Monday, March 1, 2010

Interview with Fatally-Yours Founder Sarah Jahier

Sarah "Fatally Yours" Jahier

Written by Michael Varrati

Hands down, women are cooler than men. This isn’t so much a divisive statement in the battle of the sexes, nor is it me betraying my gender, it’s just a sheer empirical fact.

I know no men who could deal with pregnancy with the grace a woman could, in fact, most men I know complain at the slightest ache. The fact remains that men can’t get pregnant because they couldn’t handle it…but women can.

When soldiers are dying on a battlefield or a child is scared in the dark, wherever there is a dire situation, it is our mother’s we call for and whom we wish were there to protect us. Dads may be tough, but moms are the fighters when it comes to their babies, and we all know not to cross a mother.

Hell, even gay men, who should have no real reason to pay attention to women at all make them their idols…and why not? Comparing Liberace and Cher is no contest: Girl’s got more personality and attitude than a whole room full of dudes combined.

So, with this in mind, when we here at Fatally-Yours set out to celebrate Women in Horror month, I was more than okay with the festivities. Some of my favorite performers in the genre (Jamie Lee Curtis and Mary Woronov, to name a few) are women, and the female sex has contributed to fright films far more than any other genre that I can possibly think of, even if I strain my brain to the max.

Most of the event’s highlights come this month in the form of interviews with prominent women in horror, a project that was spearheaded and primarily conducted by our editor, Sarah Jahier. But for all her attention to other women within the genre, I thought it would be nice to turn the lens around and give our lovely ringmaster her due. Without Sarah, and in fact many other female editors within the field, a lot of horror publications wouldn’t even exist, and it is through her careful juggling of all the writers, her love of horror, and her ability to put up with each and every one of our psycho needs that Fatally-Yours is the success that it is and looks as great as it does.

So for women in horror month, I took a moment to sit down with a woman who I greatly enjoy working with and think very highly of, Fatally-Yours’ own editor, Miss Sarah Jahier.

Sarah "Fatally Yours" Jahier

Michael Varrati: Let’s start with one of your favorite questions for some of the ladies you’ve interviewed: What are your first memories of the horror genre and how did you fall in love with it? 

Sarah Jahier: I grew up on an isolated ranch in Northern California, where we had no electricity except for a generator we ran only a couple of hours a night. So, instead of growing up on TV and movies, I grew up on books. There was a small library in town, and I ransacked its shelves for anything by Stephen King while in elementary school. When I was in junior high and high school I loved Anne Rice’s books and just couldn’t get enough of anything spooky! So my fondness for the genre originated from horror books, but when we moved to a bigger town and a house with electricity I remember renting the schlockiest horror movies I could find with a high school friend! Horror back then was just for laughs, but then I saw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for the first time and everything changed! That film scared me like no other and I’m still seeking a film that can chill me to the bone to the extent that TCM did. After TCM, I just couldn’t get enough horror films. A film class in college led me to broaden my horizons in horror and introduced me to Italian gialli, Asian ghost stories, and German Expressionist films and so on. From there, they say, the rest is history.

Michael Varrati: Naturally, this love had to have continued, otherwise I imagine there would be no Fatally-Yours. What does horror mean to you, and what about it continues to keep you in its thrall? 

Sarah Jahier: Like I mentioned, I’m still searching for that illusive visceral thrill that I first experienced with TCM. A horror film that rattles me to the bone and yet has me begging for more! I just love the adrenaline rush of being scared, but I like horror movies that mess with your head and burrow into your brain to perturb you hours, days, weeks, months and hopefully years down the road!

As for what horror means to me, it means a multitude of things. Horror provides that pleasurable rush of adrenaline, it is a cathartic experience where fears can be explored in a safe environment, it is fun and silly entertainment, it is an examination of the darker side of life, which I’ve always been fascinated with, and I think its dark view on mankind is more realistic than all other film genres out there. Believe it or not, I also use horror movies as a way to relax – they are like a security blanket to me!

Michael Varrati: Bela Lugosi once said, “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.” Do you suppose this to be true? If so, what is it about the horror genre, which has notoriously objectified women and has a fandom that is generally thought of to be male, that you feel appeals to the female gender? 

Sarah Jahier: Even though some films objectify women and treat them as little more than pieces of meat, more horror films are embracing strong female characters. And strong female characters or not, women still enjoyed being scared just as much as men do. Plus, as Bela was referencing, women grow up with their own horrifying experiences. We have to deal with blood once a month not to mention the body-horrors that go along with being pregnant or dealing with women-centric diseases, infections, disorders, etc. like post-partum depression, breast cancer, STD’s and so on. To quote Bela Lugosi again, “It is women who bear the race in bloody agony. Suffering is a kind of horror. Blood is a kind of horror. Women are born with horror in their very bloodstream. It is a biological thing.”

Sarah "Fatally Yours" Jahier in a Dance Party Massacre tee

Michael Varrati: Often, horror films (especially slashers) have a female protagonist, popularly referred to in the genre fandom as “the last girl”. Do you think, in this case, female leads are empowering or are further reinforcement of sexual victimization?

