Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Interview with Dr. Karen Oughton

I'm not going to lie to you, life's been busy lately... and because of that, there's been a recent lack of regular posts. What can I say? New job, new responsibilities and I'm just trying to figure out how to rebalance my life. It happens every now and again. Because of that, I'm struggling with the fact that I'd rather produce a decent post than just rip one off a few times a week and I really don't want to post something that's useless. I did, however, recently receive a very intriguing interview back from Dr. Karen Oughton... finally, something decent to post.

We usually talk with indie horror distributors and filmmakers, but Dr. Oughton is a little different - she's basically a horror aficionado. She's writes, she reviews, she does commentary and, because of all that, she knows a thing or two about the whole scene. In fact, she's just the type of person you want to hear from if you're a filmmaker. She's completely unbiased and she studies the industry - when I figured that out, I figured we should ask her a few questions. Trust me when I say, it's a worthwhile read if you're a filmmaker. However, before you read the interview, feel free to read up on her. You can check out her two websites by clicking on these links: and After you're well versed, check out the interview...

Tell us about the FrightFest and what you do with the festival.

I’m organizer Ian Rattray’s assistant. I write the “Who’s Dead” obituary column, articles and reviews for the e-Magazine and have helped with the editing and checking processes. I was also let loose to coordinate the stage lighting and microphones and liaise with guests before they went on stage for the introductions and Q&A sessions.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What got you into the horror scene?

I’m a journalist, lecturer, commentary provider, film promoter and long-time horror nut! I was hooked by The Pit and The Pendulum when still in pigtails. These days, I love anything that is done well, from The Haunting to A Serbian Film and to Beautiful Girl Hunter (AKA Star of David). I got into the festival circuit after attending the Celluloid Screams festival to take my mind off my PhD exam the next week – replacing one horror with another!

There are some great films screening at different film festivals this year. What are the highlights? Which films really rattled the cages this year?

It has been a varied year in terms of both films and festival audiences. We had everything from giggles ‘n’ gore crowd-pleasers like Hatchet II through to infamous offerings like A Serbian Film and I Spit on Your Grave. These latter two are interesting not only because of their subject matters and the stylistic reasons they incurred the wrath of the British Board of Film Classification, but also because of how different audiences reacted to them. I have seen I Spit on Your Grave three times with different audiences, one looked extremely uncomfortable at the milder sections, one didn’t seem bothered either way, the other cheered through all the nasty bits! A similar thing happened with A Serbian Film. People either picked out the comic elements, understood it as a serious social commentary or saw it simply as an attempt to make the sickest film of all time. Personally, I think it is elements of all three.

A surprise cage-rattler was Jake West’s Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape documentary, but for all the right reasons. It got a particularly good reaction (I suspect) because it is entertaining, is about films people love and (sometimes!) respect, and because the contributors were so enthusiastic. They took part in a fantastic discussion panel at FrightFest. It bought home what a political act a film festival can be, and frankly what we have got to be grateful for. It was brilliant to see the contributors - academics, journalists and directors - mobbed by the world’s politest crowd as soon as they got off the stage. In England that kind of reaction simply isn’t that common an occurrence. The contributors were stunned by the attention as they had done only what they felt was right in standing up for these films when all around were claiming they were corrupting society. It was such an amazing moment.

You also provide audio commentary for Lionsgate. How did you get into that and what’s that process like?

I went to the Celluloid Screams Festival in Sheffield, England and went to a screening of Neighbor. Being an academic specializing in film, I got talking to the producer, Charles St John Smith, afterwards and he invited me to put some ideas together for an audio commentary and a few other marketing tools. He gave me free reign, so after doing some interviews with him, director Robert Angelo Masciantonio and key cast members, I did what I’ve always enjoyed watching but rarely see - a commentary that talks about what is happening, when it happens. People don’t often do it like that because it’s fiddly. I watched the film a few more times to work out what sections needed notes and how long I had to talk about them. I then went into the recording studio, put the DVD on silently and read some of my notes at the right times, but riffed the rest from scratch and sometimes included information I had been given by the producer and director. I tailored my tone to fit the film – sensible when it was serious, playful when it was funny, and down right filthy when The Girl got going! I’m used to public speaking, so most of it was done in one take. When we’d finished, we did some editing work and sent the whole thing through to Lionsgate, who approved it.

Talk about where horror is at right now. What trends do you see going on and where do you see things going?

