Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Alice Maio Mackay, a rising star in the realm of queer horror filmmaking. Her first feature-length film, So Vam, premiered at the Salem Horror Fest to extremely positive reception. It follows Kurt as they become part of a coven of vampires and learn to embrace their new identity while still pursuing their dreams of performing.
Lor Gislason: If you could give an introduction of yourself and One Manner Productions, that’d be great!
Alice Maio Mackay: Sure, so I’m a 17-year-old trans filmmaker, currently based in Australia. At the moment I am mainly working on queer horror-themed projects. I started making films when I was 12 or so and that’s when I started my own company, One Manner Productions, which is where my film work is produced under. What I would call my first “real” film was made when I was 13/14, A Tale of the Laundry Game, which was through Stephen King’s Dollar Baby Project. I was lucky enough to have the film premiere at Monster Fest. I then made a number of other shorts, including The Serpent’s Nest and Tooth 4 Tooth, which secured worldwide distribution. And most recently I finished production on my first feature, So Vam, which premiered at Salem Horror Fest this past October, and won two awards.
LG: What made you decide to start filmmaking? Who are your favorite directors?
AMM: I’d always wanted to be an author or writer of some sort growing up, but I started envisioning my work as films in about 5th or 6th grade. And then I had the opportunity to go on some local sets that were filming and realized film was my passion and something that was possible. My favorite directors are Janell Shirtcliff, John Waters, Gregg Araki, Rob Zombie, Cathy Yan, Joel Schumaker, and Zoe Lister-Jones.
LG: What films made an influence on you as a queer filmmaker?
AMM: Films that had an influence on me as a queer filmmaker would definitely have to be Kaboom, Ed Wood, and Priscilla; all three films I saw quite young and really connected with me. More recently, the limited series Veneno and The Craft Legacy were quite influential in the way they balance both campness, melodrama, and seriousness, whilst tackling some heavy subject matter. As well as featuring diverse and authentic representation including trans characters.
LG: I love how your films pay a lot of attention to framing shots and the colors used. Honestly, everything feels very thought out and made with care. The soft haze and themes of fantasy and reality in So Vam especially.
AMM: Thank you! Yeah, definitely I feel like aesthetically, especially in So Vam, we really wanted the colors and soft haze to contribute to the camp tonality of the film, and it also allowed the film to have a retro sensibility and just look fun. We really wanted a contrast between the scenes where Kurt is in the ‘straight’ and ‘conventional world’ as to when they feel empowered and are with their queer community. To kind of demonstrate that perspective and confidence shift.
LG: Queer identity and horror intrinsically mesh together and have done so since the beginning. While horror films have become massively successful it still feels, to me, like queer-centered horror gets sidelined.
AMM: Yeah definitely, queer identity and horror have really been connected for a long time, especially looking back at the Universal Monsters filmography and I’m sure even earlier. But I totally agree that a lot of the current queer-centered horror gets sidelined or ignored. I mean looking at Freaky and Craft Legacy I feel like the distributors didn’t feel confident enough to really push the films or at least get them to the right audiences, and all the review and troll bombing probably didn’t help either.
LG: Vampire covens have an aspect of found family that once again ties in perfectly as a queer person. Finding your “fellow outcasts” is such a validating experience. April, in particular, is my favorite, she has such poise and strength and is the perfect person to welcome Kurt.
AMM: For sure, that’s a main theme I definitely wanted to explore in the film. I also wanted to have two characters in different stages of confidence and comfort. Kurt being meeker, albeit confident as a queer person, but not yet having found their chosen family or where they fit in the world. Whilst April as mentioned in the camp scene dialogue has already gone through the tribulations and challenges of transitioning as a trans person in society and is full of confidence, knowledge, and power.
LG: Jen Markowitz said of you, “Maio Mackay has distinct and stylish vision and could be the future of queer horror.” Is that surreal to hear, especially as a teen?
AMM: So surreal. Honestly, I’m just really grateful for the support I’ve received for all my films. It means a lot that queer audiences have seen themselves represented properly in my work and have enjoyed what I’m making. My main goal is to create something that I would want to see more of in mainstream horror, and the fact people are connecting with that is so unbelievable and amazing.
LG: How important is social media in your life and to your films?
AMM: I’m not a massive social media user [laugh], but it’s an important tool as a filmmaker to spread the word and share my work. I’m also really grateful to have connected with a lot of cool people interstate and internationally, which I wouldn’t have been able to do without it. The queer horror community is also so supportive and I’m lucky to be able to connect with them.
LG: In some ways, The Serpent’s Nest feels like the So Vam prototype, or maybe even existing in the same world. Am I close to the mark at all on this?
AMM: Yeah, kind of. Definitely from a creative perspective, with Serpent’s Nest being almost half-hour long, it was a step up from 16-minute shorts and a good step before doing the feature. It was also probably more of a stressful shoot than So Vam [laugh]. But yeah, stylistically wise I think they both exist within the kind of non-era-specific horror and camp world in which So Vam does.
LG: What was the process like submitting So Vam to film festivals? How do you feel about the response?
AMM: I was super lucky enough to have the film premiere at Salem Horror Fest, which was definitely a top fest on my list to have the film played at, they were amazingly supportive of everything! The response so far has been overwhelmingly nice, a lot of people are really into the project and that really means a lot to me.
LG: Do you have any upcoming projects?
AMM: Yeah, a couple. So when So Vam was in post-production I directed two short films, On VHS, an experimental queer drama written by Laneikka Denne, and then Howl of the Werewolf, an Ed Wood short story that we adapted, which actually stars Chris Asimos who was Landon in So Vam. Both are currently in post, and I’m currently also getting my next feature off the ground, a queer horror, but definitely a more grounded film. My new feature will also feature a cameo from actor Bill Moseley, which I’m super excited about!
LG: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Finally, tell us two fun facts about yourself!
AMM: Of course, thank you for talking to me! Two fun facts, I guess one is that I play a couple of instruments—my favorite is piano, which I have been playing since I was about 4 years of age. I try to play every day as I find it both relaxing and fun. And two is that I am a pretty avid comic book fan.