Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Women, Fashion & Horror Fandom: Interview with Author Alexandra West

“It’s Halloween. Everyone is entitled to one good scare.” *

I love horror movies. There’s something thrilling about being terrified in the safety and comfort of my living room. I had the pleasure of talking to Alexandra West, the co-host of the popular podcast “The Faculty of Horror” and author of  “Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity". She shares her thoughts about women in horror and more.

TorontoVerve: Why do you think some of us like to be scared? 

Alexandra West: I think it’s because so much of pop culture is happy endings and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think that there’s an inherent darkness to the world. You have light and dark. I think horror films give us a safe way to explore those things. When you get to encounter horror as a fan, you’re entered into this whole new world with a life and death struggle and that’s really vital to a lot of people.

TV: What scares Alexandra West?

AW: Ghost ladies. I don’t know if I really believe in ghosts, but any kind of ghostly female figure shrouded in darkness really scares me. Also, the notion of being truly alone like when you’re lost in a house or a city. We rely so much on community and the people around us — so if something bad happens, we might be safe. But if you’re alone in the woods or if you’re looking for the Blair Witch, that’s terrifying to me.

TV: You once said when you discovered horror at the video store it was like discovering your people. Can you explain?

AW: I loved culture or the idea of culture when I was a kid and I hadn’t found a place where it really made sense for me to fit in. So when I found horror movies, they spoke to me so deeply. I loved being scared. I loved the characters. I loved the tropes and themes. Later on in life, I really started finding my people who are near and dear to me through horror.

TV: Which Final Girl (the last surviving woman in a horror film) do you relate to the most?

AW: She’s my favourite and, as I get older, I relate to her more and more: Sydney Prescott from the Scream franchise. I kinda grew up with that character. She’s smart and she’s strong. She’s confused and pissed off, but a good friend. She’s got a lot of conflict in her and a lot of unresolved issues. That’s what really drives the whole Scream franchise. I think because she’s a really multi-faceted character, I respond to her.

TV: In your book, you mention that France has rejected New French Extremity films because they’re a shameful reflection of its shady World War II past. How much of your perception of France has changed after researching its history and New French Extremity?

AW: It changed quite a bit. I consumed a lot of New French Extremity films and the more research I did, I learned that there wasn’t a big horror movement in France. I didn’t have the best high school history teacher so I had to teach myself French history from the ground up. I learned that France sought to cover up many of its atrocities. France has been marketed to us in a very cheesy way. You can’t go to a Winners or a Marshall’s without seeing these tacky boxes with the Eiffel Tower all over them. There are some amazing and beautiful things that happened in France, but there’s also so much darkness and I don’t think [the French] like to acknowledge that. Everybody was shocked with the Charlie Hebdo shooting. There’s such a long history of terrorism in that country. I think they’ve spent so long covering it up that it felt like New French Extremity was the thing that had to break through.

TV: You wrote the book in 9 months. What does binge watching New French Extremity over and over again do to your state of mind?

AW: My mom said that I looked like shit. [Laughs] It made me really anxious, sad and frustrated. The fact that these filmmakers were constantly putting themselves out there. They really were. They were screaming: “There’s some fucked up shit going on!” They were addressing it in a very visceral way. I was also reading reviews of them. While they were beloved and accepted in the horror community, mainstream film criticism hates them.

TV: I’m a big fan of "The Faculty of Horror" podcast hosted by you and Andrea Subissati. What I especially love about it is how you unpack horror films from an academic point of view. You guys validate horror films which don’t get much love from cinephiles or society in general. What overall response do you get from people outside the horror community when they discover your affection for horror?

AW: A lot of people are very shocked. I think they assume all horror fans look like Elvira and Vincent Price. There’s this immediate reaction — either they think it’s kind of cool or they say, “I hate horror films!” And I tell them: “That’s nice, but I didn’t ask.” There’s a kind of judgement, but I think that’s what a lot of horror fans have become used to. If you love horror, then you understand that most people are going to dismiss you for it. I’ve accepted that.

TV: Despite its racist overtones, I have a fondness for Gone with the Wind. I just have to get over the mammie images and "silly darkie" references, which were normal for its time. Horror -- especially in the 70s and 80s -- hasn’t always been kind or respectful to women. As a feminist, did you or do you have an awkward time watching some of these horror films?

