Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Interview with Filmmaker Monica Puller

Celebrated as “a counter-culture poster girl” by Guardian UK, Monica Puller cut her teeth in early 2000 on the Atlanta punk scene as front woman for a critically acclaimed musical act before moving full-time into the world of underground DIY cinema. Working alongside bandmate and creative partner Andrew Shearer, Puller co-founded Gonzoriffic Films in 2003 and has gone on to serve as producer, writer, actor, makeup fx artist and composer on over 25 microbudget films. Her directorial debut, Fox Holes, will be released on DVD in 2010.

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

Monica Puller: I had to be around six or seven when I first started sneaking out of my room at night to watch “scary” movies on television. My uncle would always take me to the movies every time a new horror movie came out and I spent the next years of my life just like that.

Fatally Yours: What does horror mean to you? 

Monica Puller: Horror to me, is something that leaves you unsettled. It’s a feeling created deep within your chest that makes your heart pound, your mind race, and scares the shit out of you. Whether that is the kind of scare you get from being afraid to be killed by something, or the kind of scare you get from realizing just how fucked up real life can be-it doesn’t matter. But you feel it, and you know it when you do.

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

Monica Puller: Usually depending on who or where these people are from they either become immediately interested and curious, or think I get chased around by monsters tripping and dying and think it’s a joke.

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

Monica Puller: Because in mainstream movies we are conditioned to think women are weak and need to be saved. When is the last time you saw a movie where the girl was the hero? Or the girl was the one who saved the guy who got captured? It’s few and far between, so this is what kids grow up seeing, they grow up thinking, and not everyone decides to question it.

Fatally Yours: What is your main objective when creating horror films? Do you go for pure entertainment value or do you like to mix in some social commentary? 

Monica Puller: It depends. I like to mix in everything, I like it when something can make you think, it can make you laugh, and it can also break your heart. My main objective is to be true to my vision, my heart and be as honest as possible.

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?

Monica Puller: Girls aren’t exposed to those kind of role models on a wide scale growing up. It’s more typical for someone to push a woman into acting, and to focus on what they look like in general because women are generally objectified more than guys. When you see a male singer on stage, you hear his voice first…when most people see a woman singer on stage they speak about the way she looks and then the way she sounds. I’m not saying everyone does this, just many “typical” people do. We are as a culture exposed to what’s in front of the camera more so than what goes on behind it.

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

Monica Puller: I think the more we focus on the differences between men and women in the genre the more we will continue to separate ourselves.

I wouldn’t say males in the genre are lacking, there have been many times I was comforted by a real or honest portrayal of femininity from something a guy has made. But in general I find that depending on the female (because we are all drastically different from each other), the art made can sometimes have a very truthful and raw streak, forcefulness and subtlety all at the same time. Usually you can pick up on a feeling that will come across, that it was extremely important to treat the material as honestly and fairly as possible. There is a certain perspective that becomes clear in how certain things are cut, filmed, portrayed that feels different.

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

Monica Puller: I think women have to work harder to be noticed for their work instead of how hot they are. But again I don’t think it always has to be about men vs. women, I think the more we put focus on our gender and not our art the more we are working against what we are doing in the first place. It’s about creativity, it’s about what comes from inside, it’s about what we make. Not that it’s a woman or a man doing it.

Fatally Yours: Since you’ve been involved with the horror genre, have you noticed a change in women’s roles in the industry? 

Monica Puller: Not a tremendous one. But there have been some amazing independent films (mostly foreign) that have come out where women were the focus, the heroes, the villains, and the roles were encompassing and not typical. Those films help remind me that there are women out there doing this, all of it and they are amazing at it. So in that way it is getting better.

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? 

Monica Puller: I would much rather see the corrupt murdered or tortured, and in most movies that happens to be a guy. If they casted a woman in the big bad horrible evil part, I wouldn’t mind watching her get tortured either.

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?!

Monica Puller: In most horror movies, they are generic, and typical and unfortunately I expect it to happen. And when it doesn’t I’m surprised, and happy at the same time. Honestly I would like to see more guys getting held down and taken advantage of by some huge snot dripping monster that wants to defile him with his giant monster appendage. That would be something I would be surprised to see.

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

Monica Puller: The Story of O, Vixen, Henry and June

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? 

Monica Puller: You got to see dick is Hostel II!

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? 

Monica Puller: I have become desensitized to those scenes. I think they are funny in general when it’s done in a comedic way, but it’s difficult for me to really take them seriously.

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?

Monica Puller: I think women are better at hiding what we are thinking and in general aren’t as expected to say or create some of the things we do. The great thing is when you aren’t afraid of what’s in your head, in those dark places you never speak out loud about-when you aren’t afraid anymore you can be a voice for it, and start a snowball effect for those around you. And discover what it’s like to really be fearless.

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

Monica Puller: I think Beatrice Dalle is incredible. She is completely consuming and fearless in her acting. If you read interviews you find that she doesn’t read the scripts people send her, she meets the people making the movie. And if she likes them, she makes the movie. Her acting comes from a very truthful place in her, and I admire that.

There are so many amazing actresses out there and the more I am exposed to on the indie level, underground, or even micro budget I am amazed and it’s easy to find a reason to admire. I mean Ruby LaRocca has been in countless low budget and independent films, and as an actress especially in horror she is fearless. She isn’t afraid to be honest with the stories she creates, the movies she writes, or acts in. And in order to impress me or for me to admire you, you have to be fearless, you have to be without bullshit, and you have to come with a lot of heart. Because that is the only way I know to be true.

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

Monica Puller: Don’t compromise your vision for anyone or anything. If someone says it’s too fucked up, do it anyway. If someone says it’s too much, push it. Focus on your art, your message if it makes you uncomfortable you are doing something right. Just come from the right place, keep it honest, and you will have nothing else to concern yourself with.

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

Monica Puller: Actually I just watched the Poker House last night by Lori Petty, and while it’s not a horror film like monsters and slashers…there were a few parts where I was horrified at the lack of humanity in the real world. And that is very messed up to me.

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

Monica Puller: Scream. I was just generally unimpressed.

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

Monica Puller: Too many films to list all but some are: Inside, Martyr, Sleepaway Camp, Dead Alive, Masque of the Red Death, Return of the Living Dead 3 I could go on forever…horror books? One of my all time favorites is the Splatterpunks series, it’s a collection of many different authors and short stories that are as visual as they are original.

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

Monica Puller: The Erotic Couch was released on DVD recently, and we have a full year ahead of us. My first directorial debut Fox Holes should be coming out on DVD soon, as well as some amazing projects we have coming down the pipeline we haven’t finished making yet.

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

Monica Puller: My goals are only to be true to myself, my visions, and my heart and allow that to explode all over everything I do. And try and fuck up as much shit as possible. In a good way.

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

Monica Puller: www.gonzoriffic.com or look me up on Myspace or Facebook

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