Jovanka Vuckovic’s new tome is a wellspring of horror history esoterica.
As an 8-year-old, Jovanka Vuckovic wrote and illustrated a choose-your-own adventure story about a unicorn in which every choice ends in death. Not surprisingly, she went on to enjoy a storied career in horror that included stints as a visual effects artist (for which she won a Gemini Award), editor of the well-regarded Canadian horror magazine Rue Morgue, writer-director of the short film The Captured Bird and author of “Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead.” Her second book, a pocket-sized compendium entitled “Vuckovic’s Horror Miscellany,” hits shelves later this year. We caught up with Vuckovic in her hometown of Toronto, where she’s busy writing another film, growing organic vegetables and contemplating her next tattoo.
Geek: What inspired you to write this new book?
Vuckovic: My publisher asked me to do it. [Laughs] They were really happy with the previous book I had written for them and they have this line of gift books that started with “Pring’s Photographer’s Miscellany” that they wanted to expand. I took up writing and compiling duties on the horror book because that’s what I know. But the true reason I did it is because they said it was going to be printed on textured paper and have a ribbon in the spine. Every author secretly wants one of those on his or her shelf.
What do you think people would be most surprised to learn from the collection of facts that you’ve assembled?
Probably that the first vampire story ever written wasn’t “Dracula” ! It wasn’t even John Polidori’s “The Vampyre” .
What was it then?
You’ll have to read the book to find out!
Can a genre rookie get the book or is the material for the more advanced?
This is a book for the back of your toilet or coffee table — meant to be picked up and read in fragments, non-chronologically. It really is for everyone, but especially for anyone who wants proof that horror is a vital and respectable genre.
What criteria did you use to determine what made it into the book?
In only 98 pages, I had to keep it limited to the things I like best: paintings, poetry, theater, film, music, video games, personality bios, best-of lists and so on. So much had to get cut. That sucks, but it’s a pocket book. If I had kept going, it would no longer fit in your pocket.
You have tattoos of film monsters. Can you list some of them?
I have Max Schreck as Nosferatu, Andy from the superlative Canadian political horror film Deathdream, Vincent Price from Theatre of Blood, Lon Chaney from the lost silent film London After Midnight, Boris Karlof and Elsa Lanchester as the Monster and the Bride, respectively, Christopher Lee from The Horror of Dracula, portraits of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, a Cthulhu designed by Mike Mignola [“Hellboy”], a Hellboy piece, Santi from The Devil’s Backbone, the pale man from Pan’s Labyrinth, a flaming pumpkin for Washington Irving’s “Sleepy Hollow,” a crawling eye, a hideous Venus Flytrap, stitched wrists, an entire Blade Runner sleeve. I’d like to get a portrait of Rod Serling and Alice Guy-Blaché, the first woman filmmaker and narrative film pioneer.
What do you think the qualities are of a good story as they relate specifically to horror over other genres?
I think the best horror stories favor ambiguity. I like to use my imagination; otherwise what’s the point of reading?
I’ve heard that you prefer slow-moving zombies that never run. Any other rules in horror that you hate seeing broken on-screen?
The rule is that there are no rules. I like seeing people break the rules and not fall into clichés and familiar tropes. Recently, a critic accused me of falling into a female horror filmmaker cliché by making a short that he perceived to be about body image. But what he didn’t know at the time is that the film is essentially a remake of Martin Scorsese’s  short film The Big Shave, which was a metaphor for the Vietnam War. But if you put a woman in that scene, the perception changes. It’s interesting how people interpret the same idea in different ways because of the gender of the director. That said, I am taking off my makeup in it so I can see how that it might be thought of as an indictment of vanity and conventional beauty ideals.
Do you ever foresee a time when producers will no longer believe that boobs and scream queens are critical to making a box-office horror hit?
I support other women in the genre as much as I can because there really is a glass ceiling in the film business. The fact is, there’s a gender bias in the industry that makes it more difficult for women to get directing jobs. They say half of all film school graduates are women yet less than 5% of them are working as filmmakers in Hollywood. What does that tell you? In the early 1970s, Gloria Steinem gave an address to the women of America in which she spoke about a “society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen or those earned.” We have yet to arrive at this utopia. Some still believe women aren’t suited for the technical art of filmmaking. Even though Alice Guy-Blaché helped create narrative film as we know it, people think women can’t direct. Even though Ann Radcliffe helped define gothic fiction — the precursor to horror fiction as we know it — people think women can’t write horror. Even though a woman wrote “Frankenstein” — arguably the first science-fiction novel — people think women can’t do sci-fi. There’s this erroneous belief that women can’t make monsters. But we made all of you, didn’t we?
Good point! Beyond the obvious, what do you geek out about?
Blade Runner. I’m a total Blade Runner nerd. In fact, my proudest geek moment was appearing in two or three of the featurettes on the 25th anniversary Blade Runner Final Cut box set. Also, comics, models, motorcycles, The Twilight Zone, Philip K. Dick — I geek out over a lot of things. Nothing the god of biomechanics wouldn’t let you into heaven for.
Photos by Robert “Nix” Nixon