The women at Body Checker Productions aren’t afraid to get their hands bloody for the sake of a good horror movie.
“There’s still a real lack of representation in terms of women taking control of their own destinies in the horror space,” said Monica Suriyage, director and co-founder of Body Checker Productions. “We all share that goal and that vision, and I think that’s why we’re like, ‘you know what? We’re going to band together as women and tell stories we want to see.’”
In 2016, Temple University alumnae Chelsey Colosimo, a 2014 theater alumna, Suriyage, a 2015 film and media arts alumna, Christa Philippeaux, a 2014 media studies and production alumna, and Kaitlin Reilly, a 2014 media studies and production major alumna, founded Body Checker Productions in Los Angeles. They are an all-female production company that creates horror films that include diverse casts and content.
Their latest short film, La Ciguapa Siempre, qualified for a 2023 Oscar after winning Best Narrative Short at The Reel Sisters of The Diaspora Film Festival, a virtual festival that ran from Oct. 26 to 31.
Suriyage made the film after she won The Inclusion Fellowship, which aims to create a more inclusive and equitable film industry for the Latino community, according to their website. Netflix and The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival sponsored the $20,000 grant that was part of the fellowship.
When applying for the grant, Suriyage decided to dive into her Dominican heritage and felt inspired by the myth of the Ciguapa, which has a female creature covered in hair with backwards facing feet.
The production company is trying to develop La Ciguapa Siempre into a feature-length film, Suriyage said. She also hopes that one day they will be a full-fledged production company with an office and the ability to finance other films by women of color.
While working on the film, Suriyage wanted to include women and people of color both on screen and in their production team, she added.
“It’s really important for us to support each other,” Suriyage said. “Some of the best opportunities I’ve ever gotten have been given to me by either people of color or women. If we want things to change, we have to do it ourselves and make sure that we’re bringing each other into the room.”
Uplifting one another is central to the macabre mission of Body Checker to make films about ladies who kill, Colosimo said.
There is a lack of women in the film industry. In 2019, women comprised 23 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers in the top 500 grossing films of 2019, according to The Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film.
Statistically, women are less inclined to pursue horror in the film industry. Only 17 percent of women worked on horror films in 2019 relative to men, according to The Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film.
But these statistics did not deter Colosimo from pursuing horror, rather, they encouraged her.
Colosimo has been a horror buff since she was little, when her older siblings and friends would rent her rated R horror movies from the video store, she said. It has been a lifelong passion for her to work on horror films, and she hopes that she and other women break into the industry.
“The horror industry, which is what our short films tend to be, that spooky space tends to be very male dominated,” Colosimo said. “For us, it was super important to be able to have a space where all of us could put our creative energy out there from the female perspective and create spooky shit, but a little more elevated.”
Since its creation in 2016, Body Checker Productions has been working to incoporate more diverse perspectives in their films, like queer and disabled people, Philippeaux said.
All four women became roommates after attending the Los Angeles Study Away program during their undergraduate careers through Temple’s School of Theater, Film and Media Arts. After graduation, they moved into a house in Burbank, California, which they refer to as “The Temple House”, since it has been rented by Temple students for more than 20 years, Philippeaux said.
“I got so lucky because the roommates, we got so close, we literally considered ourselves like an LA family,” Philippeaux said. “We’ve had holidays together, we’ve had adventures together, we made work together. That’s my favorite part of my LA experience, that it was so heavily based on Temple.”
The production company is also working on a script for a film that is mainly shot in Philadelphia and hope they can have some Temple students work with them on set, if it gets made, Suriyage said.
“We’re really lucky,” Colosimo said. “We get to work on projects and we’re all best friends. You know, we have our girl chat and are constantly talking every day, but just to be able to work with your friends is something super, super special.”