Monday, February 8, 2010

Interview with Filmmaker Paula Haifley

Paula is an award-winning writer and director who specializes in comedic horror. She loves films with gore, laughs, and great scares. Despite the fact that she’s a strict vegetarian, she once drove to a slaughterhouse to buy pig guts to make her college thesis film as bloody as possible. Rumor has it that Paula made her calling-card short Movie Monster Insurance to realize her life-long dream of being a zombie.

Fatally Yours: How and when did you fall in love with horror? 

Paula Haifley: I was about five when I saw my first monsters. I was left alone with my two older cousins, who were about twelve and fifteen at the time, who wanted to watch Thriller again on MTV. (I think it was the anniversary of the release of the film and they were playing it all day.) My cousins made me cover my eyes during the werewolf part (I remember hearing the screaming), but because the zombies were dancing they were deemed not scary…to a twelve-year-old. They scared the crap outta me. I had zombie fears from then until I was twenty-two, when I decided to exorcise them by making a zombie movie for my film school thesis. I believe I made the first zombie film ever at my university, but I know mine was the first to feature a disemboweling. Something to be proud of!

Fatally Yours: What does horror mean to you? 

Paula Haifley: Life. I love horror, it’s in my bones. I can’t imagine not making horror as long as I’m around and ambulatory.

Fatally Yours: What are others’ reactions when you tell them you are involved in the horror genre?

Paula Haifley: Usually people think its cool and want to talk to me about my favorite horror movies. Many times I get drawn into long conversations with people that are film lovers but haven’t seen that much horror and want to know more about it. The only close to negative responses I’ve gotten have been from people who said that horror movies were too scary for them to enjoy.

Fatally Yours: Why do you think the horror genre has primarily been a man’s domain?

Paula Haifley: Because all film has been. Men were the ones in charge, hiring men, and films were made from a male perspective. There are more women in the workplace now, so more are making horror.

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?

Paula Haifley: Because there are still less women than men in the industry, period. I also think it might be easier for women like the Ephrons and Nancy Meyers to get a good career going because they’re women making films whose target audiences are women. Horror, up until recent decades, seems to have gone after the young male, and then the young male’s girlfriends.

Fatally Yours: What elements can female filmmakers/authors/journalists/etc. bring to the horror genre that are lacking in males’ perspectives?

Paula Haifley: There are some fears that are universally human, dying, being eaten, stuff like that. There’s some fears that are based more on where you live and who you are. Women have some different fears than men, and I don’t think that those have been tapped into enough. You tap into something small and if you do it right, it becomes universal.

Fatally Yours: Do you think it’s harder for women to be taken seriously in a genre that seems to be dominated by males? 

Paula Haifley: I don’t know, I can be pretty vicious to my characters. I haven’t had any problems, but I think the only reason for a modern woman not to be taken seriously would be if an exec thinks that a male director would be better able to bring in a male audience.

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? 

Paula Haifley: Laughter. These quotes seem very cherry picked to get a reaction.

Argento’s comment just shows that he’s a heterosexual man; they’d all rather stare at a pretty girl than a man, no matter what she’s doing. You can’t take anything he says too seriously, he’s made his daughter do nudity and rape scenes in his films. He likes to fuck with people.

With Hitchcock, he liked to torture everybody. Yes, he put his heroines in jeopardy and tortured them, but it was because their leading men weren’t able to act. Rear Window is a perfect example. James Stewart is basically impotent and that forces Grace Kelly to do the things that a man would normally have done in another film.

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?!

Paula Haifley: I have a hard time watching gratuitous nudity because it pulls you out of the story. But it seems like more and more theatrical horror releases have men with their shirts off and less female nudity, or do equal opportunity nudity. The films that are really ratcheting up the nudity now are the comedies and the erotic/drama things. You still have the nudity element in most modern slashers, mostly because the people making them want them to be in the style of ‘70s-‘80s slashers, where everybody got naked. I hate it when a filmmaker throws nudity in there for no reason, like, “if this movie turns out shitty no one will notice because of all the boobies!” People do notice. There’s no excuse for making a crappy movie, not even blood and boobs. On the other hand, there are lots of ‘60s movies that obviously weren’t allowed to show full frontal nudity, so you end up with dead naked bodies posed in ludicrous ways so that you won’t see any sex organs. Both seem silly to me.

