Last year, when Columbia-based filmmakers Tommy Faircloth and Robert Zobel organized the inaugural Crimson Screen Horror Film Fest, their actions were sparked by the genuine enthusiasm of a small but dedicated community of horror film buffs.
They were also acting in defiant reaction to the mainstream film fest circuit that diminished the importance and validity of the horror genre in general.
“There are a lot of film festivals throughout the state, but horror is a genre that gets overlooked at these fests,” Faircloth said. “I’d traveled all over the States with my films to other horror festivals and saw what a draw it was. I figured that South Carolina was ready for something like this, and I wanted to do what I can do to help indie filmmakers get their work shown.”
With a sampling of new indie, underground films on a three-day roster, the Crimson Screen Horror Film Fest is back for its second year with a handful of locally made films and international treats.
The second annual Crimson Screen Horror Film Fest will be Friday through Sunday at the Sterett Hall Auditorium in North Charleston. Located on the former Charleston Naval Base, the historic auditorium is a 960-seat venue ideal for concerts and productions such as the film fest.
Over the course of the three-day festival, a slew of filmmakers, actors, production folks, artists and vendors will congregate for screenings, meet-and-greets and special events at the auditorium and at after-parties around town.
The roster of films features 43 independent horror films from all over the world, including what festival organizers call “a special spotlight on South Carolina produced films and filmmakers.”
Faircloth and Zobel, a Charleston native, currently own and operate the Columbia-based indie horror film production company Horse Creek Productions (www.horsecreekproductions.net).
Faircloth describes the current state of the horror film community in South Carolina as more widespread and diverse than some film buffs might assume, boasting a small but loyal following.
“I know a few guys that do horror films in Charleston, and very few elsewhere,” he says. “I’m hoping having a horror film festival will bring out the ‘closet’ horror filmmakers and inspire a younger up-and-coming generation of filmmakers to take the plunge into horror.”
The typical monster movies and popular suspense flicks of the 1970s and ’80s made a major impression on Faircloth as a young film buff and budding filmmaker and actor.
“I think it was from seeing movies like ‘Jaws’ and ‘When a Stranger Calls’ back when I was very young,” he recalls. “I remember seeing it in the theater with my parents. I loved that everyone was so scared and my father in particular was terrified. Then I used to sneak off to watch movies like ‘Friday the 13th’ over and over on HBO. It was something I just enjoyed. I think everyone likes to be scared and I find it amusing to scare people.”
A native of Columbia, Faircloth began writing and acting in various genres of film in his early high school days. As a young actor, he played small roles in indie projects and television programs (notably, TV’s “In The Heat of The Night”) before developing a passion for the production side of filmmaking. In the mid-1990s, he attended film school at University of South Carolina. He made his directorial debut in 1995 with comedic slasher parody film titled “Crinoline Head.”
While studying film at USC, Faircloth found that the horror genre was not taken as seriously by professors and students as other genres. Many tended to disregard horror as a niche thing.
“In college, I used to work on all my friends films, which were always dramas and comedy films, but no one seemed to want to do horror films,” he says. “When I was ready to do my first film, I went all out and shot a feature (“Crinoline Head”). I actually did it as an independent study course, and I got an A.”
In 2001, Faircloth wrote, directed, and acting in “Generation Ax,” a full-length high school slasher feature. Shortly after, however, he took a professional detour into documentary projects for Discovery Channel, The Travel Channel and other cable networks. But Faircloth was eager to aim back into his beloved horror film world.
In 2013, he made a big leap back into horror, writing and directing a short film titled “The Cabin.” The suspenseful film took a more character-driven approach than his previous efforts.
“The Cabin” played at 25 indie film festivals and won awards for “Best Short Film” at the San Antonio Horrific Film Fest, the Freak Show Film Festival, the Scared Stiff Halloween Film Fest, and the Fear Fete Film Festival.
Last year, Faircloth completed a sequel to “Crinoline Head,” “Dorchester’s Revenge: The Return of Crinoline Head.”
Filmed in Charleston during the summer of 2014, “Dorchester’s Revenge” made its debut in Austin, Texas, at the Indie Flix Film Showcase. In January, it won the 2015 Horror Society’s award for “Best Indie Horror Film.”
Fairlcoth defines “Dorchester’s Revenge” as a “classic slasher horror film.” He’s anxious to showcase it alongside all of the other entries this weekend.
“It’s a modern film with an ’80s feel and a lot of absurdity to it,” he says. “John Waters is a big influence of mine, and you’ll be able to see this in my film. It has the classic horror elements and jump scares, but also the most insane kill scenes you have seen, too. Actress Debbie Rochon was one of the leads in the film, so it will be great for audiences to watch it with her in attendance this weekend.”
This year, the Crimson Screen Horror Film Fest has partnered with Shorts International, one of the largest distributors of short films in the world.
“The cable channel, ShortsTV, is broadcast worldwide,” says Faircloth. “All of our official selections this year will get the opportunity to be screened for ShortsTV for a possible broadcast deal, and our winning short film will be awarded a possible distribution deal. It’s a great opportunity for our filmmakers.”
For the most enthusiastic horror fans and up-and-coming filmmakers, some of the “not-to-be-missed” special events and screenings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night include a few world premieres of “Model Hunger” and “Quad X.”
The inclusion and careful arrangement of short films in this year’s Crimson Screen program allows the festival to pace itself from day to day. Screenings will essentially go nonstop in the auditorium each day, so it’s ideal to have shorts and full-length films intertwined.
“Having short films gives us an opportunity to showcase and show audiences all genres of horror films out there,” Faircloth says. “Having a wide range of horror films represented is very important. We want to show the very best films, but we also want to inspire up-and-coming filmmakers by having some projects that you may not normally see in a big fest. Having a local spotlight on South Carolina filmmakers is important as well.”
A panel of judges will vote on numerous awards at the Crimson Screen festival’s conclusion. Awards will be presented for best feature, short, director, actor, actress, cinematography, special effects, screenplay and unproduced screenplay.
Additionally, an Audience Choice Award, Jury Award, and a Homegrown Horror Award for best project produced in South Carolina will be issued as well.
The festival award trophies, nicknamed “Crimmys,” are custom designed by award-winning special effects artist Tony Rosen, an acclaimed veteran of the horror film world known for his work on “The Conjuring,” “Annabelle,” and “Suicide for Beginners.” Rosen will be in attendance at the Crimson Screen fest this weekend with some of his creations from films he has worked on.
As the fest co-organizer, Faircloths’s hope is to continue to grow and draw audiences.
“The main focus of the festival is the films and filmmakers, so we want to be able to have a large audience for the films that we show,” he says. “We have many filmmakers that travel here from all over the U.S. and overseas, so we want to make sure they have a good audience for their film.”