THERE'S MORE TO LIFE and death than the looming dread of the Ancient Ones. At least that's what Gwen Callahan has discovered when it comes to programming film festivals—not all horror flicks fit into Cthulhu's tentacled purview. As co-director of the HP Lovecraft Film Festival since 2011, Callahan wanted to expand our horror universe—and that's how this week's debut of the Portland Horror Film Festival came to be.
"Each year we receive hundreds of submissions for the HP Lovecraft Film Festival, and some of them, while they are great films, just don't quite fit the Lovecraftian or weird genre," Callahan told the Mercury. So she—and festival co-director/husband Brian Callahan—"decided that it was time to have a dedicated horror film festival for all genres of horror, where the focus is on independent films," she continues. "The films we're showing... are things you wouldn't see at the [Lovecraft Fest], but there's definitely overlap in audience appeal. These are smart films by filmmakers who are pushing the boundaries of the art form."
This new fest is full of shorts from all over the world that span the horror spectrum—from funny-gross to gross-gross, and from understated eerie to full-blown bizarre. In addition to those oodles of short films, there are two feature-length films, a meet 'n' greet at Sam's Billiards, Q&As, and afterparties. It's basically a two-day grab bag of bloody, spooky genre film.
"Because we had so many organic submissions, we chose to focus on the independent submissions and give those films the exposure they deserve, rather than license a commercial film or invite films that hadn't been submitted," says Callahan. "It's quite a mix of styles and that's something we're really excited about. There's a little bit of everything—zombies, vampires, serial killers, hauntings, demons, monsters. Some of the films are serious and raise questions about human nature and what it means to be a monster, some are a little experimental in the way they tell the story, and some are really funny while maintaining all the right horror elements."
I saw a sampling of the nearly 30 shorts, and the standouts were the tongue-in-cheekers, like Mirrored, a great nod to the antics of Ash of Evil Dead. Or Larry Gone Demon, a riff on a monstrous roommate whose thirst for blood (and chocolate milk) is ripping the household apart. A British short, The Barber's Cut, had great effects and plucky humor. And one of the feature films, Daylight's End—starring Lance Henriksen—is a gritty war film posing as a vampire apocalypse flick. As is the case for nearly every submission-based film fest ever, there are some misses alongside the hits, but the good films shine with a visceral luster. And if you don't like what's playing, sit tight for seven minutes—there's bound to be a short that's more up your alley on the Hollywood's big screen.
With the hardcore-horror PDXtreme Fest making its debut last December, the Lovecraft Fest still going strong, and the Portland Horror Fest kicking off this week, Portland seems on the cusp of an independent horror film renaissance. "I think it's awesome that there are more outlets for horror fans here!" Callahan says. "We believe there's plenty of amazing cinema to go around, and the more opportunities Portlanders have to see and enjoy film outside of the megaplex, the better it is for everyone.
"All the well-known horror directors got their start with little indie films, from John Carpenter's Halloween to Eli Roth's Cabin Fever to Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left," Callahan says. She's right—and it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see a future big-name director lurking in Portland Horror Film Fest's lineup.