Sarah Jahier: I think it really depends on the context of the movie. Some films feature a smart Final Girl who is resourceful and doesn’t rely on someone else to save her. Other films, though (past and present) feature a woman who survives, but only because the men around her saved her. Those films irk me, because they show that a woman can’t survive without a male’s help. And really, shouldn’t we be past the whole “damsel in distress” thing anyway? Luckily, most horror films feature kick ass “final girls” who stop at nothing to survive or get revenge on someone who has wronged them. We are also seeing more strong female villains, which, in my book, can be just as important as how heroines are portrayed.

Michael Varrati: What women in horror do you admire, look up to, or are inspired by? Who would you say are your favorites? 

Sarah Jahier: When I started Fatally-Yours, I was greatly inspired by the few women writers that I found on the web, including Heidi Martinuzzi of Pretty/Scary, Stacie Ponder of Final Girl and Staci Layne Wilson of I am still inspired by these three hardworking ladies, who wear their passion for the genre on their sleeves!

I also admire all women who are involved in the horror genre, from bloggers to actors to artists to directors to authors and so on! It’s been so exciting to see so many new female horror writers in the last couple of years, especially on many horror sites.

Michael Varrati: How did Fatally-Yours get its start? Clearly you were a horror fan, but what lead you to go from casual fan to creating this site and establishing yourself as a genre goddess? 

Sarah Jahier: Hahaha, “genre goddess”! You are too kind, sir! Well, I’m not sure if I’m there yet, but thank you! Fatally-Yours started after I graduated college. Believe it or not, I loved school and I really missed my horror film class I had taken my last semester. As mentioned earlier, it really exposed me to many different horror sub-genres that I was in the process of exploring. I really wanted to continue writing about film, so *ta-da* Fatally-Yours was birthed! I started it mainly to get ideas out of my head and put to paper how horror films affected me and which new ones I discovered, but soon it kept growing and growing and growing…

Michael Varrati: Do you feel Fatally-Yours has achieved the goals you have set for it? Is there anything you’d like to see done with the site that you have not yet had a chance to do? 

Sarah Jahier: Well, at first it was sort of my own space to express my thoughts, but then it kept growing and evolved to a place where horror fans could discover new films/book/etc. I’ve always wanted it to be about expressing my love of horror and sharing it with others (hence our motto, “For the Love of Horror”) and I feel that we’ve achieved this (in no small part thanks to my wonderful staff of writers…I definitely couldn’t do it alone!), but there is always more to be done! I say there is always room for improvement, and I hope to keep expanding Fatally-Yours in one way or another.

Sarah "Fatally Yours" Jahier

Michael Varrati: What advice would you give to young women looking to go into the horror genre, whether it be as a horror journalist, such as yourself, or the writing, directing, or performance aspects of the field?

Sarah Jahier: Believe in yourself and follow your heart. If you want to do it, then do it and don’t let anything stop you. Anything is possible, so aim high! Be fearless, but respect those that come before you. Never close yourself off to an opportunity because who knows where it may lead! With that said, don’t compromise your beliefs and stay true to who you are. Don’t let people just use you for your pretty face or body, show them how talented you really are!

Michael Varrati: Okay, now that we have some of the more serious stuff out of the way…how about a few fun ones. Here’s a scenario question: You’re the “last girl” and you get to lock horns with any of the great horror movie villains. Who’d it be and why? Also, would you fight to just survive…or are you out to draw blood? 

Sarah Jahier: Oh, so many monsters and so little time! I would love to go up against the sisters in Ginger Snaps, though “against” is probably the wrong word…I would probably join them! I think they are some of the best female characters in a recent horror flick and just so dang cool! Thanks to writer Karen Walton for dreaming them up and giving us some REAL female characters! I also have a big thing for Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, which I know isn’t a horror flick, but she is definitely one cool villain! I’m really hoping Tim Burton does something cool with his upcoming re-imaging of the story where he is planning on telling the tale from Maleficent’s point of view. I would also love to pit myself against any of the black gloved killers in giallo films, just to see if I could outsmart them! And I would definitely be out for blood!

Sarah "Fatally Yours" Jahier in a custom SEIBEI zombie hunter tee

Michael Varrati: You’ve made it pretty well known that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (’74) is your favorite horror film of all time…but what is your least favorite? I often consider this answer as telling as what we like the most. 

Sarah Jahier: Oh geez, ok, least favorite…hmmmm…one recent flick that comes to mind is Return to Sleepaway Camp. The memory of watching that is still painful to this day. I also don’t enjoy realistic, snuff-type horror films, like the August Underground or Guinea Pig series or equivalent. They aren’t bad films by any means, but I just don’t particularly enjoy these types of horror films. I like my horror to be an escape and entertain me while still staying smart, but those realistic films just seem to be in it for the shock value. Besides the cool special FX, I don’t understand their appeal.

Michael Varrati: …okay, now that you’ve revealed your least favorite horror flick, here’s the real challenge: Say something nice about the film. 

