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Entries in Monster Fest (3)



A fresh-faced environmentalist new to the frontline crusade against Tasmania’s ruthless logging practices has her inner beast unleashed in Devil Woman, an Aussie short-film riff on the werewolf legend that has had global festival crowds screaming in terrified delight. It is the brainchild of writer/director Heidi Lee Douglas, founder of Dark Lake Productions and one of Australia’s most socially aware filmmakers. Her work to date – the thriller Little Lamb (2014), documentary project Defendant 5 (2015) and striking music video Wish (2018) – offers rich insight and artistry in their exploration of gender identity, violence and environmental concerns. One of the sector's most pro-active advocates for diversity and equality, Douglas also presides as Co-Chair of the Australian chapter of Film Fatales, a global community of women feature film and television directors. 

Ahead of the Australian Premiere of Devil Woman at Monster Fest VII, Douglas (pictured, above; with actor Peter Healy) spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about her film's origins, aims and place amongst the all-too-rarely explored genre of female-focussed transformative eco-horror…    

SCREEN-SPACE: Devil Woman is a modern spin on classic werewolf mythology. What other influences and inspirations helped gel the concept in your mind?

DOUGLAS: I got the original idea back in 2007, when I was involved with the Tasmanian forest campaigns as a documentary filmmaker [at the time] the Tasmanian Devil facial tumour outbreak was discovered. It’s a horrifying, fatal disease; brutal in the way its cancerous ulcerations are transmitted via biting. I was travelling regularly through backwater logging towns that had a very ‘gothic frontier’ nature and almost post-apocalyptic blockade-style camps, and would witness violent confrontations between loggers and activists. 28 Days Later was the biggest stylistic influence to the original concept, and then I discovered Night of The Living Dead and Dawn of The Dead, which have the tradition of a zombie/contagion film with social issues as subtext. The werewolf/ transformation narrative was originally inspired by the analysis of folk tales in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run With The Wolves. Women transforming into animals to discover their true animalistic strength and power - I love that type of mythic storytelling. (pictured, above; actress Marigold Pazar as 'Eddy')

SCREEN-SPACE: Like all great horror films, Devil Woman tackles bigger issues as well as delivering the frights. You explore toxic masculinity, wide-eyed conservationists, and gender stereotypes across both sexes. Did you go with an attack plan?

DOUGLAS: I wanted to show the tough-as-nails women at blockade camps, which I had never seen represented on screen. Their isolation when up against these burly, angry loggers in real life is very scary and very loaded. The lead character ‘Eddy’ is a fish-out-of-water science student based on my own experience turning up to my first blockade as a student filmmaker, at Timbarra Gold Mine back in 1999. The film’s coda hints that we need to look beyond gender or any other political divides, because if we continue on a path of environmental destruction an apocalypse won’t discriminate. I’m thinking of the 1000 people still missing in the Californian wildfires right now. That is real life horror, real tragedy. Yet President Trump still denies climate change. (Pictured, above; Peter Healy as 'Reilly')

SCREEN-SPACE: The film is both a down’n’dirty bushland yarn and an extremely polished piece of filmmaking – shot in widescreen, against beautiful locations. Tell me about crafting the film’s aesthetic.

DOUGLAS: I looked at the way 28 Days Later and Children of Men were shot, to create that immediate, visceral, documentary-like experience of being in the world with the characters. I used scale in the frame to emphasis power, and colour palette to underlie transformation. Because my background is in documentary and editing I think in terms of coverage and how it will cut together, whilst Director of Photography Meg White (pictured, right) ensured it was also cinematic. We looked at Australian colonial art to think about representation of the forest in daylight, and what makes the Australian forest landscapes unique and scary. We used smoke haze on set in the camp to create texture. For the colour grade I was inspired by Deliverance to subtly reinforce humans as animals within the wilderness. The score was inspired by Dead Man using sparing rawness to imbue an isolated frontier feeling. The location is a main character in the story, so getting that right was very important. I couldn’t shoot it in Tasmania so I had to find a suitable location in regional NSW. Nerissa Davis and Alice Cregan, who brought first hand experience in logging blockades in Tasmania, ran the Art Department. They nailed the production design, which was important for authenticity.

