Week 21: “The Magic of a Lucky McKee Film”
Lucky McKee is a brilliant writer and director of some innovative and personal horror films! Who is Lucky McKee you might ask? Well, he’s one of the horror genre’s success stories in terms of crafting some of the best horror films in the last 15 years. If you’re among the female audience then I’m sure you know his name well as most of his films are anchored by strong female characters with strong performances from some unlikely actors.
McKee hit the ground running with his first feature May (2002) which introduced the world to Angela Bettis, one of the genre’s greatest actors right now. Bettis plays a recluse of a woman who tries to create the perfect boyfriend of her dreams when the real world just doesn’t live up to her expectations. She just decides to take the best parts of living people to do so. It was not only a breakout performance for Bettis but also an atmospheric debut film from a director wanting to tell a personal story in a very psychologically gruesome way. It’s a slow descent into madness for Bettis’ character that the audience is forced to endure and (hopefully) empathize with by the end.
It would be four years before McKee would again step into the light but this time it was a one-two-three combo punch starting with his Masters of Horror episode “Sick Girl” which reunited him with his muse Bettis in a monster film that was unlike any other. This well received episode was a highlight of that season of the series and cemented these two creative minds as a force to be reckoned with. They would again collaborate in a different way by switching roles with the feature Roman (2006), in which Bettis would direct McKee (who also wrote the screenplay) as the loner recluse whose life would fall into a dark abyss similar to the fate of Bettis’ character in May. May and Roman are companion films in which these two creative genius’ would experiment with similar themes just from different gender perspectives.
McKee’s next film would veer into more supernatural territory with The Woods (2006). Despite the realistic nature of his previous films this film would feel more like his first short film All Cheerleaders Die (2001) mixed with a little of Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977). This film may not star Bettis (although she does lend her voice in the film) but it is anchored by a powerful performance from Agnes Bruckner.
McKee wouldn’t fare as well with his next film Red (2008) in that he would be replaced as director during filming by Trygve Allistar Diesen. Despite this set back the film still retains enough of McKee’s style and it is anchored by a powerful performance by Brian Cox. This is McKee’s first film not anchored by a female star but it does show that he’s just as adept with male actors as he is with the female ones. The biggest note to make of this production is that it was the start of his collaborations with novelist Jack Ketchum of which the film is based. The two had such a great working relationship together that The Woman (2011) became their next production. Ketchum and McKee also co-wrote the novel for the film as well. This is the sequel to a previous novel but it is completely self-contained. Bettis returns for this film but in a smaller role and this film is filled with great performances by an ensemble cast. It should also be noted that McKee also produced the film adaptation of Kechum’s novel The Lost (2006), directed by McKee’s friend Chris Sivertson.
After the heavy subject matter of these previous films McKee decided to have a little fun by collaborating with his friend Sivertson on the feature version of All Cheerleaders Die (2013) which is one of the most creative modern witchcraft films since The Craft (1996). It’s unlike any film he has ever done before but McKee manages to continue supporting a large female cast that are better than expected.
McKee is now putting the finishing touches on his part of the anthology film Tales of Halloween which is sure not to disappoint. His films present audiences with strong female performances, sharp wit and atmosphere. He doesn’t present easy stories but delves into the darker desires of his characters which can mirror our own. Even when faced with many challenges (i.e. Red) he’s able to overcome and present a great film which not a lot of directors can claim. There’s a magic to his films that is undeniable, so, if you’ve never taken a chance on any of his films, now’s a good time to try.