PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Feminists and horror fans alike have a few short films to add to their watchlist thanks to Portland’s very own production company Monstrous Femme Films.
Director, writer and co-founder of Monstrous Femme Films Hannah May Cumming was a film student at Portland State University when she started creating “Fanatico” in 2018. “Fanatico“ was the first of many in the growing anthology of feminist horror films.
The team has soared to new heights since then, with a list of awards under its belt and a roster of creative producers, stylists, actors and more.
Its most recent release “Baby Fever” centers a popular teenage girl whose dreams of being prom queen are thwarted when she gets pregnant with an alien baby. The film is set in the ‘70s, similar to other projects in Monstrous Femme’s repertoire.
The filmmakers take inspiration from classic women-centered horror films such as “Heathers” and “Carrie” while adding their personal touch to the genre. Even with the short films being set decades ago, there is still subject matter that resonates with people today.
“We premiered [“Baby Fever”] like the week that Roe got overturned,” Cumming said. Although, the screenwriting process started three years ago. “I think that we’re just also channeling our own fears and anxieties, and it’s a very scary world out there politically, socially, right now. Horror is all about channeling your fears and kind of finding a way to cope with them or express them.”
Getting that message across in the script didn’t happen overnight. According to producer and co-writer Alex Hartwig, a lot of the screenwriting process consisted of writing the wrong thing.
“We wrote a lot of drafts that had to be thrown out,” he said. “And by the time we got to this one, it had been through the pandemic where we had almost nothing else to do besides write and kind of argued through what could be the best way to tell this story. So I’m glad for that time, but it almost required it to some extent.”
Aside from Monstrous Femme’s remarkable ability to tell a story through horror, their attention to detail also sets them apart. High-quality special effects, hair, makeup and costuming can be hard to achieve for filmmakers not being supported by a big production company.
As they say, “What we lack in budget, we make up for in style.”
Savannah Somerville, Bree Ritter and Rene DeJarnatt are just a few people on the beauty and hair team who helped capture that ‘70s style with bold eye makeup and Farrah Fawcett-esque hair.
“I think this team was really, really story-driven,” co-producer Sam Wolf said. “Every single meeting was always talking about what makes the most sense story wise, and we had to change things. It was always like, how can we change it and still be authentic to the original story and the original vision?”
Helena Berens and Georgia Thomas, who portray the lead female characters in “Baby Fever” alongside male actors Louis Llewellyn and Linus Lamar, were even committed enough to watch old commercials to perfect the ‘70s dialect.
Although making “Baby Fever” was a learning process from beginning to end, the hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. So far, the film has won the grand prize in the Killer Shorts contest and the “Best Film” award in the North Bend Film Festival.
Soon, the Monstrous Femme team will premiere the film in Los Angeles, New York, Manchester, UK, and more.
The creative collective is already thinking ahead to their next project “Penny & The Poppies”, which is written and directed by co-founder Emma Cogan. She says the project will be a “surreal, psychological horror set in the swinging ‘60s centered around a newly-formed girl band making their television debut.” This reflects Monstrous Femme’s progressive mission of getting women and queer people into leadership roles.
“There were a lot of really, really important and vulnerable and stressful, emotional shots to get, and just having everyone be able to take a moment or leave the room, [or] give us a second — that was really important,” Thomas said. “It was just nice to have women at the forefront of that.”
The Monstrous Femme collection is available on their website, not including “Baby Fever” because of its current festival run. Locals can expect an announcement on the next screening in Portland, expected in November.