Monday, August 16, 2010

'Tis the season to be jolly

It's almost that magical time of year again! Feels like it starts earlier every time - this year it all kicked off in July, if you can imagine such a thing. But as long as we remember the true meaning, that's what really matters. I'm talking, of course, about FrightFest, the 5 day horror film festival.

I've been going for years, it's always great fun, with premieres, early showings, special guests, previews, snippets of things that are still shooting, short films, silly ads, trailers, and all sorts of cool stuff. It's 5 days of horror, sometimes with a few thrillers and science fiction movies thrown in, 25 films on the main screen, with 10 more on the alternative screen to choose from. In 2006 my first movie, Severance, opened the festival, which was a huge thrill for me.

A question people regularly ask is "why the hell would you want to watch horror films for 5 days? Or even one day? Or even one film?" And it's a good question. Why would I want to sit and watch something that will horrify, scare, shock and disturb me? Is there something wrong with me? And why would I want to *write* something like that? Isn't the world a bad enough place without wanting to add to it?

Well, for me, and lots of people, watching (and writing) horror feels good. You get to explore your darkest fears in a safe environment, get taken to the edge and then brought back safely again. All of your worries are played out on screen and, usually, they're not half as bad as you can imagine. In a lot of horror movies, after the nasty stuff, you get to see the victim fight back and defeat the killer, which is hugely cathartic for the viewer. They show you that yes, bad things do happen, but sometimes, people can get through it, stop the bad person hurting them, and come out the other side, stronger, braver.

Not all horror has a happy ending, of course, and it doesn't have to. Sometimes it takes you to a dark place, and leaves you there, a bit broken. That's less fun, but just as important. Again, it lets you explore your fears safely, takes you out of your comfort zone for a while, and gives you some solid scares along the way. Maybe the movie had a bleak ending, but when it ends, hey, it was only a movie! And hopefully you've learned something, or faced something you didn't think you could, or at least been told a compelling, extreme story.

Like most genres, horror has phases and cycles, high points, and low points. Some people (and horror filmmakers) still seem to think it's the 1950s, and that only teenage boys watch horror - which results in shoddy, embarrassing work. The audience is actually a good mix of male and female, young and old, and they're really smart. Underestimate them at your peril. Luckily, most filmmakers realise that now. There's still plenty of bad horror being made, but there's a lot of great stuff. Like all the best masked killers, horror never dies, it always gets back up for another scare.

Sometimes horror is pure entertainment, over the top gore and splatter, which is fun because it's so ridiculously extreme. Sometimes it sneaks in social commentary, making clever points about the way we live our lives. And sometimes it's just a bloke in a mask stabbing people and making you jump, which is fine too. It's all there to make you feel something, to laugh, gasp, scream, cry. You never quite know what to expect, especially when going to a 5 day festival of horror films, most of which you've never heard of.

And that's why I love horror, and love going to FrightFest every year. It's Horror Christmas. Maybe I'll see you there. Merry FrightFest!