SPOTLIGHT May, 2023: Alice Maio Mackay, Eighteen-year-old Transgender Australian Horror Filmmaker

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I don’t know what you were doing when you were 18 years old, but I’ll hazard a guess that you weren’t making a feature-length horror film – let alone releasing your third, with a fourth on the horizon. Enter Alice Maio Mackay, a one-woman horror filmmaking machine whose already impressive filmography of low-budget genre bangers barely gives us time to exhale before she is ready to throw another one at us.

Alice Maio Mackay on set
An Australian transgender filmmaker who wears her activist spirit fiercely on her sleeve, Mackay’s films are unapologetically queer and delight in the fantastic potential the horror genre affords. Whether it’s demon cults or vampires, her colorful cadre of characters tackle all that the supernatural has to throw at them with Mackay’s now-signature comic verve, yet she never takes her eye off her determined vision to position queer folk front and center in her stories.

So before approaching her already impressive oeuvre, how would Mackay herself suggest we prepare ourselves? “I’d say watch the entire works of Gregg Araki (including his TV show Now Apocalypse), all of John Waters’ films, Dasha Nekrasova’s The Scary of 61st, and also Habit by Janell Shirtcliff, which is criminally underrated and such a gem – it’s pulpy, camp, fun and has a great trans woman as a lead”.


Mackay was a story-teller even as a child, and spent much time in elementary school (or primary school, as it’s called in Australia) writing short stories which she soon learned to adapt to short stop-motion animated films she made with Lego. This led to making short films, first alone and soon with friends after developing a strong network of like-minded others and began making movies with her friends.

The origins of Mackay’s affection for horror too span back to childhood. “I think I’ve always been drawn to horror, growing up watching shows like The Munsters, Scooby Doo and then Buffy”, she says. ”It’s just a really fun genre to explore, both to watch and to create. It’s so diverse and has so many subgenres. It’s also a genre that can be used to convey themes and topics in a way that is different from a conventional drama and could possibly appeal to a different audience.”


Gaining experience as her short form work developed, with Tooth 4 Tooth (2020) and The Serpent’s Nest (2021) Mackay firmly established herself as a filmmaker with strong links to horror. Festivals like Australia’s Monster Fest were quick to identify her talent and shared her work with eager audiences, a connection to the fest that she has maintained with her features.

For Mackay, her short films were vital to her development as a filmmaker. “I think making shorts was definitely essential for my filmmaking journey”, she says “but I think definitely a major con is that it’s almost the same amount of effort on the producing side and everything as making a feature, and being harder to market and release.” She continues, “It really helped me to evolve my style and learn so much from being on set though. One of my last shorts The Serpent’s Nest was I think 30 minutes, which was a step up from the other fifteen minute films I was making, but was kind of like a stepping stone before making my first feature.”


In 2021, Mackay released her feature film debut, the queer vampire movie So Vam which was shrewdly snapped up by international horror streaming service Shudder, opening her work up to a much wider audience. “I’ve been a fan ever since their inception”, she says, adding “they really gave me such a large platform, and I’m so forever grateful for them.”

A long-time fan of vampire movies and television shows like Twilight, Buffy and True Blood, Mackay always knew that her debut feature would be a vampire movie. Following a young aspiring drag queen called Kurt (Xai), a chance encounter with a vampire reveals a novel method of dealing with violent bullies, bigots and thugs.

Still from SO VAM

Mackay was only 15 when the project was conceived and began shooting soon after her 16th birthday. “Being my first film I just really wanted to make a film that included everything I loved – vampires, drag queens, empowered trans characters, and just a really visually striking film that mixes camp horror with a coming-of-age film”. The film premiered at the 2021 Salem Horror Fest – long-time supporters of Mackay’s work – and Mackay negotiated the deal with Shudder herself where the film was released as a Shudder Exclusive. “To this day it feels like a dream, and I’m so eternally grateful they supported my film and queer horror. When I made the film I never imagined it reaching the audience and platforms it did.”


So Vam was soon followed up with another feature, Bad Girl Boogey. The film follows Angel (Lisa Fanto) who faces a cursed mask, black magic and the ugliness of human nature as she responds to the murder of her mother and then, sixteen years later, her best friend.


Recently picked up for North American distribution by Dark Star Pictures, their President Michael Repsch said of the acquisition “Bad Girl Boogey is a shock to the system. Writer and director Alice Maio Mackay has masterfully crafted an exciting, visceral slasher film with an important message of identity and bigotry. Her vision is one that will make audiences think, while soaking them in blood and terror”.

Determined to make another camp coming-of-age horror film, Mackay this time brought to the table her love of Rob Zombie and punk cinema, resulting in what she has called “my take on a slasher-adjacent type film, but more focused on the characters and – of course – queering it up.”


Mackay’s most recent release is T Blockers which sees her maintain her central interest in queer horror, this time steering towards scifi territory. As noted in the recent AWFJ review of the film, the film follows a young trans filmmaker who is “obsessed with a thought-to-be-lost old horror movie that was directed by mysterious local trans filmmaker decades before… contend(ing) with a rising wave of hate-fuelled violence that is compounded even further by an earthquake which seems to have activated a strange parasite that infects people and makes them killers.”

Still from T BLOCKERS

With its recent world premiere at the Salem Film Fest, for Mackay it is her most personal movie. “I really wanted to centre a trans women, who was unapologetically trans and who dealt with things specific to the trans community and experience. So often I feel like even if we have trans representation it comes from cis creators, so the experiences are often watered down or not realistic. I made this film for the type of trans representation I wanted to see, and hopefully that will resonate with other trans women and queer people.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite her accomplishments Mackay is showing no signs of slowing down with recent news of her fourth feature Satranic Panic announced in the lead-up to T Blockers‘ release. It is Mackay’s unwavering commitment to her craft, her fierce, determined voice as a transgender filmmaker and her passion for both her horror and queer communities (and especially the overlap between them) that makes her more than worthy of an AWFJ SPOTLIGHT profile.

That and, of course, that she is only eighteen years old. Having already achieved what many indie filmmakers would be proud to have accomplished in a lifetime, Mackay admits it hasn’t always been easy. “People are dicks to me about being trans and making queer art, but – you know – as to be expected. But death threats aren’t as fun as they sound”.


As tragically reflective as it is of the broadly disgraceful era that we live in when it comes to the acceptance of our transgender sisters and gender diverse others, that Mackay has found her people – and, just as importantly, that her people have found her – is a light in what can often feel like dark, shadowy times. “I’m honestly just surprised about the reception and reach I’ve managed to get with my films so far, and the amazing connections I’ve been able to make with people’s work I’ve admired and who inspire me”, she says. “It’s mostly just such a great community too. I’m so grateful.” It’s a gratitude more than reciprocated by the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. — Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi-award-winning film critic and author who has published nine books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema with an emphasis on gender politics, including the 2020 book ‘1000 Women in Horror, 1898-2018’ which was included on Esquire Magazine’s list of the best 125 books written about Hollywood. Alexandra is a contributing editor at Film International, a columnist at Fangoria, an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).