Monday, February 22, 2010
Interview with Filmmaker Lisa Hammer
Lisa Hammer has been a prominent NY underground filmmaker for over a decade. She currently writes, produces and directs feature films with her brother James Merendino (SLC Punk!). Together the two are known as “The Terror Twins”. Lisa is best known for her dark German Expressionist films and experimental horror films and fairy tales, as well as the voice of Triana Orpheus on Adult Swim’s hit cartoon The Venture Brothers. She was also lead singer of the popular “goth” rock bands Mors Syphilitica and Requiem In White.
Her films have toured the U.S. and the world, winning awards and screening at one-woman shows, film and video festivals, art galleries, clubs, and on television. She has collaborated with Ben Edlund (Firefly, Angel) and Doc Hammer (The Venture Brothers), Chris McCulloch (The Venture Brothers), and directed the likes of: Courtney Love, Thurston Moore, James Duval (Donnie Darko), Clayne Crawford (Roswell), Lisa Suckdog, Queen Itchie and Dame Darcy, to name a few.
Her cult horror feature film Pus$bucket, from the Broadway Musical, caused a few near-riots and has recently been acquired by Arcanum/Warner Home Entertainment for widespread commercial re-release on DVD, as have her film collections Girls Gone Grimm and Best of Turn of the Century. The feature film version of her award-winning cult NYC TV show POX (starring an actual cult leader) is in post-production. Her surrealist-feminist film Period Piece about a mentally challenged young girl and her period, has been touring the world in festivals and one-woman shows for five years.
Hammer has also kept busy directing and produced dozens of film, video, TV show episodes, horror stage-plays and soundtracks and co-writing several scripts, including a feminist horror film The Bitch, now in pre-production. The Terror Twins’ latest feature film, The Invisible Life of Thomas Lynch, recently won Best Feature Film at the CMJ Film Festival in New York City. The film is a dark comedy “shockumentary” following the life of a lonely hit man. The Terror Twins have completed a pilot for their TV show Terror Lab, as well as recording a haunting CD Bloody Ballads (www.myspace.com/terrortwinsmedia). Hammer has recently released her ethereal solo CD Dakini on Projekt Records.
Her work can be seen on her web site: www.lisahammer.com and at imdb.com.
Fatally Yours: How and when did you fall in love with horror?
Lisa Hammer: I have been terrified since I was child. I was born in Salem, MA, where the witch trials are still talked about every day. I remember visiting the Salem Witch Museum when I was five, watching the floor light up in a pentagram shape, and then a statue of the Devil glowed and shrieked, starting a terrifying wax museum tour of the true story of the torture and murder of innocent people. I was never normal after that.
Fatally Yours: What does horror mean to you?
Lisa Hammer: It means nightmares for a week. No, seriously, it could be anything from brilliant slasher films like Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to supernatural and psychological masterpieces like The Shining, and even the spectacular horrors of nature as in Jaws.
Fatally Yours: What are others’ reactions when you tell them you are involved in the horror genre?
Lisa Hammer: I hang out with a lot of artists and intellectuals and they usually turn their noses up when I mention that I’m about to make a horror movie. But they all love The Shining. I tell them that The Shining is a horror movie. Many great directors have made horror movies. Then I tell them how much money horror films make in general and they usually grumble a little then shut up. I’ve been a starving art purist already, and I’m ready to move on.
Fatally Yours: Why do you think the horror genre has primarily been a man’s domain?
Lisa Hammer: I don’t know exactly, but maybe it’s because it’s so gross to watch! I can hardly watch a really gory film. I get too scared. We girls see enough blood every month! Ha ha ha…I don’t think it’s because men are more violent, as some people think. I know some pretty sick women. Also it might be because many horror films show hot girls being threatened; guys like to think they can save all of us.
Fatally Yours: As a woman, do you think you are viewed differently than your male counterparts in the horror genre? If so, how and why?
Lisa Hammer: The response from male fans to me and my work has been very positive. Men tend to think it’s really cool when a girl makes horror films. However, I am dealing with a lot of condescension from professional men in the industry, it’s really too bad because they could be working so easily with me on amazing projects instead of sticking to their traditional boring boy’s club.
Fatally Yours: Even though women seem to be getting more and more involved behind the scenes in horror, why do you think there are less female horror directors, writers, producers, etc. in the genre than males?
Lisa Hammer: Horror may not interest women as much as films that center more on character development and relationships between people. I’ve seen many horror films that were just too simplistic to hold my interest. Or perhaps women have not been encouraged to make horror films. There should be mentors for sick women like me! I’ve heard that the fine people over at Darklight are helping female filmmakers create horror films, and Heidi [Martinuzzi] at Pretty-Scary has been extremely supportive of me and other female directors in this genre.
Fatally Yours: What elements can female filmmakers/authors/journalists/etc. bring to the horror genre that are lacking in males’ perspectives?
