The Exorcist

The ExorcistThe Version You’ve
Never Seen

There’s no better time of year for horror fans to
see their interests rewarded than October. But if the onslaught
of genre-related television programming isn’t enough to satiate
your taste for the thrilling and the horrifying, why not see if
there’s a horror film festival in your area? From the tony shores
of Newport, RI to the moviemaking capital of Los Angeles, CA, festival
directors are scaring up audiences on the lookout for a good scream.

From features to shorts, documentaries to animation,
gothic Halloween balls to ghost ships, each festival offers something
a little different to its attendees and participants. In a roundtable
discussion that included Michael Hein of the NYC Horror Film Festival
Denise Gossett of Shriekfest (,
Lisa Ferguson of Creepfest (,
Rachel Belofsky at Screamfest (
and Eleyne Austen Sharp of the Haunted Newport Horror Film Festival
these fans recently talked with MovieMaker about all things frightening, from their fests to their favorite
scary movies!

Jennifer Wood (MM): Why do you think the
horror genre never seems to lose popularity? Or even when it goes
"out of fashion" for a while, there is always a huge resurgence.
What is the audience fascination with horror films?

Michael Hein (MH): I think it’s because horror
is the purest genre. People love a good scare-always have, always
will. When horror goes "out of fashion" it’s only because
the market usually has just had a run of horror hits and then the
knockoffs and sequels aren’t doing the box office they were a year
or two prior. What other type of film can make couples in a theater
hold hands or hug as much as a good horror film?

Denise Gossett (DG): Honestly, I think the
fascination is that humans like to see blood and guts without it
actually being "real." It’s the same reason people slow
down to see an accident-it’s not that we want someone to be hurt,
we’re just fascinated by it. I think we also like to be scared in
a safe environment, such as our home or a movie theater.

Eleyne Austen Sharp (EAS): You know
when you’re a kid and you cut your finger, you show the blood to
everyone just to gross them out? It’s fun to see people horrified.
We get a tremendous rush from being scared and scaring others. So
I think as long as we find oozing blood and spilling guts appealing,
there will always be a horror genre.

Rachel Belofsky (RB): I think everyone likes
a good scare. It’s fantasy, fiction, and escape from reality for
a while.

MM: Why did you decide to focus your festival
on the horror genre?

MH: "It is my love, it is my life, it
is my passion!" Plus the simple fact that there was no previous
venue in NYC for the genre filmmakers. I’m a filmmaker myself and
last year my first feature film, Biohazardous, screened out
in LA at Screamfest. After the weekend, Anthony Pepe (our programming
director) and I decided it was time to bring an event like this
to the city. A huge finical risk, but well worth the effort.

DG: We decided to focus our festival on horror
films because there are tons of horror fans, and not very many outlets
for these films to be seen-especially low-budget films.

Lisa Ferguson (LF): There are many reasons
and I couldn’t name them all, but for one I think horror is true
escapism-in the best sense of the word. When people settle in for
a good scary movie, they willingly participate in a storytelling
process that is as old as time. There is a ritual to participating
in this. Also, much of the most weird and fascinating human behavior
is in horror movies. We like to be scared in the same way we like
to challenge ourselves by going on a terrifying roller coaster.
It could be as simple as "tension and release" playing
out, and as complicated as Jung’s work on the subconscious regarding
our shadow selves. We all have to pretend we don’t have these darker
qualities. Society and religion have shamed them. But the fact is
we still have them, and maybe horror films are a safe arena in which
to embrace them.

EAS: When you have an internationally-recognized,
month-long Halloween program of nearly 200 events [like Haunted
Newport], then you’d better have a horror film festival!

MM: The typical notion of a "festival"
film is usually not a horror film. Why do you think so many independent
moviemakers are focusing on the genre?

MH: Simple: a horror film is always a filmmaker’s
best chance for distribution, theatrically and on home video. I
think that is why there are so many bad horror films made every
year. Some filmmakers just want to "cash in" on our beloved
genre. Any filmmaker needs to make a film out of a love for the
story being told, no matter what the genre. We make our films and
are producing this festival out of a love for the genre.

DG: Because horror films can usually be done
cheaply, there is a fascination with them and they can sell easier
than other types of films.

MM: What are the benefits of working in
the genre for a low-budget moviemaker?

MH: You need look no further then The Blair
Witch Project
-shot for about $22,000 and sold at Sundance for
$1.5 million-to answer that question. Most of the best horror films
of all time (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living
Dead, The Evil Dead
) all shot on minuscule budgets (by Hollywood
standards), and many went on to make millions.

DG: I would have to say it gives the filmmaker
a chance to be really creative, either by not doing the same stories
over and over again or by doing the same well-loved stories with
a different twist.

RB: It’s never the budget that makes the film,
it’s the filmmaker that makes the film.

EAS: I asked independent filmmaker Chris Marikian
(Aleister!) what he thought were the benefits of working
in the horror genre. He said, "Creative freedom-and not having
to answer to any higher conglomerate!"

MM: The consensus is that entries in the
horror genre over the past few years have been rather weak. What
do you consider the best horror movie of the past decade?

MH: I think the ’90s were the worst decade
for horror in the last 40 years. Recently, I’ve seen a few good
ones. I know I’ll catch hell for this, but I really enjoyed Resident
(although technically, it was more of an action film than
a horror film). Horror fans eagerly await the arrival of Rob Zombie’s
first feature, House of 1,000 Corpses. I was lucky enough
to catch the film at a press screening and liked it a lot!

EAS: Was there a best? Hmmm, I must
have missed it.

RB: Does the re-release of The ExorcistThe
Version You’ve Never Seen
count? That backbend down the stairs
is pretty creepy. Come to Screamfest. I think we have some good
ones that deserve to be recognized in that category.

MM: What do you consider the scariest film
ever made?

MH: The Exorcist-hands down.

DG: There are several… I really remember
the first Nightmare on Elm Street really scaring me when
I was younger.

LF: Psycho (the original) really scared
me… I had nightmares. So did The Exorcist. The early Halloween movies really scared me, too.

RB: The Exorcist!

EAS: Growing up, I was terrified by Jaws and The Exorcist. (I stayed out of the water and church for
years!) Later, it was The Silence of the Lambs, which featured
brilliant acting and an excellent script. Nevertheless, seeing it
once was enough for me-I still cringe every time I see it listed
on the TV Guide Channel.

MM: What is your all-time favorite horror
film and why?

MH: Dawn of the Dead. The film changed
my life and fueled my life ambition.

DG: There are just too many. I love the Halloween films, the Hannibal films, of course The Exorcist.
Oh, there are just too many!

LF: As a child my sisters and brother and I
would sit endlessly and watch all the old black and whites of the
mummy and all those Frankenstein movies. Anything with Vincent Price
or Boris Karloff. And I was a total freak for all the old Basil
Rathbone Sherlock Holmes (The Hound of the Baskervilles)
films. We used to memorize the dialogue. I can’t name a favorite
on such short notice, because I am forgetting too many.

EAS: How can you choose one all-time favorite
horror film? I’ve always loved old monster movies like Godzilla, Dracula and The Wolfman. (When I was kid, I
lived in Darmstadt, Germany, where I had a clear view of the original
Frankenstein castle from my bedroom window.) I like a lot of the
old black and white horror movies and anything that shows London
and fog. No slice ’em and dice ’em movies for me!