By JOSHUA “PROMETHEUS” SCAFIDI
Continuing our series of interviews for WOMEN IN HORROR MONTH, we recently had the opportunity to chat with writer/director/producer, Lou Simon! Lou got into the film industry a bit late, but her first film HazMat made tons of waves on the indie horror scene when it premiered in 2013. An avid fan of horror who isn’t in it for a quick buck, Lou gave us a lot of insight into her transition from writer to filmmaker, and how much differently the Indie scene treats women as compared to the studio system.
Women in Horror Month is here! What does that mean to you?
I think Women in Horror Month is recognizing what a huge part of horror women are. If there is one genre that really features women in powerful roles, it’s horror. It’s always been the final girl, not the final guy. You have some not-so-positive things, like gratuitous nudity and stuff like that, but overall, it’s a genre that’s very empowering to women. If you watch the right ones.
You’re a true triple threat: you write, direct, and produce your own films. What’s it like being a woman behind the camera?
I would be super happy just writing because that’s the part that I find really fulfilling. Everything else I do out of necessity to make my projects happen. At least that’s how it started. I still do not like producing – that is the hardest and most painful job of it all. I’ve slowly gotten more into directing. It’s a way to see your project come through the way that you envisioned it. There’s something really exciting about being there while it’s being made and having the lines said to you the way you imagined. When the actors get what you were trying to write, it’s such an amazing, rewarding experience. Now, it’s tough not to direct!
What got you into making films?
I actually fell into the industry pretty late in life. I had a full career. I had studied creative writing and I always thought I was going to be a novelist. Then life happened, and bills had to be paid, so I was very practical and decided to have a very practical career. I kind of stopped writing because I had a very stressful job and it sucked all of the creativity out of me.
Then, I want to say in 2010, I met someone who was working on a screenplay and it wasn’t very good. So, I was trying to help them rewrite it, and I got that spark back. I remembered why I loved writing, and I realized that one of my weaknesses in writing was probably doing descriptions. Which is a huge part of a novel but completely left out in a screenplay. You just have to be like, “A bar, interior.” You don’t have to go into detail about what the bar looks like because the set designer will take care of that for you. In a novel, you would need at least a paragraph describing what the bar looked like.
Once I got rid of that and I could go straight to dialogue and to the action, it was like wow. After writing, everything else came out of necessity out of wanting to see the screenplays come to life.
Your first film HazMat won two awards back in 2013, including Best Horror at the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival. What was that experience like?
I made HazMat, and it was kind of like a test of if I wanted to continue, or not. The success of that film really made me want to continue. To this day, it’s my most profitable film. We got distribution right away, it went to Redbox. We went to Europe twice for film festivals. It was the biggest rush.
The funny thing is, when I was going to make the next film, everybody told me, “Do not make a slasher! They’re not selling! Don’t do HazMat 2.” The film’s still doing really well, so I think they might have been wrong.
What unique challenges would you say women face when trying to get a film made?
I have to be honest. On the indie level, I really don’t think we are any more challenged than men. Because we’re all struggling. I’ve found the indie horror community to be super supportive of women. Where I find that being a woman can be a hindrance, is trying to break into the studio system. You could have a director who has done five indie features, they won’t hire her. Instead, they’ll hire the guy who did special effects and has no directing experience whatsoever.
In my experience. That’s been the hindrance. I’ve had so much support from men, and women in the industry at the indie level that I can’t really say that my gender has been a hindrance.
There was a time when horror was considered taboo. That has certainly changed, but do you ever feel like horror still gets the short end of the stick?
Yeah, I definitely think so. A lot of people make very derisive comments like, “Oh, but it’s horror.” And I’m like, “That’s what makes it so good!” I get it. It’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. You do have to have, I don’t know, a certain inclination, if you will. I understand that and I’m okay with it, as long as it’s recognized as a worthwhile genre in the industry. Right? I think that has slowly been happening with Get Out and stuff like that. People are seeing you can make good horror films that are not just Jason running after a girl and the girl tripping. There are deeper messages in a lot of horror films.
