When it comes to Halloween in New York City, there are certain spine-tingling traditions that don’t change: The Village Halloween Parade, for one, and the New York City Horror Film Festival, which will celebrate its sixth year when it kicks off a five-day event on October 24th. With plenty of industry events and enough screenings to make any horror fan scream, this festival is an equal opportunity schmoozefests for moviemakers and cineastes alike.

Just days before the 2007 event, MM sat down with festival director–and indie moviemaker–Michael Hein to get the lowdown on what to expect from this year’s festivities. The answers may terrify you…

Jennifer Wood (MM): You founded the NYC Horror Film Fest in 2001, after your indie horror feature, Biohazardous, screened at LA’s Screamfest. Being that there was no previous horror-focused film event in New York at the time, it was a pretty big risk–financially and otherwise–to take on such a daunting task. How did you know that the idea would fly? Any regrets about it (then or now)?

Michael Hein (MH): I didn’t know if it would “fly” or not, but I wasn’t going to worry about it. I just knew that if I was going to produce this thing, I would go all in. Make it an industry, but fan-friendly, event that would try and have a little something for everyone. It is most important that the festival be a place where the industry comes to find the next big genre films and filmmakers. With all the distribution companies and studios that attend, I think we’ve achieved that. Incidentally, I had been floating the idea for the festival long before I even heard of Screamfest out in LA, but after attending as a filmmaker (in their first year) I decided to just do it. Sure, doing something that had never been attempted in New York City before was a risk, no doubt, but no regrets at all; the New York City Horror Film Festival is a labor of love from beginning to end.

MM: In the six years since its founding, the NYCHFF has truly become a not-to-be-missed event for horror fans—and not just the local ones. Over the years, you’ve managed to attract some of the genre’s biggest players to take part in the event. So what is it about Halloween in New York?

MH: Thank you for saying that, it means a lot. We work very hard on this festival all year long and it’s gratifying to hear when a filmmaker made a deal, schmoozed with a studio or distribution rep, or a fan saw a great film, met one of their favorite filmmakers or just genuinely had a had a good time. Simply put: New York City is the best place on earth, but Halloween in NYC is even better! I like to think we are a big part of that.

MM: The horror genre itself has changed a bit in the years since the festival was founded; we’ve seen all sorts of trends within the genre happen in that time span–from the rash of American remakes of Japanese horror films like The Ring and The Grudge, the more recent slate of “torture-porn” films like Saw and Captivity. How have your selections mimicked the market, if at all?

MH: We don’t (and never will) follow any trends. Be it studio or indie, a great film is a great film–period. A true film festival should be just that. Not a “horror convention” where celebrities sit at tables and sign autographs for 20 bucks a pop. A film festival should be a place where filmmakers come to show off their new works and hopefully get some buzz regardless of what the media says is “trendy.”

MM: Horror films seem to be the one type of movie that never go out of style. Sure, box office performances can be a bit of a roller coaster, but if there’s an intelligent, well-crafted horror film floating around, it’s bound to find an audience. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the popularity of the genre? How has the festival’s audience changed accordingly?

MH: Like most genres, it’s cyclical. It gets back to your last questions about trends: If Hollywood makes a blockbuster horror film, you can bet at least four similar films will be coming out from other studios. After one of those films (or a sequel to the first) doesn’t do well at the box office, everything that was on the fast track to be made goes into a holding pattern or doesn’t get made at all. At that point, people say “horror is dead.” Eventually, another film hits it big and Hollywood repeats the process. As for the audience, the NYCHFF gets people from all walks of life. I don’t really see it changing; I see it growing.

MM: If you were to note a “theme” among this year’s movies, what would that be?

MH: The NYCHFF works very hard programming all our films, but most importantly the competition films, so we don’t have a theme, just great films. I’d say if we had to have a “theme,” it would remain the same as always: Great films, great parties and an all-around great time!

MM: The festival offers a fascinating mix of classic horror movies and moviemakers, but you also have a habit of introducing audiences to some of the new and most exciting innovators in the genre. Who are some of the newer filmmakers you’re most excited to be introduce this year?

I really think every film and filmmaker is worth a mention, but since making a feature film is a bit more work than a short, I’d single out Frank Zagarino (Blood Rails), Kit Ryan (Botched), Jesus di Sica (Alone), Sean Tretta (Death Of A Ghost Hunter), Greg Wilson (Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door), Shawn Linden (Nobody) and the infamous Uwe Boll (Seed).

MM: As for the veteran moviemakers: You’ve got Eli Roth on hand to present a special screening of Hostel with a never-before-seen alternate ending and legendary “Godfather of Gore” Herschell Lewis will be on hand to receive the 2007 NYCHFF Lifetime Achievement Award after screening Two Thousand Maniacs. How much better can it get?

MH: Herschell Gordon Lewis was years ahead of his time, was making extreme horror films almost a decade before George Romero made Night of the Living Dead! From Blood Feast to Two Thousand Maniacs to last year’s Blood Feast 2: All you Can Eat, he remains a true innovator. We are very excited to have Mr. Lewis at the festival to screen Two Thousand Maniacs, and present him with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Eli Roth, on the other hand, is the new blood. With Eli, it’s like one of “us” made it to the big time. A lot of filmmakers see the genre as a starting place to make a name for your self, but Eli is a true fan as well as a very talented filmmaker. You can see it in every aspect of his work. We’ll be screening Hostel: Director’s Cut with his original, never-before-seen ending. The response to this screening has been great, which is a testament to his mark on the genre.

MM: Last question—and think quick: I know from previous conversations we’ve had that Dawn of the Dead is your all-time favorite horror movie. But what’s the best contemporary horror movie—say the last five to 10 years—and why?

MH: Good question, but I look at film as art (in any genre). What is good or bad art is in the eye of the beholder. So, in my humble opinion, 30 Days of Night (which we are screening its east coast premiere) is a very strong film; it literally reinvents the vampire genre. Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth stands out as my favorite film (in any genre) from last year, and while I hate to go back to Dawn of the Dead, because the 1978 original is my favorite horror film of all time, I’m a huge fan of Zak Synder’s 2004 remake.

MM: Anything else you’d like to add?

MH: I just want to take a second to thank the entire staff of the NYCHFF. Running a festival is far from a one-man show (especially one of this size), so a special mention to our programming director Anthony Pepe, staff coordinator Camille Delgado and studio liaison Joe Mauceri. Without the hard work of these people and the entire staff, there isn’t a festival at all.

Check out this year’s horror happenings at http://www.nychorrorfest.com.