2020 Interviews

Collecting Movies with Mallory O’Meara

Mallory O'Meara The Lady from the Black Lagoon

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Filmmaker and screenwriter Mallory O’Meara is the author of The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick. The book subject was an artist and designer responsible for, among other things, creating the look of the Creature from the Black Lagoon — despite never receiving due credit for her work.

With her friend Brea Grant, O’Meara hosts the literary podcast “Reading Glasses.”The Lady from the Black Lagoon was nominated for a Hugo Award and a Locus Award, and received the 2019 Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for Book of the Year.

Greg Carlson: What is your book-reading/movie-watching ratio?

Mallory O’Meara: I do read way more than I watch movies. Which is surprising, considering I am a filmmaker, and I wrote The Lady from the Black Lagoon, and I am such a huge monster movie fan. I read two or three hours every day, sometimes more. I probably watch a movie once a week, or every two weeks.

GC: Do you keep a movie collection?

MO: Strangely enough, I don’t. My apartment is wall-to-wall books. My partner and I just moved in together, and we both have massive home libraries. He keeps quite a number of Blu-rays and DVDs, but you can count the number of DVDs that I own on one hand. I think I’ve kept about four or five DVDs.

That comes from moving around and downsizing. I’ve moved multiple times during the past seven years. This is the first time in my life that I’ve owned a television. Before, I watched movies on my laptop. I was very excited when streaming services launched.

Most of the movies I watch now are streaming. One of the only movies I own is Creature from the Black Lagoon. I also have The Wolf Man. The Shape of Water, too.

GC: Do you own “Creature” on more than one format?

MO: I don’t. I am one of those strange people for whom sound and image quality don’t matter. My boyfriend is nuts for Blu-ray and 4K, but you could play music for me out of a tin can and I wouldn’t even notice. It’s just something that doesn’t matter to me at all.

GC: When you were a kid, how did you find your way to movies?

MO: Almost always on television. We did go to the video store, and sometimes we would go to the movies, but most of my habits were formed by just finding things on TV, and discovering horror by myself, and falling in love with it there.

There isn’t anyone in my family who is a monster fan or a horror fan, so I had to show myself the way. I didn’t see a horror movie in a theater until I was an adult.

GC: What were the circumstances of your first viewing of “Creature”?

MO: I first saw Creature from the Black Lagoon when I was a teenager. I was already, by that point, an incorrigible, incurable monster fan, and I wanted to give myself an education in the classics. I love this genre. I’m a huge nerd.

I needed to figure out where to start, and the best place to start in the monster world is the classic Universal series. I collected them, and “Creature” was the very last one that I saw. He’s the last addition to that pantheon. I watched it on DVD and absolutely fell in love.

Creature from the Black Lagoon Movie Film

GC: My elementary school librarian showed me the orange Crestwood House monster books, and that was my introduction to Creature from the Black Lagoon long before I ever got to see the movie.

MO: Those books are super special.

GC: And now, outrageously expensive and highly sought by collectors. I recently saw a copy of “Creature” going for 500 dollars.

MO: Not surprised.

GC: Do you read the book first or watch the movie first?

MO: Read the book before you see the movie. I like being able to form my own depictions of the characters and the situations. I do not, however, subscribe to the idea that the book is always better. I won’t name any because we have a hard rule for the podcast that we don’t speak ill of books we don’t like.

GC: I was really excited to see Under the Skin,  and during my first screening, I kept wondering when certain things from the book were going to happen. It wasn’t until the second or third time I watched it that I was comfortable with the world of the book and the world of the movie existing independently of one another. Are there genres besides horror and science fiction that you seek out?

MO: I gravitate most of the time toward horror and monsters. I will watch any horror or monster movie. I also love anything strange. My favorite filmmaker is David Lynch.

GC: Lynch is in a class by himself. What’s your favorite?

MO: It bounces around. I love Wild at Heart. My two cats are named after the main characters. But I also love Fire Walk with Me, and I’m a huge Eraserhead fan. My choice always depends on where I am in life and what’s going on. But right now, Wild at Heart.

Wild at Heart Movie Film

GC: I saw Wild at Heart three times in theaters. Once in Los Angeles, once in Minneapolis and once in Fargo. At least one person walked out at each screening, so I knew Lynch was doing something right. I am also dying to hear about your favorite Twin Peaks characters.

MO: I’ve been up to Snoqualmie and North Bend multiple times. It’s hard to choose a favorite because there are so many wonderful characters, and they all resonate in so many different ways. I love Norma Jennings so much. I love Hawk. Cooper, obviously.

The thing that’s amazing about Twin Peaks is that it’s an Everlasting Gobstopper. Every time you watch it, you can find a new character to appreciate. I used to hate Bobby Briggs, and now he’s one of my favorites.

GC: Bobby Briggs is so perfect in the third season. We could talk about David Lynch all day.

MO:  Not only will I see any David Lynch movie, I will watch anything described as Lynchian. Anything weird. I also love the stuff A24 puts out.

If it’s novel and surprising and different, I’m in. I’m also committed to seeing the work of female filmmakers. Doesn’t matter what genre it is if it’s directed and written by women.

GC: What have you watched recently?

MO: I just saw Blow the Man Down, written and directed by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, and that movie will definitely be one of my favorites of the year. It’s a small-town thriller, very much a mystery, very much a drama. It absolutely blew me away.

Blow the Man Down Movie Film

GC: I can’t wait to see it. You grew up in Massachusetts, a place with a rich history of horror movies and horror literature.

MO: I have always been a big reader. I had read nearly everything in the house and one day, on my mom’s bookshelf, I found the Creepshow comic adaptation that anthologized all the stories from the movie. It terrified me, but it intrigued me so much that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started seeking out more and more monster stories.

GC: Is your book collection carefully alphabetized and organized?

MO: The books are very carefully organized, but not alphabetized. I keep them by genre because that’s the way I like to browse. One side of the apartment is fiction, the other side is nonfiction, and the graphic novels are in the office. I arrange by horror, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, poetry, etc. I like having it set up in the same way as a bookstore, so I can locate what I need for research or just stuff I want to read.

GC: What is the most cherished item in your collection?

MO: I have a few. I have collected some rare books. I love special horror books but I am also a massive fan of Ray Bradbury. A few years ago, I received as a gift the edition of Fahrenheit 451 illustrated by Ralph Steadman, signed by both Bradbury and Steadman.

GC: Do you have other touchstone films that you think aspiring horror creators should watch?

MO: Besides David Lynch, I would choose Guillermo del Toro. His films may be in the neighborhood of horror even when they are not straight-up horror. I write about The Shape of Water in The Lady from the Black Lagoon. For that kind of movie to win Best Picture at the Oscars was a victory for monster fans.

GC: Everyone who loves monsters and everyone who loves movies needs to read The Lady from the Black Lagoon.

MO: Thank you. Every project I do is inspired by my own personal curiosity. I wrote The Lady from the Black Lagoon because I desperately wanted to know what happened to Milicent Patrick. I’m currently working on Girly Drinks because I wanted to know about the history of women drinking.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon is available now in hardcover, paperback and an audiobook version narrated by the author.

Greg Carlson (@gcarlson1972) is an associate professor of communication studies and the director of the interdisciplinary film studies minor program at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. He is also the film editor of the High Plains Reader, where his writing has appeared since 1997.

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