Welcome back to The Losers' Club. I'm so pleased you're a member. How's your week been?
The big news this week is all about my essay film, Three Ways to Dine Well (2021). This is a short documentary that explores horror's relationship to eating, in over seventy horror films made by women, from the 1920s - 2020s.
I was talking about …Dine Well in the newsletter at the beginning of this year, when I made an early version for the BAFTSS conference, then I rewrote and extended it over summer (much to the horror of my editor and composer) and we finally got it done in July.
In August, I started sending it out to film festivals, and we’ve got our first few acceptances!
It’s playing on SLASH TV at Schauspielhaus Wien, throughout the whole of October. Slash TV is programmed by Slash FilmFestival, Austria (one of MovieMakers 25 Bloody Best Genre Film Festivals in the World 2020).
It’s screening at Nightmares Film Festival, USA (one of Dread Central's The Best Horror Festivals in the World 2021). If you are Stateside, it’s the Gateway Film Centre, Columbus, Ohio, on Friday 22nd October. I was MADE UP to be part of Nightmares, it’s such an institution, and as soon as we got accepted I was straight onto the UK Foreign Travel Advice website, but UK people are not allowed to fly to the States yet boo.
Finally, upcoming – and online, so you can all watch! – is a super fun collaboration with Ax Wound Film Festival, in December. Expect a BIG announcement from Ax Wound about their programming very soon (sign up to their newsletter here).
You can also find out a bit more about …Dine Well on my website, where you can also see the poster that the amazing Sophie Mo made to accompany the film. I'm totally getting an A1 sized print of it for my office. I’ve even written a poncey director’s statement on there, where I explain what I was actually trying to do with this film. Check out www.alisonpeirse.com/films.
At some point, I will make …Dine Well freely available for everyone to watch on Vimeo, but it needs to do the rounds for a few more months on the festival circuit before I do that.
Now, I have a confession.
I promised you lots of female werewolves this newsletter, but I don’t have that much for you yet – I am sorry!
So, what happened was, after our last newsletter, I started my female shapeshifters and werewolves research for the keynote I am giving at Cine-Excess (which is happening next Thursday, 21st October).
I did a lot of reading, made some film lists, and watched Wilczyca (1983), Veerana (1988, pictured above) and Blood and Chocolate (2007), ordered some blu-rays, planned to do a load more viewing then….
...realised the deadline was coming up for The Future of Film is Female Pre–Production grant, and if I wanted to put in for it I needed to actually research and write the script for my knitting and horror essay film.
I’ve been keeping an eye out for knitting in horror film for a long time – not for any particular reason, I just really enjoy knitting and crochet and really enjoy horror films, and I thought I might put the two together one day. Then, when The Final Girls asked me to do a summer takeover of their Instagram, I did it on yarn horror, covering both knitting and crochet. You can still see it now, on their saved stories, under ‘Alison Peirse’.
I was blown away by the feedback and responses I got. I honestly had no concept that so many people would be into this topic, I just thought it was yet another of those weirdo incredibly obscure things that I am into.
So since then, I’ve been thinking about researching it properly (i.e. scholarly journals and books about knitting and culture, and gender and horror), and this grant application seemed a good deadline to aim for – like most people, a non-negotiable deadline is the best way for me to make the work happen.
This meant though, that the werewolves got put on hold, and I’ve been watching a very… rangy series of horror films to find my examples of knitters.
These films have included re-watches of The Village (2004) and Paranormal Activity (2006), and new-to-me Burnt Offerings (1976) – which is BETTE DAVIS BEING BRILLIANT AND KNITTING, CAUSTICALLY, Strait–Jacket (1964) – which is JOAN CRAWFORD CHEWING THE SCENERY WITH RELISH AND KNITTING CRAZILY and is probably the *real* first post-Psycho proto slasher...
...plus Daughters of Darkness (1971) which I put off watching for ages as I assumed it was going to be a Euro Sleaze Fest and not my kind of thing, but turned out to have the most amazing cinematography and setting and production design I have seen in ages and is now a big part of my essay film.
I also watched The Black Cat (1941) which was disappointingly unfocussed and thus made me sad because I love classical Hollywood horror….
Anyway, the list goes on.
There are over 50 films in the script. Who would’ve thought knitting featured so regularly?
Regular readers will know I am always asking for more examples of knitters in horror, and true to my word, a number of readers who sent in suggestions will be credited in the film.
So, Erin Harrington, Donna McRae, Carolyn Gerk, Lynne Cornwall, Alex Hall and Michelle Glatt – your names are going up in lights! Well, in the credits anyway. There are also thanks to Jamie Sexton to sourcing me a copy of À l'intérieur / Inside (2007).
Ooh, plus, do keep your eyes peeled for more knitters in horror film.
I will probably do one more pass at the script in a month once the dust has settled and I’ve had some time off from it.
So I can still fit more in.
Some of the more well-known ones I’ve already got include:
The Company of Wolves (1984, UK); The Crazies (1973, USA); Friday the 13th, Part 3 (1982, USA); Halloween (1978, USA); The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992, USA); Happy Death Day 2U (2019, USA); Idle Hands (1999, USA); The Lighthouse (2019, Canada / USA / Brazil); The Old Dark House (1963, UK / USA); Peeping Tom (1960, UK); Profondo Rosso / Deep Red (1975, Italy); Rosemary’s Baby (1968, USA); Sightseers (2012, UK); Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were–Rabbit (2005, UK / USA); Werewolves Within (2021, USA) and What We Do in the Shadows (2014, New Zealand).
