Vancouverite Karen Lam is a lawyer-turned-director of horror movies, and her second feature film is creating a buzz in horror circles.
Evangeline is about a university student murdered by psychopath frat boys, who returns from the grave to get revenge. Lam won best director award for the film, which she also wrote and produced, at a Toronto horror film fest this winter.
Evangeline will kick off the Vancouver Women In Film Festival on March 6. But first, Lam sat down with CBC's Duncan McCue.
Watch the full interview tonight on The National on CBC Television.
McCue: I can't stand horror movies. They terrify me. What is it about horror movies you enjoy so much?
Lam: I love the suspense. Horror isn't necessarily the bludgeoning, the gore. The definition of horror is something that creates the dread of death. I really love that thing where you put your hands up around your face and you don't think you can watch any more of it — then you do. I find it very pleasurable, but I guess some people find it very unpleasurable!
DM: What were your major influences starting out?
'You're supposed to forgive your oppressor and your killers ... but we live in a city that had 65 women disappear from basically one city block.' - Karen Lam, director of Evangeline
KL: I loved Gothic literature. I started off reading things like Edgar Allen Poe and Daphne du Maurier. All those mystery, thriller-type things, with a lot of darkness. And my dad was a huge kung-fu movie fan. He loved revenge fantasies and creature features, so we spent a lot of bonding time watching these films. He took me to Jaws. That was one of my first films. And I asked him why he would take me to Jaws, at age five, and he said, "Well, you really like fish." For my bedtime stories, he would tell me Robinson Crusoe was eaten by cannibals. He and his boy Friday. I never could read Robinson Crusoe after that, but this was something my dad thought was quite funny. I guess for me, horror felt like a safe place.
DM: Obviously, very few women directors in this genre. What's that like for you?
KL: I grew up in a small town [Brandon, Man.], where I was one of the few Chinese people as well. I guess I'm most comfortable where there's not a lot of me. I love that. You want to be part of something where you can hopefully make a difference, as opposed to being part of a giant crowd.
DM: Your latest feature, Evangeline, is a revenge fantasy. What message were you hoping to send about women's roles in horror movies?
KL: With any supernatural revenge fantasy, it's not necessarily wish fulfillment, because I think she goes through quite a lot. Revenge turns you into a monster. If you go down that path, anger will turn you into something that you never wanted to be. But the message I'd send is: Does an eye-for-an-eye make the whole world blind? Religion is a huge part of Evangeline. How often can you turn the other cheek? That's what we're asked to do again and again: be strong as victims. When you see victims of violence, you're supposed to forgive your oppressor and your killers, and move on. But we live in a city that had 65 women disappear from basically one city block.
DM: You've said the Pickton trial, and missing and murdered women, and the Highway of Tears, make you angry. Why?
KL: It's this constant butchery of women. Again and again. And, you know, there's a serial killer on the loose. That was the impetus for Evangeline: what if there was a killer who would hunt other killers? I always enjoyed this idea: What if you had a female superhero who really could clean the streets up? I hope when people see these films they feel some relief, on the entertainment basis, because there's still the craft of it. But, ultimately, I hope they feel the same disgust and anger I feel.