The New York City Horror Film Festival features over 50 features and shorts, like, the world premiere of Mortuary, above, from the director of Poltergeist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
A frightening film festival for New Yorkers
By Steven Snyder
In less than four years, boasts Michael Hein, founder and director of the New York City Horror Film Festival, his project has become the largest and most important genre festival in America.
But the popularity of the festival and of horror films in general, may be linked to something far more fundamental: Our collective fascination with death and sex.
At their core, [horror films] are about the fear of dying, and whether youre a fan or not, that plays into the human psyche, Hein said. Theyre also the best films to take dates to. Even if you dont like horror films, youre going to bring your girl to a scary film because shell hold your hand and jump into your lap halfway through.
A filmmaker in his own right, Hein said he had always entertained the notion of launching a horror film festival. But it was in 2001, after appearing with his horror film Biohazardous at a West Coast festival, that he became certain he could put on a better show.
The focus should always be on the filmmakers, Hein said. Its all about making sure they get press for their films, making sure they have full screenings and that people know who these creative guys are.
Unlike some film festivals, which focus more on attracting high-profile talent and never-before-seen features, Hein emphasized that his festival was more a celebration of the larger horror film community, organized to satisfy a wide array of tastes. He said more than 3,000 fans attended the festival last year, with more than 400 hitting the kickoff party alone, and he expects even higher attendance with this years diverse lineup of over 50 features and shorts.
Among the films scheduled during the five-day fest are mainstream favorites both old and new, from Steven Spielbergs 1977 tale of horror at sea, Jaws, to the stop-action cult hit Tim Burtons The Nightmare Before Christmas. A special Saturday night program is devoted to director Roger Corman, featuring a screening of The Masque of the Red Death. During the event, Corman will also receive the festivals lifetime achievement award.
Hein said he fought hard for the chance to show the world premiere of the new Showtime series, Masters of Horror. After numerous discussions with the shows producer and director, Mick Garris, he was able to convince the cable network to entrust the first-ever public showing of the series to the Horror Festival.
Theres not another festival in the country that got it, we were the only one, Hein said. It was a real coup for our festival to have that world premiere.
While its the premieres that get the buzz, the festival is mostly comprised of smaller titles and lesser-known filmmakers, each getting their chance to debut on the big screen in a packed theater of horror aficionados.
One such entry is Horror Business, a documentary about a new wave of horror filmmakers in suburban America who are taking advantage of cheaper technology and computer effects to make their own horror films.
There is a new breed of filmmaker right now, said Horror Business director Christopher Garetano. Its akin to when film started a hundred years ago, all of them pioneers with the new technological changes and cheaper options with digital video.
He said the success of the New York City Horror Film Festival has not surprised him, since horror films are often where emerging filmmakers turn to flex the creative muscles they are not allowed to use in their bland, mainstream Hollywood projects.
Some of the best films today are being made on lower budgets and in other countries, Garetano said. Theyre exciting and fresh, while studio films at the moment have a very regimented criteria; they will only follow their own rules.
Another of the festivals chosen directors, Kelsey T. Howard, said that by working on lower budgets, and with fewer dictates, horror films are often the most creative and innovative projects around.
If you see an action movie and a big budget, you sort of turn off right away, where if you go to a horror movieeven if youre laughing at ityoure more involved, Howard said. Actors have more fun with it too; they know its not going to end up at the AFI Institute so they really go for broke.
Howards film, Cruel World, features one of the festivals more timely and provocative premises: A reality TV show contestant who goes insane and holds the contestants of another reality show hostage.
Hein said it is this eclectic mix of ideas and styles, from filmmakers both popular and unknown, that continues to draw people to the Horror Festival.
Its funny now because the festival itself has fans who come up to me and ask what were doing this year, Hein said. One guy said I just wanted to thank you for starting this festival. Im a horror fanatic, and its the one event of the year I wont miss.