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EXPLORING HORROR'S OFT OVERLOOKED "FEROCIOUS FATHER" ARCHETYPE WITH ACADEMIC LAKKAYA PALMER

BY MO MOSHATY, NOVEMBER 17, 2023

We usually chat about Mommy Dearest and Bloody Mamas as the basis for our nightmares, but what about dear old dad? Mo Moshaty speaks with PhD Researcher, Lakkaya Palmer on her journey to exploring Fatherhood in Horror, representation and identity in the genre, and how to honor your own experiences.

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MM: So happy you're here! I want to get into this because I'm so on the other end of the spectrum with my work on the feminine in horror, I'd love to learn about how you settled on fatherhood in horror.

LP: So, when I told my mom, who’s a big horror fan, that I'd be doing my PhD on fatherhood in horror cinema, there was a bit of those nerves. I was like, oh, is she going to think this is ridiculous? And she was like, that is incredible, you do you. So I've always had the support of my mom, which has been amazing. But finding people like yourself and steadfast horror people of color, it's one of the best feelings, I think.

MM: Oh, yes, this community is so expansive yet so tight.  And that's what's so interesting about this field, and especially not just the academic field for horror, but as a whole on a racial aspect. As an author, I'm Afro-Latina, so my mother was born in Mexico, raised in Mexico, and naturalized here through the United States. My father is Black, Native American, and Irish.

But having people ask me when I do interviews – I just released my book earlier this year, a horror novella – they were like, well, it must be an isolating feeling like, you know, there's not a lot of Black women in horror. And I was like, actually, there's thousands of us. We're not unicorns, we're everywhere, and I think that that speaks to the accessibility of it. We can't get our voices out there, we can't get our voices above the norm or the status quo of what you expect as a horror author or horror journalist. I'm not seeing many horror journalists that are my age or my skin color. It's not the norm, and it's a bit sad that as diverse as horror can be, it's not translating in that way into the literature, academic, or journalistic front. 

 

LP: I think that it's been so gratifying to find people like yourself who are just like this is what I was raised on, this is what really resonates with me. But it's like, you know, you have that gap where we were all raised on this and this is what resonates for us. And there's a lot of othering.

MM: Truly. That's where our opinion matters. So I'm very, very interested in how you kind of came to be in that and your studies starting in gender society and representation and then film studies. How did that end up being where you're at now with fatherhood and the horror genre?

LP: OK, that's a really interesting question because I do get asked that a lot. My undergraduate was in history, it's just been something that I found so fascinating, I was one of those kids that was obsessed with Ancient Egypt and Anastasia and the Romanovs, and as a kid, I hyper-fixated on those types of things, and I always knew I wanted to do history at university. At uni, I realized that I was taking quite a lot of optional gender history modules. So for example, I took "Witches, Demons, and Magic in Medieval England" and "The world of Jane Austen," learning about how prostitutes were treated in the Middle Ages. So for me, there was something very interesting there about gender and that's how I ended up doing my MA in gender society and representation because I knew that I didn't want to let go of those aspects of gender, gender theory, and gender history but again, in my second year, we were allowed to pick optional modules that weren't necessarily in history but related to history. So I picked “Introduction to the British Horror Film.”

MM: And how did that resonate with you?

LP: I famously hated it. At first I was like, no, I don't get it, because it was very psychoanalytical, right? Freud and Lacan. And it was actually getting into week three with watching The Blood on Satan's Claw

 

MM: A banger!

LP: And for that week, we had Barbara Creed's The Monstrous-Feminine. It was like a light switch and everything clicked. How the lecturer would connect The Blood on Satan's Claw coming at a particular moment in history that was reflective of the kind of the changes or the perceived changes to childhood, with the depiction of Blake as this transgressive delinquent. I was like, yeah, interesting. So it was at that moment when these kind of three disciplines just meshed together. For me, gender history and film, or more specifically, horror film. So then in my master's with gender society and representation, I knew that I wanted to work on horror and gender for my dissertation, and I ended up working with this fabulous academic, Suzanne Kord who's worked a lot on children in horror. And I ended up doing my thesis on monstrosity, religion and motherhood reimagined, and I focused on the depictions of motherhood in 1960s and 70s horror cinema. So Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, Alice, Sweet Alice, and Carrie. There was this extreme focus on femininity throughout my academic journey, and I was like, well, what about the fathers? What about unity? What about patriarchy? Why are we not having these types of discussions? I saw this gap or identified this gap. We just talk about masculinity in horror like the male killers, right? You think of Leatherface,  you think of Jason, you think of Freddy and it's like horror has this obsession with the nuclear family society. So, what about fathers? From that, I think doing my master's is what set me up on the course for wanting to do film studies and wanting to do my PhD in fatherhood and masculinity. Because, well, one, I think it's so under-researched, outside of The Stepfather and The Shining.

