“I’ve been a horror fan all my life,” Michelle Hanson told me during our interview for iHorror’s Horror Pride Month. “I’ve been gay all my life, too, but I didn’t know it until I was 19.”
And with that, we were off to the races.
Hanson, who works with a theater troupe in Columbus, Ohio, wears a lot of hats in the entertainment business. Not only is she a writer and director of both plays and films, but she’s also a published author and part-time photographer.
Of all the things she loves to do, however, horror is pretty close to the top of the list.
“I grew up mainly on slasher flicks,” she said. “I grew up in the 80s and 90s so there were plenty at my disposal, but I also love the more psychological films like Silence of the Lambs. When a movie gets into your head and sticks with you, it’s kind of like psychological torture and I love that.”
Looking back on those horror films that she grew up with, Hanson says she realized that coming out and really accepting herself didn’t change the way she viewed them, but it did make her realize a few things about her relationships to the characters.
“I think with so many of those characters, there was a physical attraction that I just hadn’t realized before my coming out,” Hanson explained. “I loved the Freddy films as a kid and all of the females in those films are gorgeous but it never took away from their strength or their intelligence.”
As for that layer of psychological horror, it plays out in some of Hanson’s own filmmaking, and she was eager to share the details of some of the projects she had been working on recently.
One, a short film called Veho, deals with a ride-share driver whose latest fare turns out to be a serial killer.
“Due to copyright, I couldn’t use Uber,” she laughed, explaining the title. “So the ‘Veho’ driver picks up the serial killer and the audience knows what the guy is from the beginning. The guy, instead of backseat driving, he starts psychologically torturing the poor driver.”
So, what about the portrayal of lesbians in horror films?
“What I’ve realized is that lesbianism in horror films is there to keep straight male viewers watching,” Hanson said. “There’s nothing there that really even hints at what it’s like to be actually be a lesbian.”
She pointed to the hyper-sexualized nature of most lesbian characters she’s seen in the genre, and one particular instance of sexual experimentation between two female leads that really got under her skin.
“I was convinced a 12 year old boy wrote Jennifer’s Body,” Hanson explained. “When I found out that it had been written, not only by a female writer but also one that I highly respected, I was shocked.”
For those unfamiliar, Jennifer’s Body contained one of the most incongruous uses of a sudden and pointless girl-on-girl scene that I’ve ever seen, and it clearly struck a chord with Hanson, as well.
It’s this type of nonsense that helps inspire Hanson to keep creating, however, and she even wrote a short sketch that she’s expanded into a short film based around the idea of the final girl.
“If a final girl was actually in a lesbian relationship and they were together at the end of the film, how would it play out? Would one of them have to die?” she asked. “It ended up being a sort of parody of Friday the 13th in its original sketch form and we had a great time playing on that trope.”
The short film, Final Girls, has since been completed. The entertaining parody is a lot of fun and we’re excited to share it with you at the end of this article!
The questions the writer/director posed turned the discussion to the future of LGBTQ inclusion in the horror genre, and there were a couple of points she was eager to make.
One, queer inclusion in horror is important for visibility, but the LGBTQ community members who want that inclusion also have to realize that it means we’re going to have to wholly embrace the fact that sometimes we might be the villain and sometimes we might be the victim,
In other words, just because a queer person dies in the film doesn’t make the film homophobic.
“If the gay character is being killed because they’re gay, then that’s a hate crime,” Hanson pointed out. “If they’re killed because lots of people in the movie are being killed and they just happen to be one of the many, then that’s equality. That’s what we’ve been fighting for all this time.”
And, Hanson says, in some ways we’re beginning to see progress on this front, even when it comes to the language we hear in films, and she specifically points to the films The Collector and its sequel The Collection as examples.
“There was this point in the first film where Josh Stewart calls the killer a ‘fa**ot’ and it gets this really visceral reaction out of him. You can tell it made him angry to be called that even though the other names Stewart had used didn’t phase him,” she said. “The sequel came out a few years later and I noticed that even though Stewart called the guy all kinds of names again, that word wasn’t used. That’s not the only example we could talk about, but it feels like that’s a signal that the vocabulary, at least, is moving in the right direction.”
For all our sake, I hope that Michelle Hanson is right.
Don’t forget to check out Final Girls below. You can also see the first season of Red Rue, Hanson’s web series, on YouTube!