By Michael Varrati
There are many women in horror, but there is only one Final Girl.
Although primarily known for her acerbic and fun blog work, Stacie Ponder is more than just your average web presence. As a writer, filmmaker, and artist, Ponder has proven herself to be nothing less than a veritable dynamo of horror. Her sense of pluck has won her a legion of fans over at her Final Girl blog, and her recent foray into dark horror, Ludlow, has the film community buzzing.
I had the good opportunity to sit down with Stacie as part of our Women in Horror month festivities, and what resulted was a truly outrageous and fun conversation. From the dark, isolationist themes of a woman abused in Ludlow to the inherent fun in playing with dolls, Stacie and I covered it all in our discussion of her fabulous career in fright.
To give further introduction to this remarkable woman would be almost criminal, because when it comes down to it, no words give you insight into her fun style better than her own.
Without further adieu, my dear children of the popcorn, I give you horror’s Final Girl…
First off, I hear that congratulations are in order. As of this week, you’ve been nominated for a Rondo Hatton Award (which is something of a big deal in the horror community) for your blog, Final Girl. I also understand that you’re encouraging the voters to vote for someone else!
Yeah! First of all, thank you! I kind of feel strange about it…I was nominated last year, also. The Rondos are for classic horror, and I don’t do classic horror. I don’t do Universal monsters, I rarely talk about old films, and the blog I ended up endorsing, Frankensteinia, is that to a T. He’s all about Frankenstein, he’s all about preservation, it’s about history…I just feel he’s the best suited for the award. I also hate getting caught up in the whole, “Vote for me! Vote for me!” So, if I can endorse someone else and not think about it anymore, I’m happy.
So, you’re kind of the rare case where when you say, “to be nominated is enough,” you mean it!
Absolutely! The fact that somebody thought enough of my blog to put it out there and get it nominated…that’s great! Otherwise, the whole internet voting contest thing, I just can’t get all caught up in it. Especially for the Rondos, where some people campaign really, really hard. There are so many variables; it doesn’t necessarily have a bearing on the quality of the work. In the end, it’s kind of a popularity contest, and I would just rather ignore all that if I can.
A quick overview of all your various projects clearly reveals how deeply ingrained you are in the world of horror. At what point did you realize that this was the genre for you? Were you always a fan?
I’ve always been a fan. My mom got me into horror movies when I was a kid. When I was 7 or 8, I went to the drive-in with my parents to see Friday the 13th, I knew who Christopher Lee was, I had Famous Monsters magazine, Fangoria, and stuff like that. It’s always been a big part of my life, but I didn’t really do anything with the genre until I started Final Girl on a whim.
Which, the Final Girl blog is how many people know you. But the truth is, you contribute to a vast assortment of publications and sites. With columns that regularly appear in Rue Morgue Magazine, AMCTV, AfterEllen.com, and many others, how do you find time to juggle all of your various media outlets?
Oh man, I have no life, I guess! –laughs- It helps that I’m sort of happy with living in a cave. I mean, I don’t literally live in a cave, but I’m okay with the reclusive lifestyle where I just stay home and make stuff.
It can be difficult to shift gears, creatively. With Final Girl, I can basically do whatever I want. There’s no quality control, for better or for worse. But then writing for something like AMC, which has a much more mainstream audience and standards…that can be a little difficult. But, I guess the short answer is that I have no life, other than making stuff.
I think no life but making stuff is a pretty good life!
Oh, I’m definitely not complaining. I just don’t go out every night or socialize every day. I’m content staying in to write or whatever.
In addition to all the writing, you also co-host your own weekly podcast, The Scare-ening, with Heidi Martinuzzi (journalist and founder of Fangirltastic). At what point did you decide to take to the airwaves?
I’d been thinking of doing a podcast for quite awhile, just because it seemed like fun. Heidi’s so smart, funny, quick, and knowledgeable; I thought it would be great to do the podcast with her. We’re friends in real life and we have pretty good banter back and forth. We figured out an easy way to do it on BlogTalkRadio, which is live…and we just said, “Hey, let’s try this!”
I’d like to point out that your weekly contribution to AfterEllen actually takes the form of a comic strip that you not only write, but also illustrate. The strip, called Toosday Toons, is just one of several outlets where you post your art. Have you always been interested in drawing and illustration? Any chance we’ll see a Stacie Ponder graphic novel in the future?
