If you grew up with a Freddie Kruger poster on your wall, know your Dawn of the Dead from your Evil Dead and count John Carpenter a personal idol, you’re in for a treat, because A Night of Horror International Horror Film Festival is in town.
As the name implies, A Night of Horror was originally intended as a one-night showcase of locally produced short films. But the festival organisers found themselves so inundated with outstanding entries from all over the world, they were forced to expand beyond one night, even in their very first year.
Now in its seventh incarnation, A Night of Horror screens both shorts and features, from Hollywood blockbusters to festival circuit favourites. That said, despite securing films preceded by international noise, the festival remains loyal to its programming policy, which sees around half of its slots filled with features from independent filmmakers (and keeps festival co-founder and director Dr Dean Bertram up at night watching hundreds and hundreds of films a year). [fold]
“[At the beginning] We were flooded with so many film submissions from all over the world that it seemed disingenuous to only screen 12,” says Dr. Bertram, who, with a PhD in America’s history of UFO belief, is very well schooled in the area.
What this means for the audience is the chance to watch over 100 films including the latest and greatest, as well as a generous program of shorts, access to never before seen films (with major local and international premieres) and various Q&As with a host of the filmmakers. This year’s festival will “splatter the screens” with a program so diverse that it ranges from a Philip K. Dick existential sci-fi thriller (A Dark Matter) to a Norwegian fantasy (Thale), a Lynchian nightmare in the woods (The Taking) and a showdown between cockneys and zombies (the aptly titled Cockneys Vs Zombies). And if you’re worried about awkwardly bumping elbows with only goths and metal heads all night, don’t fret. With major Hollywood line-ups such as Sinister, starring Ethan Hawke (by the producer of Paranormal Activity), you won’t feel out of place if you rock up in your work suit.
While Australia’s horror scene is a relatively modest, it is no niche and is definitely growing, especially if the success of the festival is anything to go by. According to Dr Bertram, there wasn’t an obvious outlet for independent films of this kind only eight years ago. This is potentially because unlike in the States, where Halloween and horror movie marathons are an integral part of popular culture, the genre is slightly “pushed into a corner” here in Australia.
Dr Bertram makes an excellent point in response to horror sceptics, who might have had their experience scarred by a trashy B-grade horror movie they mistakenly picked up at the video shop as a teenager. It’s impossible to regard the genre as cinema’s “dirty little cousin”, when a closer look at 20th century filmmaking shows that this is precisely where masters like Francis Ford Coppola (who, while studying film at uni, directed short horror film The Two Christophers), Roman Polanski (one of whose first films was psychological horror flick Repulsion) and Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind) all got their start.
“Horror allows us to deal with issues that are important to us in an imaginative and allegorical way – and in a fun-of-a-genre ride,” says Dr Bertram. And isn’t this so, with clear political commentary found throughout the genre – from George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (an allegory for civil rights), to the not-so-subtle satire of extremist ideology in The Mist, which sees a group of people trapped inside a local supermarket torn apart by mob mentality.
Highlighting horror’s true diversity, the festival even presents the Sydney premiere of a film that could genuinely be described as heart-warming and charming. Indeed, The History of Future Folk tells of two human-like extraterrestrials who had a change of heart about destroying humanity after falling in love with music, a pleasure absent from their own planet.
A Night of Horror runs from April 11 to 21 at the Dendy, Newtown. You can see the full program and book tickets at fantasticplanetfilmfestival.com.