AW: Oh, yeah. Horror is interesting because one of the reasons I love it so much is it often presents really dynamic female leads. You’ve got Sydney Prescott and the women from Black Christmas. You can name anything and there’s a great female character. Friday the 13th Part 7 has a very strong final girl in Tina who’s the telekinetic Carrie-esque figure who takes down Jason for a brief period. She’s an interesting character, but sometimes — even in the same scene — you get these horrible women who are just after money and sex. They’re just evil people. It’s become part of consuming culture as a woman. You’re going to have terrible portrayals of women even in films marketed towards women — like the Sex and the City movies. It’s kind of gross the way some of the women are portrayed. There are points where I decide to engage with it and there are points where I have to check out. Yeah, I know that these are some bad female representations, but this is a fun movie. I think of it kind of like a light switch. Most of the time I have it flipped on, but if I’m having a chill evening, then I could turn it off and enjoy it.

TV: What does it say about our society if audiences are rooting for the killers in horror movies?

AW: I think it goes back to your last question with these terrible portrayals of young kids. In a lot of the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street films, the kids are really vapid, uncaring and selfish. They’re kind of like the bullies who pick on the horror nerds so you’re like, “Fuck yeah, Freddy. Go get them.” When in reality, there are facets to every person and you probably shouldn’t be rooting for even the bully to get it in the end. I think there’s such a toxic masculinity that feeds into those portrayals of Jason and Freddy. They are these figures that cut down youth and if the kids are weird or different, all the better. I don’t love that bombastic masculinity that kind of overtakes that love of horror. It feels very exclusive. Women don’t get to play unless they dress up as sexy Freddy Kruger at conventions.

TV: I learn a lot of survival tips from horror films. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre taught me to avoid exploring in dark woods and Irreversible taught me to not walk alone in poorly lit tunnels. What survival tip have you learned from horror movies?

AW: I go back to one of my favourites: always release the safety lock of a gun. I held a gun in a staged combat class and I did not like it, but if I need to hold a gun, I will remember to look for what I think is the safety and turn it off.

TV: Which horror films can fashionistas watch to find some really cool fashion inspiration?

AW: I think Dario Argento’s Suspiria — the entire aesthetic of that movie is beautiful, but I have a really big love for 70’s fashion. Suspiria provides a great balance between over the top and standard fashion. Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula has some of the most beautiful costumes ever committed to film. If you want some fashion eye porn, you can really be served by that film. When I think of stylish horror, I always think of Aaliyah in Queen of the Damned. She’s got the head dress and the bikini top. It’s like the most bad ass version of Princess Leia’s gold bikini.

TV: How will you be celebrating Halloween?

AW: I will probably be at the Rue Morgue Halloween party. It’s on the Saturday before Halloween at the Velvet Underground. I still have to figure out my costume for that. Usually on Halloween proper, I’m a big fan of staying in and watching some horror films. I try to find something new that I haven’t seen before. Last year, I watched House (Hausu) for the first time and it did not disappoint. I don’t know what I’m going to watch this year, but I’m thinking about it. We shall see.

TV: What’s making you happy now?

AW: Seeing more women take on roles in different positions in the horror community. Andrea just became the Executive Editor of Rue Morgue earlier this year. Films like XX (an anthology horror film directed exclusively by women) are really cool. I recently saw Tragedy Girls and that has some really great portrayals of female friendship. I think in the midst of all of these Harvey Weinstein — I’m sure very factual — allegations, it feels like you’re defeated when you see more and more women coming forward. You think, “How has this been happening for so long?” But you kind of know why it’s been happening. I think of the women who are actively working in the industry and making change and making space for different people — whether it’s a male directed film with great female characters or women behind the camera or behind the computer for magazines. Women have so many different voices and they are starting to make things more inclusive for everyone in the horror community. People with different sexual orientations, people of colour and women can enjoy their horror fandom together. We’re all weirdos.

* Quote from the film
Halloween (1978)

Follow Alexandra West on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram.

Pre-order Alexandra's newest book "1990's Teen Horror Cycle: Final Girls and the New Hollywood Formula".

Monday, October 23, 2017


My style is androgynous, but a little more sexy. I like showing off skin. My friend Som Kong designed my outfit. It fits my aesthetic.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Rotten Tomatoes’ Grae Drake is Ready for her Close-up!

She’s the Senior Editor of Rotten Tomatoes and the wildest dressed film critic on the junket. Grae Drake talks about her extraordinary style, the movie that made her hug a stranger and Samuel L. Jackson reading her wedding vows.

