An Interview with Drea Washington
Words By Drea Washington, Interviewed by Dominic Loise
The current season of Scream, Queen! podcast has discussed more TV and movies in the body-horror genre. Can you go into what body horror is for people not familiar with it?
The most general way to describe body horror—it’s just gross-out, super offensive violations to the body. When you see these things happen, it will affect you in a very psychological way. A good example of that is Society by Brian Yuzna, a movie that is really over the top with things like mutations of the body, incest, and other stuff that adds to the disturbing elements of it. The Thing is also very clearly going for that. Also most David Cronenberg stuff—not everything, but most of his early work—is not for everybody. I had a very hard time watching The Fly remake.
If body horror plays on our anxiety by facing us with disruptive imagery, does the recent popularity of this horror genre alleviate or lean into anxiety during these current uncertain times? Are there times when body horror has been pushed too far for you?
It’s interesting when you look back at your podcast and see people getting things out of it that you didn’t even realize. I didn’t realize we chose so much body horror this season, but there seems to be a lot of that content out there right now. I guess that really says something about the state of mind people are in.
I was a child when I first saw The Fly. I watched a lot of stuff as a kid that most kids couldn’t handle, and for the most part, I was able to process those things. But something about The Fly was just too gross-out for me. I had a visceral reaction to it. It didn’t matter how much I liked Jeff Goldblum or Geena Davis, I just could not. I’ve recently tried, and I just cannot do it. It’s very rare when a horror film does that to me. There was another one—I think it was called Necromancer—and it’s really gritty and fucked up. It’s really popular amongst some people, but I’m not one of them. I can’t do it. Cannibal Holocaust also falls into that category. That’s really hard to watch.
Building off The Fly, you discussed Mosquito State in an episode. How connected is body horror to insects?
What they did with Mosquito State was really clever, and yeah, there is a connection. It’s a good way to not generalize society, but show how we can work as robots in a sense. Mosquito State is taking place during the housing crash in 2008, so that’s what’s really going on in this guy’s world. The mosquitos are feeding off of him and he finally becomes one with them. I was pleasantly surprised by that film, and I didn’t think I was going to be able to handle that. The mosquitos alone were very irking, but the way they did it was haunting and very thoughtful. I would’ve never thought to put a movie together like that, but I’m glad that director did. It was unexcepted. I didn’t know I needed to see a film like that.
Do you find that a show or film dealing with a theme may get you through those grosser images? Like how John Carpenter’s The Thing carries over themes of paranoia from the original remake of the 1950s film.
It’s all about how the gore is done. Certain makeup artists have a certain technique and a certain way of getting something out of the audience. Certain textures and the way things are applied have a lot to do with the overall outcome. It’s biological horror when you see the body being affected like it was in Mosquito State. I thought that was going to leave me feeling not great and I was not going to be able to handle that film. Instead, something about the way it was directed left me not even thinking about the mosquitos—I was thinking about the story. His body was becoming grotesque, but people in the movie were deliberately ignoring him and his appearance because they were more interested in the numbers and what he could provide. So visually I do react to certain things, and if it looks a certain way I might not be able to handle it. But for the most part, I’d say I’m a trooper.
Is there any correlation between finding the beauty in the grotesque when watching a body-horror film like Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and being able to better sit with one’s anxiety?
As a person that loves horror films, there is absolutely something to gain if you can get over whatever’s been put in your mind and poisoned you on the ideas of what horror can be. Horror is incredibly diverse, and it can unlock things in your brain that you didn’t necessarily know were there, and it’s not a bad thing. It can definitely be a release and sort of an anti-anxiety aid. But I don’t know what it would take to get a person who doesn’t care for horror to sit down and appreciate it. It is interesting how many people are watching Squid Game, though. I was surprised, but I also completely understand that everybody is watching this show during a pandemic. But I was also just like oh, ok, that’s interesting. I think it was, or is, the most-watched show ever on Netflix, and that show is fucked up.
Your episode on the Netflix series Brand New Cherry Flavor made me want to watch the series. How does a show about movie-making and deals gone wrong resonate with the “being responsible for our creations” message of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?
I’ve watched Brand New Cherry Flavor twice, and I got so much more out of it the second time. I didn’t really get it the first time. It’s a show that you need to pay attention to, and if you get distracted, you’re just going to miss some of the gems. The lead actress in this film plays against—I can’t think of the other actress’ name—she makes these extreme horror films that are lowkey snuff. What comes of that—what she’s willing to sacrifice, just for this film, for her art—she destroys a lot of shit and creates a lot of chaos. SPOILER ALERT: she makes it out in the end, but not unscathed.
I think we always have to be thoughtful of the things that we create, and responsible for the content we’re putting out into the world. Some people say it’s just freedom of speech, but I think there has to be a certain amount of responsibility and accountability. If you’re intentionally trying to make something to wake up somebody, to provoke thought, then cool. But if you’re intentionally doing something to bring negativity, to cause harm, that doesn’t come from a thought-out place, I think that’s the kind of work that can be very dangerous. When people fuck up, they need to be called out on it.
Are there any works of body horror that you wish to recommend which haven’t yet been mentioned on Scream, Queen!? And how can we listen to the podcast and follow your work?
I like the director Brian Yuzna who did Society. He also has something called Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation. I was watching it last night and it’s just as fucked up as I remember. I believe he also wrote Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker, which is also worth a watch, but part four has a lot more body horror in it. Cronenberg did Videodrome. I think we discussed Thinner and Raw on our show, which are both awesome. Last but not least, I’d say check out Titane, which I watched recently. It’s by the same director of Raw, and this lady has sex with cars and . . . yeah, it goes from there. It’s a really outrageous film, but very cool.
You can find us on Instagram @screamqueenpodcast. And you can find me on Instagram @heygrlhey. Our podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts—Spotify, iTunes, or Apple Podcasts—so tune in. We’d love to have you. I also want to do a shoutout to my podcast partner, Tommy Pico, who just got nominated for a Golden Globe for his work on Reservation Dogs. He and his all-Indigenous writer’s room were nominated for the Best Musical/Comedy Series Golden Globe. I’m super proud of all of them and really proud of my boy, Tommy.