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MM: Done ad nauseum.

LP: Right. So I think that's where it kind of started. For me, it was definitely a gradual process and a journey. But one I'm so happy that I'm on.

MM: And what you were saying about the nuclear family is so funny. And I think we both touched on it during Cine-Excess, even in the 70s and early 80s of the slasher films. I mean that's kind of where, like Randy Meeks gets his ten rules of horror films in Scream. Look at all these kids having sex. Look at these kids drinking. Look at these kids staying up too late. You're gonna die and it's like it's happened in every movie since Friday the 13th. Everybody, they were rolling around. Kevin Bacon gets it through the neck. Halloween, you know, PJ Soles with the pigtails bites it. It's like, have sex and you're a sitting duck. It's such a strong throughline through all of those films. Just be a good kid, come from a good home and none of this will happen to you and it's so bizarre because it's really coming from very liberal directors and writers. It was almost like it was trying to satisfy two demons, right? And you don't really see the fathers, or if you do see the fathers, they're really milquetoast-y. And they're not involved. They're dissociative. Are we still seeing those glaring discrepancies or those that absenteeism in modern horror?

LP: So that's a really interesting question and one that I'm being forced to think about a lot. In the last year of my Ph.D., as I'm researching, my conclusion is, if I'm saying there's this thing called "Ferocious Fatherhood" that's evolved archetypes like the Cannibal, the Faux Father, the Haunted Father, do these archetypes still exist in horror today? And I say yes they do, but they have just evolved. So thinking about the father as a cannibal, I think whereas in the 70s it was more straightforward with say, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, with the father quite literally as a cannibal and this notion of consumption, stagnation, and violence. I was thinking about Get Out and the depiction of Dean Armitage. As a patriarch he is an evolution of the Cannibal Father, he's consuming. He's a symbolic cannibal with the consumption of the Black body. So I think that that's the most interesting example. But we see the Faux Father is alive and well in many films. Even when thinking about The Conjuring series. The Faux Father is thriving, which is interesting given that society now is perceived as a lot less religious than it was in the 70s with the introduction of the Faux Father. The father as priest, is shining through. So I wonder why that profile is as important now as it was in the 70s.

MM: I actually did an article for Fangoria about the worst horror dads, which could have been like, 40 pages long. But Dean Armitage was one of them, and with his speech and what you were saying about that consumption, it's like he's learned that consumption from his father and his father, and not being able to let it go, to acknowledge that Jesse Owens beat him fair and square. How can he get back at an entire race? I'm righting the wrongdoings against me, and now I am carrying the torch on how to do it, and now I have taught my children, and now I found a partner who agrees with that type of mentality and their children, so it's like building a community based on that, that permeation and that consumption is so strange. They have found this community of other people who also want this control and the fact that it came from his father. It's a pyramid scheme for owning Black bodies, which is just outrageous. But how do you feel cinema going forward could be a little bit better? Representation and better representation for not only the lack of the nuclear family but also the father going forward.

LP: That's a really interesting question, and it's one that I've grappled with. Going back to Get Out, for example, we see something that we hadn't really seen before. For example, first watch, we're expecting Chris to die, right?

 

MM: Yeah, 100%. Or at the very least arrested.

LP: But he doesn't do either. Now, that's revolutionary in itself. The fact that Peele, as a Black male director, allows the main Black character to live. We are tired of narratives of Black people dying first and Black pain and Black anguish and I think what Get Out does with its ending is the death of that. That way of thinking. So Dean dies and Missy dies and Rose and Jeremy, that whole crew. So even though it's not eradicated from the wider society like you say, all those people that were willing to buy Chris are still out there chilling somewhere, right? The main perpetrators, Dean and Jeremy, the only ones doing the procedure, are eradicated. So in these films, there's definitely this call for an end to traditional patriarchal, racist ways of thinking. What I would like to see with horror cinema going forward is more stories that don't capitalize on Black pain. 

MM: Yes, yes, yes.