I would love that! That’s one of those projects that’s always on the backburner in my mind. I’ve always been into art. I guess if I get the horror movies from my mom, I get the art from my dad. He was always very artistic. I always had paper, pencils, and markers at my disposal, so I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember.
I was really into comic books for a while, I worked as an inker. I just keep going back to art. I’ve tried to put it away and find something else, but it’s so fun. People respond really well to the style I have. As long as I have the platform, I’ll do it.
What I think is most interesting about Toosday Toons, though you do have varying topics, is that your most returned to and beloved character…is you.
-laughs- Sometimes it’s autobiographical. If I post a cartoon and say, “This happened to me.” Then, it really DID happen to me. Then other times I’ll write about The X-Files or some fictional world. I have the freedom to do whatever I want, within reason…and people seem to respond well to it.
I should note that Toosday Toons is actually your second project with AfterEllen, the first being a horror themed series called Ghostella’s Haunted Tomb. For those not familiar with Ghostella and her legacy, could you tell us a bit about that?
Her legacy! I love it! –laughs- AfterEllen had put a call out for web series content. There were a few rules and regulations, but on the whole, I thought, “Yeah, I can do that!” I figured I could do a scary one. So, I established the Haunted Tomb, which Ghostella, who is like a bargain basement Elvira, hosts out of her garage. The first episode of Ghostella’s Haunted Tomb featured Ghostella hosting a really bad lesbian horror movie, because this was a lesbian website, and shockingly they wanted lesbian content.
So, every episode of the show prompted me to make a short film. Lesbian vampires, lesbian slashers, whatever. We’re currently trying to get season two out there.
As is obvious with Ghostella, in the midst of all these other projects, you’re also a filmmaker. I understand that your film, Ludlow, was just accepted to some film festivals?
Yes! I am really excited it got accepted somewhere. The Female Eye Festival in Toronto, which is in March. I’m pretty excited, I wish I could go!
I thought Ludlow was an extremely impressive and atmospheric work, but I have to admit I was little surprised by its grave tone, considering your penchant for humor in all your other work. What did you draw on to make such a dark piece? It almost seems deeply personal.
It was really scary for me to do a serious piece, because most of my filmmaking is all humorous. Ludlow isn’t based on any personal, abusive relationships or anything like that, but I’m very fascinated by isolation. Especially what isolation does to people. I feel like if you leave a person in a room for 48 hours, interesting things happen. When Shannon Lark approached me and said she wanted to make something together, I decided to go the more serious route, rather than the goofy, Ghostella route. I wanted to push myself creatively and work outside my comfort zone. It was kind of tough to put it out there, for sure.
Since you mentioned the film’s lead, Shannon Lark, I have heard that the initial contract you signed with her was on a napkin! Is there truth to that, or is it merely film myth?
That is absolutely true! We met at a film festival, and we ended up going to the bar and hanging out. After a few drinks, she said, “Work with me!” The next thing I know, she whips out a pen, and draws up this totally legally binding document on a napkin, which stated she would be in a film directed by me. So, that was the initial contract…and then Ludlow happened. Take your napkin contracts very seriously.
What was production of the film like?
It was kind of insane. All told, we shot it in about three days. I was the only crew member, there was no one else there. I did the lighting, held the camera, everything. For the most part, it was just me, Shannon, and a camera in a hotel room. Which, is kind of lurid. –laughs- But it wasn’t really lurid at all. But we slept on the set, because we were in a hotel room, so naturally you’d just sleep right there. It was really all-consuming. We were crunched for time, we had no money, and we were working around the clock. I think it made it something special for us, though. You don’t get that kind of immersion on a film all the time.
For those of us not familiar with rural California, is Ludlow a real place?
Ludlow is absolutely a real place. We shot it in the Ludlow Motel. I wrote the script, it didn’t have a title, and I went out location scouting. I got in my car, drove out of Los Angeles, and right into the desert. After a few hours, I got to Ludlow. I found this seedy little motel and a diner, and that was about it. I was like, “This is the place, and that’s the title.” I’m really bad at coming up with titles.
So, it’s literally just a place in the middle of the desert.
