Recently I’ve been hearing a lot of hype about filmmaker Lucky McKee’s latest, based on a novel by popular horror author Jack Ketchum, The Woman. The third book in Ketchum’s Dead River series, The Woman follows it’s predecessors (Off Season and The Offspring, the latter of which was also adapted to the screen) with the only remaining member of a cannibalistic family that had been hunting humans across the Northeast coast for decades. The woman (played by Pollyanna McIntosh) is captured by white-collar lawyer Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) and taken into Cleek’s home in his attempt to domesticate her among his own family.
I’m a huge fan of Ketchum’s books, Off Season and The Offspring both being some of his most gruesomely imaginative stuff. And although I’ve yet to read the third book, the movie has been getting some very positive feedback. When I think of Lucky McKee, that adorable misfit face of Angela Bettis as May (arguably McKee’s greatest film to date) comes to mind. I absolutely love May. She is without a doubt one of the most iconic female lead characters to grace the past decade of horror. I did a bit of research on McKee’s other stuff and came to notice a pattern: the majority of his lead characters are females. With the launch of my ‘Women in Horror’ column on Cinema Head Cheese, I’ve taken a particular interest in the females who represent fright and the people who create these characters, whether they are writers, directors or the actresses themselves.
Lucky McKee recently took some time to answer a few questions for me.
Lacey Paige: You’ve focused on women as lead characters in several of your movies—All Cheerleaders Must Die!, May, Sick Girl, The Woman… What are your thoughts on how women are generally portrayed in horror films and how would you relate it to feminism?
Lucky McKee: I don’t think it’s just horror films where women are marginalized. It’s pretty much just movies in general. I don’t read about feminism or any social or political stuff. I just create characters that I want to study for a while. Most of them happen to be women and I just try to keep the interpretation honest.
LP: What inspired the character of May?
LM: Being a lonely and awkward person. Shocking, isn’t it?
LP: Arguably May is the epitome of the modern day misunderstood female villainess of independent horror. Would you agree? Did you intend for her to become as important as she has?
LM: Ah, hell. I don’t know. I’m just glad people still give her some love. She was and is important to me. Creating and realizing that character helped me a lot as a person and as a filmmaker.
LP: When did you write the script for it? Tell me a bit about the process of writing it.
LM: I created the character my sophomore year at USC film school in a short film I made called FRACTION. The next year I thought the concept and character were strong enough to turn into a full-length screenplay. It was the first script I ever wrote that felt like it was fully realized. When I had the chance to make the film years later, I put everything I had learned since into it, but at its core it’s still pretty much the same thing as the initial idea.
LP: Who are some female horror icons that you are particularly fond of?
LM: Oh, geez. I don’t know Carrie? Also, the girl in Repulsion and definitely Sister Ruth in Black Narcissus—not necessarily all horror films, but some freaky stuff!
LP: List some films that you feel were groundbreaking because of the actresses and/or female filmmakers that were involved, and the role(s) that they played?
LM: I’m a big fan of everything Gena Rowlands has done, as well as Barbara Stanwyck. I really like Ida Lupino too, as a director especially.
LP: How did you meet Angela Bettis? Tell me a bit about your relationship with her.
LM: I auditioned her for May. Once she was cast, we were just buds. Have been ever since.
LP: What was the inspiration behind the Masters of Horror episode, “Sick Girl”?
LM: I was brought on while they were in the middle of filming the show as a replacement for Roger Corman. They gave me a few scripts to choose from and I chose “Sick Girl” by Sean Hood. They let me rewrite the male lead for Angela and let me quirkify it in my own sort of way.
LP: Did you initially want Angela to star in it? How did she get the role?
LM: It was originally written for a man, but I wanted Angela. So the necessary changes were made in order to get her in there and I think it made the material that much more interesting.
LP: What was your experience like switching director-actor roles with Bettis for Roman?
LM: It was a great intimate process made with a handful of friends and very limited resources. I learned so much about the acting process. It’s had a profound impact on my directing.
LP: You’ve been involved with screen-adaptations of several of horror author Jack Ketchum’s novels. How did you meet Ketchum?
LM: My buddy Chris Sivertson (The Lost, I Know Who Killed Me, Brawler) turned me on to Ketchum’s stuff. It was pretty simple. We liked Ketchum, put the word out, Ketchum saw May and loved it, and then I optioned The Lost from him for Chris when I got my first big studio gig. We’ve Been friends ever since.
LP: How did you come to direct Ketchum’s Red and The Woman?
LM: Red happened by chance. Chris had been telling me to read Ketchum’s stuff and I just happened to go on a general meeting and met a guy that had just optioned it. Over the next couple years we put it together.
LP: How did Angela Bettis get the role of Bella Cleek in The Woman?
LM: We wrote it for her! Angie is my go-to gal!