I got the Knit One, Stab Two script and storyboard submitted to the grant scheme on Friday night, and now I am back, deep in the female werewolves.
I am aiming to complete and pre-record the keynote tomorrow, so the technicians can put it on their server and then on Thursday, they can play the keynote and I won’t have to worrying about buffering etc, then I am going to do the Q&A live.
That’s the plan anyway.
I’ve not written the keynote yet.
Those who know me well will not be surprised – when it comes to presenting / conferences, I like to do lots of reading and thinking, but for the actual event I like to freestyle it to a certain degree – my former Northumbria colleague James (who I know reads this) will remember how I liked to write my papers for the annual Screen conference at Glasgow University while on the train journey to Glasgow – but it feels a bit weird doing this for presenting online.
Somehow I feel like it needs to be much more serious and detailed, when we don’t have the performance of live presentation.
Hmmm. We’ll see.
If I have a massive wobble I can present live on Thursday, but I kind of want to nail it on Monday and put this project to bed for a few days.
Not least because I've been commissioned by Arrow to write an essay on German sleep-demon horror Schlaf (2020) and I need Tuesday and Wednesday for that.
Keep your fingers crossed for me!
While all this has been going on, television has been a balm: I’m all about Squid Game (OBVS), Ru Paul Drag’s Race UK and The Great British Bake Off. I am also beyond excited about the new season of Succession that drops next week
(in the continuing series in this newsletter where I tell you about the unflattering comparisons my friends and family make between me and horrible film and TV characters, my husband says I am totally Shiv, but also admits he is Tom, so I can’t really say anything back).
I realised that I rarely watch new horror telly – I’m aware that Netflix is forever dropping new series, like Midnight Mass, but I ‘do’ horror so much in my work and film watching, I need telly to be a palette cleanser, I think.
And onto the reading recs. Not as much reading this week, with all the furious writing, watching and thinking. However, I did find a few delicacies:
Catherine Bray on Scream's 25th anniversary (25 YEARS OMG I AM SO OLD) for Film of the Week, and how it is, in fact, a whodunnit: " a masterful exercise in red herrings and double fake-outs, and there’s almost as much enjoyment to be derived from an appreciation of its construction as there is from its plentiful visceral thrills — it’s like taking a look at the workings of a perfectly constructed Swiss watch".
In Yanyi's The Reading, he deals with "How do you write about joy?" which is very on point for my new book on women filmmakers and horror film. I am writing about the pleasure, the happiness, indeed, the joy, that horror brings me. Horror never has been my way of working through my traumas - anything relating to difficulties in my own life I steer well clear of. I escape my own life through horror; I disappear into the screen.
I also read Zadie Smith's lecture "That Crafty Feeling" published in full by The Believer. While Smith is talking about writing novels, anyone who is doing any writing of any kind at any point will benefit from reading Smith's talk - to me, it feels so wise and true.
She says "each individual novel is its own rule book, training ground, factory, and independent republic".
This came at the right time for me - every book I do is so hard, in completely unique ways, I struggle with completely different things each time and just when I think I've got it licked, it all falls apart or I realise the book is something completely different to what I thought it was.
Writing books is hardcore.
Finally, in her essay "Pop Culture Parties like its 1999" for TIME, Judy Berman writes about how 'Y2K vintage' is a thing for Gen Z's and argues:
"For many of us who were sentient members of the MTV demographic at the time (I started college in September 2001), current teens’ and 20-somethings’ enthusiasm for recreating those years can be baffling. It’s true that every era has its gems if you dig deep enough, but at the turn of the millennium it often felt like we were scraping the bottom of the pop-culture barrel. Where previous generations got the Beatles and Nirvana, elder millennials had to settle for Limp Bizkit. Velour tracksuits and bucket hats—both cool again in 2021, by the way—were the height of fashion"
YESSSSSSSS. This fascinates me. I'm clearly the same age as Berman, and this was totally my experience as well. Music, fashion, culture - the 2000s were pretty dire (especially after finding my teen identity in the 1990s through grunge, punk and indie).
What WAS the 2000s, exactly? My enduring memory is of being at a Travis gig at the Leeds Town and Country club out of sheer desperation for live music, and still thinking "god this is shit".
And the fashion being the flat greasy hair modelled by Christina Ricci in Cursed.
I'm starting to noodle around with a chapter in the new book all about the 2000s, which was also the time when I started being a film critic. I am thinking of interweaving my published film reviews at the time of Saw, House of Wax, The Amityville Horror remake etc into the book. What do you reckon? Would you be interested in that? A take on the films at the time - I think I might have to write some kind of retrospective wrapper around them though…
Good thing I kept copious diaries, notebooks and photocopies / print out of my reviews during this period, right? It’s kind of fascinating to dig back in; it feels like a completely different era now.
That's about it from me for now - Id better go write this keynote (argh)
Take care and keep in touch. And, as ever, if you want to say hi, just reply to this email and let me know a bit about yourself.
I'd love to know, where do you live, what do you do, what are you into? I really do love hearing from everyone, and I do always write back, albeit very belatedly.
Also, feel free to forward this newsletter onto anyone you think might be up for joining us in The Losers' Club. And, if you've been forwarded this missive by a friend (who, let's face it, clearly has excellent taste), you can sign up y'sen and view past issues here.