The Ladies of Masters of Horror
Let's face it: for years, women in horror movies were little more than grist for the chainsaw. Sure; sometimes they got away, but most of the time they did it while screaming, crying and begging for their lives.
Sigourney Weaver was among the first high-profile actresses to kick ass in the face of deadly danger in 1979's Alien. Nowadays it's common to have the ladies not only fighting back, but relishing in being the monsters and turning the tables on the men. This all-in-fun, gory theme is currently running through several episodes of Showtime's new hit series, Masters of Horror.
The debut episode, Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, featured Bree Turner as Ellen, a woman who married what turns out to be a bad guy (Ethan Embrey), and who meets an even badder guy (John De Santis) when her car wrecks on an isolated mountain road. The basic plot itself is nothing unique -- a young woman meets up with a big, hulky maniac, she is brutalized, runs through the woods, gets caught, gets away, gets caught again, and so on -- but it's the masterful way in which the story unfolds that grabs you by the brastraps and doesn't let go until the end credits roll.
Despite being the first female to turn the tables on the bad guys in Masters of Horror, Turner says that when it comes to watching scary movies, "I'm a big wimp. But I'm getting into it. I'm getting a little ballsier with my choices of films with the horror, the horror flicks, so I'm choosing to take a risk more. But when I was younger... no way. Scream scarred me for like three years," she laughs, "Which is sort of pathetic."
There's nothing pathetic about the way Turner, as Ellen, goes hellbent for leather when she comes face-to-face with the creepy killer called Moonface. "The scariest movies are the ones that could really happen and the ones that emotionally tear at you," says Turner. "I mean, granted, Moonface is a little over the top but the whole story line with the husband, and anything in the woods in the cabin, isolated, that's always frightening."
Working with De Santis wasn't at all scary, thankfully. "John is something like 6'8" ...he's huge. But between takes, he had these little glasses on and he'd be reading Nietzsche in the corner on his little set chair. I'd [tease him] like, 'You're playing this agro-serial killer, man.' He's like a Buddha, he was just so sweet. Sweet, sweet man."
Turner definitely goes through the wringer in Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, but most of the tumbles and falls were performed by pros. "I was so convinced I could do all my own stunts," says Turner. "I fought [director, Don Coscarelli] every day. I really wanted to do everything. He would yell at me because, you know, he didn't want me to get hurt. So I had this fantastic stunt girl who did all the crazy [things].
"There's a scene where I fall down the hill. That, I tell you, was the most amazing thing I've ever seen because it's a complete straight up cliff with jagged rocks and she had no mat to fall into. All she had was padding on her elbows and hipbones and she had a neck support. She just went for it, and it was phenomenal. So stuff like that obviously I didn't do, but I really loved all the fight scenes, which I did myself. The knife training and dealing with Moonface, all those things. I got beat up pretty good, but I deserved it. I was whining about it the whole time," she recalls. "So I got what I deserved in the end."
The next episode set to air, Jenifer, stars Carrie Ann Fleming as the title character. It's directed by the reigning Italian maestro of fear, Dario Argento, whose work is often outside the mainstream. Fellow Masters of Horror director, John Landis, recently said there is one notable cut in Argento's episode. "It involves some cannibalism of a phallus that is a little severe. I remember when I saw it. Dario is a very sweet guy and we were all watching it, going, 'Jesus Christ!' So it will be implied on Showtime but it will be explicit on the DVD."
Jenifer is, according to Fleming, "From a creepy comic book series. She's got really nice blonde hair and really nice body, but then a face like a Morlock. I had to wear prosthetics and big huge fangs, dentures. It was really fun."
Jenifer is a bizarre modern-day Lolita who, through her Siren-like powers, destroys the bodies and souls of all men unfortunate enough to cross her path. "She just wreaks havoc on people's lives. She seems so vulnerable, and they want to take care of her because it looks like [she's the victim]," Fleming says. "And then the main character, played by Steven Weber, he saves her. He brings her home only to discover that she starts eating his family, the house pets and the neighbors!"
One wonders what an actress's initial reaction might be to reading a script like that. "I laughed really hard," Fleming admits. "You have to have a good sense of humor. I thought it was great. It was written by Steven Weber, who was a big fan of the comic book when he was growing up."
