Zoë Rose Smith, also known as Zobo, is a writer, podcaster, YouTuber, and self-styled Queen of extreme horror. She is the creator of the extreme horror website Zobo With A Shotgun and the editor-in-chief of Ghouls Magazine. I spoke to Zoë about the launch of her new magazine, which provides insight, analysis, and criticism on the horror genre through female perspectives. The interview has been briefly edited for purposes of article publication.
First of all, thank you for taking the time to chat and congratulations on the launch of Ghouls Magazine! Can you start off by telling us a bit about the magazine and what led you to start it up?
I studied journalism at university and I always knew that I wanted to go into something to do with horror films. I actually had a really interesting conversation once with a guy from Heat Magazine here in the UK who basically said there was a lot of room for women in horror and to have female voices in the horror genre. At that time, I hadn’t really gotten into the industry yet and I guess I hadn’t really explored anything to do with film criticism or what perspectives were out there. I think it was only over the last ten years that I really got into horror film criticism and I think over the last couple of years I noticed that unfortunately, it was quite a male-dominated industry. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy those perspectives, because I certainly do, but watching certain films I was kind of just going, ‘I’d like to hear a woman’s take on this one’.
One thing that really hit a chord was, and I love his film criticism, but Mark Kermode. He actually reviewed I Spit on Your Grave and called it misogynist and demeaning to women. Quite a few male critics really slammed I Spit on Your Grave as being horrible towards women. And I started asking around because I watched and found it really empowering, and it seems like a lot of people with a female perspective also find it really empowering. So, then I kind of had this idea that it would be amazing to bring together marginalised voices. My original idea was mainly focusing on women, but then I found that there was a large trans and non-binary community that had similar perspectives that tied into what we call ‘the female perspective’, which is not necessarily a woman’s perspective. And then there was a lot of time in lockdown and I thought, do you know what, it’s probably time to put that project together. Lockdown just allowed Ghouls Magazine to happen and here we are!
What was your first experience with horror and are there any works that shaped your love for the genre?
My first experience with horror was The Evil Dead, which absolutely terrified me. I know that it’s seen as a bit of a slapstick comedy, but I think the first film is still quite scary. I remember watching it, I was probably about thirteen, so, compared to a lot of people, that’s quite old. I always remember the person who said they saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when they were four, and I was like, ‘your parents aren’t great, but that’s okay!’. So, I saw The Evil Dead at thirteen and it just blew my mind. My dad was like, ‘we probably shouldn’t have let you watch that’, but I was like, ‘no this is awesome, I need to see more of this’. So, I think for me that was a very influential piece of work because it was absolutely the first film where I realised that horror is the thing for me.
I think the first really extreme film I watched was Cannibal Holocaust. I was at university doing my dissertation and I was talking about desensitisation to violence through horror films. I stumbled across Cannibal Holocaust when looking into found footage films and I was watching it and was like, ‘whoa, this is the kind of thing I like’. So that was hugely impactful on my life.
And then I think another film that I often don’t really mention as being quite influential was Irreversible. My parents actually got me to sit in between them on the sofa and watch Irreversible, and I can tell you, watching a ten-minute rape scene in between your parents is probably one of the most awkward situations ever, but they were so keen to show me foreign filmmaking and something that was different to anything that I’d seen. They were like, ‘if you like extreme then here you go, watch this’, and that really opened my eyes to the world of filmmaking and how beautiful but at the same time how disturbing it can be.
The magazine is all about female voices, do you have any favourite horror films by female writers or directors?
I do, there’s a ridiculous amount to mention, which I think is quite a funny point actually because when you think of horror there are so many notable male directors, which I also love. When you think of the big icons, you think of John Carpenter, Wes Craven, you don’t think of anyone else. But through Ghouls Magazine, we, fortunately, have an amazing team who also have been like, ‘oh, did you know this was made by a female?’. So, it’s been eye-opening.
I love American Psycho by Mary Harron. I really like Mary’s translation of the book as a story about male toxicity and I think it’s really interesting that a female was so keen on directing a film that’s seen as quite misogynistic. But I love the film, I love the character, I also adore the book, it’s horrific to read and I found out you should not read it in public places where people read over your shoulder! I think it’s just really interesting to see a female direct a film that has such a commentary on violence towards women. But I think she handled it really well.
