“Jaws” was the first horror film former Stephens City resident Rebekah McKendry saw when she was a child.
“I loved the film, but it terrified the crap out of me,” she said. “We had a pool in our backyard, and I had a hard time going in there for a while.”
McKendry is now a 15-year veteran of the film industry as well as a podcaster and professor at the University of Southern California. She has also co-written and co-directed a horror-comedy film, “All the Creatures Were Stirring,” and will be present when it is shown at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Kernstown at 5 p.m. Saturday.
McKendry said her love of horror films started at On Track, a video store in Stephens City.
“I would rent videos from there all the time,” she said. “I would rent movies like ‘Halloween’ and ‘Friday the 13th.’ My parents didn’t have a lot of restrictions on what I watched as long as I was on the honor roll.”
As McKendry got older, she said she continued to discover her love and desire to be involved in film.
“When I was participating in plays and dancing, my parents started recording on video,” she said. “I started to do films with the camera we had with animals and friends I had met in school. I would always pose them different ways. I was very interested in how film-making worked.”
After graduating from Sherando High School, McKendry went on to earn degrees at Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University, where she earned her doctorate in film. She then worked for Fangoria Entertainment, which publishes horror magazines.
In 2012, McKendry and her family moved to Los Angeles, where she ended up working for film-production company Blumhouse in 2015 as an editor in chief for the company’s website. She is now a producer for the company’s horror-centric podcasts. She said her husband David came up with the idea for “All the Creatures Were Stirring.”
“My husband and I love Christmas,” McKendry said. “When we moved to L.A., it was weird having Christmas here. We went from cold, wintery weather with people wearing those ugly Christmas sweaters in Virginia to warm weather where we have cookouts for Christmas. That’s when we came up with an idea to have a horror film set in L.A. on Christmas Eve.”
McKendry described the film as an anthology of different stories of people dealing with horrible things on Christmas Eve.
“People have weird things happen to them on Christmas Eve,” she said. “We wanted to do something different and unique.”
The film, which stars Constance Wu of “Crazy Rich Asians” fame, premiered earlier this year at the Chattanooga
Film Festival, where it received the Audience Award and acclaim from the film community.
“I cried when we won that award,” McKendry said. “Very few people besides our editor had seen the film before it premiered. It was wonderful to receive that acclaim.”
With the horror genre in a boom period in terms of commercial success for original and franchise films, McKendry had some ideas for what she would like to do if she had her pick of projects.
“I’d love to do a reimagining of “Deep Rising,” she said. “It was this horror movie from the 90s about a monster on a boat. People weren’t too kind to it then, but I love it. I’d also like to do a movie based on the book, “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” I think it’d work so well for a movie.”
Hollywood is also seeing a surge in female talent taking leads roles in major films and getting major writing, producer and directing jobs. McKendry said she hopes this trend continues.
“I hope we start seeing more females working behind the camera, like producing films and working on the film crew,” she said. “We’re really trying to get our voices heard. I hope to God this isn’t a flash in the pan situation.”
While she isn’t working on films or co-hosting her podcast “Shock Waves,” McKendry is teaching film courses at USC.
“I love teaching at USC,” she said. “The directing courses really help me hone in my craft and also help prepare people to work in the film industry. I’ve had to work my way up the ladder in the industry, so it’s great to pass this knowledge on to other people. It takes a lot of hard work.”
McKendry said she recently finished filming a made-for-TV movie a few weeks ago and is ready to return to the Shenandoah Valley area, which she visits many times a year.
“I miss the small town life and safety of it,” McKendry said. “It was so safe that my parents would let me sleep outside if I wanted to. I wouldn’t let my daughter do that in L.A. It’s a place where kids can be kids, and everything is so leafy and green. It’s a breath of fresh air.”