Haunted but not Alone: A Trans Take on the Horror Industry

Adapted from Dirge Magazine, August 2017

cw: discussion of transphobia and horror tropes

The central struggle of most horror films is in strong but vulnerable people fighting for their lives and facing off against malevolent forces that want to kill them. This is also basically the transgender manifesto – so why aren’t there more trans people on the big screen?

When characters we are supposed to read as trans or gender nonconforming do appear in horror, they are almost always played by cis men. These trans characters are portrayed as cackling and unhinged villains, from the mentally ill Norman Bates in the classic Psycho to the demonic  Bride in Black in the cult-classic Insidious franchise.

There’s a lot wrong with this, and that’s not even touching on the ableism and discrimination against neuroatypical people in the horror industry’s stance that ‘If someone dresses in a gender nonconforming  way they must be crazy and that means they want to kill nice normal people like you’. While this non-binary journalist does enjoy a good evil laugh every now and then, I promise you we’re not usually murderers – trans people are much more likely to be hurt for being trans than to hurt anyone else.

Obviously, this kind of bad media representation is dangerous for trans people. On the flipside, good media representation of trans people is vital – it is empowering and enriching to see yourself and to know that people like you are out there, especially in a world that says you don’t exist, or wishes  you didn’t. In a good horror film we are invited to watch versions of ourselves face off against overwhelming odds and to wonder how we would react in difficult situations. In real life trans people are everywhere, being everything. If we translate this diversity of experience to horror as a genre, trans people might be the selfless saviour, patient zero, the comedy relief, the rogue scientist trying to find a cure, the gun-toting trash-talking love interest, the cringing coward who reveals themselves strong and capable at the end or, yes, even a well-rounded and well-acted villain.

In short, the world needs more trans characters, played by trans actors and actresses.

Eve Smith, Extreme Entertainment’s answer to Doug Jones, knows how tough it is for trans actors out there; she is one. She also knows how important it is that trans representation is done right. ‘As of right now I honestly don’t know of any other trans actors working in horror,’ she reveals. ‘I’d say our representation is next to nil. You know, shy of being portrayed as homicidal psychopaths and crap like that. Which really sucks, because all too often it fits into the genre.’

Smith originally found her place in the independent horror industry as a makeup artist after a chance meeting with Todd Sheets, the director behind many horror classics and owner of production company Extreme Entertainment. ‘I originally got started because of my interest in special effects,’ Smith explains. ‘A chance meeting with Todd led to me getting pulled on to help with makeup. One thing led to another and I found out that I prefer being in front of the camera more than behind it. So I guess I wasn’t so much inspired to work in film as I stumbled into it blindly and found that I liked it.’

As an actress, she has only ever played a trans woman once – a badass woman with pink, white, and blue armour and a formidable-looking gun in the up-coming Zombie Rampage 2, although she says she is ‘looking forward to more in the future’. When asked about what it was like to play a lead role as a trans woman, she says, ‘My character is pretty much just me cranked up to 11. More sarcastic, more aggressive, more cheesy one-liners. Playing her was definitely super fun, though being my first lead role, it was incredibly nerve-wracking. I would absolutely die to be the protagonist in a full-tilt action movie along the lines of The Raid or Atomic Blonde,’ she adds. ‘I also wouldn’t mind trying my hand at a comedy.’

When not playing the lead, her reputation for working well with prosthetics and her appreciation for stage make-up mean she has found a place portraying the supernatural. ‘[It’s] mostly been monster roles thus far. Zombies in a few shorts, demons, stuff that’s usually covered by masks or several pounds of makeup. My first speaking role was an archdemon bringing about the apocalypse in The Muse segment of the Hi-Death anthology.’ In the much-anticipated indie film Bonehill Road, funded at over 500% of its goal on Indiegogo, she gets to let her hair down playing werewolves. The appeal of Bonehill Road is in its commitment to practical effects and refusal of CGI, so Smith gets to rock a full-body werewolf suit and have fun doing it.

Whether playing a werewolf or a heroine, Eve Smith is part of a new wave of excellent actors and actresses in horror which, hopefully, is only growing stronger. Indie production companies like Extreme Entertainment are part of a hopeful movement in horror, with a commitment to continuing on with a vision where trans people can play both the monsters and the heroes. Trans people deserve to see themselves and to be employed within the industry, and this rep is important for everyone, especially as being out as a trans person can be more horrifying than any movie. ‘Being out frequently means descending into, and confronting, a realm of paranoia, violence, hate, and death. We’re surrounded by monsters we can’t see. I mean goddamn,’ says Smith. ‘This shit is scary.’

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