The horror webmistress speaks slowly and clearly from behind her desk, half-lit in shadow, intoning with sober conviction.
"I'm not a dark person," she says. "I've never been in jail, never murdered anyone, never had a crack addiction, and I was never a prostitute."
"If anything," she adds, "I was just slightly geeky."
This interview with Heidi Martinuzzi, who runs the female-centric horror site Pretty/Scary, appears in Donna Davies' and Kimberlee McTaggart's documentary Pretty Bloody. Their Halifax-based company, Sorcery Films, specializes in producing work that "questions the nature of the human condition" and, among other works, recently put out the well-received documentary Zombiemania. For Pretty Bloody, Davies and McTaggart chose to deconstruct the nature of women's roles in a genre that is overwhelmingly dominated by men. It's a loaded topic, and the task wasn't easy.
"When you look at the subject of horror in general, it fills shelves worth of books," says Davies. "There's so much analysis when it comes to women. You have the feminist angle, and horror literature written by women. You could make the film all about the scream queens of the '80s, or take it in the other direction and go completely feminist with it."
There were also the considerations of the network buying the documentary (SPACE) and the potential of alienating its biggest demographic (young men) by being too "ranty," in McTaggart's words. And they had to figure out how to celebrate women's participation in a genre where female directors remain conspicuously absent.
"It's a celebration of something that's very positive, but there's still a long way to go," McTaggart says.
Still, the documentary reveals that women have come a long way from passive, fainting moppets cowering into the arms of their boyfriends in darkened theatres. The inclusion of articulate super-fans like Martinuzzi and Rue Morgue editor Jovanka Vuckovic show women can be as passionate, obsessive and aggressively knowledgeable about the genre as men. More often than not, they revel in it: Heavily tattooed Vuckovic boasts she can debate any guy into a corner should he underestimate her knowledge of horror miscellany. "It's like a UFC fight!" she laughs. Film critic Maitland McDonough says if she hears of a good head-exploding movie scene, she'll see it "in a New York minute."
"We wanted a wide scope of people," says McTaggart. "These women are well-respected and well-known amongst horror fans. We knew Maitland McDonough was a big name in horror when the guys who made Treevenge knew who she was."
There's another group of women in horror who are notorious for different reasons: the scream queens. For Pretty Bloody, McTaggart and Davies got a hold of genre favourites Brinke Stevens and Debbie Rochon, who between them have nearly 300 horror film credits. Both got into the genre because of a willingness to "get naked and die horribly," says Stevens. But as they made more films, the roles got better---in Rochon's case, she got to play more villains. Now, both women maintain that their work has provided them with career security and creative freedom. Their stories are a curious blend of exploitation and empowerment.
"[In horror films] you have many roles where women are in control of their destiny," says Davies. "I have friends who say they'd recommend horror movies to their daughters rather than romantic comedies, because those films present false illusions about life---like everything's a fairy tale."
Like Zombiemania, Pretty Bloody has caught the attention of horror fans. But even after hours of discussion and viewings of violence and viscera, McTaggart and Davies don't consider themselves horror devotees.
"Horror fans are the most hardcore fans of any genre," says Davies. "We could never live up to them. These people know the stories behind the actors, the special effects, the makeup, everything. The real horror fans are out at the Empire Theatre in Dartmouth on a Thursday night."
"I do take [horror] a lot more seriously now," McTaggart says. "I can appreciate it."
"And it does make for very interesting dinner party conversation."
Pretty Bloody airs on SPACE, Thursday, February 26 at 3pm and 8pm.