Hannah Neurotica (2017) #WiHM

Without Hannah Neurotica, there’d be no Women in Horror Month.

That’s not hyperbole, though it may sound like it. The fact of the matter is, though, that the movement can be traced to the efforts of one enterprising young woman in the early days of the 2010s who looked out at a horror landscape dotted with so many female bodies, yet far too many women responsible for putting those bodies there; so it was that Ax Wound Magazine was born, and with it, the entire ethos that would become the Women in Horror Month movement.

When I profiled Hannah Neurotica for Rue Morgue several years ago I called her “the Andy Warhol of the horror world,” likening the environment facilitated by Ax Wound to Warhol’s famous Factory, a means through which the creative and artistic can network, interact, form partnerships and friendships, and put their heads together to facilitate the creation of further art. WiHM and Ax Wound’s influence can be seen in innumerable places—from the meteoric rise of the Soska Sisters to the cross-cultural impact in the horror world of the Massive Blood Drive PSA, to the prolificacy of indy darling Jessica Cameron to the emergence of Heidi Moore in 2016 as one of the striking new voices in low-budget horror— and it’s amazing to think that so much of that has sprung forth from the font of Neurotica’s influence and facilitations within the horror community.

While her mission has always been important, today’s sociopolitical climate has rendered it more relevant than perhaps even the world of 2009 could imagine. Eight years ago, Neurotica was at the forefront of what was a social cause; today, she’s a key figure in what’s no less than a cultural crusade. It is, perhaps, disturbingly appropriate that last year’s Ax Wound Film Festival—now entering its’ third year—was held the same month that America elected a president better known for his hostility to women, intelligent discourse, and constructive criticism than any solidly defined political platform. With the American political landscape potentially teetering on the brink of a reversion to 1950s-era legal and social norms for women, Women in Horror Month is no longer a fringe movement in a fringe subculture; it’s a nascent chapter of The Resistance, and Neurotica is one of its’ key figureheads. I was fortunate enough that she took time from her endless battle to speak to me regarding what led her to where she is now, and where she sees the future of Women in Horror—and society—in the face of such overwhelming cultural forces.

Preston Fassel: How did you get involved in the horror world, and what inspired you to do so?

Hannah Neurotica: There are five general stages of development which lead to my being “involved” in the horror world in the capacity I am today.

general fandom --->confusion---> academic inquiry ---> personal need---> activism

My general fandom started very young when my wonderful dad introduced me to horror films. Sadly he passed away in January 2010 (right before the first Women in Horror Month). Truly, he is responsible for my love of the genre and was always more then willing to discuss movies on a deeper level as I got older.  In high school, 80s horror films were a major part of my social circle’s entertainment. We would spend hours in the video store, investigating the box art of each VHS, trying to determine which film would provide the most nudity, sex, and gore to go with our evening junk food, silliness, and sleeping bags.

Confusion kicked in during sophomore year of college when I enrolled in my first Women’s Studies course. It’s not like I was super excited to take the class, in fact I probably wouldn’t have if not for my new best friend at the time who pushed it. Thank god she did because after the first 45 min course intro session, my life path was set in motion.

All I wanted to do was absorb the works of classic feminist writers, exposing myself to new philosophies, and seeking out the rising voices of 3rd Wave Feminism. I wasn’t developing my own theories - just taking in that of others with urgency and trying to process it all.

While this is all well and great, I began to struggle with my identity. How does one live as a feminist? If I enjoy watching slasher movies am I complicit in the maintenance of our patriarchal system?  Should I be offended by naked women running through woods with bloody tits, punished for being sexual? Or even existing at all? My stomach was in knots and horror took a backseat 100%.

Skip ahead a little and feminist punk rock took me from my East Coast college to Olympia, Washington. The phase of academic inquiry entered the picture. Riot Grrrl was my life (hence moving to intern at Kill Rock Stars and attend Evergreen).  

One memorable afternoon I walked into the Women’s Resource Center, and someone was reading a book called Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Genre by Carol J. Clover. Just like that first Women's Studies class, I found something which had been missing from my life.

After bothering the guy reading the book with a zillion questions he just it to me to take home.

