AN AFTERNOON WITH SADIE KATZ: THE DTV ICON WHO'S ALSO ONE OF THE COOLEST WOMEN IN HORROR
In my time conducting interviews with members of the horror filmmaking community, I’ve learned to gauge the course of an interview by the first few minutes. It’s been important to determine—and determine quick—whether the person to whom I’m speaking is shy and in need of a bit of gentle prodding, or bombastic and talkative and in need of some chamomile. Sometimes I’m speaking to someone afocal who needs to be kept on track; and sometimes I find myself speaking to someone with only the barest amount of involvement in a given project, who might even be confused why they’re even speaking to me.
Within the first few minutes of my interview with Sadie Katz, we were discussing the proper usage of the word “nebulous,” and I knew that everything was going to be just fine.
While you may not recognize the name, if you’ve rented any horror DVDs recently or scoped out any made-for-cable movies, there’s a good chance you recognize the face. Over the past several years, the Orange County native has been slowly carving out a niche for herself as an indy horror icon, most memorably in the sixth installment of the WRONG TURN series, which took a right turn in its’ casting of Katz as the film’s lead antagonist—a rare instance of a female lead villain that paid off well for the sometimes beleaguered franchise. While she may have mastered charming menace on screen, in person, Katz is all charm—not in the practiced, faux way of so many “industry folk” but in a naturalistic manner, like someone you hit it off with while waiting in line for coffee.
“Your LADY IN WHITE review,” Katz suddenly says as I’m setting up my recording equipment, and I realize that while I’ve been researching her, she’s repaid the favor. “Fuuuuck. I haven’t seen that in years.” As it turns out, Katz, like me, is always ready to discuss eighties horror movies, and—as our “nebulous” talk implied—do it intelligently. “It was a little molest-y…. there’s a lot of movies in the 80s that were sort of weird like that, that were made for kids: Disturbing, but they were Disney movies. Like, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES? Those movies were different from a slasher movie that was just about killing. They got into your psyche. They were truly scary, in a BAD way… like, do you remember POISON IVY? Those movies, I think, messed up a whole generation of young girls.”
Rare is the actor or actress with that deep of a social insight—and when I find one, I know I’m in for a treat. While I went into the interview knowing only peripheral information about Katz, our initial back and forth on the semiotics of 80s horror films—what was inappropriate, what wasn’t, what cultural forces were responsible for the demise of GREMLINS style kiddie horror, whether the title “age of the sexual thriller” more properly describes the late 80s to mid-90s or the mid-90s to early 2000s—makes me want to go out tonight and rent all of her films.
As it turns out, while Katz has the same fond memories of the same movies as me, they weren’t quite what got her into the horror game. That honor goes to the horror anthologies that quietly populated 80s airwaves alongside CHEERS and FAMILY TIES: TALES FROM THE DARK SIDE, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, and, Katz says with a self-effacing laugh, “You remember that show MONSTERS that was on? I’m really dating myself here.”
She is, of course, referring to the syndicated series that was a brief cultural touchstone for those coming of age at the beginning of the 1990s, and her memories of the show spark off a wave of memories that paints a picture of the horror actress as a young woman: “My next door neighbor—I was raised by a single mom—my next door neighbor and her mom, Lindsay, they would watch scary movies and I wasn’t really allowed to watch them so I’d sneak over there to watch them. And I was a really bad chicken. But we would watch them anyway, and kind of deplete our video store of every scary film. And it was dumb, but, I have to tell you, I had massive nightmares, was really scared, but I really loved them. I really liked NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, but I also liked the low budget sexy thrillers… in the eighties, that’s what you watched if you were a young person. You watched scary movies or you watched fantasy like NEVER ENDING STORY, that’s what you were into. And you would go to your local Video Depot or whatever and, there were just walls of those movies, so that’s what you got. If you had friends over you would watch scary movies if you didn’t have anything to do. It was that and Saturday morning cartoons…”
While Katz’s memories describe the experiences of myriad young girls of a particular generation, she was among the few who decided to make the transition from watching films to being in them. Theater and student films in her adolescence led to short films. From there, the transition to horror was easy: “After a while you’re kind of exhausted [with shorts] and you start auditioning, and of course there’s horror films. And you start being able to cry, and, you’re ‘Oh, I can do that!’ That, for me, was just a natural thing to do. And it’s exciting, because it’s always a question of—” and here Katz assumes a mock-concerned tone of voice—“‘Oh, How do you feel about doing horror films? Is that what you WANT to do!?’ And I’m, ‘Of course!’ You get to play the most extreme scenarios as an actress. It’s not just playing the girlfriend or the sexy girl. You want to challenge yourself with the most extreme examples. And that’s what horror films do… now you’ve got something to really go on. Now you’re doing the most imaginary ‘what if’ you can do, that really pushes you beyond as an actor.”
The conversation here turns to the current state of roles for women in indy horror—what Katz and I agree is an “emerging golden age.”
