While every country with a horror culture has dabbled in just about every subgenre imaginable, it’s fun to look at which of those particular genres tend to crop up in certain places more than others and think about why. Italy, for example, was the epicenter of cannibal and zombie films for just about the bulk of the 70s and 80s, whereas Japan was the destination for supernatural horror in the late 90s and early 2000s. Canada, curiously, appears to be the place that body horror calls home. From the early films of David Cronenberg to 2013’s American Mary, those in want of a horror movie that focuses on the unpleasant possibilities of human biology need only take a trip North of the Border. Those doing so might want to add Maude Michaud to their itinerary.
A veteran of the genre since she began making films at seventeen, she cut her teeth (and a few other things) on a variety of shorts that used body horror to explore a variety of topics from beauty standards to body image. It’s a subgenre that even found a degree of influence in her nonfiction work, giving the name to “Bloody Breasts,” her webseries exploring the horror genre’s treatment of women, their bodies, and gender roles—a project that was a part of her master’s thesis, Horror Grrrls: Resistance and Agency within the Interpretive Community of Women Horror Filmmakers. (Haters take heed: She literally has a degree in horror. Where’re your credentials?)
Michaud recently realized her dreams of her own feature-length body horror film with Dys-, her first feature length movie, due for release later this year. I sat down with Michaud to discuss the project, the differences between American and Canadian productions, and the future of her career. After you’ve checked it out, be sure to scope out her shorts over at quirkfilms.ca—and be sure to bring a sick bag.
Preston Fassel: Tell us about Dys-?
Maude Michaud: That was my first feature film that I made independently. I produced it, financed it, wrote, directed it… I had a crew of seven people, so, you can imagine! I had a crew of seven people and everybody kind of did a lot of different roles, and that was a tremendous learning experience as a project. It did fairly well on the festival circuit. It won two awards, and right now its’ in distribution limbo, hopefully to come out later this year. There’s been a bit of issues because my sales agent was trying to get a Canadian TV sale, so I needed to get the film certified as a Canadian production and that took almost a year. With paperwork and everything, you know, and that was my first feature and I learned along the way. Now if I did the same process it would take half the time, but a lot of that was me learning how to get certified. And because of that delay some possibilities fell through and other possibilities popped up, so right now it’s looking like it’s finally gonna be coming out this year. So, crossing my fingers.
PF: Tell us about the story?
MM: It’s about a couple that’s on the verge of breaking up, and they’re forced to barricade themselves into their apartment because of a viral epidemic that’s going on outside. And the divide that existed between the two of them gets wider and they both go batshit crazy because they can’t get out, and they’re scared that they might or might not have been infected. And you kinda get a lot of flashbacks that cover what happened to the two of them, what happened that they got to the point where they got. It’s more of a dark drama with body horror added into that. Sometimes I jokingly say it’s a zombie film without zombies. (laughs) That was the whole idea in the beginning because I’m fed up with the zombie genre because there’s just so much. So I thought, ‘how about making a zombie film where there’s no zombies, something different?’
PF: As someone more experienced with shorts, what were some of the challenges filming a first-time feature?
MM: Pretty much everything. (laughs) I thankfully, I HAD made a lot of shorts over the years, and I have been working on a lot of other people’s projects as well. So I had a good sense of what I was getting into it. But I had a lot of restrictions that came into play when I made the film. For example, I flew in my main actress, and she was only available for a three-week period. So we had three weeks to shoot. So some days were extremely long and some days we were done in two hours. So I guess the biggest challenge was juggling the crazy intensive shooting schedule. ‘Cause when you make a short, often you’re gonna shoot for two or three days, or you’re gonna shoot more days but you’re gonna do it on the weekends, over different weeks, and this just became a full-time job. Like, sixteen hour days over two and a half weeks. Straight, with a few days off in between. So it was challenging always having the same level of energy, just getting everybody to be as committed all the time… that people don’t get tired, they don’t get annoyed, they don’t get sick of it and just want to quit or something. For my next feature I’m definitely going to have a producer. Because wearing all the hats sucks. It isn’t awesome. It’s fun on a short, but not on a feature.
