A storm had been brewing outside all morning, when suddenly the sky broke and let loose an unrelenting downpour. But that didn’t stop us from jumping in my car and heading downtown to navigating a very wet and crowded parking garage. It was, in fact, the perfect setting for a day at a horror/sci-fil film fest.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”One of the defining traits across all instances of cult horror is the attention that fans and critics give to its monsters. Visit any horror fan convention or festival and invariably the monsters achieve most of the attention and praise. Cosplay and costume dress parties accentuate that appeal in very visible ways.” 1[/pullquote]
My partner and I attended the Silver Scream Film Festival on Saturday, March 4th, 2016. This was the second day of a three-day event hosted on the second floor of the Roxy 14 Stadium in downtown Santa Rosa, CA. There were large crowds of festival-goers present, and many came dressed up as their favorite classic sci-fi/horror character. The most popular costume seemed to be the iconic red and black striped sweater worn by Nightmare on Elm Street‘s unforgettable Freddy Krueger, who happened to be there as well — in the flesh, on-screen and as a life-sized mannequin that greeted festival-goers with his gruesome grim.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”Exhibition is one area in which the identity of cult cinema is undisputed. It is in the interaction between screen and audience that cults become solidified.” 1[/pullquote]
I volunteered for the event, so my job was to walk around and take pictures, collect video and help where I’m needed. An old schoolmate showed up with a pair of friends and recognized me. She’d had half her face transformed into a bloody mess of torn flesh. She asked me to take a picture of them against the festival’s backdrop, which seemed to be a favorite place for fans to be photographed. My partner and I took a few more for other fans before many disappeared behind the closed doors of theaters showing various films.
The excitement of the fans mingling with the scent of freshly made popcorn was palpable and contagious. I was completely drawn into the atmosphere and to the clamoring crowd. You have to be a certain kind of person to gravitate towards horror movies and comics. There were hordes of fanboys and plenty of scream queens dressed to the nines as slasher chicks, vampires and/or werewolves. Everyone was super-friendly, animated and talkative. A girl wearing a blood-soaked nurse’s uniform offered me a cigarette outside the venue. Earlier, she had posed for pictures and had briefly talked to us as we walked around the event with cameras and a Go-Pro. A boy wearing a black hoodie imprinted with “The Misfits” logo saunters by. It is an image that is instantly recognizable only to those who know where it came from, meaningless to all others.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”. . . cult film receptions act as the opt-out of the desire to quantify culture. It is a position that confirms the marginal status of cult cinema and exemplifies the pride its audiences take in standing in opposition to official culture.”1[/pullquote]
Researchers Ernest Mathijs and Jamie Sexton note that horror cultism “is very recognizable, because of the steadfastness of its symbols, and the visibility this gives to its fandom. Cult monsters, an important set of symbols, are instantly identifiable. Vampires, werewolves, mad doctors, phantoms, zombies, serial killers, giant bugs, and knife, razorblade, and chainsaw wielding maniacs like Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, and Leatherface have spearheaded an array of monster designs easily marked by a small number of defining accessories such as fangs, fur, or masks.” The popularity of cult horror cinema was jump-started by the syndication of old horror shows shows in the late 1950s, reaching its peak in the 1970s and 1980s with the advent of conventions, festivals, fan gatherings, and cult film re-releases, where “costumes, accessories, and paraphernalia mimicking favored monsters are celebrated through dress-up contests and vampire balls.”1
The first annual Silver Scream Film & Comic Festival did not disappoint. Although Philip Kim, in his interview, expressed some hesitation over whether a solid cult-film fan base existed here in Sonoma County, it seemed as if his fears were unfounded. Although many of the costumed fans were made up of younger generations, all ages were present to partake in what turned out to be a visual feast not only on the screen but also through the venue’s lobby, which was lined with booths hosting several local genre-based businesses that offered memorabilia, comic books, and wearable merchandise for sale. They shared space with several artistic representations of sci-fi and horror icons from films such as Nightmare on Elm Street, Edward Scissorhands and An American Werewolf in London. Crowds gathered around artist Rob Prior as he exhibited his creative skills on large canvases and around special effects artists as they carefully airbrushed their monstrous models.
The experience of a genre-based film festival is one of a kind. This is a place where everybody present shares something in common with each other — a bond of a sort, a communion. I see them look into the eyes of one another and nod to each other knowingly, members of a secret society that requires only a deep commitment to all things sci-fi/horror. There is a sense of belonging here, a family-like atmosphere that is festive and celebratory in its love of comic books, graphic art and cinematic abjection.
1. Mathijs, Ernest, and Sexton, Jamie. Cult Cinema: An Introduction. Somerset, GB: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 27 April 2016.