Sarah Jahier: Ok, I’ll say something nice about Return to Sleepaway Camp – it has Felissa Rose in it! As for the realistic gore-type films, I will say their special FX are amazing…but a bit too realistic for me, if that makes sense.

Michael Varrati: According to your F-Y profile, you enjoy throwing horror movie nights. What would you say is the perfect double feature for a girl’s night in? 

Sarah Jahier: Mmmmm the possibilities!! Ginger Snaps and The Descent are some great female-centric horror films that I would love to share with all my girlfriends. Recently, I also absolutely loved Jennifer’s Body (I don’t understand why people didn’t like that movie!) and at the end of the month I am showing that to some friends alongside the campy and hilarious Zombie Strippers. How’s that for a double-feature!?

Sarah "Fatally Yours" Jahier

Michael Varrati: Alright, the next few questions are also culled from your FY profile. You’ve listed your favorite directors, I’m going to name each of them and I want you to select just one of that director’s films to represent what you think is best about their body of work, and if possible, why. Let’s start with George Romero.

Sarah Jahier: Sheesh, I really need to update my profile, don’t I?! I’ll tell you what, I’ll select my favorite film from each director and tell you why it is so relevant to the horror genre as well as explaining why I love it so. I can’t guarantee I’ll pick the film that best represents his oeuvre.

George Romero – Night of the Living Dead. It contributed so much to the horror genre, and has that gritty immediacy that most horror films nowadays lack.

Lucio Fulci – Don’t Torture a Duckling. Sure, there is Zombi 2, which I also love, but my absolute favorite is Don’t Torture a Duckling. Not only did it deal with taboo issues (killing children, among others), but it did so in a beautifully photographed way!

Dario Argento – Suspiria will always be my favorite Argento film and one I believe shows his filmmaking at its best. The narrative might not always make sense, but the sheer beauty of the colors he uses and skillful use of sound throughout the eerie movie just kills me every time!

Takashii Miike – All of Miike’s films (well, at least the thriller/horror ones, probably not so much his children’s movies) are exhilarating rides of violence and breaking taboos. I think Audition is probably his most straight-forward work, though, and while the tension simmers until it reaches its boiling point at the end of the film, it still manages to creep under my skin and leave me unsettled. It’s not just the violence, but the overall mystery and tension throughout the film! Runner-up would be Ichi the Killer.

Roman Polanski – I love Polanski’s POV techniques, especially in The Tenant, that make you feel like you are in the protagonist’s shoes and as they slip into madness so do you. I think The Tenant is an underrated film in the horror community and doesn’t get nearly enough props. People usually talk about Polanski’s Repulsion, which I also like, but The Tenant is just a near-perfect exercise in skewed perspectives and expectations.

Tim Burton – Edward Scissorhands. All of Burton’s films are about the gothic visuals, and I think Scissorhands is one of his most wonderfully vivid and fairy tale-like creations. This film is just a magical experience.

Sarah "Fatally Yours" Jahier in a Headstone City tee

Michael Varrati: Now that we’ve just worked through all your favorite horror directors, I’d like to take a moment to point out…they’re all men. This leads me back to the theme of the interview and our celebration of the month, who, if any, do you consider to be a great female director within the genre? 

Sarah Jahier: See, what did I say about updating my profile?! This is an excellent point, though, and I would like to point out that while men may become known for their horror movie work, women directors usually don’t. I also think women directors move on to other genres and tend to be more varied in their careers. Is that because as a woman director it is hard to make a name for yourself in the horror genre or is it because they tend to move on to other genres? Well, I’m not sure, but I do hope we see more women directors in the horror genre in the years to come.

As for right now, I really can’t wait to see more of Devi Snively’s work as well as that by Michelle Fatale. I also hope that Heidi Martinuzzi does more films, because I absolutely loved her short film Wretched. As for “bigger” names, I really admire Kathryn Bigelow for giving us Near Dark, Mary Harron for American Psycho, Mary Lambert for Pet Sematary and Antonia Bird for Ravenous. Still, these directors have branched out to other genres and haven’t really given us any other horror films (or at least ones that were as good as these films). I see many more female filmmakers making horror films, though, so hopefully we will be seeing a lot more female-helmed horror in the future!

Michael Varrati: You’ve really spear-headed the celebration of Women in Horror month with an intensive series of interviews with a vast array of ladies within the genre. Is there anyone out there who you didn’t get to interview that would be a dream come true for this event? I suppose living or dead could apply, this being horror, after all. 

Sarah Jahier: I would love to interview Cassandra Peterson for her role as Elvira. I just love the sassiness and brassiness she brought to that role! I also would have loved to interview producer Debra Hill for all the contributions she made to the horror industry, contributions I think she doesn’t get enough credit for. Most people don’t realize she, alongside John Carpenter, brought Halloween to life! It would be a dream come true to interview Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, screen siren Barbara Steele and scream queen Linnea Quigley!

Many thanks to you Sarah, for taking time out of your schedule to answer these questions, and on behalf of all us here at Fatally-Yours, thanks for being OUR woman in horror!

Follow Sarah on Twitter!

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