White Rock filmmaker is horror's rising star
What's a nice girl like Gigi Saul Guerrero doing in a place like this?
The White Rock-raised filmmaker directs people to hack and slice each other on camera for a gory genre of movies where sexy imagery collides with grisly special effects.
And she's getting famous for it, through shorts like M is for Matador, which she wrote and directed for a recent competition, ABCs of Death 1.5.
Just turned 24, the Mexico-born Earl Marriott grad (class of 2008) is already attracting international attention with screenings of her short films at last year's British Horror Film Festival in London and the Viscera Film Festival in Hollywood, and the Little Rock (Ark.) Horror Picture Show this week.
Aware of the irony of being a "girl" in a largely male-dominated field, she's determined to bring filmmaking craft, storytelling skill and suggestion to what can often be a mindless, exploitative genre.
"I want to be known as a regular filmmaker – who loves babes, gore and blood," she said.
For her, the biggest thrill is using film to get a reaction from filmgoers – even jaded festival habitués.
"The scariest thing is often the imagination of the audience," she said, noting she often steps back from common extremes of gore and nudity and insists that events are strongly and logically rooted in the story she is telling.
Now (together with her LuchaGore Productions partners, cinematographer/director Luke Bramley and producer Raynor Shima) Guerrero is poised on the brink of breaking into feature films in the genre in a big way.
Her short, Dia De Los Muertos, is to be included in the Mexican-produced multiple-director anthology movie, Mexico Barbaro, alongside work by major horror filmmaker Lex Ortega and well-established idiom directors Aaron Soto, Edgar Nito, Isaac Ezban, Jorge Michel Grau Laurette Flores and Ulises Guzman.
And the 2011 Peninsula Arts Foundation grant recipient (the Linda Klitch Memorial Award) – and B.A. in Motion Picture Production from Capilano University – is launching an online crowd-source Kickstarter.com fundraiser for Luchagore's first feature project, El Gigante, first part of an adaptation of U.S. horror author Shane McKenzie's Muerto Con Carne, which she will co-direct with Bramley.
Guerrero's style can be clearly seen in the well-staged, slickly filmed and edited revenge fantasies, Dia De Los Muertos and M is for Matador.
Filmed mostly with local crews and an evolving stock company of players in the Lower Mainland, the shorts show the strong ties she maintains with her Hispanic heritage and a fascination with macabre imagery that runs deep in Mexican culture.
A working actress herself, Guerrero enjoys working with well-cast actors – such as Dia De Los Muertos' Adelita Rockhill and Gary Starkell to develop powerful screen characterizations.
In contrast with the naked and objectified victim figures common to her chosen genre, Guerrero's women, scantily clad as they may be, emerge as figures of power, ultimately ready to strike back – with blood-spattering ferocity – against the men who abused them.
In The Matador, a mini-masterpiece of dramatic compression lasting a bare three minutes, the women turn the tables on a brutal psychopath who has imprisoned them for a ritual simulation of the bull ring.
In the 12-minute Dia De Los Muertos, the dancers in a sleazy Mexico City strip club – their faces painted in skull-like designs for the popular Day of the Dead festival – unleash vengeful fury on the denizens of their establishment (including, in a cameo, well-known local actor/writer Mike Roberds of 'Addams Family' fame).
The raw power of her film work, and Guerrero's own striking looks, would tend to prepare an interviewer for a subject both fiery and mercurial.
In person, she turns out to be a quiet, soft-spoken, unassuming young woman one can well believe still maintains her day gig as a skating teacher at Centennial Arena.
So what started her on the path to becoming a rising star of the gore genre?
There's no simple answer, Guerrero said.
"I don't know where it came from – it's really a mystery," she said, adding with a chuckle that she's not the "crazy person" some of the imagery she dreams up might suggest.
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She grew up in a cultured family, she noted, including her sister – young opera singer and actress Shadan Saul – and her father, Fabian, a local realtor who also plays the cello.
"My mother is always saying to me 'when are you going to make a kids' movie?'" she added.
A mark of her family's pride and support for her filmmaking efforts is the fact that they cater Mexican cuisine for LuchaGore shoots, which necessarily take place in a world of sub-low-budget filmmaking where most crew and cast participation is for credits and 'deferred' remuneration.
"Even if we can't pay people, we can make sure we feed them very, very well," she said, adding that participants always seem to enjoy being part of the violent make-believe.
Her family emigrated to Canada when she was 13, she said, and she enrolled at Earl Marriott shortly after she arrived.
"I always had a fascination with film," she said. "I was studying animated movies a lot because I wanted to be a cartoonist/animator, and I realized in high school that I love theatre and acting – particularly anything funny.
"But I never thought that (live action) film would be something I wanted to do, even though I appeared in a little commercial when we first came to Canada. I remember being interested in the lights and camera then – I guess my interest in it grew bigger and bigger."
But even though she has fond memories of working with drama teachers Rick Harmon and Candace Radcliffe and appeared in one of Marriott's one act play festivals, her consuming interest during high school was in athletics.
"I was a huge sports person – volleyball, hockey, ringette. I was also into swimming a lot – I'd done that competitively in Mexico."
But there were early signs of the attention to detail that has made her an excellent director of action. Her interest in animation now manifests itself in thorough storyboarding of scenes (Guerrero acknowledges that she and Bramley, who first interested her in the horror genre, will often do test videos to work out staging, camera angles and editing 'beats' before filming begins).
"Through animation I always had an obsession of seeing mistakes on film – even little errors in Disney movies like Bambi and Cinderella."
Nowadays, her movie inspirations are more likely to be filmmakers like James Wan, Rob Zombie, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.
But she laughs when she remembers how much she nagged her parents to take her to the theatrical rerelease of The Exorcist in 2000 – at that point the scariest things she'd ever seen were television screenings of The Fly and E.T.
"They said 'OK, you want to get scared so much, we'll take you.' I was 10, and I was stoked – I finally get to see a horror film.
"It was the most traumatizing thing I'd ever seen in my life."
To see Guerrero's work, visit www.luchagoreproductions.com