Well this year it was all about the different guises of gore, gore, gore! FrightFest was a really good indicator of this, as it showed how gore is used in different subgenres of horror. There’s homage horror in the veins of Hatchet 2 which makes the appreciation of the execution of the gore (ewwww!) a main part of the audience’s experience, there was the fabulous F, which shows a trend towards the incorporation of horror into real life scenarios (as could also be seen in Cherry Tree Lane), and there’s supernatural shocker in films such as 13 Hrs.

In terms of the future, my guess is that we will see two distinct strands of scream films: those that continue in the shrieking with laughter slasher vein and an increasing focus on serious subjects. Horror is becoming more widely appreciated. In the past, (as I found out when researching the “Who’s Dead” Obituaries column for FrightFest Ezine), horror films were what you did to gain experience - a number of mainstream industry professionals had horror films buried down in the darkest depths of their CVs. Now it has gone mainstream and A list actors like Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe and Tom Felton are appearing in features and Dr Who’s David Tennant is currently filming the Fright Night remake! It’s taken seriously as a genre now, is featured on university courses (including mine!), and it’s becoming far more acceptable to like even the more hardcore stuff. This is great because it means that horror can continue to develop and give fans just what they want, be it a horror-action flick, a slick slasher, a really great ghost story, or indeed anything else in between. And the best thing is that more and more films are coming through that are so good at turning the thumbscrews they blow everything else away.

Now, as we’re a site about indie horror, let’s talk about low-budget, indie horror. In your opinion, what does it take for a film to break through and have mass appeal?

Well, I’ve seen one heck of a lot of indie horror and wrote a review of the Raindance Film Festival for the FrightFest e-Magazine this year, and from what I can see there is really only one absolute necessity: decent actors or character representation. They don’t have to be playing serious characters but they do need to buy into the scenario they’re portraying. If they do, the film is probably going to be watchable and, importantly, remembered. If they don’t, it just becomes another low-budget blood and bore-fest. Of course, this is discounting the whole issue of luck and being seen in the right place at the right time, but having just turned off a great indie film with a good premise and great camera work but absolutely awful acting, I’m becoming more and more convinced that if you don’t have the actors to convey it, even the best story will just die. Horribly. In great pain.

What’s next for you?

Well, I’m writing for film magazines including Fangoria and Scream: The Horror Magazine, am scheduled to appear as a special guest on a few radio shows (I can’t say which as they’re making a formal announcement soon), am developing a new horror review website and am in discussions over one or two film projects. I also teach media communications (including film studies) at Regent’s American College London (Webster University). If I’m not laying awake in the night thinking about what might go ‘bump’, appear or bite, there’s something wrong!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Distribution Problems and Apprehensive Films

I totally forgot to put the Amazon links in with my last post... if you've been scrambling around for the last few days, desperate to find links to those two films... you can relax, I've added them. Now, since we're talking about my last post, I'd like to mention Apprehensive Films, which distributed the film "Colony of the Dark". I was on their site and came across something interesting...

Let's just preface what I found, though. Usually, while I'm perusing the latest indie horror titles, I check out who's distributing. That's partly because I'm interested in the whole distribution angle and partly because I want to pass my findings on to you, my dedicated reader, the indie horror filmmaker.

Maybe I should go back even further... Look, I've said it a thousand times and I'm going to be right... one day. I guess it's kind of like that old saying, even a broken clock is right once a day, but... I think that indie film, especially indie horror, is on the verge of breaking out. And I'll keep saying it until it does. However, there's a couple things that are holding it back, one is distribution and the other is awareness. If I win the lottery... or someone wants to pay me a handsome salary, I would dedicate my days to solving both problems and I could solve them... However, until that time, I'll have to keep my day job and do this on the side - fighting the good fight for indie film, a half hour here... a half hour there. Anyhow, awareness is something that is going to be an issue - how do you differentiate indie horror from mainstream horror and attract a new audience? Indie horror does have a dedicated audience, but right now... supply outweighs demand. There's just too much product. We need to build that audience. As usual, I have ideas on how to do it, but... I'm just a guy with a blog.

