Note: This article may contain spoilers.
I first saw Lucky McKee’s May in 2003 when it was released on DVD. I distinctly remember picking it up at a local video store on a whim. I had never heard of it, and therefore knew nothing about it. I had no idea who McKee was, and I didn’t recognize the woman on the box. All I knew was that it was a new horror(-esque) movie, and thought I’d give it a whirl. Obviously I’m happy I did.
It would seem that many people had similar experiences with the movie in terms of just finding it on the video store shelf and taking it home without knowing what to expect, and then being blown away by it. I remember being surprised and delighted when random people, knowing that I loved horror movies, would ask if I’d seen it. Others were discovering it and enjoying it too, and that made me happy. At this point it has pretty much become a cult classic.
I had never seen anything quite like May before, nor have I since, though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t reminded of Pieces just a bit at the end (not that that’s a bad thing). May was brutal at times and quirky at others, but above all, was a fantastic and well-acted character study. Plus there were nods to Dario Argento, and I just happened to see the film while I was at the peak of my consumption of Argento’s work, so to see homage paid to the filmmaker throughout May was a special treat.
The Adam character (played by Jeremy Sisto) is a big Argento fan. He mentions going to see Trauma, decorates his home with Argento imagery, and reads a book about Argento as May (Angela Bettis) first approaches him. There are even moments when the music sounds like something out of an Argento film (notably during the fantastic blind kids and broken glass scene). Little things like these let you know that you’re in the hands of a filmmaker who cares about the genre.
May is the film that put McKee (who makes a cameo as the guy making out with his girlfriend on the elevator) on the map. He’s something of a household name in the horror genre these days, and that’s largely thanks to this film, though his ensuing filmography (including notable work with Jack Ketchum stories) and his fantastic entry to the Masters of Horror series would reaffirm his status. His most recent film is All Cheerleaders Die, which is actually a remake of his first (hard to find) film.
Fun fact: during a Halloween scene in May, there’s a girl dressed as a zombie cheerleader. her costume and makeup come straight from McKee’s earlier All Cheerleaders Die film.
While Angela Bettis had appeared in a number of projects before May, this was the film that introduced many of us to her, and quickly skyrocketed her to a favorite among genre fans. Since May, whenever Bettis is attached to a project, my interest is piqued. She is always fantastic. Tobe Hooper’s Toolbox Murders wouldn’t be much of a film without her, and she almost completely makes McKee’s Sick Girl, which I should add is one of my favorites in the entire Masters of Horror series (not that co-star Erin Brown wasn’t wonderful as well).
Memorable performances are also turned in by Sisto, Anna Faris, and James Duval.
Some of the ideas that turned up in May were much older than the film itself. For example, the scene with May and Adam in the laundromat was in a short film McKee made in college. Adam’s short film in the movie (the one about the couple who go on a picnic and start eating other) was made by editor and regular McKee collaborator Chris Siverston (director of The Lost). He was originally going to make the short in college, but instead made one starring McKee where he was a door-to-door salesman and stumbled upon people who ate each other at their home.
There’s a scene in May where May bites Adam’s lip while making out with him after watching his short film. McKee says on the DVD commentary that he really had a girl do that to him. I’m not entirely sure if he was serious or not, but there’s another possible influence for the character.
He also said that Robert De Niro’s character in Taxi Driver (Travis Bickle) was an influence on May, specifically referencing a scene in which May talks to herself in the elevator as her “You talkin’ to me?” moment. McKee is also quoted as saying that May wouldn’t exist without Amanda Plummer’s character in The Fisher King.
Another obvious influence would be Frankenstein, which gets an homage in the form of a tattoo on the Blank character’s (James Duval) arm.
The image of May crying blood at the mirror was one of the earliest ideas McKee had that led to the film.
Some other interesting tidbits from the DVD commentary:
– The only thing computerized in the entire film is the title sequence with the stitching.
– Lucky McKee’s father Mike McKee plays Dr. Wolf, the optometrist in the movie. He also played Coach Wolf in both versions of All Cheerleaders Die, Professor Malcolm Wolf in Sick Girl, and had roles in The Lost, Roman, and Wicked Lake.
– There was a scene cut out, which showed May as a child, shooting a bird with a BB gun, cutting off its wings, and putting them on Suzy’s (the doll’s) case to try to make it fly.
– Production designer Leslie Keel made Suzy by hand, and there was a debate on set over whether or not the doll looked exactly l like her.
– All the other dolls in May’s room were supplied by Mike McKee’s girlfriend.
– They initially considered Jeffrey Combs for the role of the veterinarian, but just really liked Ken Davitian (Borat), who played the part because he was funny.
– Jeremy Sisto apparently kept farting when they were shooting the bench scene.
– McKee chose for May and Adam to eat mac and cheese when they had dinner because he hates listening to people eat and it makes a gross sound.
– Some of the blind kids in the movie were really played by blind kids.
– Originally, May was going to be a college student instead of working at vet.
– Some of the creepy music in the film features Bettis doing vocals.
– Originally when May was building her friend Amy, she was going to cut off her own hand and put it on Amy’s heart rather than taking out her eye. Ultimately, the eye just made more sense.
– May’s lazy eye in the film was done using a full eye contact lens, which Bettis couldn’t see out of.
May is a really good film for a variety of reasons, but one of them is that there are scenes that parallel each other. As noted in the IMDb trivia section:
“Every victim in the movie other than Adam, is killed in the neck or higher. Lupe (the Cat) is killed by an ashtray thrown to the back of the head. Blank (the Arms) is killed with a pair of scissors to the forehead. Polly (the Neck) is killed by having her throat slit from two scalpels. Ambrosia (the Legs) is killed with the two scalpels to the sides of the forehead. And May (supposedly) kills herself by the stab wound to her eye. However, Adam dies the same way May stabbed him with the retractable knife earlier in the film, in the stomach. Also for another small fact, Polly at the beginning of the film, stabs the eye of her half carved pumpkin.”
May also makes great use of music, which is an element of cinema that I feel many take for granted, but can be absolutely critical. Beyond the score and the creepy Argento-esque music, May makes great use of songs by The Breeders and The Kelley Deal 6000 among others.
Long story short, if you’ve never seen May, you should rectify that immediately. If you have seen it, give it another watch. It’s just as wonderful now as it was when it was new. With that, I’ll leave you with this piece of May art.