The first time I watched Ghostbusters I had no doubt that the purple library ghost lived in my closet. She was activated the moment my mom and dad closed their eyelids for the night. I’d lay under my covers filled with dread. I wanted to be strong and enjoy scary movies but my front was always blasted when I couldn’t even make it to the middle of a movie without freaking. Poor grandma even tried to take me to see Return to Oz but the talking rocks creeped me out and I asked if we could go home. How did I go from being terrified of a cinematic scare to being head over heals obsessed with the horror genre and making a zine called Ax Wound?
By the time I reached junior high school I’d grown out of those childhood fears and instead found adrenaline rushes and community from the horror section at the video store. My teenage friends and I would often gather together for sleepovers, turn out the lights, and put on a marathon of slasher/horror films. We would huddle together, laugh at the dumb dialogue, feel adult during sex scenes, and cling to each other during a climactic moment or unexpected jump. It became routine for my friends and I to seek out the cheesiest-looking horror we could find.
After graduating high school and moving away to college I signed up for Intro to Women’s Studies. I was shocked that after the first course my whole life seemed to shift. It was like a light bulb burst above my head and the ideals of feminism embedded into my identity. Half way into the semester I was sitting in my dorm when an old Friday the 13th movie came on. I got all excited and turned the volume up. As I began to watch, I felt this rock in my belly. What was this heavy feeling? Was it guilt? Why? I sat with that feeling and turned off my TV before the movie ended. Could it be that horror objectified women? Was horror on par with pornography? Was I part of the evil patriarchy if I enjoyed viewing these films? I thought I must be a hypocrite if I was outspoken about gender equality but enjoyed a violent film genre. For two years I sat with this guilt. I avoided watching horror films and immersed myself deeper into the feminist movement. It wasn’t until 2003 when I was hanging out in the women’s centre in Olympia, Washington that my feminism and horror would collide in a beautiful way.
One afternoon I was collating the women’s centre zine that my friend and I had just put together. A guy named Marco walked in and plopped down on the couch. He had a book in his hand and I asked what he was reading. He held it up and I read the title–Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender and the Modern Horror Genre by Carol Clover. He began to tell me it was a feminist critique of horror films and that he was going to be running a feminist horror workshop at the upcoming Olympia Sex Conference. In what probably looked like bad interpretive dance I leapt out of my chair, waved my arms around, exclaimed how mind opening a concept that was to me, and demanded he tell me everything. Instead he let me borrow the book. I went home that night and devoured it. It opened my eyes wider than Alex in a Clockwork Orange. I called up Marco and we had a really long and intense discussion about gender, horror films, feminism and art. That rock that had been sitting in my stomach crushed into pebbles and then turned into dust till there was nothing left but a feeling of relief. It was okay to be a feminist and enjoy horror. One didn’t need to cancel out the other. In fact (and here is where it got really fascinating) horror could be a feminist film genre! With all of this discussion Marco invited me to co-run the gender and horror workshop with him and I jumped at the chance.
Months after the conference I was still re-reading Clover’s book, writing my own feminist horror analysis and doing as much research on the subject as I could. But who was I supposed to talk to about my findings/thoughts/questions? I don’t know where I first heard the term Ax Wound. It could have been overheard in a café or on some website, but all that matters is the second I heard it I knew I had to take my love of zines and my love of feminism and my love of horror and combine them into a zine called Ax Wound: Gender & the Horror Genre.
Four years ago I pasted up the first issue of Ax Wound alone in my bedroom and sent it out to one distro who decided to pick it up. The response has grown since then from girls who love horror to places like Newsweek who want to know how these two seemingly opposite subjects intersect. Ax Wound is an ongoing paper zine and website dedicated to the discussion of gender, and socio-cultural analysis of horror. What other genre of film consistently has women saving the day? What other genre of film consistently uses gender and sexuality as its primary focus?
It is my hope that Ax Wound zine will continue to get more women talking about horror films and maybe inspire a new generation of horror filmmakers and writers to realize that horror is not a boys club anymore.