Fatally Yours: What are your top three movies with gratuitous sex scenes?

Paula Haifley: None. I don’t believe in gratuitous sex in movies. I believe if it doesn’t serve the plot, take it out of your film and go watch a porno. It should serve the film or it shouldn’t be there, even if it’s just a close up of a dog.

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?

Paula Haifley: Werewolf movies have usually been good about that, ‘cause once you change back to human your clothes don’t magically appear on your back. Obviously New Moon was a huge male objectifier, but that one’s made for teen girls so no one was surprised.

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? 

Paula Haifley: As soon as a trope becomes a trope it stops being effective. By the third time I saw a man in a movie kill his kids to save them from a worse fate it just wasn’t effective anymore. By the time I got to The Mist I was over it. And this is a man killing his children! It’s a terrible, horrible thing, but when I see it in a movie now I roll my eyes.

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?

Paula Haifley: No, I don’t think most people think that anymore, and anyone who does just needs to sit next to me in the theatre. The guy who sat next to me during Inglorious Bastereds probably hated me. I was bouncing up and down in my seat and giggling with delight. Watching a dude bash in a realistic dummy’s head with a baseball bat is fucking rad. I am against making PG-13 slasher films just to get teen girls in the theatre. While I don’t think that kids should see R rated films in the theatre, ever, I also don’t think that horror filmmakers should cater to the tweens at the expense of the adults. Stuff like Twilight and Goosebumps is for them. Slasher movies are for us.

Fatally Yours: What women in horror do you admire and why?

Paula Haifley: Well Kathryn Bigelow obviously. I was always impressed that she did something with vampires that hadn’t really been done before. As far as modern horror, it’s kind of a desert out there. I have a lot of friends making fantastic indie horror that just aren’t getting the attention they deserve. I think Devi Snively is doing some fantastic films. Heidi Martinuzzi made a great short film about the horror of anorexia.

Fatally Yours: What advice would you give women who want to become involved in the horror genre?

Paula Haifley: Just go out and do it. If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to direct, make your own short films. Be safe and use fake weapons if you’re going for gore, but do it and do it until you can do it well. Being able to take constructive criticism is important too. You can learn more from hearing about what people didn’t like about your project.

Fatally Yours: What’s the last horror movie that made you think “this is some effed up shiznit!”? 

Paula Haifley: Dread. I just saw that last weekend. I love the short story it’s based on (I’m a vegetarian so it resounded more with me), and I walked out afterward literally thinking, “That movie was f**ed up.”

Fatally Yours: What’s one horror movie you think is HIGHLY overrated?

Paula Haifley: I wouldn’t say overrated, but I’ve never been a fan of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I just don’t get it. I won’t argue that it’s not an important film, though.

Fatally Yours: What are your favorite horror films, books, etc.?

Paula Haifley: American Werewolf in London is my all time favorite. The horror, the comedy, the blood, the monster are all at the top of their game. I also love the Hammer films, especially Oliver Reed’s turn as the Wolfman, and Freddy. I love any ‘50s film with giant bugs, and any film where a teenager turns into a monster (Blood of Dracula is my favorite). My favorite modern TV horror is Reaper (sorry Joss, its true). I like to read as much classic horror as I can, and love to read about historical people like Vlad who have inspired legends. I also admit to loving the hell out of “urban fantasy” books like Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series and Lilith Saintcrow’s Dante Valentine series. I also really love the character of Sookie Stackhouse in Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries. Sookie is such a fully realized character inhabiting such a vivid and colorful world in a way that just isn’t captured in the series because you don’t have the internal monologue. In the books she tells you about the mystery she’s solving, but also about cooking breakfast and using her haragami. I actually have gotten some good kitchen tips from Sookie, no joke.

Fatally Yours: Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?

Paula Haifley: I’ll be making some more short films soon, so check out my website at for some good horror comedy. And I’m working on some scripts like everyone else, sending them around town and hoping that someone will like them enough to make them.

Fatally Yours: What are your goals for yourself within the horror genre?

Paula Haifley: I want to make something that really scares people and that will hold up well for years to come. That’s hard when everything’s been done before.

Fatally Yours: Where can people find more info on you?

Paula Haifley: My website,, has all of my info as well as my short films.

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