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So Vam Director Alice Maio Mackay On Making Queer Horror With Bite

So Vam Director Alice Maio Mackay On Making Queer Horror With Bite

So Vam Director Alice Maio Mackay On Making Queer Horror With Bite
Courtesy of Alice Maio Mackay; Shudder

The 18-year-old director opened up to PRIDE about telling authentic stories and how she scored those Drag Race star cameos.

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At 18, trans filmmaker Alice Maio Mackay is already changing the face of queer horror cinema. Her first feature film, So Vam, which debuted at last year’s Salem Horror Film Fest and earned her a swath of awards, premieres today on Shudder — and she’s just getting started.

If making and releasing a critically lauded horror film at 18 seems impressive, Mackay’s filmmaking career actually began at age 12 when she started making stop-motion animated films with local actors lending their voice-over talents. However, her career began to take off with her adaptation of the Stephen King short A Tale of The Laundry Game through the author’s Dollar Baby program.

So Vam is an unabashedly queer affair about a young gay kid named Kurt who dreams of escaping his conservative Australian town and heading to the city to become a drag queen. His plans for stardom are interrupted when he’s targeted by a predatory vampire who unintentionally ushers him into the world of the undead, leading Kurt to not only find the community of queer and trans vamps he never knew he needed, but also himself — and maybe even a bit of romance.

So Vam

While So Vam might have humble indie DIY origins, there’s a visual flair in every frame that reveals the director’s clear point of view, plus a delicious dash of camp that elevates the film above its budgetary constraints. It recalls the spirit of rebellion of the Queer New Wave films of the early ’90s but with a decidedly modern lens, making Mackay an important and exciting new voice in genre filmmaking. There’s a charm and warmth to the film and its bubblegum-infused goth undead crew, that’s just, well, cool, even when some of the edges are a little rough. It’s the horror film so many LGBTQ+ kids need and that so many queer adults will wish they had growing up. It touches on both queer pain and joy and the power of finding your tribe.

For Mackay, telling a story of a found family was a natural fit for the vampire subgenre, as well as a potent metaphor for her own transition. “There’s shit that you deal with as a queer person, but I want to show that there was also [happiness],” Mackay tells PRIDE. “I want to show that there are possibilities other than just being stuck, like being able to find your people. Your community.”

So Vam

While Kurt’s journey has elements of wish fulfillment, Mackay isn’t afraid to show the dark and painful side of being queer in a world that doesn’t always accept it. Early in the film, Kurt is bullied and bashed for simply existing. It’s a painful scene to watch and Mackay says it was just as difficult to film.

“I think it’s important because...I feel you can’t just remove all the parts of queer life that [are painful],” she explains. “That’s why I included the bullying and the brutality of the bullying. It could have just been like a bit of pushing and saying ‘gay,’ but the truth is people say ‘faggot’ still. And it’s quite normalized in society, especially in the Australian society where I live. So, I just wanted to include those things to show you it still does happen to youth.”

So Vam

It’s a story that Mackay feels is best told by a queer person. “Obviously, cis people can make good queer films sometimes. [But] they kind of water it down for the [straight] audience as well,” she says. This was something Mackay wanted to avoid with So Vam, and she succeeded. The choice also helps the movie avoid the “queer P.S.A.” trap that so many “queer” films can fall into to make them digestible for a straight audience or build empathy for their characters. Mackay smartly went in a different direction and it paid off. “Straight people can enjoy the film, but a lot of times mainstream films take a moment out of the film to be like, ‘this is my identity.’ But I didn’t want to have the characters explain that,” she explains. “Kurt’s gay from the very onset, April’s trans, and her first line isn’t like ‘trans women are women.’”

One of the other ways the film feels authentically queer is in a few of its fun and surprising cameos, which include two Drag Race legends. Both BenDeLaCreme and Etcetera Etcetera make small appearances but are nonetheless notable castings. How did Mackay manage to get that kind of talent in her small film? Simple: She asked. The director reached out to each of them separately, told them about the project, and they quickly signed on. It speaks to Mackay’s tenacity, which, considering she’s a 18-year-old with multiple feature films under her belt, shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

So Vam

Speaking of her other films, Mackay’s second feature, Bad Girl Boogey, premiered earlier this month at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival. Again, it’s an unapologetically queer story, this time centered around a cursed slasher mask. The film also features a cameo from horror icon Bill Mosely, which fulfilled a longtime dream for the young filmmaker.

But that’s not all: Mackay shares that she’s also wrapped a third film, which she called her most personal and sees the return of Etcetera Etcetera in a mysterious new role.

The future is bright for Mackay, whose skyrocketing career is a testament to the power of her voice as a filmmaker. And as we said from the beginning, she’s just getting started.

So Vam is available to stream now on Shudder. Watch the trailer below.

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Rachel Shatto

EIC of PRIDE.com

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of PRIDE.com, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of PRIDE.com, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.