- Spooky Movie Film Festival director Curtis Prather, looking less spooky than creepy. (Photo: Curtis Prather)
Curtis Prather, director of the Spooky Movie Film Festival, describes starting the five-day showcase of horror flicks out of "an obnoxious combination" of wanting to work at a festival, finding no genre fest in D.C., and then getting lucky (not in that sense). Now in its fifth year, the festival opens tonight at the AFI Silver Theater with a noteworthy genre sendup, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, followed by another 10 features and 31 shorts at the Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax. About a quarter of the filmmakers will be in attendance, he says. "And, as always, the ubiquitous Count Gore will be here, chomping on some necks." Yum, necks.
Prather, a native of the D.C. area, is himself a filmmaker, having made four documentaries "on subjects ranging from the first Habitat for Humanity home in Northern Virginia to George W. Bush's first day as President to, most recently, one on television personality Dick Dyszel, who was Count Gore De Vol, Captain 20 and Bozo the Clown back when I was a kid." He also published a zombie novel this year, co-written under a pseudonym, entitled Underpants of the Dead. Here's hoping he adapts it for the screen.
In an email interview, Prather discussed growing up in D.C., his favorite horror films and directors, and the annoying proliferation of "found footage" movies. These were the highlights:
On growing up in D.C.:
The D.C.-area suburbs were a great place to grow up in the '70s. We had Captain 20 in the afternoon, and Count Gore De Vol at night, and only when he grew his mustache did we realize he was the same man. In the '80s, it felt important to be here, from the D.C. punk scene to good old fashion Cold War anxiety — one reason why zombie films back then were so appealing.
On the DMV film scene:
My first two jobs when I got out of school were working for both the Video Vault, the world's single greatest video store, which just recently closed, and the American Film Institute Theatre at the Kennedy Center — both back in the early 1990s, and both gave me a fantastic education on film, and on film in this town. From my perspective, D.C. remains a fantastic place to be a film lover. We have the greatest documentary festival anywhere (Silverdocs), the best shorts festival (DC Shorts) and the most-respected and longest-running LGBT fest (Reel Affirmations) — and that's not even scratching the surface with the other fests, events, clubs or all of the international focus tied to embassies or the Smithsonian. It's my hope that Spooky Movie does this area proud one day, too.
On Spooky Movie's uniqueness:
Spooky Movie's greatest strength is being part of the diverse fabric of the DC region — home of one of the greatest horror films ever made (The Exorcist) as well as one of the greatest science-fiction classics (The Day the Earth Stood Still). With regards to programming, I try and create an experience for the filmgoer that they will never get anywhere else: not at another festival, the multiplex, or sitting at home watching things on their computer. They are in a darkened theatre, with an audience, watching some pretty great things — and you never know what's coming next. I am always conscious of the fact that it's a big leap of faith for someone to come out to an event and see movies they may never have heard of, so I want to always be sure they get their money's worth.
On his favorite horror films and directors:
If you are going to pin me down, I have to go with the classics — Bride of Frankenstein, Night of the Living Dead, and Psycho. However, there are so many fantastic films out there, from all shades of the macabre, that at any given moment I could just as easily say House of Wax, Black Sunday or American Warewolf in London. Same with directors — George Romero, Wes Craven and Alfred Hitchcock. But that leaves off Roger Corman, Hershell Gordon Lewis, David Cronenberg or so many others.
On the most annoying horror-film cliché:
It may not be something that's necessarily "evergreen," but the thing that bugs me right now are really bad "found footage" films. They are easy and cheap to make, but you need much more than the clever story or concept. You actually need people with talent, in front of and behind the lens. Looking back at The Blair Witch Project, that film was sold because of the acting. Same thing with Paranormal Activity and The Last Exorcism. I enjoyed all of those. What I haven't enjoyed are the really poorly done ones that come out in response to them.
On what defines a horror film:
To paraphrase local author and Stephen King historian Douglas Winter, for me horror is not so much a genre as it is an emotion. So with respect to the festival, I take advantage of a diversity of talents and styles and schools of cinema to uncover some very basic truth of this appeal we have towards things that go bump in the night. Sometimes it's found in the very rough, hard-to-digest or experimental works, and others can take us there through humor. Personally, however, I gravitate towards both the David Lynch and Mel Brooks elements, and as such, I will personally respond if you can freak me out or make me laugh — or in some cases do both. Show me something I've never seen, give me a restless experience, surprise me. It's just that easy.
[This interview was edited for house style and clarity.]