LP: How would the narrative have changed if Carrie was a Black girl? And maybe it was a single father. We're changing that scenario up now as well, which is nice – not always the single mother and child. I feel like we are starting to see more positive representations of families that aren't nuclear and I hope that as things progress, we'll see different familial models, different main protagonists, whether that be women of color, men of color, and I think going forward, it is heading there but, it's slow.

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MM: Yeah, it's quite glacial. I had done a keynote address for Prairie View Texas A&M, for my friend, Teresa Dowell-Vest, who is the Professor of Film Studies there, and we had done Nightmares for Monkeypaw, so it was a whole Jordan Peele Symposium, and it was amazing. But we had a breakout panel called "No, Don't go in there!" It was about Black people's call and response to horror films and kind of like commiserating with Regina Hall's character from Scary Movie and we focused on why we thought that the Black characters were dying first. And I think that we all kind of settled on the fact that we understand that we are very hyper-aware of our situations when we walk into any place. And the easiest thing for an adversary to do is to take us out because we know what their next move is before they do. And I was like, I'm satisfied with that, so I'm good. That's like you need to get rid of us to do your thing. Go ahead. That's fine. But it's funny that you know, we're finally seeing the Black guy make it all the way through the movie. Like he's the only one left, he is the final guy and that is legendary. In Nope we have pretty much the same situation. OJ's like, "Nope, not doing that." Very hyper-aware of the situation and you have OJ and Emerald making it to the end. But I think that hopefully we are getting to that level where we can, it just kind of and I almost don't want it to not be mundane, but we don't have to ride the Trauma Porn train anymore. Like, we can do this, right? How do we do that without every movie not being straight outta Cabrini-Green [in Chicago]?

I want to speak on identity further with the work that you produce such as your film, The Shedding, and how The Shedding speaks to personhood and sense of self and responsibilities. How did you go from study to production?

 

LP: It's a great question and I say that The Shedding was completely accidental and welcome at the same time, it's this massive paradox.

MM: The best kind.

LP: The best kind indeed. So, as I already mentioned to you, I've got this interest in representation, and again, like you, I'm super aware that a lot of the stories that I like and what I identify with, the protagonist never, ever, ever looks like me. Midsommar and The Witch are raw, great feminist films and beautifully done, beautiful stories. Hereditary as well. It's always oh, man, could we have a Black woman as a witch? Black women are excluded from the realms of folk horror. It kind of annoyed me and I was like, OK, well, there's nothing I can do. There's nothing I can do. And then I became more involved here at my university. Like meeting people from The Film Society. And I got really close to the co-director, William Dupere, who's a student who'd done a comedy film. So I asked, how do you do this, where do you start, what's the process? So we kind of had these meetings and I pitched the horror film and I asked if he would like to help and he said yes, which was amazing. Really great support and we just sat down and started storyboarding. Such a fun project, and I said to Will from the beginning that it's very important to me that this story features a woman of color as the protagonist. With the concept being, you know to shed one's skin, what does that mean to a woman of color? Like you're shedding off the skin of race and gender that society has placed on you yet it can feel so entrapping at the same time. Being a person of color, a woman of color, man of color, it is. It also comes with this form of empowerment and resistance, right? So really trying to get that through with the shedding story, but also because Will and I are very big fans of 80s horror and special effects incorporating that into it with, you know, like the skin, and you could do it from that angle and that was cool. It was a good experience. Obviously, the first time that I've ever done anything practical with filmmaking, but I say, you know what? It's a great start.

 

MM: You have to start somewhere, and I think especially with your influences and what kind of story that you want to tell, I mean that there's always that thing. It's like I'm not seeing myself on film. And the response is always, "Well make your own, then,"  or "Call Tyler Perry." Like, I've actually gotten that. "Do you think Tyler Perry would be interested?" No. No, I don't. I do not believe Tyler Perry would be interested at all. Thank you.

LP: That's so ridiculous!

MM:  And especially as someone who is a huge fan of practical effects, I think they're so effective, especially in a world that we live in right now, which is like very AI-focused and very CGI. I can't imagine what they would do with something like The Fly in this day and age or something like The Thing where those practical effects are so high level, I can't imagine anything helping further An American Werewolf in London, you know?

LP: Like what could you even do to enhance it?

MM: In that vein, is there anyone who's influenced your work or the idea for The Shedding? Any community support?