Distribution is the other thing. Currently, in most cases, the indie filmmaker is getting screwed by the distributor and if an indie filmmmaker wants to distribute himself, he doesn't have the weight or clout to really be successful. They don't know it, but the way that most distributors work is actually holding back the entire indie horror scene. They need to break out, try new things... what they're doing now isn't helping anything but their coffers. Anyhow, back to Apprehensive Films... when I was reading up on them, I couldn't help but notice a section on their site called "distribution options". So, I checked it out... and they do have a cool spin on it. Basically, they do have the weight and clout to get in to big retailers, but they want you to take on the risk by pressing your own DVD's and, well... paying them. I don't think it's THE answer and I won't get in to why, but I do think it's a good option for those that are having trouble dealing with distributors that don't want their film and don't want to do the hustle of distributing themselves... and, of course, you'll need to have a few extra thousand dollars to burn.

Here's a link to their "distribution options", check it out. It's a good little read, even if you're not currently looking to distribute your film.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Golden Globes and a couple of new DVD's

I'm writing this on Sunday, a few hours before the Golden Globes start, and that means we're at that point of the year that horror fans dread - the start of awards season. So, we get a lot of artsy shit, but there are some good flicks in the mix, too, including "Black Swan", "The Fighter" and "The Social Network". The only thing that's notable for horror fans is Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan", which is, essentially, a horror movie... that's set in the world of ballet. If you haven't seen it, it's worth checking out. I mean, if you're a gorehound, it's not going to blow up your skirt or anything, but if you want to see a horror film that's got the critics talking, it's actually really good.

There is another cool thing about this years festival season... a lot of the directors have indie roots. "Inception" director, Christopher Nolan, started with "Following" and "Momento", two awesome indie films. "Black Swan" director, Darren Aronofsky, started with the micro-cinema film, "Pi". "The Fighter" director, David O. Russel, started with the indie film "Spanking the Monkey". All the films they started with could've been done by any of our readers... there is hope, people.

Anyhow, the point of that wasn't to tell you to check out "Black Swan" or give you a pep talk, the point was that we're in awards season and that means that means art films at the theaters, no horror. So, not much to talk about at the box office. Further, there's not much to talk about that's coming out in DVD, either. Really, there's only two things of note, "Colony of the Dark" and "Nite Tales: The Series"

"Nite Tales: The Series" is from Deon Taylor and is based off of his film, you guessed it, "Nite Tales: The Movie" and Flavor Flav reprises his role as a crypt-keeper type character. I never saw it, but I think it aired on WGN. Each episode was shot in one day on 35mm and budgeted around $20K - $50K. That sounds super indie, to me. I'm almost positive that it only lasted one season, but if you missed that one season... here it is.

"Colony of the Dark" comes from Apprehensive Films and it looks pretty good... shot entirely on Super 8, it's a feature length creature feature and the low budget creature effects are what makes it. You have to check out the trailer, here's a link to it. Also, the film introduced me to Apprehensive Films, which I had never heard of before. I'm going to have to do a post on them soon, as they could be a great distribution partner for a lot of you filmmakers.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Look At Breaking Glass Pictures, Distributor of "Hanger", "Run Bitch Run" and "Ticked Off Trannies"

It's been a while since we added a new distributor to our list, but we recently added Breaking Glass Pictures... To be honest, I'm not sure how new they are, but they came to my attention after checking out "Hanger", which is a pretty good indie horror flick.

So, they were named after David Bowie's 1977 hit song and were founded by Richard Wolf and Richard Ross... odd that they're both named Richard. I wonder if they've ever been called the two Dick's? Anyhow... they stick to provocative and challenging films of all genres, namely horror, gore, LGBT and the odd erotic drama. They also distribute up to twelve titles a year through their new specialty horror label, Vicious Circle Films. Their first film under that label was the afore mentioned "Hanger", which is about a botched abortion that lives and seeks revenge. They also released "Run Bitch Run", which is slowly turning into an indie cult classic.

They have all their contact info on their site, which you can find by clicking here. If you're looking for a distributor, just head over there and start emailing them. It can't hurt! If you want to check out all the other distributors that we've covered, head on over to our section called "Indie Horror Distributors", you can go directly there by clicking here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Horror Coming Out on DVD This Week

Okay, things are slowly getting back to normal around here. Well, the new normal, anyhow. We here at Dead Harvey are working on a few projects and we're going to be spending some more time on those. Of course, we're going to continue to post new things on the site, it may just be at different times and on different things. At the end of the day, if you're in to indie and micro-cinema horror, as a filmmaker or fan, we'll keep you happy. Anyhow, there's really nothing of note, horror-wise, going on at the box office, so I'm just going to get right to the new horror coming out on DVD.