Holy Shit. A Final Girl theory?! Yes! Why can’t I be feminist and love horror? There is more here then meets the eye and I was ready to dig into the viscera and pull it all out. Problem was, at that time, finding feminist friends who openly enjoyed slasher films was not happening. And when I did meet someone, it wasn’t like they were super excited to have a true discourse. My dad filled that role beautifully but finding other women (who I knew had to exist) became a mission built out of personal need.

The need to understand this disconnect between two supposed opposite subjects which I knew could be best friends. It’s not like I could go online and find women to engage on this subject with either. The concept of “a female horror fan” was so nil that even in Clover’s introduction she makes clear that her research is with the male audience in mind. Yet despite that acknowledgement, it was her, a woman, who brought new eyes to a genre deserving of deeper inquiry.

Unlike today (where majority of you reading this have heard of the book) that wasn’t the case back then. If I said the term “Final Girl” to a horror fan the response was, “Is that a new movie?”

Message boards were far from welcoming to female horror fans and if you even uttered the “f” word you were trolled away.  My intense personal need for this connection with other feminists was a problem that I would attempt to solve with the communication tool I knew best, zines. With a typewriter, scissors, and glue stick Ax Wound Zine was born. After publishing for the small DIY zine community I began to slowly meet other women around the world. Somehow Newsweek found me, and from that point on I was the go-to person for anything having to do with the subject. This goes to show how desperate media outlets were at the time to find someone to comment on these themes.

As the goal of connection compelled me to launch the cut-n-paste zine, my instinctual activism was right alongside ready to unleash many years later in full force after a less than positive interview on CBC radio in 2009.

After the short segment featuring myself, Aviva Briefel, and Jovanka Vuckovic, it was clear the interviewer considered us atypical women. In fact, she spent a good chunk of the time commenting on Jovanka’s tattoos; her body the focus instead of her work. This lead to an angry rant on my website with a call to action in the form of Women in Horror Month.

I was once referred to as an “untamed bleeding cunt” with “a social justice fortress” and I couldn’t be more proud if you put that on my grave. All my fellow untamed bleeding cunts (who I may never get to meet or know) are now showing the industry just how much we can bleed and not die.

PF: How have you seen the role of Women in Horror change since you got involved?

HN: As I wrote above, in 2009 during the CBC interview, the focus was on how Jovanka looked. It is now 2017 and the first ever all-female horror anthology XX-- which she is part of and a producer of-- was just #1 on iTunes in the horror section.

When you google women horror fans you have options now between blogs, websites, podcasts, and finding each other is aided by hashtags and social media. When I began with the personal need to create Ax Wound it was because there was nothing else, none of these networking tools were available and I thought I was alone. When I started Women in Horror Month it was because I knew I wasn’t alone but the level of invisibility by media, industry, and horror culture was staggering and unacceptable.

Not only do we now have so many great & supportive websites but the creation of film screenings and events every February has allowed visibility for women filmmakers to expand in a way that is palpable.

Plus, when I say the term “Final Girl” now to a horror fan there is no blank stare. We have a long way to go but the differences I see are not insignificant.

PF: Where do you see the role of Women in Horror in the next ten years?

HN: In ten years I hope we don’t need Women in Horror Month anymore. But considering the state of our world I am not all that optimistic at the moment. So, if you mean where will we be as an organization (if our existence is still necessary) I would love to have 501(c)3 non-profit status.  How wonderful if we could give more support in the form of education and grants! Since the money for that isn’t even on the horizon I will keep doing everything I can to instigate and promote as many women’s work possible and encourage girls not to shy away from this white and male dominated industry.

PF: Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?

HN: Hopefully alive, healthy, and making art. As a person who struggles daily with mental illness that would be a killer accomplishment.

PF: What was your favorite movie of 2016, horror or otherwise?

HN: AHH! I love you for asking this question! I have been preaching to people about a german film called Look Who's Back, based on a novel of the same name. Honestly, it is pretty close to a perfect movie for me. The ending gives me CHILLS just thinking about it! *chills* I’ve watched it three times and I would again in a heartbeat. Not one person I recommend it to has watched it yet & it’s breaking my heart! The description does it a disservice as it’s not a comedy but has comedic elements. In fact, it’s incredibly timely and terrifying. Come on people, it’s streaming on Netflix (last I knew)! Please watch it and message me - I would LOVE to chat about it at length anytime.