WOMEN ARE HORROR: AN INTERVIEW WITH EMMA WESTWOOD

By Kate Macdonald

Co-hosting Triple R radio’s Plato’s Cave, writing for publications like The Age, Senses of Cinema and Metro, to name a few, working as arts editor for The Music (previously called Inpress) for four years and lending her voice to DVD commentaries; Emma Westwood is certainly one to keep herself busy within the film critic world. The Melbourne film writer doesn’t stop there either, channelling a keen interest in horror with her two books, Monster Movies and her newest The Fly, a deep dive into the 1986 David Cronenberg film. Recently appearing at the Melbourne Women in Film Festival on the Delightfully Dark panel, I spoke to Emma about the fascinating relationship between women and horror and her work as a film writer. 

KATE MACDONALD: You focus a lot on horror in your writing, what draws you to that genre of film?

EMMA WESTWOOD: As a kid I used to watch horror movies with my uncle on the weekend, he had a massive collection of cinema, music and books; all my cultural exposure came from him. It was just something that we both seemed to enjoy and we loved finding these really interesting horror movies. I found that horror cinema is probably, especially as a kid, one of the most creative forms of cinema, it really appealed to me because it could go in so many directions. I think anything you’re exposed to that you love when you’re young you will usually will take though into adulthood. That’s why it’s great to show kids a whole lot of things when their younger, they’ll take those passions into adulthood and manage to make something out of them. 

KM: How old are you watching these horror movies for the first time?

EW: Oh god, I remember being obsessed with Alien, which came out when I was seven, and I was obsessed with the concept of it. I wasn’t allowed to watch it at the time but I remember going to Hong Kong when I was eleven and my family there had a pirated VHS copy of it and I watched it by myself at night and I was so excited to finally see it and it just lived up to all expectations. I would say I was quite young but I was really adrenalised by them, they were just so exciting and revelatory for me.

KM: Was The Fly one of the movies you attached to as a child? 

EW: Absolutely, The Fly was one as well. I was a young teenager when The Fly came out and it was something that had such a huge impact on me. The Fly isn’t unlike Alien as a film, they’re all very simple storylines and their very traditional three act narratives, and they seem to be able to present highly complex human situations, existential crisis, yet do it in such a beautifully simple poetic way. The films that are so clever because they are so simple. 

KM: The film obviously stuck with you, what led to you writing a monograph on it? 

EW: Another writer, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who I do a lot of stuff with put me onto her publisher, Devil’s Advocates, and they were happy to go with me because I’d already published a book. I pitched them the idea of doing a monograph for their horror range and I gave them a lot of films that I was interested in and they jumped on the David Cronenberg films. I decided on The Fly because I had more of a history with it, it was just more of a seminal film in my life.

KM: You’re now writing a monograph on Bride of Frankenstein, can you tell me a little about that? 

EW: I wrote an article on Bride of Frankenstein as a promotional piece when my Monster Movies book came out and it just seemed to flow really well. When I ended up reposting it on my blog and republishing it on Diabolique’s website it ended up getting a lot of hits and people reacted really well to it, so it’s always kept Bride of Frankenstein in my mind. Doing The Fly as a book, you don’t immediately think of Frankenstein when you think of The Fly but it is a Frankenstein story; that man as god story. I say man as god because there’s never one that’s woman as god because woman is god, woman can create, and men can’t in the way woman can. All these science films are about man basically trying to create life which is what woman do naturally. So the Frankenstein thing, it just kept pointing back to doing around Bride of Frankenstein.

KM: It’s really interesting to think about the unique role women have in horror, why do you think women have made a strong impression within the genre?

EW: If you take the old nursery rhymes into account, ‘sugar, spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of’, woman have traditionally been told that they don’t have a dark side or that they can’t explore a dark side. Women have certainly fought against that notion because we are human beings, just like men, and we have the 360-degree human experience which means we have that dark side in us. This idea of women creatives working with darker material is really healthy because it allows you to explore that side and not oppress it. 

KM: You recently spoke at the Melbourne Women in Film Festival, do you think festivals like MWFF are important in reaffirming things like the important role of women in horror?

EW: It’s a great thing to have, I think it goes to show that we still need to have women in film festivals, goes to show that there’s still a gender inequality that needs to be addressed. I’d like to see the time when we don’t have to have these kinds of festivals. I’m not a big fan of women in horror months, for example, because I think women are horror, woman have been so important to the horror genre since its beginnings; look at Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein, women are horror. 

The Fly is available now online and you can catch Emma every week on the Triple R radio program Plato’s Cave.

Whitney Monaghan