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Jane Clark Talks 'Crazy Bitches,' Horror Films and Slasher Satire

Features
by Marcie Bianco
July 14, 2014 12:00 PM
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Seven crazy bitches and one fabulous gay guy take a weekend getaway to a remote ranch for some R&R, gossip, and grub, to celebrate their friend Alice's birthday. What the group finds out is that the ranch is the location of a dark history, one that comes to haunt them. One by one, each character is confronted with their own personal excess of pride — one of the seven deadly sins — and are, figuratively and literally, killed off by their own vanity.

This is the premise of writer, director, producer Jane Clark's new slasher satire, Crazy Bitches, which premiered at Frameline last month and is screening at Outfest in LA on July 17th.

The award-winning filmmaker of Meth Head, Clark's second feature takes on the genre, one relatively unexplored by LGBT cinema. Sure, there are number LGBT horror flicks — and many for women featuring lesbian and bi characters, including most recently the werewolf/Millennial hungry love fest Jack and Diane, but few if any that take such a tongue-and-cheek approach to horror.

Slasher satires have garnered a cult status, especially thanks to the Scream franchise. Clark employs classic horror movie tropes devices — from the general "remote location" to even the specific use of a Ouija Board — and cuts the horror with comedy. Yes, think Scream, but you can also think The Cabin in the Woods and, my personal favorite, The Night of the Demons (the 1986 version and not the remake).

And, yes, the white girls fall down.

A lot.

The Comedy is heightened by the film's suspense, as the killer strikes over and over again and the no one has any idea how or why their friends are dying. If vanity is the killer, the film acquires a symbolic narrative that Clark describes as striking at the heart of personal insecurities: "I started thinking that we all have insecurities about how we look, how we are perceived and how we sometimes use vanity to cover them up," Clark says, in talking with EW. "So I built each of these girls around a perceived weakness or emotional damage, which drives them to act and say hurtful things to the friends they love.… And then I killed them off."

Crazy Bitches stars some LGBT fan favorites, including Guinevere Turner, Cathy DeBuono, Mary Wells, and Candis Cayne.

Before the screening at Outfest later this week, I was able to chat with Clark about her film and what attracted her to the genre, as well as her thoughts on how LGBT cinema can do itself justice by learning from its cinematic history.

What about horror intrigued you? Are there cinematic antecedents ie particular films you looked to for inspiration?

I am not sure what originally brought horror into play when I was mulling Crazy Bitches around. I was contemplating how friends can sometimes say things thoughtlessly that build up their own self-esteem while knocking yours down — and that sometimes friendship, in particular women's friendship, can be loving and at the same time complicated by feelings of jealousy and competition, and I was thinking about how that could be embedded into a story. That's when horror popped into my brain.

I am not a huge horror film expert. But once the idea was born, it seemed like a great genre to encase my concept and I started thinking back over the films that really impressed me. There were all the classics, like The Shining and The Omen — films that relied on tension and were strongly rooted in story and character. One of my all-time favorite films is Pan’s Labyrinth. I was so engrossed in that film I forgot I was reading subtitles. Two very recent films that I thought did suspense well are House at the End of the Street and The Conjuring. While I did re-watch all those film, I had to fly a bit into the unknown because Crazy Bitches is as much a satirical comedy as it is a horror film, and there really isn't much horror comedy out there that isn't spoof or camp.

How did you determine when to infuse the film with comedy? Or, at what point or points during a horror film does comedy work best?

One of the things that struck me when my Dad was dying was how pain and humor can live side by side through a difficult time. And I've experimented with that mix of levity and darkness on most of my films to varying degrees. Even Meth Head, which is intense and difficult to watch at times, has a great deal of levity woven in. Crazy Bitches builds on that style, and the horror genre opened the door to the comedy outweighing the darkness. Once I got deeper into the rewrites, then it just became fun for me, looking for the humor in the humanity of these characters.

What is the function of "the fabulous gay guy" in a slasher satire?

I will admit that the original idea behind the character of BJ was not based on some great story mechanism, but purely because I wanted to work with my friends. I was hanging with Wilson Cruz one day and I was tell him about Crazy Bitches and I said, “Hey Wilson, do you want me to write you a role?” And he said, “Yes Please!,” and I said, “Done!” In the end, Wilson was deep into working with GLAAD by the time I was ready to shoot, so he was unable to do it, but he was the genesis for the character and he is a fabulous gay guy.

Were there particular types of vanity that you definitely wanted to explore (and exploit) in this film?

I think if you asked most women, myself included, what they are most insecure about they would say their looks. And if you asked them what they were most vain about, most would say some part of their looks. So it seemed to me that vanity is actually is a reflection of insecurity in some way. And insecurity and self-esteem have been things I have struggled to overcome through my life. So I turned to myself for inspiration and expanded from there.

Without giving too much away, how did you determine who survived? (And someone always has to survive, in order to tell the story!)

Deciding who survived shifted, changed and landed through the course of rewrites and the evolution of character and story. And while I can be very logical and thoughtful at times, the juice of my writing comes from a kind of zoned out place — my creative side of the brain starts clicking on its own and shoots ideas down to my fingers on the keyboard, completely bypassing my analytical side.  And then I think, that works! Now how do I back it up. So who survives started once place, ended at another and I'm not sure I could tell you exactly how. I could pinpoint a few things, but they would definitely give something away.

Do you think LGBT cinema is finally exploring genres outside the typical and trite dramatic "coming out" narrative?

For some LGBT filmmakers the "coming out" narrative is still an important experience to share on film, but naturally the stories that are told evolve as society evolves. Gay is becoming mainstream, and therefore so are the gay characters in mainstream films and television. I think that shift has given LGBT filmmakers the freedom to expand outside the niche and tell more universal stories.

Since I am straight, I personally come to my story-telling from a different perspective. When I write characters (and stories), whether gay or straight, I am drawing from my own life experience and understanding and observation.  Since that base of knowledge isn't formed solely by an LGBT narrative, I don't consider my films LGBT. They are simply movies that happen to have LGBT characters, who are, in my mind, just human beings on a journey. At the heart of it all, there is no difference, universally, in how people grapple with dilemma, pain, aggression, love, delight, self-discovery.

I had an experience recently that perfectly exemplifies that. I was having dinner with Candis Cayne. We were having a beautiful, personal discussion and she talked a bit about growing up, knowing she didn't feel right in her own skin. And I felt a strong connection to what she was saying because neither did I. Despite that fact that  I was just your basic, straight, middle class white girl with no gender identity or sexual identification conflicts in my life, I felt awkward, insecure and I didn't feel like I fit in even with my own group of friends. I felt like an outsider. The root of our feelings might have been different, but the feelings and struggles to overcome them, weren't.  All of us want the same things, to be loved, to find contentment, to be accepted, to achieve our dreams. The journey might vary, but the heart of it is the same.



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