"People enjoy being scared. It's that simple," says Tommy Faircloth, and he should know. Faircloth is an accomplished indie horror craftsman, and he's also organized South Carolina's first horror film festival. And it's going to be a big one.
The Crimson Screen Horror Film Festival, running April 19-20, showcases no less than 39 indie horror films, including entries from Italy, England, Germany, and Colombia. Festival-goers will face zombies, slashers, unquiet spirits, and even a film about a job interview that takes a terrifying twist.
For almost 40 years now, horror films have been the single most profitable film genre. This is partially because they are often cheap to produce and easy to distribute. Even movies with a short run in theaters make stacks of cash in disc and digital download sales, fueling many a late-night popcorn and terror fest.
Beyond the films, a whole culture of horror flourishes as a lifestyle. Popular magazines like Rue Morgue, Fangoria, and the recently relaunched Famous Monsters of Filmland give their readers not only news and reviews of scary movies but designs for tattoos, information about the hundreds of fan-run horror websites, and ways to connect with the culture of horror. It's what the Misfits called the "horror business," and business is booming.
And yet, all this money and all this attention doesn't mean the genre gets much respect, particularly in the world of independent film. Sometimes viewed as primarily adolescent fare, moralized by society's watchdogs, and sometimes deemed politically problematic by both the Left and Right, horror seems to be one of the most disreputable of cinematic pleasures. (The Silence of the Lambs is the only horror film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. Even The Exorcist, generally thought of today as an essential classic, picked up only a minor award for special effects at the Oscars.)
Faircloth has had to deal with horror's bad reputation throughout his career. A horror filmmaker of award-winning shorts (his most recent one has racked up "Best Short" awards at festivals around the country, including San Antonio Horrific Film Festival, Fear Fete Film Fest, Freakshow Horror Film Festival, Scared Stuff Halloween Film Fest, and Wilson College Horror Film Fest), he found that regional independent film festivals turned down his entries, even the acclaimed ones. He remembers that he had a film accepted to a regional film festival "only to have the festival director tell me to my face that he hated horror films."
These experiences fired Faircloth's desire to bring a horror festival to South Carolina. He says he's "bringing horror home," and the festival features a bevy of local talent who will be on hand to chat with fans about their work.
Plus, the bill of fare Faircloth has assem-bled for Crimson Screen has something for every horror lover. Director Roman Jossart's The Campground provides some '80s-style summer camp, slasher terror, but with a twist. One of the many short films being presented at the festival, director Robert Richmond's Dreadful Sorry, tells a Victorian ghost story set against the backdrop of the American Civil War. Lincolnville by director William Stancil will give fans a classic vampire hunter-versus-bloodsucker tale. The Civil War appears again, but this time fought by legions of classic monsters, in director Ryan Bellgardt's Army of Frankensteins.
It's clear that Faircloth hopes to tap into horror fans' deep and abiding affection for the macabre. He told me that he hoped to see the horror film lovers coming out in costume. Visitors should expect to see more than some great films; they'll see horror fandom on display in all its gory glory.
Horror culture seems to energize its fans into becoming creators themselves. "I've always been a horror fanatic," says Trent Shy, a Mt. Pleasant-based stop-motion artist who will have two films at Crimson Screen. "I grew up watching the fun, campy '80s horror movies, and those are the films that inspire me the most." One of Shy's films ('80's Monster Claymation) at Crimson Screen will offer fans a claymation tribute to horror icons of the 1980s, the classic era of the teenage-centric slasher film.
Shy and his girlfriend Elizabeth Thornton build monsters and maniacs out of clay, and he uses poster board and various household materials to make his sets. Claymation sounds deceptively simple, and yet it's a measure of the love he has for the genre that his stop-motion technique requires him to move his clay figures 12-15 times in order to shoot one second of video.
Shy seems typical of many of the filmmakers coming to Crimson Screen. His work is a love letter to the horror tradition, and he wants to keep that tradition alive — or maybe undead — with themes drawn from current anxieties and obsessions.
Faircloth knows his horror, and he's rightthat people love to be scared. But is that its only meaning? No less an authority than Eli Roth (director of Hostel and more recently creator of the Netflix original series Hemlock Grove), Roth believes that the horror movies we love "have a very direct relationship to the time they are made." He once cited the boom in horror films dealing with apocalyptic themes or torture in the wake of 9/11 and America's invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Perhaps the sense of horror as culturally significant will soon alter its reputation. The Chronicle of Higher Ed recently ran a story on the growing importance of "zombie scholarship" in academics.
It's hard to ignore how much society is in love with monsters. Despite being the red-headed stepchild of film, the horror culture finds mainstream audiences who can't get enough of the darkness. Look no further than American Horror Story and The Walking Dead, which are both successful TV series and cultural phenomena.
Whether you think horror has a deeper meaning or simply agree with Trent Shy that it's the ultimate "adrenaline rush," the Crimson Screen festival promises a terribly creepy good time.