Anyone worth their weight in indie horror knowledge knows that "Piranha II: The Spawning" was the directorial debut of James Cameron. It came out in 1981 and it's the sequel to the low-budget 1978 film, "Piranha". The story goes that James Cameron was originally hired to be the special effects guy, but ended re-writing the script and taking the helm... however, the executive producer, Ovidio Assonitis, got involved and Cameron was only allowed to shoot the film, he wasn't allowed to cut it... legend has it that Cameron broke into the editing room in Rome and cut his own version, but ended up getting caught. In any case, the film was a bit of a bust and Cameron was later allowed to cut his own version of the film, but it's rare. It's probably easy to get now, but I've never seen it. ANYHOW, I'm fairly certain that this story is one of the only reasons anyone knows about the "Piranha" franchise and it's probably why it was remade and available this week on DVD as "Piranha 3D". This version is actually directed by French horror director Alex Aja, who is the guy behind the new wave French Horror classic, "Haute Tension". He also did the remake of "The Hills Have Eyes" and a few other big budget horror films. This is one that I didn't check out in the theaters, but will definitely be checking out on DVD.

Most indie horror fans are aware of the 2004 film "Chainsaw Sally", where April Monique Burril plays the title role of Chainsaw Sally, a girl that witnessed the murder of her parents and grows up to become a serial killer that gets her inspiration for killing from horror films. What I didn't know about... and haven't seen... is "The Chainsaw Sally Show, Season 1", which is now available on DVD. I really dug the film and I'm going to have to check this out. Apparently it's filled with horror references, cameos, gore, hot chicks and hapless victims. What more do you want? All that and I believe it's distributed by Troma... probably through its Troma TV, which I have no idea of how to subscribe to.

I like the cover art for "Halloween Night", but only because it kinda reminds me of the cover art for Slayer's "South of Heaven" for some reason. It's released by Tempe Video and it's directed by Mark Plonia... and it's about a college party gone bad, where a mistreated student exacts his revenge on those who wronged him. His uses the effigy of a living scarecrow, a Frankenstein-like creation, to carry out his plans. Definitely piques my interest...

Here's one for the horndogs... "Chinese Kamasutra" is about an American scholar of Chinese lore that takes a job at a Chinese library and stumbles upon a volume of the Kamasutra... and unleashes her sexual fantasies. There's some sort of connection between the book and some haunted house and then she somehow falls into the clutches of the Kamasutra cult, who probably do terrible sexual things to her.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Horror Coming Out on DVD This Week

Wow, it's been a good two or three weeks since I've posted anything. Sorry... lots of family in town and Christmas was hectic. Truth be told, things are still hectic. Hopefully I can get back in a groove soon and be posting on a regular basis again. Anyhow, let's get right to the new horror DVD's that came out this week.

First up, there's "WolvesBayne". It's a Syfy original that premiered back in 2009 during their 31 nights of Halloween. It's directed by Griff Furst, who's the son of none-other-than Flounder (from "Animal House") himself, Stephen Furst, and stars Jeremy London from "Party of Five" as a newly transformed werewolf that's working with vampire hunters to stop a vampire cult that has plans to resurrect Lilith, the mother of all vampires. So, basically, your typical Syfy original.

I doubt that "Let Me Die Quietly" will be a true horror, but it's garnered some awards and is critically acclaimed. It comes from indie label, Breaking Glass Pictures, and is directed by Mitchell Reichler and Brian Finn. The film follows a broken-down alcoholic who's haunted by psychic visions of murder victims. It won best suspense feature at the Indie Gathering Film Festival and Best Suspense Thriller at the New York Film and Video Festival.

"Sci-Fi High: The Movie Musical" comes from Brain Damage Films and Midnight Releasing... and it's a musical. I'm not sure what the budget was, but it looks like they sure did a good job with whatever it was. I don't think it's one for the gore hounds... at all, but it looks pretty damned good.

We just interviewed the guys behind "The Shadows" and we definitely recommend checking it out. Here's a link to the interview that we did with them... or you can just scroll down. It's the last post we did.

Believe it or not, the reviews and comments on "Alien Vengeance II: Rogue Element" are good... and I kinda like the idea behind the plot. A group of friends get together after a decade apart when they find out that one of them is actually an alien... and they cut off his head.

It's shot in black and white, it's low-budget, it looks hilarious and awesome... and it's got a great title - "Hamlet the Vampire Slayer". Enough said, check it out.