To celebrate International Women’s Day 2018, filmmaker Kate Herron (director of the Idris Elba-starring miniseries Five By Five and fantastic shorts like Rest Stop, Fan Girl, Valentine and Kill List: The Musical) and her team are releasing their brilliant and critically acclaimed horror comedy short film Smear, which stars Flowers‘ Sophia Di Martino as a woman dreading her first pap smear test. How bad could it be? Well, Smear has that great Little Shop Of Horrors/Gremlins tone, as tentacle monsters promptly emerge to cause gooey chaos and a dance sequence.
Written by Herron and her writing partner Briony Redman, produced by Douglas Cox (Dawn Of The Deaf) and featuring creature effects by Ben Wheatley’s regular collaborator Dan Martin, it’s both a film that is described by its filmmakers as “lubetastic” and punctures the fear surrounding the titular procedure. “Cervical cancer is the most common cancer for most women under 35 but the lowest attendance rates are for that age bracket – mainly due to embarrassment that our film talks about,” says Herron. “The cancer is 75% preventable with early screening but the issue is when women don’t attend they miss this window. Nine women die everyday and two will be diagnosed every day.”
How did Smear come about?
I had the makings of the idea after my first Smear test. I remember a friend told me it’d be the most uncomfortable thing that ever happened to me and it really wasn’t. I knew I wanted to make a film about this because it’s a massive issue, a lot of women don’t go because of this anxiety. I spoke to my writing partner Briony and she had a similar experience so yes, tentacles felt the most natural way to explore this.
Did you always have that light Little Shop of Horrors tone in mind?
Yes, I really love creature movies where the monster has a sense of humour like in Gremlins. I wanted our vagina-creature to enjoy itself in the chaos it created. Also because of the subject matter the light tone felt like the right way to say what we wanted. We wanted to show that it’ll never be as bad as the drama in your head or as embarrassing as our movie.
Were there raised eyebrows when you told people that you were making a short film about pap smear anxiety with tentacle monsters? Or did you find that people kind of got it?
I made a film before with a dancing hammer in it so I think people who know me weren’t surprised. We did get a lot of raised eyebrows from members of the public though. We made the short around our other work so a lot of my preproduction calls were on public transport. I remember talking to our SFX artist Dan on the phone and talking about how far we should go with the tentacle and being like “let’s go full vagina”
What was the process like of actually putting it together and assembling the team?
I was in the middle of developing a comedy-horror feature with Briony (writing partner) and Doug (the producer) so the short was a great way for us to make a film together. We were lucky to have support from the brilliant Enfield-based Talkies Cinema fund with Shortsighted Cinema. They gave us money towards our effects and helped us find locations and extras. Our teams are brilliant! It was really great to work with such a funny cast (including Sophia Di Martino from C4, Flowers) and reunite with some of them who have been in previous films of mine, along with a kickass crew. I enjoyed the whole process from being on set to post and working with composer Patrick Jonsson on the “Dance of the Tentacles” song.
Had you worked with creature effects before? How did you find that process?
I hadn’t and working with Dan Martin (BIFA-nominated SFX Artist) was amazing. My boyfriend is a horror director and we’ve had this demon head sitting on our fridge for ages that Dan made and I remember feeling jealous everytime I saw it because I love monster movies. It was great to finally get to make something with a horror element to it, Dan is so thorough about the science behind the monster and also the personality, it was great to work with him.
How long did you have to shoot? Was there a lot of time pressure?
We shot the whole film over a weekend. There was time pressure because we had stunts with actors being dragged about along with tentacle puppets but everyone was great. Sophia Di Martino in particular, our lead actor who had to throw herself around the room, get covered in gunge etc. was a real action hero.
How have you found the reaction at festivals so far?
I’ve really enjoyed it. Most of the time people laugh but I’m always really happy when people are a little bit horrified by it. I remember hearing a voice in one screening when the first tentacle comes out and they muttered, “Oh no”
You seem to have dipped in and out of genres in your work so far. Do you find you’re drawn to any one in particular?
I’d say comedy is a constant that is running through them all but I love genre and jumping around.
Is there something about the short film format in particular that you really love?
I get asked this a lot! I’ve made a lot of shorts. Last year there was a retrospective for my shorts and I think that’s normally a message from the industry saying “please stop” but I think they’re a great way to work with new people and try out new ideas.
Can you tell us anything about the sci-fi film you’re working on with Briony Redman, Miss Universe?
I can tell you that it’s about a beauty pageant under alien attack where the beauty queens become our heroes. It’s sort of comedic version of The Thing but set at a beauty pageant and with aliens that have glitter blood.
Finally, do you have a favourite horror comedy?
This is a hard question! Maybe Army of Darkness? Little Shop Of Horrors messed me up the most. I had so many nightmares about Audrey II growing up but Scream is a film I’ve watched more than most movies. I love it.