TorontoVerve: How would you describe your style? 

Grae Drake: My style is whatever feels right for me in the moment. It’s really something that I feel works because if I have to think about it too much then I don’t know what works. It’s really an intangible thing.

TV: How does fashion play a part in your job? 

GD: Because a lot of my job is about media, doing appearances and being on television, I have to think about how I look more often than I would prefer to, but when I do, the way that I make it more meaningful to me is to use it as an expression of what’s going on with me. One of the things that is super important in the way that I present myself is that when I’m walking into an interview, it tells someone who I am. Having pink hair to start with and adding things on top of it may tell people that my crazy level is maybe at the ceiling, but then when I begin talking, they realize that it’s just a couple of feet below that. It’s nice to lull people into a false sense of security. Generally, I think that my style gravitates towards being fun.

TV: What was the best celebrity reaction to your style? 

GD: Overall, people’s reaction toward my style is so positive. That tells me ultimately that I’m doing the right thing. One of the best reactions happened when I was doing Iron Man 3 interviews. I had an Iron Man shirt that lit up like his power source in the chest. It was just a t-shirt and I had a cute jacket over it with a skirt. I also had high top, laced-up black sequined Converse, which are my favourite go-to shoes. So I walked into Gwyneth Paltrow’s room and I had a pre-conceived notion of who she was and what she might be like. And the minute that I walked into the room, she was like “Oh, my God! What is happening with you? You are the coolest person that I’ve ever seen. Before we even start your interview time, I have to find out everything.” We sat there and we talked for about a minute — totally off the clock because she knew I only had only four minutes and it would take me a lot longer than that to describe what I wearing. She was so nice to me and supportive. In subsequent interviews, she remembered me and we’re always chatting about what’s going on and what we’re wearing. She’s so nice and funny and that surprised me. It was a good lesson because she responded to what was in my heart.

TV: Colour is a big part of your personality. 

GD: I think so. The hair evolution took a long time and it was something that I never thought I would have. I’ve had a lot of hair colours. I was blond when I visited my current hair dresser Tonia Jost many moons ago. I was going through a break-up and I told her that I was feeling emotionally vulnerable and I just wanted to be brown again. And very gently she said, “I don't think you’re a brunette.” I told her to do her thing. I trust her and she’s very empathetic. She does things for your inside as much as your outside and that’s how pink started. It’s funny — I think back to me in high school when I had very long brown hair and I want to tell that girl that she’s going to grow up to become a girl with a pink mohawk and that’s going to feel right. [Laughs]

TV: Who styles your outrageous costumes for your interviews? 

GD: In the past, I have done the majority of work for my interviews on my own. I do style myself, but now the Rotten Tomatoes team is growing and supporting me in new ways. One of the biggest style achievements that I’ve been able to attain is largely due to Quentin Owens who helped me make four of the most amazing costumes for the San Diego Comic Con. Working with Quentin was the first time that I was able to actually collaborate with someone who knew better than I did about how to achieve something that didn’t exist. He’s amazing.

TV: You’ve mentioned the special connection that you’ve had with Gwyneth Paltrow. You’ve built relationships with the people you’ve interviewed. One that comes to mind is Samuel L. Jackson. 

GD: Ooohhh, I love Sam.

TV: How did your friendship with Sam even start? Was it developed through social media? 

GD: The first time I talked to Sam was at Comic Con and I was dressed as Lady Riddler. The look on his face when he realized that he was going to be interviewed by Lady Riddler was priceless. I put my hand out and I said, “Hi, Mr. Jackson. My name is Grae” and he said, “No, no, no. We’re going to hug.” [Laughs] And I was like “Yay!” The vibe was so amazing. I don’t know where it came from, but I asked him if he wanted to hear some riddles and he was like, “Hell, yes. I want to hear some riddles.” After that we followed each other on Twitter and exchanged messages. I think one of the reasons that we’ve continued to get along is because I feel the most understood by him out of the majority of people that I’ve spoken to. He really understands that I love movies. I like creating a real moment in a very artificial environment of junket interviews. He really gets me. And he read my wedding vows to my husband. [Laughs] Because every time I started reading my vows, I started to cry so I thought maybe I could just play them for my husband. If I could pick someone who gets me and read them in the voice that makes sense, it would be Sam. So I played Sam’s recording of my vows. What’s great about my husband is he was surprised and delighted, and then he was not surprised at all: “Oh, yeah. Of course. Sam Jackson read your wedding vows.” Sam is just like the most gracious, professional and warmest person. What’s even funnier is when most people speak to him, they think he’s going to be like his movie roles. The thing that I’ve learned most about is that the meanest people in the movies are often the nicest people in real life. And Sam definitely likes to play with that and when he senses that someone is nervous and thinks that he’s going to be Jules from Pulp Fiction, he likes to mess with them, and I like to mess with people too. Maybe that’s why we get along so well.

