The 2013 Fright Night Film Fest and Fandom, Louisville, Kentucky

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Fandom Fest 2013

Fandom Fest 2013 (Photo credit: PureGeekery)

Where are horror movies, sci fi celebrities, anime, comics, and gaming mixed up into a pot? Try the Fright Night Film Festive and Fandom which is held in Louisville, Kentucky every year. I needed to be there this year since my screenplay, “Obedience,” was an official selection of the film festival, something I consider to be a great honor. This is the first big general horror convention I have attended, so take my observations in that light.

First, on the positive side, almost all the movies I saw that were finalists were quite good to excellent in quality. I was amazed at the available talent in horror and the fact that Hollywood has not always paid sufficient attention to some of the most creative film producers. One film I saw, Lucid, is a fascinating exploration of lucid dreaming with well rounded characters and a stunning performance by the lead actor–she played her part like a master, especially the strong emotional element of the film. The shift between appearance and reality was interesting to me as a philosopher, and in the future this will be one of the movies I show to my Introduction to Philosophy class. Another fine movie, Mr. White, is an exploration of bullying and the terrible revenge one bullied boy meets out. Having been bullied myself as a child (though not as badly as many unfortunate children), I found the movie disturbing. The acting was high quality.

Attending Gillian Anderson‘s question and answer session was a positive experience. She is quite lovely and charming, and she is comfortable in dealing with audiences and their questions. Seeing her as a human being rather than as a character was an interesting experience–one sees that she is a human being who is trying to get by in this world like everyone else, one who is very good at her job. She did not come across as arrogant, which is all too rare for celebrities.

Unfortunately the line was too long for William Shatner‘s appearance, and I am sure the same was true for Stan Lee‘s. I am glad many of their fans were able to see them in person.

The vendors sold a variety of diverse products, and I spent way too much money. Much of it was anime and comics, which are not really my interests, but there were enough movies, music, and horror props to make any horror fan’s day.

No matter how well staff plans, a conference this big is a logistical nightmare, and this led to some problems with scheduling. Some rooms were double-booked, and if rooms changed for an event, there was no way to find out where it was held except via word of mouth. Some events started later than scheduled. The schedule was flawed to the point that a printed schedule was not available–I missed an event on Friday evening because I was not aware of it. I do not have an I-phone, so I was unable to scan the schedule. It was finally available for all online on Saturday. A preliminary schedule should come out in advance so people can make adequate plans. I should have driven in Friday instead of Thursday, for example–I’ll be paying $700.00 plus for a hotel bill when I could have saved a great deal of money by coming a day late.

I realize that sounds more negative than it should be, but I hope that the things I mentioned will be taken as suggestions to improve the experience of the convention for fans, filmmakers, and writers.

by adequate plans–I shouldSome rules should have been more clear–for example, the schedule said that the vendor area would be open at 10 a.m. on Sunday. What the schedule did not make clear is that it was open at 10 for VIPs, etc., and at 11 for smucks like me who paid general admission. It was an embarrassing experience being turned away by a staff member.

Another thing that was not clear to me, as a recent author of a book of horror poems, is that books could be displayed at the Fandom desk in the Kentucky Convention Center. Discovering this after the fact and after it was too late was quite annoying–it is difficult enough to sell books as it is. Although there were authors in the vendor section, the literary workshops were not well-announced. John Carpenter may not be happy about screenwriters not being welcome enough at the Horror Writers’ Association, but fairness is a two-way street. The literary sessions seemed to be an aside, and an unimportant one, which is unfortunate.

Marketing my screenplay was also a frustrating task–another finalist told me I could talk to some of the celebs, and if a judge was interested specifically in my screenplay, that judge would contact me. Making a pitch was virtually impossible in such a format–the small production companies among the vendors have their own writer and are unable to take on another writer’s work. The same is true with some of the better know directors. It took quite some time after the festival was over for the winners to be announced. Since I did not receive an e-mail to attend the (later cancelled) awards ceremony, it was no surprise I did not win. I was pleased to see Biting Pig Productions win a general award–they make excellent films which I highly recommend. Overall the judges seemed to prefer more violent films to subtle horror–that is not a surprise among current horror fans–my students in my Philosophy of Horror class prefer slashers to supernatural horror. I am glad that the most popular recent box office hits have been supernatural horror, which still has an appeal to the general public. I am not disappointed–each contest has its own quirks and judges have every right to prefer the kind of films they enjoy the most, as well as considering overall quality.

All in in, this was a mixed experience. Given the low yield of benefit to cost, I will not attend again, though I am sure some hard-core fans who enjoy meeting celebrities and getting autographs will be back next year.


