WOMEN IN HORROR: Louise Keay Bell on Animation and Women in the Horror Genre

Louise Keay Bell is an award-winning artist, illustrator, animator, and all around awesome person. She graduated from the Edinburgh College of Arts with a bachelor’s of arts degree in animation. Her animated short film won the Best Animation award in the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival and was even nominated for a Royal Television Award in the Best Animation Student category.

I got to meet up with Louise at this year’s Glasgow Horror Festival to discuss making short films, breaking into the horror genre as a woman, and a whole lot more.

C: That’s a big leap to go from fashion into animation.

L: I kind of like the idea of fashion but I didn’t actually enjoy the practice of it. So I was more interested in telling stories and drawing and I’ve always liked writing stories.

C: What kind of stories would you write?

L: Eh, really strange stories. Mostly about animals. Kind of spooky, even as a child, I was into spooky stuff. And I thought animation, that’s kind of a combination of storytelling and drawing. That’s kind of what drew me into animation.

C: What films used to creep you out as a kid?

L: I was always terrified of Watership Down. That scene where the rabbits get caught in the snare and all the bloods coming out and the tractor comes over and all the rabbits get stuck underground. There’s that surreal kind of animation sequence with all the little wee rabbits all clawing up through the tunnels and their eyes kind of roll back. It’s such strong imagery for a children’s film.

C: What’s your favourite medium to use?

L: I’m quite traditional so I like drawing with ink. It’s the same with animation as well. I like doing hand drawn animation. I draw on paper and it’s really time consuming. But there’s something about the natural hand-drawn line that’s quite hard to do.

C: What was the process like writing and also animating your short film, Heart of Dust?

L: It’s a long story. We had to make a final year film at art school and we had to come up with an idea for that. So we went on a research trip and there was a real interest in urban exploration. Which is going into abandoned buildings and photographing them. So I went to this old abandoned asylum in Scotland. It was really gothic looking and it had all these old twisted trees and crows flying around the clock towers. I was walking around it and then I actually ended up bumping into this old couple that was out walking their dog and they actually used to work in the asylum.

They ended up telling me about all these horror stories about the patients there and how horrible it was. How all the patients were all cramped together. That a lot of them ended up homeless or suicidal after the asylum’s closed down. I was really shocked by it really. Then that allowed me to go on and research all about asylums and I decided that I really wanted to make a film about this forgotten part of history that people don’t talk about. Like how next to the asylum there was this graveyard of all the patients and how there weren’t any gravestones just markers with numbers on them and they went up to something like three hundred. It was just completely forgotten and over grown with weeds and it was really sad. So I wanted to make a sort of ghostly film with all these different voices from history.

The main character in the film, it’s quite ambiguous, he’s kind of like a homeless person still living in the abandoned asylum and how he can’t escape the past. I lot of people saw it as a metaphor for depression.

C: Do you find it difficult to break into the horror genre being a woman?

L: Really difficult. Yeah.

C: What are some of the problems that you face with that?

L: Well, I’m making a horror film at the moment that combines live action with animation and it was really difficult finding funding for that. I applied to Creative Scotland and it wasn’t accepted.

C: Do you think that has to do with the fact that you’re a woman?

L: It could be a factor but I’m not quite sure. I know that it’s difficult in general to make a living off of art and especially filmmaking. But there is a definite underrepresentation of female directors in the industry.

C: Do you get any hateful messages from social media about your work?

L: All the time. I get creepy messages from guys all the time whenever I post my art.

C: Do you have a particular instance of this happening that stands out in your mind? 

L: Yeah, this guy was asking me if I worshipped the devil. Then asked if I wanted to meet up with him to have sex and he wanted me to send him a magic spell. It was just really bizarre. I was just winding him up. I pretended to be this insane creepy person. To just out-creep him. Like, I ended up telling him that I was going to put a curse on him. Then he got really scared. He ended up begging me not to put a curse on him. So I told him if he donated to my film I wouldn’t curse him.

C: So tell me about this upcoming short that you’re working on.

L: It’s called Tealeaves. It’s about these ghost hunters that do a séance with a Ouija board in an old abandoned mansion. They accidentally summon three different ghosts. The film cuts back and forth between the real world and the spirit world. In the spirit world there’s a wendigo demon, a banshee, and a little animated cat ghost. So the three of them come and they start fighting over who gets to use the Ouija board. The ghost hunters can’t see them. So it’s combining live action and animation.

C: Out of all the monsters, what’s your favourite?

L: I like the Japanese cat monsters. There’s the Bakeneko and the Nekomata. They’re these cats that were abused that come back as these kind of crazy cats with lots of tails. To go and get revenge on their cruel owners. There’s one that has a flaming chariot. I just love that idea.

C: Thanks so much for speaking with me today, Louise.

L: You’re welcome.

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