The other side of the coin is the horror community. They’re serious. They support each other, they go to conventions, it’s a real thing.
Absolutely! Horror has a very supportive audience. The only problem that I’ve seen with that is that there’s a lot of people out there telling starting filmmakers to make horror because you can make it cheap, and quickly and it has a built-in audience, so it doesn’t even need to be good. Because of that, there’s a lot of people making horror who aren’t really horror fans.
What is it about women and horror that makes them so entangled? Why do we have the “final girl?”
I think that because we’re smaller and physically not as strong. It just becomes that much scarier when it’s a woman being attacked. A guy has to be surprised for it to happen because most guys will be able to fight back, at least a little bit. Seeing this person who doesn’t stand a chance go up against this huge guy, I think that’s what creates the suspense and that edge of your seat feeling. That’s what’s exciting about watching a horror film.
In your opinion, what makes a memorable final girl?
It’s traditionally been the sweet girl, the virgin, the good girl. Ultimately, a girl who doesn’t go with everybody else. The one who’s not the most popular girl or the cheerleader. Because it’s an underdog story, over and over.
What makes you want to scare people?
You know, it’s been a weird fascination since I was a kid. The very first thing I ever wrote, when I was ten years old, was kind of a mystery. A woman poisoned her husband, it was a weird thing. I don’t know why, at ten, I was writing that, but my mother thought it was a hoot. It was like two paragraphs, very short. Then in class, we had to write a short story that we had to read out loud. I was learning English at the time and it was a way to learn it and speak it. So, I wrote a story about my class going on a field trip and getting lost, and ending up in a haunted house. Everybody loved it because I made everybody in the class the characters., and they were hearing their names and acting it out.
So, they got all into it?
They got all into it, yeah. Then I started writing on my own. My nephew and I would actually have a haunted house in my parents’ garage. I must have been ten or eleven. It’s just been a weird fascination since I was very young.
Did you have a favorite horror series growing up?
I don’t know that I necessarily did. I remember watching Scooby-Doo and being bummed out that it wasn’t a [real] ghost.
It was never a monster! It was always just some guy!
Although, there would always be that, like, two seconds after they solve the mystery where something would happen and you go, “Oh, maybe there is a ghost!” I was [also] obsessed with Hitchcock at an early age. I loved him, grew up watching him. I remember reading an Alfred Hitchcock magazine when I was young. Of course, A Nightmare on Elm Street. I didn’t see Halloween until I was older, at least 18.
My guy was always Jason Vorhees.
Really? You like Jason better than Michael Myers?
Not the movies, per se. Halloween is better story-wise, but Jason would destroy Michael Myers.
My argument has always been that it makes sense that Jason would be unstoppable because he’s [un]dead. He came back from under the water, but I never quite understood why you couldn’t kill Michael. He was just a guy that was in an asylum. You should be able to kill him! I think Jason also had more inventive kills in the sequels. I remember the girl was in a sleeping bag and he grabbed the sleeping bag and smashed it against a tree…
That’s the scene I was going to bring up! I saw that and I was like, yeah, you’re not stopping him. I actually got to ask Kane Hodder what was in that sleeping bag. It looked heavy!
Really? What was it?
A ninety-pound dummy.
A ninety-pound dummy? Yikes!
If you could say anything to women out there looking to break into the horror genre, what would it be?
I would only encourage people who really love the genre to do it. It always feels like everybody’s just jumping on the bandwagon. I think, as a filmmaker, it’s a really challenging genre. It has a little bit of everything. It has comedy, it has action, it has suspense, it has drama and romance. So, you have to know how to direct everything. It’s not an easy genre to make. As much as people like to say that it is, it really isn’t.
I’m inclined to agree. What can we expect from you in the future?
I just finished a film that we shot last year during the pandemic. It’s more of a thriller. It had to be a story that could be told so that no two actors ever had to be in contact with each other. Hopefully, it’s very suspenseful. We just finished it. I’m going to start submitting it to film festivals. My third film Agoraphobia was just finally released in the U.S., so I have publicity for that! It’s on Amazon.