Then a more recent film is Raw by Julia Ducournau. I adore that film, I think it just speaks so much to being a female, coming of age, lust, physical attraction, and also relationships with other females, especially sisters and females in the family. It’s probably one of the most powerful films that have been made in a very long time.
What’s the best horror film you’ve seen recently and what did you love about it?
Recently I actually saw Rosemary’s Baby for the first time. For some reason, I just kept avoiding it and convinced myself that I’d seen it. So, I finally got round to watching it because it was definitely a blind spot in my horror watching and I just thought it was fantastic. I thought that it really looked at gaslighting. I also thought that it looked at the fears of becoming a mother and having a child. I think there are a lot of issues similar to that which aren’t as explored. I think they are becoming a little more prevalent in recent cinema with a film like Swallow, for instance, that obviously looks at the things that women put their bodies through, unwanted pregnancies, our supposed need to have this perfect life and be a perfect wife, mother, etc. I think it was really interesting to see a film like Rosemary’s Baby released back then that looks so closely at that fear. I’m not a mother myself, but the thought of becoming a mother absolutely petrifies me. I watched Rosemary’s Baby and was like, ‘that’s all the fears I have’. I think as well, it looks at how women are often painted as crazy when we have certain emotions that might be slightly irrational to the people outside us, but those are the emotions we feel, especially during pregnancy. You must feel so vulnerable and so paranoid about what’s to come, it’s a very life-changing moment. It just blew me away as a film and I wasn’t quite expecting it to.
All of those issues go back to why I wanted to set up Ghouls Magazine. These are issues that really do affect us and play a lot on our lives. I don’t think they are spoken about a lot. When you look at a lot of horror films, they might not even be talking about these things directly, but you can take a lot away from them and go, ‘actually, there’s deeper meaning there’. There’s something in that for me that’s so different to the perspective of anyone else that is watching this. That’s such an interesting point to take away from it. I just love discovering movies where they have that perspective that’s so relatable.
Is there a horror film you’re particularly looking forward to seeing next?
My watch list is ridiculous. I’m a big fan of extreme, so I’ve got lots of very extreme, gory movies constantly added to my list. Unfortunately, as much as I love them, you really do have to be in the mood to watch an hour and a half of just pure torture and desecration of a human body. It’s quite hard to watch and I think as I get older I kind of go, ‘a little bit of storyline would be nice to mix up these body parts!’.
I am really looking forward to Nia DaCosta’s Candyman. I revisited the original Candyman and I don’t love it. I think I’m actually going to prefer the remake, which I know is a bit controversial.
And then I’m really looking forward to Violation by Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli, which is a rape-revenge film that I’ve heard is quite tough going. I hate saying I’m a fan of rape-revenge because it seems like such a weird thing to say, but I am a fan of that subgenre. I think it’s really powerful and personally, I get a lot out of it. I find that there’s a lot to take from that, so I’m really looking forward to Violation because I’d heard only incredible things.
Another film I’m really looking forward to is Censor by Prano Bailey-Bond, which goes down the extreme horror route. It’s a bit of a take on Mary Whitehouse and the days of censorship here in the UK, which obviously for a lot of the films that I really love was a time that really stopped them from getting distributed and caused a lot of controversies. It’s a bit of a jab in the stomach to Mary Whitehouse and the days of heavy censorship and how they’re almost still here. Again, I’ve heard amazing things about that.
What do you think draws you to the extreme side of horror?
That, I’ve spent many hours trying to delve into. I really got into it after my mum passed away a long time ago, probably about ten years ago when I was at university. Grief in everyone causes a strange reaction and I think after we go through grief, we often become a bit numb to the world. I think I was looking for something where I could get that oomph back in life after feeling so miserable for such a long time. So, I started watching really nasty underground horror movies and it made me realise that there are worse things in life than someone dying. I think I just like the fact that it evokes quite an extreme emotional response, you don’t really get that elsewhere.
Lastly, is Ghouls Magazine open to pitches? How can people contribute?
We are open to pitches. Anyone can drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and myself or our amazing assistant editor Rebecca will pick up emails and get back to pitches. If anyone is interested in sending something through, just shoot us an email. We never leave our computers anymore, so we are always online!