For the third entry in my Women in Horror Month interviews I'm joined by magnificent actress Rowena Bentley. She's played the victimised, helpless mother Kathy in Escape From Cannibal Farm, the evil and wicked tormentor Lady Whipley in The House Of Violent Desire, and has only this past week wrapped production on my new snowbound thriller Winterskin where she portrays Mama Agnes, a kooky older woman living alone in a snowy wilderness where the isolation has, shall we say, taken its toll...
Charlie Steeds: Rowena, let's talk about these
characters you've played for me! Lady Whipley and Mama Agnes were such a joy for me to write, did you find them typical or unique to the horror genre?
Rowena Bentley: Though there were many aspects of Lady Whipley I enjoyed, having just completed Winterskin, the role of Mama Agnes feels the most current and freeing in many ways. You wrote both these scripts with me in mind and in a way it fulfilled a long held ambition of playing two very different roles, one depicting glamour and evil, the other rural, wild and western.
CS: And its been a thrill to see you portray two entirely different types of character, such a contrast that challenged us both, in a great way!
RB: With the amazing acting talents of women like Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri proving so popular now, the ‘don't mess with me woman’, is completely of the moment. Though of course in horror, Hagsploitation has been around for a long time, with greats like Crawford & Davies, Page & Gordon.
CS: I teased that I was writing you into this 'hagsploitation' film, which itself is an interesting/odd representation of older women in the horror genre. 'Hagsploitation' (or 'Psycho-biddy'), for those who aren't aware, is a term used for films in which often a formerly glamorous actress now plays a mentally unbalanced older woman, reduced to terrorising us on screen in their old age.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is the prime example of this. How do the hags I've written for you fit into this? In the case of Agnes and Lady Whipley they're certainly more the tormentors than the victims?
RB: Lady Whipley is a manipulative, control freak born out of cruelty and Agnes in Winterskin is a total survivor of her upbringing, both unhinged by their past lives, emotions still drive women for good or bad. In both cases, they power through...at least for a while, but they are their own worst enemies. Violence should always have consequences for the perpetrator. Happily, the victimisation of women in Horror seems to be completely on the wane, times have moved on and we quite rightly are seen to be strong protagonists in this genre again.
CS: In fact, it was you who asked me to write you a strong evil character, after you'd played Kathy in Escape From Cannibal Farm and spent most of the film locked in a cage wailing... so I obliged! Which women in horror do you find particularly inspiring?
RB: For me, aforementioned greats from the past are my Horror heroines, there's just something about their stature as well crafted actresses in all film genres and theatre that gives them the edge for me. Horror is not just about being able to scream well...it's important to keep
your character based in realism. However, I must say the unique performance of of writer/director/actress Alice Lowe stole the show in 2017 with Prevenge, a truly brilliant and darkly funny concept!
CS: What female roles/representation in horror would you like to see more of in the future?
RB: I would love to see more women at the forefront in Horror, of all ages, race & orientation. We need to take the mantle now and show that we are more than capable of leading hard edged films that are completely watchable for every Horror fan.
SEE ROWENA IN ESCAPE FROM CANNIBAL FARM ON DVD/VOD IN THE U.S NOW AND OUT THIS SUMMER IN THE U.K
THE HOUSE OF VIOLENT DESIRE IS RELEASED LATER THIS YEAR AND WINTERSKIN IS CURRENTLY IN POST-PRODUCTION, COMING THIS WINTER!