Horror fans are a legion, and they are loyal.
For the past year, while Joel Hulett and a team of less than half a dozen people put together what looks to be the biggest horror film festival Tulsa has ever seen, I've taken note of the mini-cons that have been popping up around town (see "Little Day of Horrors" at urbantulsa.com) and been reminded of this central fact: Horror is the red-headed step child of film genres.
That's not to say that many horror films haven't achieved mainstream critical success and respect. But there is a reason horror films enjoy a subculture status.
Horror's musical counterpart is metal, a genre that in its purest form has many of the same qualities: A healthy disregard for the establishment of its overall art form; multiple sub-genres and nationalities that appeal to increasingly tribal fans; the desire to unearth the dark side of human nature in ways that are transgressive, offensive, twisted or even supernatural, while gleefully trampling mainstream ideals of acceptability, good taste or what sells. Be it high-minded or low, when done well, horror (and metal) is a middle finger to any conceptions of "safe," even when it's meant to be funny.
Yet, while perpetually existing outside of the mainstream, those genres and their adherents always seem to grow and evolve and mulitply.
Mega-cons in major cities are more common, but what Hulett has planned in the heart of the Bible Belt is the heavy metal equivalent of Slayer playing to famished fans in Warsaw (seriously, have you ever seen crazy Eastern European metalheads?). And it's all about his lineup, one encompassing 60 short and feature length films from all across the world.
"When I started on this a year ago, I felt that to be successful, and to be a draw to surrounding states, that we needed to have an outstanding lineup of films," Hulett said. "I picked two horror fests that I felt were perhaps the best in the U.S. and used them as the standard for what I wanted us to be, and I feel we've accomplished this well. Sixty films over three days, selected to satisfy the horror hungry crowds. I think the fans are going to leave happy."
The variety of sub-genres and nationalities represented in the roster of films ranges from the familiar to the indescribable. From the zombie/action short Zombies and Cigarettes to the decidedly less quantifiable anthology film The Devoured featuring Peter Greene (Pulp Fiction), the represented films run the gamut from trashy exploitation romps, comedies, dark suspense, ghost stories and monster films. Even the insane German impresario Uwe Boll is represented with his latest celluloid provocation, Rampage.
While that might seem like a wide array of sub-genres, Hulett knows that the fans love creative twists and turns in the service of scares, laughs and mayhem.
In addition, cast and crew members representing many of the films will be in attendance as well as con staples like Count Gregore and FX artists Tate Steinsiek and John Stirling who will be meeting fans and making new ones.
"There is a strong fan base following horror, and they will travel for good dosages of it," Hulett said.
But film watching isn't the only component of the fest -- not hardly when you consider the Zombie Fashion Walk (shouldn't that be "Shamble"?). Film making panels and workshops are aimed at aspiring directors, writers and technicians and the presence of distribution companies VCI Entertainment and Rsquared make the Oklahoma Horror Film Fest a place not just for fans, or the next George Romero, but a marketplace for nascent film makers of any stripe.
"I have already seen that the filmmakers and some of the interested people who follow us on Facebook are making connections and planning to meet here," Hulett said. "That's one reason for having workshops with the successful filmmakers as the bookend questions you find from young filmmakers at any fest or university filmmaking group are, 'How do I get the money to make my film, and then after it's made, how do I get distribution?'
"They don't learn this in university film programs. That education comes about in the school of hard knocks. Networking is highly important for a filmmaker's growth and development in this industry."
It's that buzz that has Hulett already in the planning stages for the festivals sophomore outing. The OHFF II means there's no rest for the wicked. Well, maybe a little.
"I have a long list of topics and ideas I want to explore as soon as we've had a few days rest to recuperate from the fest," Hulett said. "Prep for the next one will start the week after."
The three-day Oklahoma Horror Film Festival takes place during Labor Day weekend, September 3--5 at the Spiritbank Event Center, 10441 S. Regal Blvd. (105th and Memorial), in Tulsa. Tickets range from $20 for one day to $45 for a three-day pass.
To order tickets and see a list of the films and schedules for the events, visit oklahomahorrorfilmfest.com
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