It’s that very first scene in the pilot episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The one where the frightened blonde girl (Darla, played by Julie Benz) follows the suspicious older boy deeper into abandoned hallways of a suburban high school. “Are you sure?” she asks him, worried there might be someone around, watching them. “I’m sure,” the boy answers, with a predatory smile. “Okay,” she whispers, submissively, before abruptly turning around to feast on his unsuspecting throat.
While Buffy always did a great job of transforming pre-existing female archetypes into heroic protagonists, I’ve always been more fascinated by the show’s strong portrayal of female antagonists. In a way, the “Final Girl” has always existed, but I’ve always craved a horror genre that portrayed women honestly, as they deserve to be portrayed, through a full spectrum of interesting and developed characters. This is what I am aiming to do with Girl Up And Die, a new female-focused horror anthology web series I am releasing throughout the month of October, starting with today’s series premiere (“Toxic Shock”).
My passion for all things scary probably began around 1996. My obsession with the horror genre was still absent, but my love of fear was quickly building. The suburban Canadian Halloween season of the of mid-’90s was particularly surreal—the television specials (YTV’s The Dark Corner block), the grocery store decorations and even the McDonald’s Happy Meals toys teased my six-year-old sensibilities with the joys of spookiness, while still shielding me and my peers from anything particularly frightening. And while I was consumed with this retro-swampland of all things Eerie Canadiana, the important elements of my childhood took centre focus: my family.
Although I was lucky enough to always have a father present in my life, it was the women around me who were responsible for most of my upbringing. My hardworking single mother shared the responsibility of raising me with her three sisters and my grandmother, a true family matriarch. This eccentric coven of women took careful care of me, and as I got older and started receiving longer summer vacations, my mother (who was busy tunnelling the glass ceiling with an ice-pick) sent me, willingly, to spend much of my summers with my grandmother. My family’s matriarch and I were quickly becoming close friends, building a special relationship, which I still don’t take for granted today, twenty years later. And it’s with my grandmother where I would find my creative muse of the “woman” and the female character. But it wasn’t for another few years that I would encounter the horror genre for the first time.
The first horror film I was allowed to rent was 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer. I watched it on my mother’s bed while carefully arranging and organizing my candy haul into appropriate categories. What struck me as particularly disturbing about this film was the Sarah Michelle Gellar chase and murder sequence (which holds up surprisingly to this day). I was familiar with Gellar as Buffy, a contemporary television hero and an invincible force of good standing alone against the vampires, demons and forces of darkness. And when she was murdered with a fishing hook under a sky full of fireworks, I encountered a symbolic life lesson of impermanence. I was able to recognize the same woman as both a realistic hero and also as a believable victim. These two characters were equally real to me in the second grade and practically became the same person: a full circle of three-dimensional female character.
With Girl Up And Die, I did my best to portray a varied collection of female characters, from sadistic queen bees and unpopular undead to lonely women and empathetic best friends. I chose to co-write each episode of the series with talented female writers to ensure I grasped an authentic sense of the female experience. I wanted to portray women in the horror genre in a new way, never capitalizing off of their sexuality and showing them as they are: as people.
This piece is part of Galloween, Cinefilles‘ month of all-girl horror coverage. Click the image to read more.