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Viscera Film Festival and the Indy Crime-Horror Scene
There’s a Red threat back in Hollywood.
It’s not a squad of recovering Stalinists like back in the McCarthy days. And it’s not to be found at the four-figure-admission Obama fundraisers.
The bona fide commies of Tinseltown are found among the independent horror scene.
Don’t get me wrong—you won’t find a single one of these collective workers wearing khaki coveralls or waving a pocket edition of Mao’s greatest hits. Quite the contrary. In a single glance around the Viscera Film Festival, last weekend at the Egyptian Theater, you can spot a funeral-black parasol, leopard-print bodice and ballroom gown.
But when it comes to making and promoting film, this is a crowd that rolls up their spike-cuffed sleeves and does what it takes. It’s not uncommon to find the director of one flick as the lead actress, film editor, or key grip on a handful of their friends’ work.
This is especially the case with the Viscera Film Festival. Heidi Honeycutt is the force majeure for this particular labor of love, formed to highlight female filmmakers of the horror scene. Heidi’s tireless “get it done” attitude is evident in everybody involved in the Viscera.
Heidi, along with her co-founder, Shannon Lark, and the Viscera team, work this project all year round. They maintain an arsenal of websites devoted to the cause and hold festival tours. They’re active in the scene as creators and promoters. Their social media buzzes with the successes of the female horror crowd and due criticism of the mainstream.
The festival show — the Bloody Carpet event — is their crown jewel. July’s annual Viscera Film Festival is where everyone in the scene gathers in the spotlight. This year, it was a hell of a stage.
I don’t know how large a dime they dropped for the festival to be hosted at the Egyptian. I know the place doesn’t break the bank, given that I’ve been at many a low-key event there. Still, whatever Viscera paid to present their homage to female horror film was worth it to secure such an eerie and majestic venue.
The opening act was especially appropriate to the spirit of Viscera—a feature screening called Among Friends.
Having a feature lead the Viscera wasn’t custom. The main course of the festival is the short film showing. Packed with brief flicks ranging from puppet productions shot on hand-cam all the way to multiple-camera shoots as glossy and gripping as anything out of the major studios, the short films run a robust four hours. This is where Heidi, Shannon and the team make sure the women striving for quality in their scene get their say.
Here was Among Friends leading the way, though. It played before the two-hour Bloody Carpet event, where all the publicity shots are taken, so that the talent displayed can claim they were there.
I didn’t have to wonder why the Viscera set aside a special time for this piece, though.
It wasn’t just that it was good. Among Friends enjoyed a half-capacity crowd at 3:30, and the applause that followed wasn’t strained. It was more than just quality.
It was a matter of camaraderie.
Before the house lights went down, I scanned the front row to pick out people I knew from the makers of Among Friends. Danielle Harris, the film’s debut director, wasn’t present. Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, co-commander of Blanc-Biehn Productions and a creative force in her own right, was. A few seats down from her, I spotted AJ Bowen.
And here’s the deal, crime film fans—these are key revolutionaries in a new grind-house collective. Harris is known primarily as a scream queen, especially a mainstay of Adam Green’s Hatchet II film scene. Blanc-Biehn is Harris’ friend, and worked with her on The Victim, the inaugural picture of a low-budget, high-sleaze crime-horror film Blanc-Biehn Productions is crafting. Bowen is all over the scene as well, acting in Hatchet II with Danielle and blowing folks away in The House of the Devil, an indy horror hit from another luminary, Ti West, a few years back.
My point being, when you’re in the indy crime-horror scene these days, you can count on being among friends. Struggling in fragments along the margin during the ‘90s, independent horror film has clued into the power of collaboration during these DIY times.
The money’s always been there for those willing to dig in the dirt for it. Check out an excellent — and disturbing — documentary, S&Man, for a warts-and-all look at low-budget horror. It’s the means that have advanced the scene in a big way.
Part of it is the whole social-sharing technology and easy access to quality filmmaking equipment. But another major part is that talent is getting as sick of Hollywood’s mercenary ways as the rest of us. It isn’t just the audiences that starve for something new. Most of all, it’s the creators.
No real shocker, then, that Viscera has thrived in the past years. The theaters it’s featured in, the crowds that attend and the volume of media enjoyed has steadily improved.
There’s quality in greater numbers, too. As with any “big tent” film festival, Viscera has its misses along with its hits. For every Mae Catt, a stand-out from last year’s festival, there are two or three that fall flat. The point isn’t about screening talent out so much as it is about getting unseen talent onscreen. But Heidi and Shannon kill it when it comes to reaching out to the horror mainstream and drawing familiar faces into their scene.
Many of those familiar faces are showing up on their own, too. Xavier Gens and Michael Biehn both cameo in Among Friends, and they’re cinema forces eager to flip the bird to Hollywood formula and work on their own terms.
It’s a push-pull process — causes like Viscera calling for talent and disenfranchised talent looking for like-minded creators — and it takes a fierce amount of work. That’s the sign of the times, though. Free lunches vanished with the Clinton years.
And the kind of passion required is only for the good. As culture and economy push down on the margins, the margins push back hard. The work sharpens its teeth. Art isn’t so cozy anymore, and art should never be cozy.
It’s good for art to have a home, though. The Viscera Film Festival is just such a collective farm. They’re springing up all over the crime-horror scene.
Hope that this workers’ revolt coming to an independent film house near you.