“It’s time the horror genre reinvents itself…”
She’s a proud feminist, an widely acclaimed director and writer, a fantastic photographer and she just so happens to be one of the biggest horror activists I’ve ever had the pleasure of chatting with.
Maude Michaud is a part of a movement within the indie horror scene that is growing stronger by the hour it seems. Through her production company Quirk Films, Maude is marching forward with a vision and determination that fits right in with the other women making their mark in film. Women who are pushing boundaries, daring their audiences to step off of the porch and into the dark woods of the unknown.
When she isn’t directing some of the most original horror shorts the film circuit has seen in a long, long time, Maude is a passionate advocate for Viscera Film Festival ( she serves as the director of operations for the Mistresses of Horror Alliance chapter of the organization). She also contributed to the ridiculously awesome Have A Heart For Horror Cookbook project this past year.
Horror film making is a study of the terrifying and psychologically crippling. Maude understands this and celebrates it like few do (or can, it seems).
She has her fingertips pressed firmly on the pulse of this corner of horror film and plans on unleashing her latest creation in 2013.
Dys- is slated for production this fall and promises to be a run through the gauntlet for even the most hardened horror fan.
As one of the busiest people around, it’s a miracle Maude even has time to keep in touch with her fans and such. Yet, Maude took the time to chat with me about everything from the current state of horror to her latest project. We even discuss Goosebumps and Are You Afraid Of The Dark?. It doesn’t get any better than that!
1. You’ve been on the film fest circuit since you were 16. What roped you into film making?
When I was really young, I spent most of my time reading and writing; I loved telling stories and inventing characters. I was also a huge cinephile, which led me to take drama classes when I turned 8. Theatre became a huge part of my life around that time. At first, I was mostly interested in how acting allowed me to push my creativity when creating a character, but I always felt like I wanted to have more control over the rest of the story, to really make it mine and have my vision come across.
Then, one boring summer (I think I was 13 or 14 at the time), I started binge renting all the indie cult films I had missed out on. Films like Reservoir Dogs, Trees Lounge, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Kids, The Doom Generation, Happiness, etc… That’s when I realized there was another kind of film making out there, something more accessible than the Hollywood industry. I felt this kind of cinema would allow me to better tell the stories I already started writing while also incorporating what I had learned from the stage. That’s when I decided I wanted to become a filmmaker. From that point on, every time I could turn a school project into a short video I would do so. Then, when I turned 16, I wrote and shot my first short using my dad’s camcorder, which got accepted in a teen film festival. Going to the festival and seeing my film on the big screen encouraged me to do another one, and that’s how everything got started!
2. You’re a huge horror fan- what are some under-appreciated horror films you’d recommend every fan see?
Right now I really, really like The Theatre Bizarre. It’s not really under-appreciated, but it just came out on DVD after a long festival tour, so I’m hoping more people will get to see it. It’s an anthology film that features the work of some of the most original and daring filmmakers currently working in the industry. The segments couldn’t be more different from one another, yet they all fit together perfectly.
I also recently rediscovered Georges Franju’s Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face) which is poetic and gruesome at the same time and is a refreshing change from the type of horror that is currently popular. It’s not for everyone, some might find it too artsy or slow-paced, but I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see a different, more artistic kind of horror film.
3. We have a huge childhood link- the book series Goosebumps and the television show Are You Afraid Of The Dark. I must ask- what was your favorite Goosebumps book? (Mine is definitely One Day At HorrorLand)
Oh my, that was 20 years ago! I remember liking Say Cheese and Die! because it had to do with photography, but I can hardly remember what the story was about. I also remember being freaked out by the one about the dummy because, in all honesty, I find dummy and porcelain dolls creepy as hell!
I must say I was a bigger fan of the Point Horror series because I found the stories scarier and more disturbing. I read them when I was a bit older, so I have a more vivid memory of what they were about. I remember liking the babysitter series by R.L. Stine (in Point Horror) which definitely got me interested in slasher films. I also remember liking another Point Horror subseries by Caroline B. Cooney having to do with fog and fire, but the storyline is a bit fuzzy! I should reread them all!
As for Are You Afraid of the Dark, let’s just say that I recently got my hands on the DVD box sets of the series and I like to watch them on hot summer nights while eating popsicles and pretending I’m a kid again! (laughs)
4. Your commentary on the definition of ‘horror’ is spot on. You’ve said it’s “truly horrific because there are no limits to the human psyche and how sick and twisted someone can be..”. Why does it seem women filmmakers are acing the psychological test in horror while men and mainstream continue pushing the shock gore and generic, predictable violence?