TV: Which movie you don’t want people to miss this year? 

GD: I feel that Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit was a watershed moment in my movie viewing because the way that it hit me finally dislodged something in my brain that I didn’t even know was there. In the movie there are two white girls who are completely outraged at what’s going on in the Algiers motel and they’re being mistreated terribly [by the police officers]. I thought, “Oh, my God. They have no idea that other people are being mistreated like this every day and they are so outraged that it happened to them. Now they see it when it’s happening to them.” The thing that Detroit did was help me understand that there was a part of me that was like them. And even though I still don't fully have that experience, I understand that I don’t understand. That’s big.

TV: It’s so interesting that you’re saying that because black film critics are saying that Detroit wasn’t made for Blacks because we’re all too familiar with racism. It was made for white people so they can understand the horrors of anti-black racism. 

GD: I was so moved and horrified. It was so important for me to see it. I saw it in a mostly empty theatre and I felt bad for the guy sitting near me because he had to hear me sobbing through the whole movie. When the credits were rolling, I was trying to calm down. I knew the guy was still there and I was super embarrassed. Finally I looked up at him and he just opened his arms and I totally hugged a stranger after that movie. I wondered: What are we going to do about this? It really makes me sad that no one saw Detroit. It’s not the kind of movie that I can tell people that they’ll have fun watching. It’s not that kind of movie. It’s important. It’s been an emotional year for some Americans. People want to escape and I understand why people don’t necessarily want to spend their hard earned money on their date night to see that film, but I really want them to so we can all talk about it. And I’m hoping when it gets all these award nominations that it will spur people to go and see it — in spite of the difficult time that they’re going to have watching it.

TV: I’m going to close on a "Pop Culture Happy Hour" question: What's making Grae Drake happy these days? 

GD: I really like Fall movie season a lot and I really like kicking it off [at TIFF]. It just feels right for my Southern California self. I’m happy that it looks like we’re going to see some new stuff. We don’t have to sit through the same movies about the same people anymore. I’m really jazzed about that. And I’m also a huge pumpkin spice latte person. The Fall is the best. [Laughs]

* * * 

Follow Grae Drake on Twitter and Instagram.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Stevie Nicks' nomadic, flowy scarves and witchy elements inspire me. I practice contemporary witchcraft and magic factors into the way I dress.

Check out Jae's Instagram to learn about his spiritual explorations. "I do a lot of stuff with ancestral work. I feel that a lot of us -- especially People of Colour and queer and trans people of colour are really disconnected with our ancestry because sometimes we have to leave our family behind in order to be who we need to be. But the homophobia and the violence and oppression towards us comes from colonization and systematic erasure. If we go back far enough in our ancestry and look at our pre-Christian cultures and traditions, we see that queerness was celebrated. And what we call queerness was considered holy and sacred. I blog about how I reconnect with that and I try to help others reconnect with that too."

Wednesday, October 4, 2017


I have an intimate relationship with what I wear.  I work with a lot of symbolism and things that develop from my experiences. It's who I am in a deeper sense. Sometimes I'll be feeling a certain way and I'll wear something that expresses that. Or I'll intuitively wear something that I'm not really sure why and then something will align that helps me realize what it is I'm going through that connects with that energy. So it's a certain art of bringing the sacred connection back into material form, which really resonates with me because in a lot of ways we're disconnected with that. It doesn't have to be that way. Everything is divine.

Monday, October 2, 2017


Julia: If a circus collided with a piñata  -- that would be me. That's my style.

TorontoVerve: What's the best advice that you've received?

Julia: You wouldn't care how much people thought about you if you realized how little they do. That was from my mom -- given to her from a friend's mother when she was younger. I figure that if you pretend to be really confident, people aren't going to look closely to find out that you're not. There's that and there's also: always make the bed in a hotel room before you leave because you find stuff.