LP: I've had incredible support and great conversations with women like Suzanne Kord, and Melanie Light, who had directed The Herd, and Zoe Rose Smith from Ghouls Magazine  --  such forces to be reckoned with in the space of horror. Suzanne, incorporating horror into academia, and then obviously, Melanie Light with a revolutionary study and Zoe with running a magazine, so having that push really helped me hone into what I wanted to say. And with this last year at university and doing The Shedding I realize it does not have to be the end for my voice. It can continue after I finish university and whether that be, you know, lecturing in film, which I'd love to do. Or continuing to direct these films and showcasing women of color as the protagonists in these stories. You know there is scope for it and we need more women of color to be encouraged to tell our stories.

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MM: One hundred percent. That's kind of why Nyx became a collective, to elevate and celebrate stories that aren't getting the accessibility, and are getting told the funding isn't possible, and it's something that at this point should be accessible and available to marginalized creatives. I mean, there are no men's film labs. There are only women's film labs, and it's looking at that and it's like, Jesus Christ, we don't need more training. We need you to trust us with the project. And that is the only way that we are going to get a place. And unfortunately sometimes we've had to do it where it's taken, you know, a white man of a certain place to say, hey, believe in these guys but they're so few and far between. The belief in us shouldn't be something that's hard-won.

 

LP: We have to be given the tools. Like all I've done, this is not where I stop. This is where I kind of start. This is where my learning comes from, my schooling comes from, and this is how I've established myself and created a space in this community. It's really interesting going from studying horror in an academic space to then stepping to the other side of it and taking on the more practical approach with making The Shedding, which I also should mention, was a whole team of students that just have a passion for film, which I think is incredible. Even fundraising was really hard to raise our goal. You know, it's so easy for people to tell you, "Oh, just go and make a film." But you need money for makeup, locations, prosthetics, equipment, feeding your crew, and all these costs that you don't even think about at the initial stage. And it's nice when the project is shared with others, everyone on that set. So not just me and William as the co-directors, but from the set designers and the 1st AD. They're all there because they want to be. They're all passionate about film. They're all passionate about horror and it was just such a beautiful experience, and one in which you know, they say it takes a village, right? My journey into the horror industry is hard and sometimes I get frustrated. It can feel lonely. But having that community and having that village has really been the thing that's kind of kept me on my path and keeps on moving me forward and forward, which is an amazing thing.

 

MM: It's very helpful even if someone does not share your particular vision or passion for a project. It's so very helpful to have, like those silent hands on your back. Like, you know, whatever I can do to support you, let me know. I mean, I might not have time to help with this project, but like, what do you need? And that's so very rare for, especially for women of color that are working in the genre, having people who will advocate for us. So I always end by asking what is a film in the horror genre that you feel shaped the type of horror fan or horror creative that you are now?

 

LP: Uhm, Jesus. Wow. OK.

MM: I'll give you two, OK.

LP: OK, great. I'm gonna say The Blood on Satan's Claw.

MM: Again, an absolute banger choice.

LP: And Oh my God, I'm, like, fighting between five different picks.

MM: Give them all to me. Go ahead.

LP: Gonna have to say Night of the Living Dead, I think, yeah. You know. Yeah, because I think The Blood on Satan's Claw is like, gender fun. But then Night of the Living Dead has a racial element and aspect. Yeah. So I think, yeah, I'm happy with that.

MM: Love it. Lather, rinse, repeat. We've done it. Thank you so much for this chat, especially on accessibility, so close to my heart.

LD: Well, in terms of accessibility, something I had not mentioned before is I'm also neurodivergent.

 

MM: Me, too!

LP: I think people think of intersectionality with OK, you're a Black woman. But what about when you're a Black, disabled, or a neurodivergent woman of a certain age? Like the intersections keep on growing and I feel like the more you have these different intersections, whether you're Black and you're neurodivergent and a woman, it's becoming visible. And you must continue doing this work with Nyx Horror Collective because visibility is so important, and sometimes it can feel so performative, so this is fantastic. It is such a good initiative and I think that it will only help with bringing these marginalized voices from women of color and non-Binary people together, which is such a beautiful thing.

Lakkaya Palmer is a PhD researcher in Film Studies at University College London, exploring "Ferocious Fatherhood: A Crisis in Masculinity in American Horror Cinema (1970-1991)". Her lecture on The Ferocious Father will take place with the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies in London on November 21, 2023 at 7:00 PM GMT. Get tickets here.

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