The horror genre has always been embroiled in controversy, and the dark, hardcore thriller The Woman is no exception.
Written/directed by cult horror filmmaker Lucky McKee – based on a novel he co-wrote with author Jack Ketchum- The Woman tells the story of a warped country lawyer (Sean Bridges) who attempts to civilise a feral cannibal woman (Pollyanna McIntosh), in the process placing his family in jeopardy.
A sequel of sorts to Ketchum’s grizzly Offspring, The Woman created controversy when it made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, where extreme audience reaction made headlines.
Matt’s Movie Reviews talks to McKee about The Woman, horror movies, and whether the controversy surrounding his latest films is a blessing or a curse.
Your film received an R rating in the states. Do you see an irony that what many consider to be the most violent film of the year shares the same rating with last year’s Oscar winner The King’s Speech?
(Laughs) I was very happy that we received the R rating. I didn’t think content wise or visually that it went too far off the mark. But you can never tell what the rating are gonna be. As far as that being the same rating as an Oscar winner, well...(laughs)
The Woman is an adaptation of a novel you co-wrote with Jack Ketchum. When adapting a book and screenplay with someone like Jack, what is that experience like?
It was fantastic. Obviously I’ve written a lot more screenplays than he has, and he has written a lot more novels than I have, which at the time was zero. So we played to our strengths. I did a lot of heavy lifting on the screenplay writing, he did a lot of the heavy lifting on the novel and we were just in constant consultation with each other every step of the way.
When adapting a book into a movie, are there any rules or regulations you set for yourself?
This one was different, because we actually wrote the screenplay first and the novel after that, and then I re-wrote the screenplay after the novel. So it was a different kind of process.
"I just try to write people in a frank nature, and it kind of gets viewed as social commentary by others. But I don’t have any political aspirations and I don’t want to preach films." - Lucky McKee
So this is a sequel to Offspring. Is that correct?
Yep, that is where it all started.
When another director has already put their own visual stamp on these characters, especially The Woman, did you feel compelled at all to follow any visual cues from Offspring?
Absolutely not. I make movies through my own specific lens. Part of the deal going in to making a continuation of the story was that I can make my type of film, and that I didn’t have to hold anything to the other films.
You’ve worked with Angela Bettis several times now. Describe the working relationship between you both.
She is like my sister, you know? When I first met her it was an audition for May, and she just understood my writing better than anybody I had met up to that point, and since then I have written things for her because she is my go to gal, you know? I know she is going to do something phenomenal and do something special, unique and different every time we do something together. She is not going to play the same thing over and over again. She sinks herself into whatever is most important for the story.
Horror is your main choice of genre. What is it about horror movies that initially grabbed you?
Initially I think it is someplace where you can be fantastic on a low budget. It’s not a star based genre, so there is a lot of freedom there in terms of that. Horror has always kind of been the money making stepchild of the movie business, so I figured it was a good place to start. But if you watch the films I made, you’ll see there is much more than horror going on. There is drama, there is a lot of black humour, I’ve made stuff with a lot of romantic comedy elements...
...and a lot of social commentary.
Yeah, I guess so. It’s viewed that way, but I just try to write people in a frank nature, and it kind of gets viewed as social commentary by others. But I don’t have any political aspirations and I don’t want to preach films. I just want to show people the way I see them.
"I did not intend to make an exploitation film. I intended to make a film that pulled no punches, that was hardcore, and make people question why these are the type of stories we watch on the six o’clock news." - Lucky McKee
I read that when you were 12, you and a friend re-created A Nightmare on Elm Street on a video camera. Is that true?
Yeah, that’s true! That is one of the first movies I ever made. You always copy your favourite stuff when you are young, and try to mimic it and make something along those lines. That’s how you learn.
What other horror films really grabbed you when you were young?
When I was really young the Nightmare on Elm Street series was specifically a favourite. Child’s Play was a big favourite...a lot of those films that were coming out at that time.
Then I discovered the George Romero films, and then eventually my childhood level of George Lucas films and stories specifically were something that I aspired to make when I was in film school, and by then time I came out of film school I realised there were films about people like me and the people I grew up around, and I wanted to make stuff that was of a more personal nature.
So I went into to college to make Star Wars, and came out of college wanting to make things like Taxi Driver.
I’ve heard you say that the American film industry is much more conservative than the ‘70s. What exactly did you mean by that?
It’s the same thing that was happening in the ‘70s, and the late 80s/early 90s, where there were these big, huge, overblown productions without a lot of heart to them. It takes filmmakers who are tired of that to challenge that system and try to breakthrough, and make films that will hopefully grab a larger audience because they are hungry for something original, and something that is not tact.
The Sundance controversy. Is it a blessing or a curse?
It’s a blessing. It didn’t feel like it at the time. It was very traumatising for me because that guy was reacting in the same way that fed into my fears that people would misinterpret my intentions for the film.
I did not intend to make an exploitation film. I intended to make a film that pulled no punches, that was hardcore, and make people question why these are the type of stories we watch on the six o’clock news, or we led ourselves be fed every night.
I just wanted to dissect that and some people can’t handle it.
When you receive a reaction like that, is that proof positive that your film is doing its job?
Sure. I would rather see somebody hate my film then be on the middle of the road on it. Or I’d rather they loved my film then be in the middle of the road on it. If I was making movies for everybody, I think they would be a little boring, and I think it’s pretty apparent that the studio system and the big budget films that are made for a global audience so much try to please everybody, that they ultimately truly don’t please anybody.
It’s like going to Disneyland, or Space Mountain, or something like that. It’s not storytelling. It’s not something that changes you in any way.