PF: A lot of our readers are in the US, and not familiar with the concept of Canadian Certification. Tell us about that?
MM: In Canada there’s a commission that regulates what is on TV and what is on radio to make sure there is a certain percentage of Canadian content. And that’s a way of regulating broadcasters to make sure that the industry actually has a place—basically, that what gets made gets played. Which obviously is a good thing, because TV channels—stuff like the Canadian equivalent of HBO, channels that specialize in showing movies—they will actively seek out Canadian indie films, because it helps them fulfill their quotas. Because they will need to have X hours that is Canadian based, you know, in a month. So it’s just a matter of showing all the paperwork that’s involved in making a film, showing where did all of the financing come from, the main talent… my main actress is American but everyone else who worked on the film is Canadian, so I qualified, but I had to show that she was the only one. Because there’s a certain percentage of the cast and crew that needs to be Canadian. Same with the funding, a certain percentage needs to be Canadian in order for it to qualify. There’s a points system, like, is this person Canadian or not, and that counts for so many points. It’s all a bunch of bureaucrats who tally that up and make the decision. And where it got complicated in my case is because we had such a small crew. The system is made for larger movies with larger crews, so there was a lot of—like, the contracts I signed with the technicians. This person was a cinematographer, but the person was also a camera operator, and grip, and I just had to prove to them that I was not omitting paperwork. That this person fulfilled all of these roles, even if the contract only says one thing.
PF: You mentioned seeing it as a body horror film. Is that a particular subgenre in which you’re interested, or just how this one turned out?
MM: It’s one of my favorite subgenres of horror, and that’s something I’ve done a lot with. I kind of feel like it’s almost getting stereotypical, being Canadian. (laughs)
PF: That was my next question…
MM: I think there’s something fascinating about the visceral aspect of body horror. And it feels like there’s a lot of great body horror films but it’s not a subgenre that has a lot of films that get made. There’s starting to be a bit of a revival about that, now, though. That’s why I—I have a lot of different ideas, I’m trying not to contribute yet another serial killer hunting teenagers in the woods. That’s why I tend to turn to things that… I like films that make me feel uncomfortable, and a lot of body horror films do. When I think about a project I like to think about things that would make me feel uncomfortable, because it takes a lot. Also, it can be used to address a lot of issues thematically, as well, that don’t necessarily get addressed.
PF: What sort of issues do you want to address?
MM: In my past work, I’ve addressed a lot of things having to do with the female body and the way it’s represented. I have two of my shorts that deal with self mutilation. [Reflection] is a bit of a riff on a Frankenstein story. It has to do with a deformed woman who gets plastic surgery to be beautiful, but then she becomes a monster in her day-to-day life. So she decides to recreate the deformity and try to go back to the better person she was when she was not perfect. Then I’ve done this other short about this woman who tries to make it as an actress, and she’s just a bit too fat for the Hollywood standard. So she goes through the process of carving up her own body and making it into what she wants it to be.
PF: A lot of readers are thinking right now, was that you in ABCs of Death?
MM: No, it wasn’t! (laughs) My short came out before that. (laughs) It was definitely in the collective subconscious. When that film came out and I watched it, I was like… (laughs) That’s me! So I mean, the whole idea of issues surrounding the body, the bodies of women. There’s a lot that has not been said. It has changed over the years and I think definitely I see, in terms of thematics, my work evolves as I evolve as a person. It feels like in the past those were the things I was really interested in, notions of beauty and perfection and what makes it and how you can push it to an extreme. Now I find myself really into mental health. Everything that has to do with perception of reality, but also how people are affected. Because I’ve known a lot of people over the years with mental illnesses and unfortunately it’s still such a taboo, and it can be downright nightmarish for a lot of people living that. So that’s something that I’m really fascinated with exploring, taking the point of view of the person who is sick as a way to force the audience to see life through their eyes, how their version of reality is affected by that.