Ladies of Horror May-hem: Debra Hill


Last call for Ladies, denizens, and just as my first draw this month was perfect (as has been every other draw, quite frankly), so too is this final draw.

In some ways, I guess you could say that I’ve broken my own rules…or at least bent them in twisty-like-a-pretzel ways. See, Debra Hill isn’t a character from a horror movie. Instead she was one of the originators of some of the greatest characters to grace the genre in modern times. While any casual horror fan knows that John Carpenter was behind bringing Michael Myers to the genre, what most people forget (or don’t know) is that Debra Hill both co-wrote Halloween with him and then produced it. And worked behind the scenes, doing everything from setting up equipment to bagging and unbagging leaves to help make a sunny, summery California neighborhood look like Haddonfield, Illinois in late October. Oh, and Haddonfield? That’s where she was born…only it’s really in New Jersey.

Hill went on to work with Carpenter on scripts for Halloween II, The Fog (which is another brilliant film that doesn’t seem to catch quite as much love from genre fans as that babysitter stalker movie does), and Escape From L.A., among other significant writing credits. She also was a proliferate and successful producer, thanks to the totally unexpected success of her first gig (again with that babysitter stalker movie!). Beyond producing a string of fantastic Carpenter movies or Carpenter-inspired movies like The Fog, Halloween II and III, Escape from New York, and Escape from L.A., she also produced The Dead Zone as well as the decidedly non-horror but still important to Loba, Adventures in Babysitting and Clue.

Not bad for a woman whom no one in the business took seriously when she first came to Hollywood a mere four years before hitting the right chord with that…yeah, you guessed it…that babysitter stalker movie. She once even noted, “Back when I started in 1974, there were very few women in the industry, and everybody called me ‘Honey.’ I was assumed to be the makeup and hair person, or the script person. I was never assumed to be the writer or producer. I took a look around and realized there weren’t many women, so I had to carve a niche for myself.”

Not only did she succeed in carving that niche, she carved her name into the very foundation of a genre that is decidedly not known for its overall welcoming nature toward women. True, by helping to co-write Halloween, she did help establish that somewhat patronizing “virginal final girl” trope, but holistically, Hill’s was a career of trailblazing brilliance (plus, I do cut her some slack since she did get Jamie Lee Curtis laid in The Fogand let her survive [spoilers]).

Sadly, Hill died of cancer in 2005, at the horrifyingly young age of 54. Obituaries noted that she was one of Hollywood’s first female producers, that she was a pioneer in the industry, an inspiration to women. Jamie Lee Curtis described her as “the most influential woman in my professional life.” John Carpenter said his relationship with Hill was “one of the greatest experiences of my life ā€“ she had a passion for not just movies about women or women’s ideas but films for everybody.”

Therefore, I hope you will forgive me, denizens, for adding her name to the mix this month, but to me, Debra Hill is one of the most important female presences within horror, and a name that deserves to be spoken regularly whenever discussing the genre. She was remarkable in many ways and truly a Lady of Horror May-hem.

And thus concludes my month-long ramblings. I don’t about you all, but I had a blast. Enough of a blast that I do believe I will be revisiting this concept again, either with a month of May-hem in 2015 or possibly even again later this year. I still have names I never drew, just waiting for discussion, including a DJ of Hill’s creation, a woman whose descent into madness was quite claustrophobic, a small medium (ha!), and a couple more that I’m sure would have surprised you that I included them in the running at all. So, of course, if you have any suggestions for characters that you think should be considered for future editions, please let me know.

And, of course, keep watching horror, denizens. It’s not a perfect genre, but it still has lots to offer, including some amazing Ladies of Horror May-hem…