I’ll never forget when I read the truly mind-blowing story of Milicent Patrick. Patrick was behind the creation of Universal’s Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – a classic monster that emanates energy of wonder and recoil, much like Frankenstein’s monster or the creature in the Shape of Water (2017.) However, Patrick would remain unknown until writer Mallory O’ Meara brought her story to the world in her book, Lady from the Black Lagoon. O’Meara shared how Patrick was fired instead of receiving proper recognition for her work, how for years a man took credit for her artistry, and just like Mary Shelley before her, she had proven just how vital and instrumental women would be in the monster making process.
Tricks of the eyes, blood and gore, and all things ‘movie magic’ are what help shape the story before us when we watch film. The bloody, disgusting body morphing in The Thing, the twister that whisked Dorothy away in The Wizard of Oz, the entirety of the Star Wars franchise set in space, and more. These are special effects, and they have been a part of the film industry since the very beginning. In particular, they have taken a major hold in the horror genre – a genre that thrives on the creation of terrifying creatures beyond your wildest imagination. The practical gore and drooling monsters that keep you up at night are part of the attraction of horror films and part of the beauty of the genre.
Decades of invention in the special effects industry have continued to advance the world of horror. Now, you can watch a film and feel completely immersed, like it’s happening in your own reality. Even through the advancement on the technical front, the world of special effects is years behind on the front of diversity, especially with the inclusion of women..
“There are more than there used to be, but not as many as there should be.”Lindy Quattro
In a 2019 study, women accounted for 4% of special effects supervisors and 5% of visual effects supervisors in the year’s top 100 grossing films. For an industry that claims to be inclusive and representative of the people, especially in a genre like horror where women are the core drive to almost every film, you would think the same energy would be kept behind the scenes as it is in front of the camera. Still, as more industries continue to be called out for these disparities, the women behind the action now deserve some recognition. Thanks to women like Milicent Patrick paving a way for the women after them, the possibility of growth in the industry is tangible. So, I want to take this time to highlight some of the pioneers in the special effects industry for women as well as the women they have inspired who have taken the mantle and helped push forward the horror genre and the overall profession.
These women have been cited by many as the pioneers of women’s involvement in special effects. Since they began their careers in the field, these women have worked on classic films that helped define their careers and the future of the film industry. Many of them continue this work, as well as advocate for other women to be more involved.
Lindy De Quattro
“The visual effects industry is definitely male dominated particularly in the supervisor ranks. There are a lot of female producers and there are a lot certainly female artists and the number of female artists are growing but we need more supervisors in every discipline and at all levels.” With 25 years of experience, De Quattro has been nominated for BAFTA and VES awards as a visual effects supervisor. She is known for her work on films such as Van Helsing (2004), The Great Gatsby (2013), Pacific Rim (2013), Mars Attacks (1996), and Downsizing (2017).
“At the time it felt like an extreme challenge on many levels. Looking back now, I’m very proud to have gone through it all and survived.” In 1983, Hunter was hired to work on Return of the Jedi’s optical department, being one of the first women to do so. Peg Hunter also went on to work on films such as The Neverending Story (1984), the Back to the Future and The Hobbit franchises.
Nelson did some of her debut work for the film Back to the Future 2 (1989), an experience that she accounts as “the best training ever for producing.” Since then, she has also worked on films such as I am Number Four (2011), 42 (2013), Men in Black 2 (2002), and The Spongebob Squarepants movie (2004) as a visual effects supervisor.
“I always wanted to do movies and had to fight my way in. I think the hardest thing was getting people ready for the fact a girl was going to be doing the SFX makeup instead of a guy.” Neill is one of the most well-known female special effects artists in the film industry, with her work on Beetlejuice (1988), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) and Ed Wood (1994) earning her Academy Awards for all three. She was a judge on the Syfy television show, Face Off, and she has also worked on the Hunger Games franchise, Chronicles of Riddick (2004), the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Sweeney Todd (2007), and so much more.
Women Behind the Scenes of Horror Today
These following women are currently working in the special effects business, with outstanding work that has helped improve the horror genre. Their work on past and future horror films continues to help expand the role that women play in the industry and behind the scenes of popular films.
Eryn Krueger Mekash
Mekash has worked in the industry as an effects artist for 30 years. She has won eight Emmys over the span of her career, seven of those being for her makeup artistry. Her work in the horror genre includes: American Horror Story (2011-present), Scream Queens (2015-2017), and Prom Night (2008). She has also worked on three films set to release this year- one of them being the highly anticipated horror film starring Sarah Paulson, Run.
Kortum has been in the special effects industry for over a decade. She now even has her own company, Ravenous Studios, that specializes in film makeup and props. Her popular work in the horror genre includes: Cabin Fever (2002), Rage of the Zombies (2017), and Dark Horizon (2007). The film, Jason Rising, set to release this year, is one of her most recent works.
Based out of Portland, Oregon, Muta has been a part of the special effects industry for over 15 years. She currently works as the key makeup artist on the HULU original TV series Shrill. Her notable work in the horror genre includes: Predators (2010) and The Vampire’s Assistant (2009).
Doyle has most recently worked as the makeup and prosthetic’s designer on A24’s newest horror film, The Green Knight. With over a decade of experience in the film industry, some of her works in the horror genre include: Apocolypto (2006), Taboo (2017-present), and Venom (2018).
Cali was a contestant on the Syfy makeup show, Face off. Since then, she has worked on numerous films and television series. Her prominent work in the horror genre includes: The Exorcist (2016-2018) television show and the upcoming 2020 film, Candyman.
Mendoza has been in the special effects industry for over a decade, with many projects in the horror genre. Some of these popular projects are Cooties (2014), the Insidious franchise, Annabelle (2014), Sinister 2 (2015) and The Lazarus Effect (2015). She was also the department head for the upcoming final season of Netflix’s Lucifer.
A Spanish native, Ribe has done numerous jobs with director Guillermo Del Toro. Her artistry in the horror genre can be found in the films Crimson Peak (2015), Pans Labyrinth (2006), and The Orphanage (2007). She continues to work on Spanish films today, with the most recent film she worked on, Amigo, being a psychological thriller that was released in 2019.
Craig has being doing remarkable work in horror films since the early 2000s. She has currently worked as Head of Make-Up on the second season Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, set to release soon. Some horror films she has worked on include, Dawn of the Dead (2004), Silent Hill (2006), Urban Legends (1998), and the recent It films.
Joan Williams, a feminist scholar whose work has covered the issues women face in the workplace in the SFX/VFX industry noted, “A common take is that the long-hours culture drives women out of tech, but often what drives them out is sexism.” The above women and so many more play a crucial role in the film industry, not just with their talents but also with their presence. I hope we never have to experience a story like Milicent Patricks, where a woman’s talent is hushed and taken credit by her male counterparts. I hope the film industry continues to give women a greater platform to share their opinions and shape the future of film into something better than we’ve ever seen before.