Sexuality, sex, fear, desire, capitalism and Christian patriarchy: just a few themes the latest issue of Suspira Magazine touches on. First launched by London-based editor and creative editor Valentina Egoavil Medina in 2018, Suspira explores horror as a genre entirely through a female lens, with each issue exploring a different archetype of fear and fascination.
Their inaugural "The Monster" issue was dedicated to the darkness of the human psyche, while the latest – "The Fetish" issue – examines societal fears of female sexuality and the relationship between horror and sex. Or, as Valentina says: "It's an invitation to discover the pleasure of your own desires, no matter how forbidden they may seem."
It's a pertinent time to examine this, Medina tells VICE, given that the horror genre can help us shed light on the issues that continue to haunt women – the rollback on women’s reproductive rights in the West in recent years, for example.
The portrayal of women in horror has oscillated for decades between damsels in distress, villains and scream queens – all of which are deftly interwoven through Suspira's pages. Through spreads featuring the history of sex in slasher films, an award-winning photo series on fetish gear shot in the Entomology Department at Manchester Museum, an interview with Kristen J Sollée (author of Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring The Sex Positive) and erotic imagery, the zine establishes a new narrative for women in the genre beyond those well-trodden tropes.
With "The Fetish" issue now released, we spoke Valentina about why now is the right time to investigate the intersection of horror and sex, and why she hopes that people might learn something new about their fears and desires.
VICE: Hi Valentina, tell me more about how Suspira came to be.
Valentina: I felt it was the perfect opportunity to bring my life-long love for horror alive. I’ve always felt like I had to explain and justify my affinity for the macabre. Those unfamiliar with the genre have a hard time wrapping their heads around it and seeing beyond the blood and jump-scares. Horror, for me, has always been comforting and therapeutic, not because of the violence, but because there was always something I connected with – from the tragic romance of the monster and the damsel to seeing women reigning on screen. So, I wanted Suspira to be an homage to the genre and present it in a way that allows fans and non-fans alike to appreciate horror beyond the gore. From there, the idea evolved organically into what it is now.
Let's talk about the name.
Some people tend to confuse it with the cult film Suspiria. It's one of my all-time favourite films and it’s definitely influenced the name, but it was more of a happy coincidence. My mother tongue is Spanish, and for years I thought suspiria meant "to sigh", since in Spanish the same word is spelled suspirar. Eventually, my Italian friends corrected me. Sigh in Italian is spelled sospirare. The word suspirar is a very sensual one, and I like how, in the third person, suspira becomes almost a command or request for the other person to sigh. You can sigh from arousal, fear or excitement. It’s a careful balance between dread and desire. That’s how I see the horror genre as well, so I felt Suspira would be fitting for the type of magazine I wanted to create.
How is "The Fetish" different from the first issue?
The first impression you get from this issue is that it's sensual, fierce and very tongue-in-cheek. But once you get past the witty wordplay and steamy artwork, you see how it looks deeper at the evolution of the feral, sexual woman, which, to some extent, mirrors female sexuality – it’s playful yet deep and multifaceted. Beyond that, it was important to us to dive into this societal angst that has led to a deep-rooted fear of expressing our own sexuality. In the editor’s letter I write, "Through horror I understood that society is terrified of female sexuality and our sense of agency is their ultimate nightmare."
How much do you think the issue uncovers new perspectives on the genre?
We aim to eradicate the misconception that, firstly, horror as an industry is a man’s world, and secondly, that horror audiences are predominantly male. The majority of people still struggle with the image of a woman who is either highly sexual or violent, or both – we’re more at ease with men being into horror or porn. Even if many won’t admit it, we feel more comfortable attributing men with being primal, driven by sex or violence. Women have grown up suppressing aspects of their sexuality and anger, while men have been conditioned to be very sexual and tough in order to be masculine. I think that by allowing ourselves as women to be more in touch with our primal side, we also hopefully allow men to be masculine without it becoming toxic.
Your editor’s letter touches on how horror films have helped you face and overcome your fear of sexuality. Could you explain that a little more?
By that, I mean being at peace with my own desires, kinks and sex drive, and allowing myself to express myself the way I want to without feeling shame. I know this isn’t the case for all women, but many, myself included, tend to think twice before wearing certain outfits, or bite their tongue because calling someone out may make things worse. Watching revenge films like I Spit On Your Grave or Julia, or any other film where women exert their power over men, has definitely helped me to feel empowered and encouraged me to be angry, instead of afraid. Ironically, I don’t stomach violence very well, but watching characters like Jennifer Hills going on a rampage is therapeutic, especially knowing how seldom there is legal justice in the real world.
The design is quite distinctive. What’s the inspiration behind it?
Every issue is dedicated to a different theme and all vary in their aesthetic. We made an active choice of mirroring this in the art direction of each issue. In the first, we took inspiration from classic 1930s [and] 50s horror films like The Wolfman and Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s mirrored in the use of mostly black-and-white print with occasional muted colours. "The Fetish" issue is hugely inspired by the 60s, 70s exploitation aesthetic, bringing its tactile roughness and low-budget campness into print. [American Film director] Russ Meyer's artwork for his films definitely influenced our colour palette – the stark black-and-white contrasting with an eye-popping cherry red.
Finally, what are some of your personal highlights from the issue?
There are two written pieces that stand out for me – "Slippery When Wet" by J Simpson, and "Holy Fuck" by Susannah Russell. The first looks at the surge in popularity of horror porn and the psychology behind our two primal emotions, fear and arousal, and the irresistible appeal of the forbidden. It's quite insightful and very sexy! The second explores female desire, the male gaze and censorship in religious horror, based on Ken Russell's film The Devils, while drawing comparisons to The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby.
All photos courtesy of Valentina Egoavil Medina.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.