Chris O’ Neill of Triskel Christchurch in Cork City sits down and tells Emmet O’Brien about his pet project, the first Twisted Celluloid Horror Film Festival, a celebration of the best in classic and contemporary horror.
What was the genesis of the first Twisted Celluloid Horror Film Festival?
Well in April 2011, I started a horror film festival in Scotland, in Dundee, called ‘Dun-Dead’. That’s now in it’s 3rd year and I wanted to do something like that in Cork. Same set up, a four-day Festival but with other linked events throughout the year.
One of the main reasons is due to the unique venue we have. The first Twisted Celluloid event about eighteen months ago was a Halloween triple bill of the original Dawn of the Dead, Suspiria and Lucky McKee’s The Woman, which was a surprise film and one of the best Horror offerings of that year.
When you see something like Suspiria, with it’s vivid colour scheme and the sound with the goblin music, in the church it added an extra dimension to the film. This unique space brings a certain extra something to films.
It seems like you have a passion for the Horror genre in general, would that be fair to say?
Well yes, but my interest in it is different to others, my appreciation for it stems from it being an outsider genre, an alternative cinema. When I was growing up I was always interested in things outside the mainstream, be they foreign language films, low budget dramas, older movies and horror falls into that bracket of being outside the norm. Horror can depict and examine social issues, family issues or emotional things in a really over the top, visceral way that a straight drama can’t necessarily achieve.
One of my favourite films is Possession by Żuławski and it’s completely demented but it’s probably one of the truest films about a relationship breaking down. It captures the emotion in a really mad way, the intensity of the situation more and is all the more effective because of that heightened sense.
Do people overlook some of the thematic things in these films while just focusing on them as vehicles of gore or shocks, etc.?
If you look at some of the smaller films that you might only get to see in festivals or straight to home video they’re’ the more interesting ones. Like the Roger Corman films of the ’70s where he’d mix in a bit of action, a bit of skin, some social commentary and the smaller scale Horror films that don’t get the wide releases are the ones getting that sensibility out there.
That’s the fun of these festivals to have that experience. It’s important to keep this sort of distribution alive.
Tell us about some of the films you’ve chosen and why you felt you had to screen certain ones.
When I was first making the programme, the two films I was passionate about screening was Maniac selected for the opening film and I wanted to have Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem to close us out. I’m a huge fan of his as a filmmaker. House of A Thousand Corpses,Devils Rejects all great, but I really enjoy his version ofHalloween which a lot of people really don’t like. The original John Carpenter Halloween is good but I never put it on the pedestal that some people do. It’s a great movie but when I first saw it I just thought ‘Oh, is that it?’ and the trouble is you come to it with full knowledge of the parodies, and the rip offs. Zombie gave his own slant to it, the use of actors, the young cast in it are great and you can tell he cares about the characters and making them real. There’s a richness to it.
Over the usual cannon fodder provided in this type of fare.
Exactly. In the first twenty minutes of Thousand Corpses, you can tell he’s trying to imbue the characters there with a bit more back-story than would be normal and it makes a huge difference. All of his films, no matter how flawed do that.
His films don’t have suspense scenes in them. Instead he dwells on violence and makes it very real and uncomfortable to watch, which is something I admire. It’s not just a shock value machine. It’s not disposable.
Do you think there is a trend in horror these days to pull some punches when tackling certain things?
I don’t think it’s necessarily pulling punches. Some recent and almost cliché to mention films of the last few years, like Saw or Hostel really pushed the boundaries of visual violence on screen and what you can get away with.
What about the short films you have selected?
I wanted to make sure there were proper reasons for the shorts being in the festival. For example we’re pairing a very stylistic short called Yellow with Maniac and they complement each other, aesthetically, thematically through the use of music, cinematography and the depiction of violence.
I’m not interested in doing a shorts programme because a lot of people might be put off by that idea. What I like doing is when putting on a feature film, add a little bonus of a short story, something that puts you in the same mindset. That used to be the way of things back in the day.
Tell me about balancing more contemporary films with the retrospective classics you’ll be showing as well.
I love showing classics, for example we’re having a Mario Bava programme and just imagine seeing Black Sunday, Lisa and the Devil and a Bay of Blood and just imagine seeing a gothic black and white gothic film from 1960 in this environment but as much as it’s great to have those, they are films that already have their audience. Their cult. So showing something like Maniac which is contemporary and feeling that in a few years a cult appreciation of it might have began with a screening here in Triskel would be very gratifying.
It brings to mind when you always hear of those stories of midnight screenings for Eraserhead. People really cherished that experience. A while back we screened a daring and quirky low budget American film called Vacation. Love it or hate it where else would you have gotten the opportunity to have seen it apart from here!
Finally do you sense that there is a particular audience for horror and cult films in Cork?
What’s interesting about Cork is the demographic for the cult side of cinema would be younger people, I mean early 20s and it’s a transient city with the various universities here so I think that gives us our audience. There’s a great alternative music scene here so why shouldn’t there be an alternative film scene? We’re always on a mission to spread the word as much as we can. Regardless of numbers for screenings, whether large or small I always say that’s a good start because there’s probably more people who just don’t realise what’s going on yet. We need to reach them as well.
One of the earliest TC screening was a double bill of Highlander and Flash Gordon and we had almost a hundred people for Highlander. How many times has that been on TV, or bought. Hell, it was given away with the paper once as a DVD. Akira also got a great reception, I guess it’s that thing of seeing something on the big screen, with an audience.
The festival runs from the 21st-24th of February.
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