SCREEN-SPACE: It’s an intrinsically Australian film, yet it’s travelling well, finding favour with festival programmers worldwide, having played London's FrightFest and Fantasia in Montreal, to name just two. The terrifically staged horror sequences aside, what are the elements that are resonating?

DOUGLAS: The thought provoking themes, the gritty score by my brother Ben Douglas, Meg White’s superb cinematography, the twists and turns in the plot. Audiences come away wanting a feature version, which is encouraging. There are some amazing films in the eco-horror sub genre such as The Birds, Godzilla, The Thing and Jaws. I reckon it’s a sub genre that’s ripe for modern exploration, and the reaction from audiences, film programmers and the film industry to Devil Woman suggests I’m right.

DEVIL WOMAN will screen Friday November 23 at Monster Fest VII at Carlton’s Cinema Nova. Full ticket and session details are at the festival’s official website.



What begins as a cheeky nod to slasher film tropes ascends to all-out supernatural terror in Living Space, the accomplished feature debut of Melbourne-based writer/director Steven Spiel. A double-helix narrative that turns back on and into itself with increasingly skilful dexterity, Living Space reps a rare Australian foray into the horror of Nazi imagery set against a stylistically European landscape; the authentic aesthetic helped the film find favour at the recent European Film Market in Berlin, the first stop on a global sales roll-out that includes the all-important Marche du Film in Cannes in May. SCREEN-SPACE spoke with Spiel ahead of his film’s World Premiere, held in Sydney over the weekend as part of the Monster Fest ‘Travelling Sideshow’ program…

SCREEN-SPACE: Before the narrative amps up into some truly nightmarish moments, you have a lot of fun with the target audience’s appreciation of familiar horror set-ups…  

SPIEL: Brad (Leigh Scully) and Ashley (Georgia Chara) play a young American couple travelling through the heartland of Germany when their car breaks down in the middle of the countryside, forcing them to find protection in an abandoned property nearby. But, once inside, they find it is the home of a dead Nazi and his deceased family. So they go through a far amount of torment from that point on. It goes deeper and we use a great deal more psychological elements to flesh out the story, but that’s a basic outline.

SCREEN-SPACE: As the chilling ‘Officer’, actor Andy McPhee brings to life a truly memorable screen villain. What inspired the creation of such evil personified?

SPIEL: When I set out to write the film, I thought hard about whom the antagonist should be. I am really quite fearful of military iconography, that sort of grand authority figures, and the most frightening of all those types are the German SS officers of World War 2. So I threw all the familiar aspects of that imagery into the mix and the villain and the narrative grew from there. We use war footage in the film, because I wanted to acknowledge that we understood and were deeply respectful of the horrors of that period. But this is not any type of political statement at all; we just set out to make a solidly entertaining horror film. (Pictured, right; Andy McPhee, as Officer, with Georgia Chara in Living Space).

SCREEN-SPACE: Is horror a passion of yours, or was there one-eye on the genre’s international sales potential when you were deciding on your debut feature?

SPIEL: Well, it’s both actually. I’ve always been very passionate about horror. It’s a genre I have always enjoyed watching and I think when anyone sets out to make a film they should strive to make a movie that they would also like to watch. The characters, the arc have to be something that I would find intriguing. It is as crucial to the writing of the story as it is to the watching of the finished film.

SCREEN-SPACE: I’m assuming the indie-horror budget didn’t stretch to shooting in Germany…

SPIEL: We shot in Geelong, in Victoria, over a 12-day period. We got the whole cast and crew accommodated in Geelong, somehow. All the aerial footage, the countryside, everything that you see in the film is regional Victoria doubling as Germany. I worked very closely with our cinematographer, Branco Grabovic, and the post-production colouring team, both researching the look and feel of the German landscape and applying that knowledge to the final colour grading on the film. Being an independent film, we couldn’t get everyone over to Germany, which would’ve been ideal (laughs) but I think we executed it pretty well. (Pictured, left; cinematographer Branco Grabovic, left, with his director)

SCREEN-SPACE: You’ve stated that you don’t really want Living Space labelled ‘Nazi-exploitation’, despite your clever use of the iconography. What are the genre films and filmmakers that have influenced the story and mood of Living Space?

