. There hasn't been a big movie monster that has been designed by a woman since Creature from the Black Lagoon.
[00:39:23] There have been some indie stuff, which is really cool. And there have been some female-directed monster movies that are great. Something that I always like to point to people as A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which is like a vampire. It’s an Iranian vampire noir film, which is fantastic. And the monster in that is so great and it's such a great exploration of like a sort of desexualized version of a female vampire. And she's so great. She's played—the actress who plays her is fantastic.
[00:39:50] But we’ve gotten this great influx of monster movies recently. We have the new Kong: Skull Island, we have Godzilla, we had new Predator, but still none of them have been designed by women. And it's a heartbreaking thing for me because there, I know there are so, so many female special effects artists out there who just, they're all willing and ready to go. They just need the jobs.
Annalee: [00:40:09] Yeah, I mean we've had some, you know, monster movies that are either directed by women or written by women. Like there's Jennifer's Body, there's Ginger Snaps. We were talking a little bit earlier about American Psycho, which of course, you know, it's just a guy.
Charlie Jane: [00:40:25] And the Babadook.
Annalee: [00:40:26] And the Babadook. Oh, and also we were talking about Voldemort who is a monster that was created by a woman. Obviously she didn't design the monster for the film, but do you see any of these as like kind of departures from the typical kind of monster that you see?
Mallory: [00:40:38] Yeah, it's really great for women to be directing this stuff. And I think, you know, right now we live in this age of #MeToo, and there's a huge push to get more female directors, but there's so many other roles on a film set. And you can't just have one woman at the helm and be like, okay great, we are diverse now. If you want to have a great female creative monster movie, you also have to have a great woman writing it and you really should have a great woman designing and sculpting that monster.
[00:41:02] I feel like you lose a little bit of it if you have a monster that is spraying out of the head of a woman, but a man is the one who gets to sculpt it and create it and put it together. Definitely do see a difference when you have more women. And that's the interesting thing for me is that cis het white dudes have really shaped monster movie history for almost the entire thing. And they are the one group of people in the world who have the least to worry about, about monsters, like in real life.
[00:41:31] Women are the ones who walk out of a movie theater and they're the ones who have to continue thinking about it. They can walk out of a monster movie and they might encounter a real life monster on the walk home. Most dudes don't have to worry about that. If they're white and straight and cis, like they don't, they can just like walk home with their headphones in and like not think about it. I definitely think that we need to have more people making monsters, but like you said, there's, there are great monster movies that are created by women. I'm really excited. There's a new werewolf movie that is being written and directed by a great Mexican director I love. Her name is Isa Lopez. She directed The Tigers Are Not Afraid a couple of years ago, which is an amazing film.
Annalee: [00:42:08] She’s awesome.
Mallory: [00:42:08] She's doing a female werewolf story, which I'm so excited about and I'm hoping that a woman gets to design it.
Charlie Jane: [00:42:17] Obviously Millicent Patrick's role in horror movie history was kind of obscured. And since then there haven't been other women making monsters. Why do you think people are so threatened by the idea of a woman getting to design or create a monster for films or TV?
Mallory: [00:42:31] One, it's a conceptual thing. I think it really throws people on their heels. I mean it really did when Millicent was working and it still does. And it, you know, I know a lot of women in every area of film who come across this bias. Editors who you hear from male directors, they say to these female editors like, oh, can you edit violence? Can you edit action? And I think there's a lot of really throws men when they think of a woman designing something terrifying and powerful. You know, it's really a powerful position to be creatively in a film to design the monster. And also just, there's a lot of bias. We see only men making things and we just assume—it’s a self-licking ice cream cone, you know, you, so you only think of men to do these things and then men, but men get the jobs and they get more experience so they get more jobs.
Annalee: [00:43:13] It's definitely true. I would love to see… Imean, I wish I could see like an alternate history of film where like women had designed a bunch of monsters. We were talking earlier about the movie Videodrome where the scariest thing is like James Woods grows a vagina and sticks a VHS tape into it.
Mallory: [00:43:32] Oh yeah.
Annalee: [00:43:32] And it’s like, what would it have been like if a woman had been designing that monster? You know, would, I don't think she would have thought the scariest thing was to have a vagina.
Mallory: [00:43:40] Oh for sure. I was actually joking. So my boyfriend has been teaching me how to play Warhammer and I—because you know, I'm just not nerdy enough. And I'm going to be playing the undead and he bought me this like undead queen and she's a skull with a sheet over her. But she still has boobs.
Annalee: [00:44:00] Well, yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:44:00] Well, of course.
Mallory: [00:44:01] Wait. She doesn’t have skin on her face, but somehow she still has boobs.
Charlie Jane: [00:44:08] Oh my God.
Annalee: [00:44:09] Yeah. I think that's male creature design in a nutshell right there.
Charlie Jane: [00:44:14] It really is, oh my God.
Mallory: [00:44:13] And I was laughing. And I picked it up and he didn't even notice it. And I was like, look, she's got tits. And I was like, of course a man designed this. Like, this is ridiculous. She doesn’t even have a face!
Charlie Jane: [00:44:24] Oh my God. It's like the Borg Queen, the sexy Borg Queen.
Annalee: [00:44:26] Yeah.
Mallory: [00:44:28] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:44:28] Who's like all fetishy.
Mallory: [00:44:30] Oh, it's so ridiculous. But yeah, I would love to see, and I’m hoping, you know… I would love to see what the history of monster movies would have been like with more female designed monsters. But I'm hoping we still have—we have time in the future and this is such a great age to be living in if you like monsters or horror, there's so many great movies coming out that are really pushing the boundaries and telling really cool stories. And I just hope that we get more women behind the camera to actually get in there and design those monsters.
Annalee: [00:44:58] Awesome. Well thank you so much for joining us. This was great.
Charlie Jane: [00:45:02] Thank you so much. And you know, where can people find you?
Mallory: [00:45:05] You can find me on Twitter way too much on at @MalloryOMeara and @MalloryOMeara on Instagram as well. That's O-M-E-A-R-A. And if you are interested in my books or my films or anything that I do, just go to MalloryOMeara.com.
Annalee: [00:45:18] Awesome.
Charlie Jane: [00:45:18] Yay. Thanks so much.
Annalee: [00:45:19] Alright, bye now.
Charlie Jane: [00:45:19] Bye.
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Annalee: [00:45:36] You've been listening to Our Opinions Are Correct. You can learn more about our show by going to Twitter and following us. We're @OOACpod or you can support us on Patreon, which we would really appreciate.
Charlie Jane: [00:45:50] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:45:51] You can just find us on Patreon. Give us a buck, you know, it helps us eat and we like that a lot. We record, Our Opinions Are Correct here at Women’s Audio Mission in San Francisco. Our producer is the amazing Veronica Simonetti, and the music is provided by Chris Palmer, and we will see you in two weeks.
Charlie Jane: [00:46:10] Yay.
Annalee: [00:46:10] I mean you’ll hear us in two weeks.
Together: [00:46:11] Yay! Bye.