Yeah. If you take the I-40, you’ll come to Ludlow eventually. It’s this horrible oasis in the middle of nowhere. There’s a gas station, a motel, and a diner…that’s it. It was perfect for what we needed, but really a depressing place.
Maybe your film will be what finally puts Ludlow on the map!
I should have the premiere there! Bring a screen and projector, set it up in the trailer park.
Since we’re talking about your films, I’d like to talk about some of your other film projects. It is interesting to note for our readers that your short film In Satan’s Closet shares several primary cast members with our own All About Evil (Thomas Dekker, Anthony Fitzgerald, Jade & Nikita Ramsey). How did the project come about, and how did you get so many talented actors involved?
I don’t know! I’m friends with them, and it’s wonderful that no matter what they’ve achieved in their professional lives, they are all great people who are willing to play with me. You’ve got Lena Headey and Thomas Dekker who have been in the business for 20 years now, and I say, “Would you get on the floor and roll around with remote control spiders?” and they say, “Sure!” It kind of amazes me that I can get anybody to do that sort of thing, never mind people with actual established acting careers. It’s great, they think it’s funny, they like it, and they’re always ready to do more. They’re just really good people, I’m lucky to have such good friends.
I know that your upcoming film project, Diet! Diet! My Darling! is a horror film that is executed entirely through the use of dolls. What can you tell us about the film? What inspired you to take this unorthodox approach to telling the story?
Well, Diet! Diet! My Darling! is a straight up slasher flick that I wrote a couple years ago and it has gone through so many false starts. It’s had people attached, producers attached, it’s had a huge budget, it’s had no budget. I feel like this movie has become my Apocalypse Now. It’s just a slasher movie! It’s funny, it’s gory, it’s silly, but, let’s face it, it’s not Citizen Kane. So, I don’t understand why this film just won’t happen. I just decided, “No budget, I’m going with the Barbie dolls.” I wouldn’t have to worry about anything, I could do it all by myself in my backyard with cardboard boxes. I could just make this movie, then it’d be done, and I wouldn’t have to think about it anymore.
I had started an IndieGoGo, crowd-sourcing fundraising campaign, and it failed! I couldn’t raise the money I needed even for the dolls! At this point, it’s on hold while I consider my options.
We’re going to try again to raise money. I’ve actually talked to producers, and we’re back to talking about live action. I think I’m going to die clutching my Diet! Diet! My Darling! script and my last words will be, “Why?!?”
So, you’re back to no dolls.
Yeah, it may not be the dolls. I’d like to do the dolls…I think it’d be fun. But, if someone wants to give me the money to make it live action, then I’m going to make live action!
Yeah, the first episode of Ghostella’s Haunted Tomb actually was a lesbian vampire movie in which I used a doll. I had an actor drop out last minute and so, for whatever reason, I decided to do it with dolls. It’s silly. It’s not stop motion. It’s just me moving the dolls around, but it’s fun.
I also have Space Girls, which is a web series where episodes come out as often as Hailey’s Comet. They come every once in a great while, and it’s all done with dolls. Basically, I feel comfortable working with the fashion dolls. –laughs-
I may just be pulling at straws here, but was the use of dolls in anyway inspired by that Todd Haynes Karen Carpenter movie he did using Barbie dolls? Or was this kind of a fluke?
It wasn’t a fluke. I had heard of that film, but I had never seen it. I wasn’t sure how he did the effect, whether it was stop-motion or what. But once the first episode of Ghostella was finished, I watched some clips of it on YouTube to see how he did it. I’m certainly not the first to use Barbies, by any stretch of the imagination.
You may not be the first, but you could in fact be the true pioneer of the genre.
Maybe for horror! –laughs-
Since you always are at work on something, I think a fair final question is simply, “What’s next?” What do Stacie Ponder fans have to look forward to?
I am working on an episode of Ghostella’s Haunted Tomb right now. Whether it leads to season two or if it’s just kind of a “non-holiday” Holiday Special, I’m not sure. But there will be a new episode coming soon. In the meantime, Final Girl keeps going, I have a videogame blog that keeps going, and I just keep writing, writing, writing! I’ve always got something new coming up!
To find out more about Stacie and her various projects, visit her home on the web: http://finalgirl.blogspot.com