I think the reason why mainstream cinema continues pushing the shock gore and predictable violence is because people in general, even if they enjoy horror, don’t like to be challenged on a personal level or taken out of their comfort zone. You have no idea how many people (mostly men, but I don’t like to generalize) ask me: “you’re gonna add some humor in there, right?!” when I tell them about grim self-mutilating scenes.
I think a lot of people have trouble being confronted with really disturbing ideas or imagery, even in a horror film context, and tend to expect comedic elements or a predictable plot that will help water down what they’re seeing. Judging from the discussions I’ve had with fellow filmmakers and fans, a lot of women like to challenge this by addressing really disturbing subject matters in a graphic manner. However, I don’t think it’s strictly a gender thing.
I have a theory that viewers can be categorized as either ‘sadistic’ or ‘masochist’. I tend to belong in the ‘masochist’ category because I truly enjoy films that are painful or hard to watch, so as a result, it’s the kind of films I’m compelled to make. However, it is also the kind of films that rarely come out of the mainstream film industry because they’re harder to market and not appealing to a mass audience who seeks easy entertainment.
5. Judging from past comments, you seem to appreciate ‘slow burn’ terror over over-the-top visual horror. I knew I liked you. What is a favorite newer psychological horror film you’ve seen?
I’ll go with three: Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, and Stacie Ponder’s Ludlow. There’s a big debate about whether Antichrist is a horror film or not, I’m not even sure where I stand on the question. Regardless, this film pushes many boundaries and it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before. Black Swan couldn’t be more different, and is perhaps more accessible, but again, people love it or hate it. For me, the film really stands out with its distinct visual look and I love how the director didn’t fall in the trap of simplicity by making the film overly cliché; it has some original authorial qualities. A true, 100% independent film, Ludlow, Stacie Ponder’s first feature starring Shannon Lark, is a gem that needs to be discovered by more people. It’s the kind of film in which you’re never quite sure what’s happening but that is also incredibly compelling. Ponder is not afraid to experiment with narrative structure and storytelling and it makes for a refreshing result. I should warn that none of these are ‘easy’ films, but they’re worth checking out!
6. You are part of ‘I Hate LA‘. How awesome was it to work with the Fies sisters?
Lis is amazing and so is her sister Brenda! Collaborating on I Hate L.A. was awesome, incredibly rewarding and I’m proud to be part of the project. There should be more women-run projects out there! I shot my segment in Montreal, so unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to really work ‘on set’ with Lis, but she really helped make the long-distance collaboration work and be as smooth and painless as possible.
7. I LOVE that you’ve suggested we subvert the stereotype of ‘beautiful women getting killed and tortured’ and see if people react differently to the change. Isn’t it time we see more films that follow in the vibe of, say, Monster?
Yes! It’s time the horror genre reinvents itself and stops relying on old clichés and stereotypes. I think that’s why I enjoy hybrid movies such as Antichrist and Black Swan so much. They feel authentic and different.
In terms of subverting gender roles and offering a different perspective, I loved the French film À L’intérieur (Inside). Basically it’s about a pregnant woman being terrorized in her home by a woman who wants to steal her unborn baby by ripping her womb open with a pair of scissors. It’s an intense and brutal film, but it’s refreshing to have this different gender dynamic represented on screen. It challenges many of the slasher elements we typically expect in a horror film… There should be more movies like that!
8. I constantly argue that horror is the most broad genre in film. You seem to believe much of the same. What are a few favorite subgenres of horror of yours?
As previously discussed, I like psychological horror, but I also really like slasher films. In fact, I’m a huge Nightmare on Elm Street/Freddy Krueger fan! I also enjoy Euro-horror, especially the work of Jess Franco and Mario Bava, and I just plain LOVE the old William Castle films and the work of Roger Corman. It’s not so much a subgenre, but I’m also a huge fan of the 30’s Universal horror films. Oh and anything with Vincent Price in it.
9. What advice would you offer a young woman interested in the horror genre?
I’d say, whatever you want to do (direct, write, act, etc) just do it! Pick up a camera and shoot a short, write your story, get your work out there. No one is going to do it for you, so if that’s what you really want to do, don’t hesitate and go for it. It’s not going to be easy, you’ll probably have to face rejection and people trying to discourage you or patronize you, but you can’t let it get to you. As long as you keep your integrity and stay true to yourself and what you want to do, it’s all going to be worth it.
