Polly Frost is a humorist and an accomplished writer of fiction, radio and plays. Her work has been published in major places like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and she has had collections of stories published in book format. I celebrate Polly Frost as an artist of words for all the great work she's done, but this being Women in Horror Recognition Month, I wanted to bring her to your attention for her amazing work she's done in horror. Her book "Deep Inside," a collection of short erotic horror, has been a much buzzed about sensation amongst genre fans, not only for Frost's tremendous wit and satire, but for the depths she goes to challenge and flirt with your mind.
I had the opportunity to chat with Polly about her love of horror, and about the role and portrayal of women in genre films. Please enjoy!
BadRonald: For me, horror blipped on my radar when I was very young. I was maybe six years old when I first watched Dark Shadows on TV. Then it was a long string of Vincent Price movies. When did you have the first inkling that you liked horror?
Polly Frost: You were six years old! -- very similar to my experience. I was a little younger than that when I first got hooked on horror movies. I was four. Part of my early love of horror comes, I think, from being a Scorpio. I don't mean this in any astrological way, but having my birthday so near to Halloween made me feel a kinship to the horror genre.
The 1941 version of The Wolfman with Lon Chaney, Jr. was the first horror movie I saw. Of course, Chaney was one of the greatest horror actors, because he could elicit your sympathy and terrify you all at the same time. And he really got to me! I would squeal and jump up, hide behind the sofa, and then just have to peek around it and watch some more. Chaney was the perfect actor to lure me into horror.
BadRonald: When I became interested in horror, I have to admit that the attraction was slightly fueled by sex. I was clearly too young to understand much of what was going on, but I remember that horror movies and books were where the racy topics were. Where did you first tie horror and erotica together?
Polly Frost: I came from a Catholic background. So when I got interested in horror, the attraction was VERY fueled by sex. You can't spend time in the Catholic Church without seeing the connection between horror and sex! I mean, if you even think about masturbation you're going to go to Hell. So how can you not think about masturbation and about being in Hell at the same time? How can you not picture demons swirling around you the moment you become aroused for the first time? Plus, if you even think about sex and that means you're damned, why not just party with those demons?
Also, I was raised during a period (the 1960's) when sex was touted as free and good for everyone to do with everyone else, preferably at the same time while doing drugs. However, what most of us came to realize in the 1960's was that if you took the lid off the id of people, you also might be unleashing their dark side. Charles Manson, anyone?
I wrote a collection of erotic horror stories, "DeepInside" that was published by Tor in 2007. When I wrote those stories, I told myself I had to feel two very honest things: arousal and terror. I promised myself I wouldn't write them unless I was honest about the powerful conflict of those two feelings.
BadRonald: I'm very excited to see that women have gained a voice in horror and other genre films. American horror had gotten very typical, until fresh voices -- some of them women -- started reinventing and twisting the genre around. How do you see the role of women in horror today?
Polly Frost: First, I have to say that I love seeing women get involved with horror on any level! Whether it's as an actress or a director, whether on stage, in movies or in books. We talk about the importance of having female directors doing horror now, but let's not forget the horror actresses who lent their spirits, their bodies and their souls to the horror movies of the past: Edwige Fenech, Isabelle Adjani, Camille Keaton, Catherine Deneuve, Felissa Rose, Jessica Harper, Julie Strain, Zoe Tamerlis -- to name but a few.
These actresses were fearless in the extreme ways they got into their characters. Why could they do that? Was it because they were fighting against the macho male directors of that time? Was Susan George's extraordinary performance in Straw Dogs better because she was dealing with Sam Peckinpah? (To me, Straw Dogs is one of those thrillers that overlaps with horror.) Would she have given that same performance had she been working with an understanding and feminist female director?
Here’s how I see what the role of women in horror today should be: continuing that tradition, being proud of it. Not to negate it or to say that these actresses were being objectified by the male directors of the 1970's, but to say, yeah! Those actresses rocked. Now that women are directing more horror movies, they should be taking that tradition and making it even more powerful. I hope women won't be taking horror movies in too sex-positive a direction!
BadRonald: Many male directors use a false "empowerment" in revenge movies (like the I Spit on Your Grave remake) to further objectify women, while others (like the films of Gasper Noe and Adrian Garcia Bolgliano) do well at examining social issues through their "victims." How do you see sexuality as empowerment in today's horror movies?
Polly Frost: I hated the remake of I Spit on Your Grave. But I don't think that male directors today only err by using "false empowerment" for the arcs of their female characters -- I think they often do even worse by their male characters because they give them false DISempowerment.
I mean, come on -- none of the directors of movies like the remake of I Spit on Your Grave or Wolf Creek would behave the way their male characters do. If they did, they'd never get a film made! Do you believe the men OR the women if these movies? I certainly don't. And there's no real tension between the characters.
Besides, one thing that makes horror a great genre is that you can satirize so many things. One of the stories in my book "Deep Inside" is called "The Dominatrix Has a Career Crisis." I felt very free to write a story that satirized the entitled-to-the-point-of-sociopathology upbringing of many young women I've seen today. If a guy had written that story -- OMG, he would have been slaughtered! But I could write it and get away with it.
I think that's what women can -- and should bring -- to the genre today. They shouldn't engage in what you rightly call the "false" empowerment b.s. of today's male directors. They should delve into the truly dark side of women.
BadRonald: Overall, how do you see the role of women in horror changing, both behind the camera, and in front?
Polly Frost: One thing I'm thrilled to see is how many young women love horror. This was not the case when I was growing up. If I told my female classmates at college that I loved slasher movies, they acted as though I'd just said I was condoning, I don't know, some despicable act of violence. Whereas I saw these movies being honest about the tensions between the sexes at that time. Besides: hey people, it's fantasy.
Today? I love talking to SOME young women today -- the ones who've moved beyond the feminist stance of the 70's through 90's to embracing the power of the horror genre. And let me mention some guys I've worked with: the actor Jake Thomas, Geno McGahee, the director Matt Lambert (with whom I co-produced the horror-sex-sci-fi webseries The Fold), and the filmmaker Paul Busetti. They're part of a new generation of young guy creators who genuinely get off on exhibitions of female power while never losing touch with their own male rowdiness. I love that.
BadRonald Who are some of the female voices in the world of horror that you find interesting (past and present)?
Polly Frost: I absolutely adore Debbie Rochon. She's not just an amazing actress in Lloyd Kaufman movies like Tromeo and Juliet and in loads of low-budget horror movies, she writes on horror, she goes to conventions, she's a fun and generous presence on Facebook -- she's incredible. More artists should be as feisty and accessible as she is. There's an actress in New York City I adore: Jillaine Gill, who does these incredibly bizarre and yet very real horror-themed one woman shows (often in collaboration with her brother, Sean Gill). I love that actress in Takashi Miike's movie, Audition, Miyuki Matsuda, who gave us that terrifying portrayal of mousy love. And I will always revere Anne Rice for her Beauty books, which are essential horror erotica.
Thank you Polly!!
To find Polly's books, go here.
And also check out her website: pollyfrost.com