If you haven’t noticed by now through this blog, Canada is teeming with horror film makers who are putting the big dogs in Tinsel Town to shame more often than not these days. This Northern takeover hasn’t happened overnight- in fact, many of these amazing minds have been honing their skills for quite a while now. Thanks to social media outlets, the internet and the fact that more and more people are realizing independent horror is where it’s at for a good film, the talents of the Soska twins, Karen Lam, Maude Michaud, Jovanka Vuckovic, and many, many more are being recognized all over the world.
Another incredibly talented film maker who is a part of this list is Elza Kephart.
A native of Montreal, Kephart graduated from Emerson College (Boston) with a BFA in Film Production and Screenwriting.
Elza drew rave reviews for her film “Graveyard Alive: A Zombie Nurse In Love”, which was premiered in 2003. Kephart wrote, produced and directed the film that paid homage to the classic films, complete with a black-and-white presentation. The film has since screened in over twenty international film festivals and racked up numerous awards. “Graveyard Alive..” has also been picked up for distribution!
As a proud face of Canadian horror, Kephart’s 2006 release, “Beyond The Pearly Gates Of Ill Repute”, premiered at the renowned Fantastia Festival (held in Montreal every year since 1996) to a ringing endorsement.
Elza Kephart is yet another creative branch on the Women In Horror tree of talent whom I was privileged to chat with recently. Read on to learn more about Kephart’s stellar career.
- You did just about everything for ‘Graveyard Alive: A Zombie Nurse In Love‘, having written, directed and produced a great film that received wonderful praise from the horror community. It also pays homage to the “old school, campy” horror flicks of yesteryear. How did you wrangle up your cast and crew for this project?
I will admit something never before told: at first co-writer and producer Patricia Gomez Zlatar and I had thought of acting in the film ourselves; she would play Patsy, I would play Goodie, and our friend and co-producer Charles Jodoin-Keaton, would be Dr. Dox. We would also do the camera, minimal lighting, etc. It was going to be even more B-movie than it is now, since we can’t act. We quickly realized we had better NOT shoot and star in our own movie, and set about looking for cast and crew. We looked for crew via mandy.com, and cast through the local film schools’ non-union cast roster, friends and newspaper ads (yes, the newspaper! It was 1999 after all). We weren’t offering any payment, just food and the chance to star or work on a feature film. I think the idea of working on a campy zombie movie really appealed to people, as we got some quite talented people on board, considering the shoot was over twenty days long. One of our art directors came from Ontario, and the other one came all the way from Germany!
2. You appeared in the 2009 documentary ‘Pretty Bloody: The Women Of Horror’. What is your take on the X chromosome’s role in horror these days?
I feel that making films about “the dark side” is important for either sex, however it is doubly important for women, since we are typically expected to be nice, gentle, non-violent, and are seen to be less inclined to like violence, blood, horror, than men. It is important that we claim our right to bring out our dark side, and to show that women can have just as violent, and disturbed impulses as men, without this being a bad thing.
These dark feelings come because of no other reason than that we are human, and that being human is hard, frightening, even maddening. These feelings build up inside of us, and it is important not to repress them, but to release them in a way that is not damaging to ourselves or others. I strongly believe horror films serve as an outlet for this, whether we are men or women, making or watching. But to get back to why it is important for women to make horror films; I think the more women make these kinds of films, the more women will be able to admit to having these dark, destructive impulses, and that it is ok, and that there is nothing wrong for having these feelings. I love having “monster” women protagonists (like Patsy in ‘Graveyard Alive’), because that is how I feel sometimes, that I must be a monster for having these thoughts and feelings. But women who see other women making these kinds of films will hopefully realize that these feelings are normal, and that they should not be ashamed of them.
The irony is that I have gotten the most criticism for making horror films from women, not men. Men have been very supportive, very encouraging, have found it super cool that I make these kinds of films. While women, especially older women, have the most problem accepting that “one of their own” could want to write about violence, blood, gore, etc. It’s almost like they feel we are betraying our sex. But if society is going to be equal, women should feel free to share these dark impulses, which have up to now been considered more “masculine”, and likewise men should feel free to share their impulses which might be considered more “feminine”. The fewer stereotypes there are around men and women, the more balanced our world will be!