SPIEL: One that immediately springs to mind is Christopher Smith’s Triangle, with Melissa George. It’s a fascinating film that is both structurally complex and very entertaining. I’d also say Scorsese’s Shutter Island. These are films that explore the darker corners of psychology, unfold as engrossing mysteries, and end with a twist of some kind. All of my short films have that twist in the end, some sort of development that catches audiences off guard, and they have all informed what I’ve done in Living Space.

LIVING SPACE will screen in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Geelong as part of the 2018 Monster Fest Travelling Sideshow. For venues, dates and session times, check the official Monster Fest website.



The nation’s slickest and sickest celebration of visceral cinema kicks off on November 23, when the 7th annual Monster Fest launches its 4-day 2017 line-up at Melbourne's iconic Lido Cinema. Feature film programmers Grant Hardie and Neil Foley know that the loyal patrons who have helped establish the festival’s reputation as Australia’s premiere genre film event expect to be challenged; this year, offerings include a killer pig, a demonic unicorn, a haunted 80’s arcade game and a newborn harbinger of the Apocalypse.

The Opening Night audience can expect to be rattled by Chris Sun’s Boar (pictured, below), a blood-soaked reworking of the ‘killer feral pig’ myth made famous by Russell Mulcahy’s 1984 cult hit, Razorback. Starring a who’s-who of Aussie genre greats (John Jarratt, Chris Haywood, Steve Bisley, Roger Ward, Ernie Dingo) alongside US horror icon Bill Moseley (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2; House of 1000 Corpses), the Queensland-based director’s fourth feature so impressed Universal Pictures local office that they picked up the project for an Australian theatrical season. Sun, producers Kris Maric and Christine Hulsby and key cast will front a post-screening Q&A.

True to its commitment to nurture Australian talent, Monster Fest 2017 will feature the World Premiere screening of five local films. Leigh Ormsby’s The Last Hope depicts a civilisation ravaged by a virus outbreak that mutates carriers into cannibalistic monsters; Tarnation, the latest tongue-in-cheek splatterfest from Murderdrome director Daniel Armstrong; Lost Gully Road, a moody haunted house story from Donna Mcrae; Travis Bain’s home invasion thriller, Landfall; and, from the directorial duo of Addison Heath and Jasmine Jakupi, the revenge-themed carnage of The Viper’s Hex.

Drawing from the organiser’s global festival and marketplace profile, six international productions will have their Australian premieres at The Lido. They are Can Evrenol’s brutal apocalyptic thriller Housewife, the Turkish filmmaker’s highly anticipated second feature after his 2015 shocker, Baskin; the German/Austrian co-production Cold Hell, from Stefan Ruzowitzky; Lowell Dean’s absurdist horror-comedy sequel, Another Wolfcop; Canadian Adam McDonald’s woodlands-set black magic thriller, Pyewacket; and, Purgatory Road, a rare foray into the international indie sector for local underground filmmaking hero, Mark Savage. Other countries represented at the event include Estonia (Rainer Sarnet’s November); Spain (Haritz Zubillaga’s The Glass Coffin); and, The USA (Graham Skipper’s Sequence Break).

Closing Night honours go to French director Coralie Fargeat’s brutal rape-retribution drama Revenge (pictured, top), a remarkable debut work that Variety called, “an exceptionally potent and sure-handed first feature… primed to rouse the self-selected few with the stomachs to handle it.” Last year, Monster Fest launched into the Australian marketplace the last great French horror film from a woman director, Julia Ducornau’s Raw. The teen-cannibal hit took the 2016 festival’s top competitive honour before endearing itself to a huge local fan base.

Shaping as arguably the highlight of Monster Fest 2017 will be the screening of King Cohen, director Steve Mitchell’s heartfelt tribute to guerrilla filmmaking great Larry Cohen (pictured, above right). Following the 11.00pm session, five of the legendary auteur’s works will screen in a midnight-to-dawn marathon. Monster Fest is keeping the titles in the all-night session a closely guarded secret, but fans are crossing fingers that ‘Cohen classics’ such as Black Caesar, Q The Winged Serpent and the rarely-seen God Told Me To feature in this exclusive festival event.

MONSTER FEST runs November 23-27 in Melbourne, with other states to follow. Full ticket and session details can be found at the event website.