Being the only significant female in the cast of Jenifer was fun for Fleming. "I was without a father figure for most of my childhood," she says, when referring to what it was like to work with Argento. "So it was really nice to have this wonderful Italian giving me direction and cheering when I would do good after each take. Also he was really, really hands-on and if something wasn't being done fast enough he'd jump in and do it himself. I have a great picture of him doing my hair, actually."
Her face was done by Howard Berger of KNB FX ("I'm a big fan. I was thinking... 'This is the guy who did Evil Dead!"). Actors are generally one way or another when it comes to prosthetic makeup -- some love to 'hide' in it, while others can't wait to take it off at the end of the day. Fleming is in the latter camp. The makeup is plenty scary, too. "The first day I went to the food truck and I was standing across from a lady," Fleming says, "I looked up and she jumped back, and almost dropped her food. So I decided not to go to the lunch truck anymore. But after a while, after the sixth day, people were just so used to it. And I was so used to it that it didn't faze me. When we wrapped, we sat around drinking champagne, and I still had the face. A lot of people on set hadn't even seen me without the mask on."
Jenifer is definitely no shrinking violet, and Fleming enjoyed playing up the shrieking violent -- "I'd never been offered a role like that before. So I had to do it. I had to, had to, had to. There was some nudity, so that's a little bit scary. Because the character is a little ferocious. In fact the sex had to be quite forceful, from my standpoint. I had to be really aggressive. That was pretty interesting, to get in touch with that part of me."
The reaction of Fleming's friends and family seeing her in that kind of a role has been mixed. "My mom is like, 'It's such a shame that they cover up your face,'" she laughs. "Some people are like, 'That's really hot, really sexy.' And then other people say, 'That is so disgusting, so creepy, so nasty.'"
Deer Woman, the episode directed by John Landis and set to air in December, is about another femme fatale; but the face she presents to the world is deceptively beautiful and inviting. She's a braided, beaded, buckskins-wearing Native American whose lovely countenance keeps people from noticing her sharp and deadly hooves.
In her first acting role, Brazilian model Cinthia Moura, takes the deer by the antlers. Although Moura is not Native American, Landis still thought she was perfect for the role. "He told me that I was exactly what he was picturing in his mind," she says. "My headshot has a very Native American look. I'm actually lighter, so they had to do a lot of airbrush tanning and long extensions. They dyed my hair really black. My great-grandmother was an Indian from the Amazon in Brazil, so I guess I must have a little in me after all."
In this episode, a series of strange and mysterious murders lead a cynical detective (Brian Benben) to suspect that an ancient mythological creature is real. Keeping the plot secret as possible, Moura does reveal that they shot for two days in an actual (former) mental institution... so chances are, not everyone agrees with the detective's theory.
"It was kind of creepy to be shooting a scary movie, in a scary place like that," Moura says. "People in Vancouver [say] that this place was haunted [because] they used to perform lobotomies there. The makeup artist told me she saw one water faucet turn on by itself twice in the bathroom. I don't know if it's true. I didn't even want to go there!"
Still, Moura is a fan of horror in the make-believe world. She likes movies with a lot of suspense, more so than the slasher-style flicks. She enjoyed how Deer Woman was able to seduce and draw men in, without a word. "She's more of an animal than a woman. I use my feminine side to seduce the men and get them. But I'm just an animal because I kill them without any remorse, without even caring about it. Just for the fun of killing. I don't have any motive.
Moura's favorite scene to shoot in the mini-movie (each episode runs an hour) was one involving an awful lot of gore. "I had all this blood on my body and my mouth and I just had to act crazy, like I was evil and insane. We were shooting that at 3:00 in the morning in the middle of the forest. It was very cold. Everybody was in big jackets and I only had that little costume on. John was like, 'Just go crazy. Just go completely crazy and spit the blood,' she says. "That was the one scene I had the most fun doing."
The model-turned-actress thinks a lot of female viewers will get into her character because, "It's every woman's dream to do this to their exes. That's what somebody said once. I didn't say that!" she clarifies, laughing. "It's woman power."
Woman power indeed. To check out the ladies of Masters of Horror, tune in to Showtime on Fridays nights. Repeats are aired over the weekends, and an Anchor Bay DVD of the first season will be released in 2006.