3. You’ve received a number of well-deserved accolades for your work behind the camera. Who are some of your heroes as directors?
I wouldn’t say I have heroes, or favourite directors. I usually find certain movies are my “heroes”, rather than their makers.
However, I would say love the style of formalist directors like Antonioni, Zhang Yimou, Michael Haneke; I love Bertolucci’s early work, like ‘The Conformist’, and Pasolini’s mythic films. There is something very graphic (in the sense of art direction, framing, etc, not as in X-rated!) in their work. I also love Jodorowsky, Ken Russel’s ‘The Devils’, and tons of fantastical films from the 70’s. Those films manage to bring you into a totally parallel universe, but without the use of CGI. I really admire filmmakers who can use camera work, art direction and pre-existing environments to create a whole new world, without relying on computer graphics. Not that there is anything wrong with CGI, but somehow it’s more impressive to create a fantastical universe without them.
4. What do you think needs to be done to continue erasing the stigma that may come with the label of “scream queen” these days?
I actually don’t know much about that at all- I guess a scream queen is an actress who works in horror movies and screams a lot? Why is there a stigma, that’s hilarious. There should be room for many kinds of women in horror- be they considered silly or serious. I think women should just keep doing what they want to do, persevere, and eventually we will stand on par with men. It’s just a matter of time.
5. Who are some Women In Horror you admire?
Again, I don’t really have particular heroes. I can say some of my favourite horror films directed by women would be “Trouble Every Day”, by Claire Denis, “L’Adversaire” by Nicole Garcia, and “Ravenous” by Antonia Bird. Those are not horror films in the typical way you think of a horror film, but they are very effective, not so much for the scare they bring, but for a lingering disturbing feeling they create. I really love that kind of filmic experience, the sense of being disturbed…! I aspire to make at least one film like that in my life.
6. Can you recommend an underappreciated horror film to the masses?
“Carnival of Souls”, a key inspiration for “Graveyard Alive”. It is wonderfully bizarre, campy and strangely touching. And, I am convinced, an inspiration for “The Sixth Sense”.
7. What has been your most proud moment as a woman in horror?
When we found out “Graveyard Alive” had been accepted in Slamdance. However that had nothing to do with my being a woman in horror- it was just my proudest moment as a filmmaker.
8. What is your favorite horror franchise?
Can’t say I have one. I don’t really like those types of films.
9. What advice would you offer a young woman with aspirations of joining the Women In Horror ranks?
Not to sound cheesy, but just go out and make your film. As horror filmmakers we are very lucky, in that the horror world is open to all types of sub-genres of horror films, with all types of production values, with or without stars, etc. When I think that “Graveyard Alive”, which we made for about two cents, with no one known, shot in B&W and dubbed, played in over 20 international film festivals, sold to TV, and got distribution, I am amazed. I don’t think this would necessarily have happened if I had made a sensitive drama about an insecure nurse who finally comes to accept herself. Horror audiences are very adventurous. Use this amazing advantage you have; you have a built-in audience, so with a little ingenuity and a lot of hard work you can get your film recognized.
The next piece of advice is more for female filmmakers in general, not necessarily horror filmmakers. Be bold, be daring, take chances. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. When you make them, welcome them; that’s the only way you will learn, that is what will make you a better director. Make the film you want to make, don’t let yourself be too influenced by other people- listen to others’ opinions but only hold on to the ones you feel will really serve the film. There is no right way to make a film, there is just your way; you need to follow what you feel is right, and don’t let anyone sidetrack you.
10. What do you want your legacy in horror to be?
When making both horror and fantasy films (my next feature, “Go In The Wilderness“, which retells the myth of Lilith, is a fantasy film) I want to take the audience on strange and sometime disturbing journeys, to meet characters, see environments, and witness circumstances they never would in real life.
I also want to bring a graphic quality to my films; I love to create aesthetically striking images, and, no matter if my film is about a zombie nurse, or the myth of Lilith, I want to create an environment, a frame, which will stay with the audience long after they leave the theater.
I can’t thank Elza enough for her time and insight with this piece. Check out the Facebook page to “Go In The Wilderness” as well!