Scare Tactics: The Reel Terror filmmakers talk about why they make horror movies

Knicker Knockers trailer

For other filmmakers, the road to making a horror movie was more roundabout. Take Ashley Martinez, a 19-year-old USF sophomore studying mass communications who is the director and cinematographer of Fine Whine. For Martinez, the idea to make a movie predated the actual content. “In this instance, [co-director] Dakota Whittington and I knew we wanted to make a film, and together developed a plot line after I had experimented mixing corn syrup with red food coloring.” Martinez placed the mixture into a glass, set it over the camera lens and with a pressurized air duster made the “blood” look as if it were clotting and moving around. “This is the first image you see in the film,” she says.

Not all of the filmmakers who submitted work for Reel Terror are film students or professional filmmakers. Marcus Armstrong, the 25-year-old director of The Couple, was a complete novice. “The Couple was my first attempt at making a short film,” he says. “Prior to that I had never even owned a video camera, let alone gone to film school. Blockbuster, Netflix and the internet were my film school.” Armstrong says he’s always been passionate about the horror genre (he cites John Carpenter’s style and storytelling capability as a director as a huge influence), and that The Couple worked as an experiment for him to see if he could do it and if he enjoyed it. “I can safely say it was one of the most fun and creatively rewarding experiences I’ve ever had,” he says. “I can’t wait to start my next horror film in January 2011.”

[image-1]No matter the education or experience level of the filmmakers, what almost all of the films screening at Reel Terror have in common is that they were made on the cheap by incredibly creative people who knew how to improvise. “In the end we probably spent about $65 on actual production, not including food to feed our crew of 14,” says Joops Fragale, director of the girl-on-girl date-night chiller Simone. But how do you stretch $65 into what is one of the more accomplished shorts screening at Reel Terror? “We do most of the pre- and post-work ourselves, including the FX makeup and physical effects,” Fragale says. “We have a great dedicated core crew who bleed for us and we make the most of all available resources,” which included the donated Ormond Beach locations.

The one main exception to Reel Terror’s “shot-on-the-cheap” aesthetic will be the 10-minute pre-release preview of the upcoming zombie flick Dead Season (a still from which is at the very top of this post). Shot primarily in Puerto Rico (but with some work done in South Florida), Dead Season has national-release aspirations, and the producers plan to begin their quest for world domination here in Tampa. Though not low-budget when compared to other festival entries, Dead Season was still shot with an eye toward keeping costs down. As such, it is the first feature film to be shot on the Canon 7D, a $1,600 camera that works with the full line of Canon lenses, offering the filmmakers a level of quality and versatility that has been impossible to achieve until recently. Dead Season producer/writer Loren Semmons promises the exclusive clip from the film screening at Reel Terror won’t disappoint. “It’ll have some great story elements and some action pieces,” he says. “We’ll have a little bit of everything for you guys.”

In e-mailing back and forth with the filmmakers for this story, I was most struck by Brent Lorentson’s comments. Lorentson directed the feature Scavenger Hunt, which will be the second-to-last film screened at the festival. “Horror is such a broad genre and it gives you a lot of freedom to express yourself,” he said. “Horror also reflects why we go to movies in the first place. It’s the genre that embraces the notion of escaping reality for two hours and allows us to let go and be kids again. Horror takes us back to a time when the only real fears in life were the monster in the closet or the boogeyman under the bed.”

When the lights go down and the blood splatters across the screen at this weekend’s Reel Terror Film Festival the audience will be watching more than just a few scary movies. The 12 films selected for the fest represent the unwavering commitment and drive of the filmmakers, a diverse bunch of professionals and enthusiasts who devote countless hours and sink untold amounts of spare cash into their love. But why horror? Why not make a nice romantic comedy?

“My mother is also an avid horror fan and she took me to see horror films with her when I was as young as 3 to 4 years old,” says Robert Kreh, the writer/director of Knicker Knockers. “The first film I recall seeing was one of the early Nightmare on Elm Street films. But I saw all the classics at a young age.” Kreh’s Knicker Knockers is a creepy, well-made short about a pregnant woman terrorized by a creature lurking just outside her home. It was shot over five summer evenings in 2009 — in a beautiful Bayshore home owned by the very generous Bill Hayes — by a crew made up mostly of Kreh’s former classmates at the International Academy of Design & Technology in Tampa. “Yeah, I exclusively do horror,” Kreh continued. “I honestly don’t have much interest in any other genre.”


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