Lisa Hammer: I think women are really creative, imaginative and work so well in group situations. They are inclusive rather than exclusive. Men tend to be loners and alpha dogs fighting to keep their positions. Women have always gotten more done for me on my projects than men have, working together toward a collective goal. I think the women also bring more emotion and character development into scripts and films. Personally I would like to see more petticoats.
Fatally Yours: Do you think it’s harder for women to be taken seriously in a genre that seems to be dominated by males?
Lisa Hammer: Unfortunately, yes. Hopefully we will help change that.
Fatally Yours: Since you’ve been involved with the horror genre, have you noticed a change in women’s roles in the industry?
Lisa Hammer: I have noticed a change in the whole industry, and everyones’ roles. Traditional routes of film production and distributions are being replaced by internet videos and downloads, and the ways in which we get our films are so different than before. Right now, anyone with an HD camcorder and some friends can throw together a cheap horror film and sell it for download. I don’t think gender matters so much anymore.
Fatally Yours: Dario Argento once said, “I like women, especially beautiful ones. If they have a good face and figure, I would much prefer to watch them being murdered than an ugly girl or man.” Alfred Hitchcock elaborated by saying, “I always believe in following the advice of the playwright Sardou. He said, ‘Torture the women!’ The trouble today is that we don’t torture enough.” What is your reaction when reading those quotes, especially as a filmmaker?
Lisa Hammer: I believe that we should torture more Scientologists.
Fatally Yours: Do you ever get annoyed at how women in horror movies always end naked or with their clothes ripped off? Do monsters not like men’s abs?!
Lisa Hammer: Traditionally throughout art history, the female form has always been more desired by the masses than the male form. Especially the dirty pillows.
Fatally Yours: What horror movie would you say is equally fair in terms of men being objectified or at least, losing the same amount of clothes?
Lisa Hammer: Gayracula.
Fatally Yours: Do you feel you’ve become desensitized to stereotypical scenes in horror like the half-naked girl screaming and running for her life in slow motion? Or are these types of familiar horror tropes still effective and necessary?
Lisa Hammer: Anything in slow motion is either gorgeous or very funny to me. I am not desensitized at all. I am still extremely squeamish whenever I see blood and violence of any kind. The only things necessary in horror films (as any film) are things that truly add to the storyline and are not thrown in just for effect.
Fatally Yours: Do you feel that other people view women as being “soft” and not able to endure horror as well as men? How do you fight this stereotypical view?
Lisa Hammer: Just keep making these films. It’s the only way to fight. I don’t care how people view me. I just keep going like a mad machine. It’s really fun making horror movies and grossing people out. I’m addicted to it.
Fatally Yours: What women in horror do you admire and why?
Lisa Hammer: I am sad to say that I don’t really know many female film directors in this genre. I do admire Mary Harron and Julie Taymor, to name two. They aren’t afraid to be masculine and feminine, and to be highly creative, funny, very bold and shocking. I absolutely love Mary Harron’s American Psycho.
Fatally Yours: What advice would you give women who want to become involved in the horror genre?
Lisa Hammer: Have fun. The guys might give you a hard time, but they’re generally really cute film geeks who like to have girls around. Blow their minds by being your own adorable self, AND by allowing yourself be that strong, smart, talented Valkyrie that you know you are! Don’t be too nice or polite, but don’t try to be a man either. Your femininity is your weapon. Take off that baseball cap and wear your favorite dress. In a friendly and joking manner, publicly humiliate the men that talk down to you, don’t be a victim and hold it in. Unless you’re a P.A….Then you can’t really complain too loud.
Fatally Yours: What’s the last horror movie that made you think “this is some effed up shiznit!”?
Lisa Hammer: Of all time: the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Recently: Irreversible by Gaspar Noé. Holy sh*t!
Fatally Yours: What’s one horror movie you think is HIGHLY overrated?
Lisa Hammer: I have heard that Paranormal Activity is boring. I won’t go see it. I fell asleep during The Ring. I left the theater during High Tension because it was just SO bad. Unwatchable.
Fatally Yours: What are your favorite horror films, books, etc.?
Lisa Hammer: Films: The Shining, The Innocents, Jaws, Alien, all of the Hammer horror films. Too many to list. I love to read Poe and really any good ghost stories.
Fatally Yours: Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?
Lisa Hammer: I work with my brother James Merendino (SLC Punk) and we recently won best feature film at the CMJ Film Festival for our dark, gory comedy The Invisible Life of Thomas Lynch (on imdb.com) and we are currently in pre-production for a girl-power-dark-comedy-extreme-gore-fest feature film The Bitch. This film will set new standards for over-the-top blood and guts punk rock filmmaking.
Fatally Yours: What are your goals for yourself within the horror genre?
Lisa Hammer: I really have a strange need to make people throw up.
Fatally Yours: Where can people find more info on you?
Lisa Hammer: lisahammer.com