10. What trend in mainstream horror needs to die a fast but painful death?
A few years ago, I would have said torture-porn, but it seems to be dying now. So, I’ll say found footage films and useless remakes/reboots. I don’t think I can stand another Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch. Yes, I understand this kind of films is cheap and easy to make, but they are soooo predictable and, in my opinion, annoying to watch. As always, there are some exceptions. [Rec] for example was genuinely creepy and really intense… but overall I try to avoid the subgenre. As for remakes/reboots, I never understood the need to remake something that was good to begin with just for the sake of casting the current ‘it girl’ starlet in it or to get rid of subtitles.
11. How did ‘Bloody Breasts‘ come to be?
When I began my graduate studies, I read a lot of theories and academic texts about horror films and quickly became annoyed that nobody seemed to acknowledge the women working in the industry. Most of the texts vilified horror or were about how the genre was demeaning to women. Being a woman horror filmmaker, I was disagreeing with most of what I felt were the canon text of horror studies, so I proposed as a thesis project to make a documentary about fellow women horror filmmakers and how they challenge both the genre and established notions of feminism. Then, the project quickly snowballed, especially with the creation of the Women in Horror Recognition Month. I had to find a way to keep the project going without having a clear ‘end date’. This is how the Bloody Breasts webseries was born as the web format allows me to keep expanding the scope of the project by adding new interviews and covering more topics.
12. Your latest short, ‘RED‘ is gaining a lot of interest. It’s a helluva film! Where do you get the ideas for your projects? Are they real-life situations or just kick ass creativity on your part?
That’s a very good question and quite hard to answer! I tend to be very inspired by themes. In fact, I’m starting to see my work as being cyclical; when I explore a theme, it’s usually through a pair of films. As an example, I first touched on the idea of self-mutilation in my short Reflection and decided to address it again in Hollywood Skin but in a very different way. Same with the idea of snuff films which I experimented with in Snuff and Red.
As for what inspired me, I’m not so much inspired by real life. I usually have one simple idea that I fall in love with and the rest of the story develops from there. These inspiring ideas can come from anywhere: a painting, an image, a word, a nightmare, a feeling… I also tap into another type of ‘spontaneous’ inspiration when I get imposed very strict limitations, i.e. for Snuff I had to shoot a roll of Super 8 film which would be screened as is, which meant no editing, no multiple takes, no sound. This gets another kind of creativity going! Similarly, T is for Toothpick, my ABC’s of Death entry, had to be no more than 4 minutes, had to feature a death scene and had to start/end on the color red.
13. Your compilation Strange & Macabre Tales seems right up my alley. What is included on this?
Strange and Macabre Tales includes all the horror and ‘dark’ or weird shorts I had made at that point in my life (most people don’t know, but I wrote and directed a few comedies prior to working in horror), excluding the two shorts I was commissioned to do for anthology projects. A lot of my friends had never seen my work, or had only seen one or two of the shorts, so I decided to create this compilation, which would also allow me to start raising money for my first feature. It includes: Recessed, The Portrait, Snuff and two of my early video shorts I made when I was still in school and experimenting with the medium. As bonuses, I also included the trailers for Red and for Reflection which is my contribution to the Frankenstein Unlimited anthology project.
14. What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently in pre-production (we just finished casting) on my first feature film, Dys-. This is the biggest project I’ve done, so it’s really exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time! I’m extremely lucky and fortunate to be surrounded by a strong team of motivated people who really believe in the project; it really does make everything easier!
We’ll begin production in November and I’m aiming for a tentative late 2013 release. I’m writing, directing and producing the film, so as you can imagine this is keeping me busy 24/7!
It’s going to be a hybrid movie which will include intense drama, psychological thriller and gore elements. We’re currently crowd-funding part of the budget (independently from Indie-Gogo and Kickstarter), so if people are interested in donating or finding out more about the project, they can check out the website. There’s also a Facebook page for it. (sorry for shamelessly pimping the project!)
There’s no apology needed, considering it’s a fantastic project that everyone should check out and keep posted on!
I sincerely appreciate all of Maude’s time, enthusiasm and insight. She is truly one of the heavy hitters in the genre today, Hollywood or otherwise.
Check out my review of ‘RED’ here!