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February 17, 2011

Interview: Jovanka Vuckovic in Honour of Women in Horror Month

In honour of Women in Horror Month, one of the most respected women in the worlds of horror and fanzines took some time to answer a few questions for CHC. Boys & ghouls...Miss Jovanka Vuckovic. Writer, filmmaker, madam of the macabre and former editor-in-chief of Canada's number one source of horror culture news.

Lacey Paige: Who are you and what role do you play in the horror biz?

Juvonka Vuckovic: My name is Jovanka Vuckovic and I am a published author, director and editor. I edited Rue Morgue Magazine for six and a half years and have recently moved on to filmmaking. My first short film, The Captured Bird, goes into production this spring. My book, Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead, comes out next week from St. Martin’s Press.

LP: What drew you into the genre and at what age to you remember it first having an impact on you?

JV: I always attribute my exposure to horror as a result of my chronic childhood insomnia. My parents used to let me stay up late watching television because I would eventually fall asleep on the couch. It was during those late and lonely nights that I became aquainted with Vincent Price in the Roger Corman Poe adaptations – not to mention the Canadian children’s show he appeared in – The Hilarious House of Frightenstein. Canadian broadcasters weren’t censoring anything after 11pm so it wasn’t long before my little eyes were traumatized by all kinds of horror films including The Exorcist, which I saw for the first time when I was only 8 years old. It left a permanent wrinkle in my psyche and certainly didn’t help my sleep problems. But, like a junkie, I was hooked before I even knew it and I’ve been an addict ever since.

LP: Name some females that you think had a significant impact on the evolution of the horror genre and why they had such an impact.

JV: When it comes to horror, women are more often seen than they are heard. In other words, people are more familiar with scream queens than they are the contributions of women behind the scenes. There are a handful of female horror directors who have made major motion pictures (Mary Harron, Mary Lambert, Kathryn Bigelow, Antonia Bird, etc) but I’m not sure they “shaped” the genre just by making a few films. I mean, Doris Wishman was making exploitation films before Herschell Gordon Lewis ever picked up a camera but no one really knows who she is. As I said, it’s more often “personalities” that make an impact on the genre, historically. I’d have to say the most significant woman in the history of horror would have to be Vampira (aka Maila Nurmi). She was the first television horror host—asexy, empowered vamp in a tight black revealing dress—shrieking morbid jokes at viewers when The Vampira Show debuted in 1954s. Before her, almost every female in horror was a victim. Her show didn’t last long, but the impression she left on the genre can still be felt today. She was a true trailblazer, the first horror host, the first goth pin-up, the inspiration for Forrest J. Ackerman’s Vampirella character and she even allegedly dumped Marlon Brando for stepping on a trail of ants! The horror genre would not be the same without the contributions of this dark diva.

LP: What do you think are some monumental horror films in terms of the importance of women in the genre?

JV: Up until the 1970s women were often portrayed as the hysterical, helpless victim. Then, all of a sudden, they started fighting back and the notion of the “final girl” began to emerge. This is a phrase coined by Carol Clover in her book Men, Women and Chainsaws. She observed this shift in the roles of women, particularly in slasher films, where the viewer identifies with the final girl toward the end of the film as she fights off the killer and ultimately lives to tell the story. Of course, sometimes it was by accident as with Alien’s Ellen Ripley. She was originally written to be a man so her bravado and non-reliance on the men around her is rooted in that truth. But nevertheless, her character helped pave the way for more strong, resourceful “final girls.” Thank you, Ridley Scott for not changing the character after you cast a woman in the role. Other classic examples include Laurie Strode (Halloween), Sally Hardesty (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Nancy Thompson (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Ginny Field (the first girl to go toe-to-toe with Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part 2). That said, I have often disagreed with Clover’s idea of female masculinization through “phallic appropriation” of knives and other weapons. People often look far too deep into horror films. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Sometimes a knife is just a knife.

LP: How do you feel about the role reversal of women in horror--going from victims in classic or "old-school" horror to often being the predator in modern horror?

JV: Today, it’s commonplace for women to survive horror films—though I love it when they break that “rule”—like in French slasher film À l'intérieur—where the villain and the victim are both female. Likewise in the Belgian survival horror film Clavaire, a man is placed in a role that would traditionally be reserved for a woman – a weak, desperate victim who is raped and otherwise victimized repeatedly. Here, Marc Stevens is the “final Girl.” There should be no “rules” in horror films. We should expect the unexpected.

LP: Why do you think horror is often arguably considered a genre for guys?

JV: What isn’t a boys club besides needlepoint and nursery school? Men dominate all arenas, not just the horror genre. Women were not encouraged to become involved in things like horror films, comic books and extreme sports. It’s just not what women in polite society did. They were especially discouraged from being filmmakers because filmmaking is a technical art. This is how they ended up on screen instead of behind screens. We now live in an age where porn is mainstream so no one’s really worried if women are watching horror movies any longer.

LP: Why do you think more women are getting involved?

JV: I think it was just a matter of time before it was socially acceptable for women to enjoy the pleasures of the horror film. But I think we’ve always loved them. Let’s not forget Bela Lugosi’s famous observation: “It is women who love horror. Gloat over it. Feed on it. Are nourished by it. Shudder and cling and cry ouT—and come back for more.”

LP: Are you directly involved in the Viscera film festival? If so, how? What are your thoughts on this event?

JV: No, I am not, but my short film has already been accepted to it, before even being shot. So there is plenty of support out there for female horror filmmakers.

LP: How are you celebrating Women in Horror month?

JV: I’ve been doing radio shows and interviews to try to raise awareness.

(Check out the progress of Jovanka's upcoming directorial debut, The Captured Bird, at

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