Dr. Rebekah McKendry has a unique perspective of the film industry, having carved an unusual path to becoming a director of horror movies. She came up through the marketing ranks at Fangoria and then Blumhouse, directing horror shorts on the side. Following that, she has spent the last seven years as a film professor at USC’s esteemed film School of Cinematic Arts. My introduction to Rebekah was through the Podcast “Shock Waves” along with Ryan Turek, which sadly no longer exists. Somehow, along with her educational duties she has now directed two horror features, the Christmas-themed All the Creatures Were Stirring (2018), last year’s Glorious (2022) starring Ryan Kwanten, and a voice-over by J.K. Simmons.
I caught up with Dr. McKendry backstage in the green room at Portland’s landmark Hollywood Theater, where she delivered the keynote address on “What is Cosmic Horror?” for the 2023 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. Her insights proved illuminating and entertaining. Here are some key takeaways from her presentation:
Thesis Statement: Cosmic Horror is the Fear of the Unknown
It’s Indescribable! Inexplicable! Uncanny!
It’s bigger than you and describes humanity’s place in the world.
Abandon yourself to the void, or consequently go Mad! Or both! Embrace the void!
Cosmic Horror can be Global, Intergalactic, or highly personal and intimate.
Curiosity is our downfall. Knowledge is power, but we can’t handle it.
Cosmic Horror is a sub-genre ascendant because of the Pandemic and Technology.
To know cosmic horror, the classic routes are Books, Sex, Drugs, Science and Travel.
Keep your eyes open for a new trend is the sub-sub-genre of Liminal horror, the horror of transition. For Example: Skinamarink.
We were also treated to a screening for a big audience at HPLFF, and for me, to get a chance to see that film on the big screen was a real treat, only having seen it streaming before. The pandemic-shot feature about a man imprisoned in a roadside restroom with the demigod Ghatanathoa (the first rendition of that Lovecraftian being, to the best of my knowledge) was a revealing, comedic, and ultimately harrowing stage showcase. It is claustrophobic and uses its limited special effects budget to great effect. As a result, the production value of this film is above its weight class. The crackerjack script from Todd Rigney, Joshua Hull, and Rebekah’s husband David McKendry, has laugh-out-loud moments and a heavy twist that re-colors your entire thinking of the situation.
The Scariest Things was so impressed with Glorious that we awarded Ryan Kwanten Best Lead Actor in a Horror Feature for 2022. Ryan shares the award with Ralph Fiennes, who tied the ballot with The Menu. We loved how Kwanten wrung out all the emotions. This movie felt like a stage drama, and Kwanten had to carry a huge acting load. Such is the way of filmmaking during the age of Covid! Glorious was also nominated for our Abbott & Costello Award for the best use of comedy in a Horror Feature.
In this special interview Episode of The Scariest Things, Dr. McKendry talked about the nature of Cosmic Horror. She continues, discussing her experience shooting Glorious during the Pandemic and the thrill of getting J.K. Simmons on her movie. She describes what it’s like to be one of her film students, and we nodded to the successful WGA strike resolution. You can follow Rebekah on her own podcast, Colors of the Dark.
I am thankful to be a small press journalist in times like these. With someone like Dr. McKendry teaching the young directors of the future, I can emphatically state that our Horror Community is going to be in fine shape. Check out our interview recording of The Scariest Things with the Hollywood Horror Renaissance woman, Dr. Rebekah McKendry! Do it now!