Goth Culture



Fille-goth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Black garb. Victorian dresses. Hanging out at graveyards. A love of the macabre. Enjoyment of music in minor key. All these characteristics are, at least on the surface level, signs that someone is a “Goth.” Goth culture represents one of the fascinating aspects of the contemporary world0–the number of subcultures distinguished by dress, lifestyles, and special interests. This is in part a search for identity, but it also reflects the natural human desire to have friends with common interests (as Aristotle recognized over two thousand years ago).

Goth culture dates back at least thirty years. Musical groups such as Bauhaus performed songs that had to do with the gothic tradition in literature–they focused, for example, on Edgar Allen Poe‘s work or on Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein novel.  Young people interested in gothic horror and fascinated by graveyards and death flocked together. They began to wear black and many Goths wore makeup to exaggerate a pale appearance.

Goths do not share any particular world view–some are anti-Christian, some are Buddhists, some are traditional Christian or Jewish. I once chatted with a Muslim Goth. Gothic culture is a way for people who are “different” in their particular interests to find a sense of belonging. Being “different” myself, I can understand that desire. Some of my students think I am a Goth who does not dress like one–I love horror stories, horror music, horror movies, hanging out at graveyards, and being out in the dark “hunting” for ghosts. My office at school is filled with animal skulls–goats (one painted red), a cat, and a monkey. I have a “Grim Reaper” clock and several small manufactured human skulls. The picture of the Mona Lisa hanging on my bulletin board shifts into a skeleton as someone passes by it. I also have a framed copy of a Victorian death photo in which a dead boy, propped up, has his arm around his sister. Now all of this may be a sure sign of my immaturity (I wholeheartedly agree). Most local Goths, though, are very anti-Christian so joining their group is not really an option for me, an orthodox Anglican Catholic.

Emo is said to have replaced Goth, but I do not believe that is the case. There are fewer Goth clubs, but the breadth of Gothic culture as compared to Emo should keep Goth alive for many years. Goth culture, ironically, is often more life-affirming than the angst (usually the teen angst) of Emo. For that reason, Goth culture is not dead or dying–it is alive and well and needs no funeral. Plus, women with jet black hair and wearing black are….aesthetically pleasing.

There is a great deal of ignorance about Goth culture. Some Fundamentalist Christians identify it with Satanism. That is sheer ignorance and does not reflect the past–it is the kind of stupidity that led the West Memphis Three to spend years of their lives in prison despite their innocence of the murder of three cub scouts. Some people fear difference and find it to be evil. That is sad, but it is human nature. Hopefully the Fundamentalists will grow out of their ignorance and realize that Goths are people like them who enjoy each other’s company and are trying to get by in life the best they can. Hopefully this short essay provides a more balanced position on gothic culture.

On “Guilty Pleasures”

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Estonian heavy metal group Remote Silence perf...

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I enjoy listening to classical music and jazz, especially bebop. I also enjoy listening to heavy metal music, something that I count among my “guilty pleasures.” I cannot explain the attraction, although the groups I like the most (Anthrax, Zao) tend to write more intellectual lyrics than are found in other heavy metal bands. Another guilty pleasure may relate to this interest–I love horror fiction and horror movies. Black Sabbath became successful when they tried to reach horror fans with their music, and other groups followed. From Rob Zombie to black and death metal, horror themes are found in heavy metal music. Now some people would say I should be ashamed of this guilty pleasure, and perhaps they have a point. Richard Weaver, the author of the fine book Ideas Have Consequences, thought jazz to be decadent, and he would have rolled over in his grave if he had lived long enough to have heard heavy metal music.

As for horror fiction, I prefer books of higher literary quality–not only the classic works such as Frankenstein and Dracula, but also works of fine contemporary horror writers such as Ramsey Campbell and, yes, Stephen King. Dean Koontz is not as strong, though his writing has improved over the years. I love his Frankenstein series. Now and then I don’t mind reading a trashy horror novel–or seeing a trashy horror movie. With a red face I admit I like both the movies Reanimator and Bride of Reanimator. H. P. Lovecraft would have fainted if he saw how his work was adapted, but there is a campiness to these movies that eases the shock of their graphic imagery.

Another guilty pleasure is that I collect animal skulls–so far I have several dog, cat, and deer skulls, a cow skull, a horse skull, a goose skull, and perhaps more if my old brain could remember them. I do not know the source of that interest entirely–as a child I was afraid of skulls and skeletons when they appeared in horror movies or shows. I remember watching, in the late 1960s as a child, an episode of the horror soap opera Dark Shadows. Someone was sitting down and glanced up to look at a bookcase. Several skulls floated in the air. I screamed, got in trouble, and eventually was…. punished….. for insisting on continuing to watch the show. While an interest in skulls could be explained by my fear-fascination with death, such a pleasure becomes less guilty due to my fascination with form in nature. So many patterns repeat in nature, not only in different living organisms, but inanimate ones, too. That’s the excuse I give myself to feel better about this interest.

