One of the biggest names in horror is one that you might not know. Yet.
Jovanka Vuckovic has been working steadily within the horror community for years now. A former editor of the Canadian horror magazine Rue Morgue, Vuckovic has been instrumental in the rise of horror culture over the last decade and was twice named one of the most important women in the history of the genre, an accolade she shares with the likes of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, and Debra Hill, producer and co-writer of the original Halloween. Somehow, this is the least of her accomplishments.
She’s also a Gemini award winning visual effects artist, author of the literal book on zombies, and an acclaimed short film director. Her debut short, The Captured Bird, was produced by none other than Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro, and went on to capture imaginations of—and terrify—audiences around the globe. Her follow up, The Guest, raised her acclaim even higher, premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival as part of their Emerging Filmmakers Competition.
But even that is only the beginning. Vuckovic’s star seems destined to rise even higher with the release of XX, an all-female directed horror anthology which features her largest, most ambitious work to date. I recently had the chance to speak with the director about her work on XX, the importance of the female perspective in the world of horror, and her plans for the future.
Can you tell us a little bit about how XX came together?
My friend, producer Todd Brown, and I kind of had the same idea at the same time. I’ve been working in the horror genre for a very long time and I noticed the real lack of women and that we’ve been misrepresented in front of the screen and under-represented behind the camera for a very long time. We decided to do something about it. You’re probably not familiar with the numbers, the diversity report that was recently released. Out of all the working directors, just 7% are women. Those numbers are very low, pretty dismal. It’s a complex problem, getting more women directors hired. There’s no easy solution. XX was something actionable that we could actually do. Todd, as a film producer, he was able to bring financing, real money, and we were off to the races. We just started making a list of directors that we wanted to approach to be a part of the anthology.
Are there any plans to turn this into a franchise?
Yes, definitely. The whole idea always was that we create an incentive to create more opportunities for women where there were none. The model was we would have a few experienced feature film directors and then we would sneak in one or two up and comers. If XX was successful, I think Todd had always planned to do another one, but with a different line up of directors. Some [big] name directors and some new people that need a break. As difficult as it is, it’s probably not that different from music where sometimes you just need that first break.
So going off that a little bit, I’ve noticed in the last year, year and a half, there’s been an increase in better representation for women on screen in the horror genre. Like you’ve got The Witch, Darling, I Am the Pretty Thing Who Lives in the House, The Eyes of My Mother.
Those are all really good movies, by the way.
I know! But I’m still a bit disheartened, as fan, to see that it’s all men directing, especially within the horror genre.
Thankfully there are some women. There are some women. We have that movie Raw that’s coming out, Jennifer Kent did The Babadook, and Ana Lily Amirpour did A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. There are some more examples of women directing horror films at the indie level. It’s that making the next step to the next budget tier that is very difficult for women. That’s not to say that men can’t tell stories about women. Of course they can. It’s just that, in the last 100 years, 90% of all films have been made by men. The point of view has traditionally been male. Now that we have more women writing and directing feature films in the horror genre, we’re just starting to see new perspectives. That’s a good thing. It’s a good thing because the horror genre is badly in need of a new perspective. The horror genre, in particular, could benefit from new perspectives.
Your segment, “The Box,” is based on a short story by Jack Ketchum. What drew you to adapt that story?
I read it years ago when it first came out, in the 90s. It was inside a collection called Peaceable Kingdom. He’s more well known for being a splatter-fiction guy, he’s one of the kings of splatter-fiction. His stuff is, like, really dark and really violent. But, this one story kind of stood out. It was like a little existential horror story, and it reminded me of The Twilight Zone. My original idea for XX was a bit too expensive for the budget, so “The Box” came to mind and I thought that would be really cool, it would be like my opportunity to do an episode of The Twilight Zone. That’s why I went for it.
I love that you told it from the mom’s perspective. I think that it gave the story more oomph and power.
Again, when Jack wrote the story, he’s a man, and he wrote it from his point of view and at that time there were more women at home with their kids and the dad was the one who went away to work and didn’t have quality time with his family. Nowadays things are changing. There’s a lot more stay at home dads and women are going off to work and they’re busy and struggling with challenges of raising a family and not being around them very much.
I did change the gender of the protagonist because of necessity, in order to fit the mandate of the anthology—they all had to be about women lead characters. But when that happened, when I did that, this amazing thing happened and it opened up a new storytelling possibility for me. It suddenly became about how all women aren’t capable of being mothers and how the demand of motherhood isn’t meant for everyone. It was kind of an accident that it ended up being about the mother—it had to—but I’m glad that it turned out that way because it ended up being more meaningful for me.
How do you feel about the resurgence in anthology films that’s been happening in recent years? What do to think is driving this trend?
You know, the anthology format has had a long history in horror, all the way back to the 30s. It’s sort of always been around. I think horror fans really love to see these kind of really short bon bons by their favorite voices. You don’t have to invest too much into them because they’re over after 20 minutes, they’re just fun. For the most part, most of these anthologies are really fun. Ours, of course, is heavily politicized, so it comes with all that baggage, of the politics of women’s filmmaking. But if you just set that aside, and just watch it, and don’t think about gender, they’re just four really great horror stories and a wrap-around segment.
You’ve directed a lot of shorts in your day and I know you’re starting to work on your first feature. Can you tell us anything about that? Is that a daunting task?
No, I’m definitely ready. I’ve spent the last eight years working towards this, working towards establishing myself as a writer and director. I have a feature film that I’m writing that’s like a hyper-violent supernatural thriller about a woman who has terminal brain cancer and has to kill five people in order to save her own skin. The other project that I’ve just recently been attached to is a sci-fi action film, not a horror, called Riot Girls. It’s not horror, but it’s a post-apocalypse story. It’s all involving kids and there’s a lot of violence in it. I’m ready. I’m ready to make feature films. I look forward to it.
XX opens in limited release, and is available on demand, beginning Friday, February 17.
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