“Look at AMERICAN HORROR STORY, right?” She says eagerly. “You watch that and you go, ‘How the fuck would you NOT want to do that?’ I feel that I got really lucky that I got to do WRONG TURN, I feel that Frank Woodward, who wrote—I felt lucky when I got the script. Oh my God. That I got to play this character, that I got to be this crazy antagonist… that’s a gift. And I feel more and more that, with these scripts they’re writing female leads that aren’t just girls running through the woods. I’m in awe. I’ve known a lot of bigger actors complaining there aren’t a lot of roles for women, but… if you turn on cable TV, women are occupying these really wonderful roles in horror, drama, everything, and they’re older. Even if you look at BLACK SWAN. That’s a fuckin’ great film, and women are running the show.”
In addition to simple equality in casting, and not relegating women to two-dimensional characters, Katz also sees female horror antagonists as a natural outgrowth of what she considers to be the dark side of femininity: “Women are scary. We’re the scariest creatures. You watch a woman with PMS—damn. You don’t know what she’s going to do. Don’t give her a knife! I’m surprised—and I keep saying this, and I’m sure someone’s gonna do it soon—there needs to be a female Jason Voorhees. I’m surprised we don’t have that yet. But we will. I think we’re gonna see more, and more, and more women in horror. It’s fun to watch a woman who has shit going on.”
Though she’s proud of her own current achievements in horror—BLOOD FEAST and WRONG TURN, Katz says, are her current crowning roles—she says she’d still like to grow as an actress and bring to life some more interesting female antagonists. Her dream gig? “I would like to do something like THE SHINING. And I’d really like to do something like MOMMIE DEAREST. That would be fun. Something about a yoga mom who loses her mind. There’s nothing scarier—I can say that as a mom myself—than that perfectionist mom who goes a little nuts. We can’t get away from them. It would be really fun to play that.”
“Play” isn’t all Katz can do, though. Her time in the business has given her inroads to branch out into other forms of artistic expression, and she’s begun to make that journey with aplomb. In 2013, she and LEPRECHAUN impresario MARK JONES cowrote SCORNED, a tongue-in-cheek homage to “the kind of sexy thrillers I watched as a girl,” Katz says, with a gleefully wicked wistfulness. More recently, though, she’s taken on the role of producer, helping to drum up funding for her current project, a creature feature about killer, hairless cats called MOGGY CREATURES.
“I normally run in the other direction when somebody talks about crowdfunding,” Katz laughs. “I’m sort of like, ‘Nooooo!’ Cause I’m in LA, and these things sometimes don’t work, and people come up with so many projects… all my friends have stuff.” Katz inces and inhales sharply in the way of someone overwhelmed by requests she can’t fulfill. “I’m a working actress. I’d be broke if I gave money to everything.” Katz’s initial hesitancy, though, was broken when MOGGY CREATURES mastermind Scott Frazelle told her the concept: A modern day creature feature done entirely with practical effects.
“I think that, especially in indy horror, we should really support filmmakers that are doing practical effects,” Katz says. And Scott is a great propmaster, and he made these really fuckin’ scary cats, and I was like, ‘Oh, that is a really scary creature.’”
Coaxed by the gimmick, Katz was really won over by the script, about a grieving couple in a poisonous relationship who try to overcome the death of their child by adopting a cat. “This is really scary because these people exist in real life, so it’s not just a creature feature… I love movies where I’m watching it and I’m like, “Yeah, that could happen. These are real people, they’re really hurting.” It’s that sort of reality, she says, that kernel of truth in a smorgasbord of crazy, that she loves most in horror films, likening it to her experience on Wrong Turn: “[It’s] fun because I got to bring to the audience someone that was grounded in reality, which is pretty funny when you’re an incestuous cannibal hillbilly. And I tried to play her with a lot of heart and really felt a lot of conviction.”
I don’t want to keep Sadie any longer—though I’d love to while away the rest of the afternoon reminiscing and critiquing, she is, I’ve see, a very busy woman. Though much work has been done on MOGGY CREATURES, there’s still yet more to do, and it’s her hope to get word of the project out onto a wider social media platform in 2017. Too, she’s putting the finishing touches on her directorial debut, the satirical meta-documentary THE BILL MURRAY EXPERIENCE, about her attempts to meet the titular icon—a film I hope to discuss with her when the time is right. As we part ways, though, there’s time for just one more trip down memory lane—one which, if she hadn’t already, would’ve endeared Katz to me as one of the coolest women in horror: “I went to Big Bear, California, recently, and they have a video store there! And I’m like, ‘Oh, we have to go in there, we have to go in the video store!’ I miss those. There was nothing cooler than trying to convince your video store guy to give you a different movie poster, like, what do you have? And so I always had movie posters on my wall. There was something… I feel like the video store is going to make a comeback. Because people really miss that experience. It sucks to go through on Netflix, to flip through and go through VOD. People want to hold the video, especially horror fans. Because there’s something about reading the box covers. You WANT to sit there for two hours in the video store and hold it. There’s no one you can mention Blockbuster to who says ‘Oh, I’m so glad I don’t have to go to Blockbuster on Friday night.’ Everyone I know is, ‘Oh, fuck, I want to go back to Blockbuster on Friday night. Why did we take that for granted?’”
Katz is certainly not a figure to be taken for granted. Though the body of the video store may be dead, she has allowed something of that spirit to live on in her roles—and the horror world is better for it.
Follow Sadie Katz on Twitter @sadie_katz.