Last but not least is ghost investigations. I have no idea whether or not ghosts exist.  I do believe (and have experienced) things that are difficult to explain via conventional science. But I enjoy being in the dark, feeling like a child in the woods listening to ghost stories. It is not that I do not take this activity seriously, but I find it to be lots of fun despite the work involved.

Everyone probably has at least one guilty pleasure, something he enjoys that seems incongruent which his known character and interests. Someone who likes fine wines may have a cheap white Zinfandel now and then. A person who enjoys fine dining may enjoy the occasional splurge as a cheap, greasy fast food restaurant. I’m not convinced that these guilty pleasures are worth feeling guilty about. They reveal human beings to be interesting and complex creatures who can tie together disparate, even contradictory, interests together in their minds. If quirks and guilty pleasures do not harm a person and make this short life a little more interesting, then more power to them.

Horror Movies

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Ghost Story (film)

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One of my pleasures (some people might consider it a guilty pleasure) is watching horror movies. But as Noel Carroll notes in his fine book, The Philosophy of Horror, there is a paradox in enjoying horror. How can something frightening and sometimes violent be a source of entertainment? Another paradox is that to actually be afraid we must “suspend disbelief” and, for the time of the film, believe that the horrific entities described in the film exist. Fear in real life is not a pleasant thing. If I were being chased by a deranged serial killer who desires to eat my tongue for dinner, it would be one of the worst moments of my life, and if I survived, I would not wish to remember or relive that experience. Yet watching the same scene on film is exciting. If ghosts existed (I am open minded, but neutral) and a hostile ghost who could cause harm to me existed, it would not be pleasant if I suffered bodily harm or was scared half to death during the night.

If Aristotle had been familiar with horror films, he most likely would have pointed to catharsis, the cleansing of emotions, in this case negative emotions of fear and dread, as the reason that some people enjoy these films. The emotions I feel seem to be real fear–my heart pounds (usually more in anticipation than when the horrid looking entity pops out), I breathe fast, I feel the adrenalin rush. But I realize that the film is fiction and even if it were not fiction, it is only a film. Nothing will jump out of the projector and attack the audience.

I tend to prefer ghost stories most of all–Ghost Story (with Fred Astaire) is my favorite horror movie; The Shining is also an excellent flick, as is the original The Haunting. Notable also are The Others, the recent film, Insidious, and the first Paranormal Activity. The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Rite, and Frailty are examples of top-notch theological horror.

Horror originally was influenced by the latent Christianity remaining in Europe, and Dracula by Bram Stoker basically operates with a Judeo-Christian point of view, and this is reflected in the classic Dracula films. In the older horror films, and in some of the recent ones, there is hope at the end of the film. Lately, with the decreasing influence of Judeo-Christian culture, horror films have become more negative, often ending in despair. I remember a movie from the 1970s in which the audience thinks a couple has gotten away from rampaging people in their van–but the movie ends with their van surrounded. The ending of the recent movie, The Mist, was also one of despair, as a man kills his son and two other people to spare them from being eaten by Lovecraftean-style monsters–yet right after he killed them the army clears the area. Despair is the cry of those without hope, of people without faith who believe, as did Bertrand Russell, that all human hopes and dreams will die in the death of the universe. Since I am in the Christian tradition which is ultimately optimistic, I find those films too much in tension with my values to enjoy. There are still many recent horror films that have a more optimistic ending, though the Judeo-Christian element is omitted or replaced by neo-Paganism or other pantheistic religions.

I suppose I really like horror because it brings into play the transcendent–what goes beyond ordinary experience–whether it be a ghost, a demon, or a serial killer who transcends most human beings in his evil. There is a sense in some horror films of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of Rudolf Otto. Combine that with being “just plain scary,” that combination creates a powerful horror film. That is difficult to do, which is why so few horror films are good films–but those that are good have given me and millions of other people enjoyment.

I also enjoy the Frankenstein theme, both in the old 1930s movies as well as in the more perverse Reanimator and Bride of Reanimator. I wish more movies would be made with a Lovecraftean element. Some have, but other than the recent silent film, The Call of Cthulhu, none captures for me the cosmic horror from Lovecraft’s writings. I prefer older vampire flicks when the vampire is an evil entity rather than (gag!) vampire romances. Japanese horror, with its references to popular Buddhist legends, is particularly entertaining and frightening, especially Ringu and Juon and their American remakes.