Welcome to the Blumhouse’s horror anthology series features the best in pop horror to ignite this spooky season. This time, diversity behind the camera adds a unique touch.
Normally a genre dominated by white men, Horror is finding itself in the hands of more diverse creators, adding new dimensions of terror. This year, Amazon Prime’s Welcome to the Blumhouse anthology series features three female directors and a Latina writer. I had a chance to talk with each about their experiences and why they feel that women of color know what’s really scary.
This is part 2, be sure to check out part 1!
Axelle Carolyn – Director & Writer of The Manor
The Manor stars Barbara Hershey as Judith, a retired ballerina who moves into the Golden Sun nursing home. Her health is failing and she’s seeing signs of early-onset Parkinson’s. To not be a burden to her family she chooses to go to the nursing home and soon finds something supernatural is trying to keep her there forever.
“I’ve always been obsessed with horror for as long as I could remember.” Carolyn discusses her initial love for the genre. “Growing up I would discover things like Tim Burton, David Cronenberg, Wes Craven, and John Carpenter. It took me a long time to figure out that directing was the thing for me. I was surrounded by filmmakers and not one of them was not a white dude. And they’re amazing, but if you can’t see yourself or you can’t see someone who looks like you, it unconsciously places barriers on you. I think I didn’t realize that until much later.”
There’s a saying, ‘you have to see it, to be it’ and it’s a throughline from each woman about why representation is so important. These women and people of color are trailblazers for the next generations of creators that needed to know they had a seat at the table.
“If you had told me I couldn’t do something because I’m a woman, I’d be like f-ck you! I’m not going to be limited by that! But there’s something about the unsaid barrier of not seeing yourself that plays a part. Once I became aware of that, it made me feel like women need to be more visible, we need to have a bigger voice and we need to show people that you don’t need a beard to be a filmmaker!” shares Carolyn.
“I think that’s such an important observation,” I add, “because where women don’t see themselves, men see themselves in these huge numbers. And they think, oh I can do that, and better yet, I can get paid for that! And meanwhile, women are stuck because they don’t know how to prove themselves.”
Carolyn states, “There are so many aspects to it! I think even men who want to hire women, end up hiring me, and then they’ll say things like, ‘Oh, I saw a little bit of myself in this guy’ or they want someone to hang out with. It’s a lot of institutionalized things that turn into obstacles that are placed in our path and limits the kind of stories we’re allowed to tell – that goes for women, for people of color, for trans people – the stories we want to tell are very limited. I think it’s expanding now, but there’s still a way to go. I’m grateful to Welcome to Blumhouse for the opportunity.”
The Manor also involves aged actors. I asked Carolyn about the appeal of working with experienced actors.
“It’s a largely untapped reservoir of amazing talent. Just having the chance to work with someone like Barbara Hershey was fantastic. And these are performers who have been honing their talent for their entire lives and are in some ways just at the peak of their talent and not getting the work that they are used to because we don’t value those voices as much.”
I wondered about the resurgence of more aging actors in the horror genre and Carolyn was very thoughtful as she put together her answer. “I personally have always had many anxieties about aging and about what your age means. Even turning 20 was hard for me, at every stage of it, especially as a woman, I feel like we’re very much defined by the age we are. I think people look at the elderly as sources of fear, but I really wanted to create a role model of a woman that you could look up to and think of as a positive image of what your later years can be.”
Judith (Barbara Hershey) is a headstrong, yet kind woman who is savvy and loving to her family.
“I would hope that Judith gives women who are scared of what the future holds, hope. We are given the image that over a certain age, women lose their relevance and that is bullsh*t! We can still be fun and great to hang around with. Still be independent and has full agency. I hope others find it as comforting as I do.”
Marcella Ochoa – Write of Madres
Madres is directed by Ryan Zaragoza (Bebé), but it was written by the team of Marcella Ochoa (Worry Dolls) and Mario Miscione (Dark Web). Lauded as the Latinx Get Out, Madres does a fantastic job of weaving cultural social issues with drama and using the metaphoric nature of horror to root out injustice.
We follow a young couple, one is Mexican, one is Mexican American, to a small town in Northern California. There, the husband Beto (Tenoch Huerta) is managing a small farm while Diana (Ariana Guerra) prepares for the arrival of their first child. Madres tackles a lot of issues from colorism, to inner cultural stereotyping and tension. There’s also the use of pesticides, which play a key role in Diana trying to reconcile the haunted house she’s found herself in.
“My grandparents were migrant farmworkers in Texas and so were my aunts and uncles. It’s a world I grew up in and one that I knew.” Ochoa speaks fondly of her childhood, but there is a hint of caution as she talks about the effect of pesticides and the so-called Valley Fever. “I don’t think we’ve ever gotten to see these stories told from the perspective of migrant farmworkers as leads and [Martin and I] really wanted to build the world out.”
Ochoa got her start on the PR side of the entertainment business and then acted as development head for producer Harold Kloser and worked with Roland Emmerich. This position served as a de facto film school for Ochoa and allowed her to co-write and produce her first film. Soon after, Ochoa started her own production company where she continues to write and produce several projects.
“I’ve been obsessed with [horror] since I was a little kid. My grandpa’s from Mexico and was always telling us stories and legends from there. We grew up hearing about La Llorona and all of that, so it was in my blood at a very young age.” Ochoa explains her love for the horror genre and it’s something I’m endlessly fascinated by.
“I think there is something very cultural about horror from the Latinx perspective. I feel like there’s almost a kinship with death and the afterlife. We see it in Dia de los Muertos and when talking about the ofrenda, it’s all very reverent”, I share.
“100%! I’m from San Antonio and it feels very much like “Little Mexico”. Death is viewed differently in our family and we celebrate it. And like you said, with Dia de los Muertos it’s like a celebration of the beauty of death and when they lived. We were raised with that from a young age, you know? Legends and magical realism around death made it all a little bit different to us.”
“I noticed in the theater during the screening, it wasn’t the ghost that scared the audience, but rather the slur one of the characters used. That got more of a horrified reaction!”
“Exactly! Horror is so much a part of us, but it wasn’t anything I was seeing on screen. I never saw our stories being told, never any family that looks like my family that wasn’t a stereotype – a gang member, domestic worker, etc. I want to help change the narrative and I’m so thankful to Blumhouse for the opportunity.”
Ochao has told an important story through Madres and it’s a perspective that is needed, but may have been overlooked if she didn’t have the chance.
“I’ve worked in Hollywood now for 16 years and even when I was working on productions it was almost always men and all white men. In horror, it’s especially like that. But it’s what fuels me. I have to keep at it. I can’t stop because we have to break through and we have to tell our stories. Someone gave me a chance and I want to give that chance to others.”
Welcome to the Blumhouse‘s movies Bingo Hell and Black As Night are both currently streaming on Amazon Prime. The Manor and Madres were made available on October 8, 2021. All four of these exciting and thrilling features are well worth the watch and hopefully just the beginning of more diversity in the horror genre.
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