Oct. 17, 2012 - Issue #887: Dedfest
Dedfest: Oh the horror!
a beacon for alternative cinema
'Scooby-Doo," Derek Clayton says, after almost no hesitation. "As a kid, all those crazy monsters and the haunted houses, and the kookiness of it all."
He's recalling where his love of the horror genre began, and he might not be the only one who, if prompted, could trace a love of the genre back to those meddling kids and their oversized dog. The structure of your average Scooby-Doo adventure aligns surprisingly well with a lot of the niche film genres out there, he notes, and in that way probably made up a great many people's introduction to the ideas (albeit in a very PG, Hanna-Barbera way).
"It's basically got all the same tropes as a horror movie does, or a slasher movie. And actually, I watched Cabin in the Woods recently, and couldn't help but feel like in a way it was a lot like Scooby-Doo," he says. "I think that was the original blueprint, in a lot of ways: a lot of kids in a creepy mansion, or the woods, or abandoned UFO site, chased by a monster that turns out to be a person. Total horror movie script right there. Every episode."
Clayton's love of the genre has taken him a long way: he makes up the dual producing core of Dedfest (alongside Kevin Martin), offering up Edmonton's premiere haven for horror, cult and exploitation cinema, both in a monthly screening series, and this, the actual festival, now in its fifth year.
Fifth year under that title, anyways: a horror cinema celebration began back in 2004 under a different name: Return to Odd, brainchild of Chris Bavota, then-owner of what was then called Oddity Video (now it's The Lobby, and Martin runs it). After a few years and titles, it ended up in their hands as Dedfest, and now a half-decade in, seems to be representing not just horror, but also selections from the entire alt-cinema expanse: exploitation, sci-fi and movies that simply lack a proper categorization but carry a penchant for extremes. This year spreads a 15 film lineup out over five days, making an eclectic mix of cinema from Miami Connection (1987)—which pits a martial-arts rock band against motorcycle-driving ninjas—to American Scream, Dedfest's first documentary (in a co-presentation with Global Visions), which looks into a trio of Massachusetts families preparing to put on their annual haunted houses. Author Kier-La Janisse is pairing a screening of The Brood with the release of her book, House of Psychotic Women, delving into the on- and off-screen displays of female madness.
There's also Hemorrhage, a creeper of a horror flick shot in Edmonton, which has earned some serious accolades on the festival circuit, yet in a curious reversal of the usual order, is only now getting around to a local screening (it debuted at EIFF). The oddness of that ordering isn't lost on writer/director Braden Croft.
"It feels unreal. It's the one place it should place first, and funny enough, it's one of the last places it's played over the festival circuit," he says over the phone.
Written in Vancouver after he graduated film school, it tracks a warped love story through the increasingly untrustworthy lens of a psychopath going off his meds (and possibly his mind). Croft was trying to find an idea he could pull off with little budget: watching shoestring classics like Buffalo '66 and Pi for inspiration.
"Then, believe it or not, out of all the films—it's not really to my taste—but I watched Twilight and totally dug the relationship there," Croft admits. "But I thought, 'OK, if this wasn't made with Disney, Mickey Mouse sensibilities, how would this go down with a real serial killer?" To Croft, the alt-cinema appeal is not just its low-budget applicability, but also the more immediate, physical reactions the genre can induce.
"I think it's because, whether it's horror or comedy, at least you get a physical reaction when you're experiencing the piece," he says. "So whether you're biting your nails or something. It was always that to me: it was always the most visceral."
Part of Dedfest's growing scope is the result of some new backing: for the first time, this year Dedfest had an arts council seed grant backing it. It's let Clayton and Martin go beyond the city to other festivals, to bring in films for this as well as the monthly screenings.
"I recently got back from Fantastic Fest in Austin," Clayton says. "Kevin and I were at Fantasia in July, and that's helped more than we thought it would. It's been amazing to get out there, connect and just show that Edmonton has a film scene here that's vibrant.
"The interesting thing that we get from distributors that have shown films with us is our numbers are really good. That's the thing that we keep hearing, 'Wow, your numbers are really good for being out in the prairies,'" he recalls. "Well, why wouldn't it be? So it's been that ability to be out promoting Edmonton as a film centre that's been really crucial and really fun to do this year."
Having a little more gold in the coffers has let Clayton and Martin pull in some bigger names in the industry too: earlier this year, Michael Biehn (Terminator, The Abyss) came to town promoting his explotation flick The Victim. Apparently he liked what he expeirenced: now, he's talking about making his next film here.
So, beyond its simple festival status, Dedfest's become a local beacon for alt-cinema. Its roots are in horror, but its growth is leading Dedfest towards a greater, encompassing glance at the niche film itself, cinema not limited by thoughts of a mainstream reception.
"Last year we showed James Gunn's Super, which you can't even really put into a genre: it's a superhero movie, but then it's a horror, but then it's a thriller, but then it's a comedy. It transcends description. I think we're feeling like we're the home for a lot of these films," Clayton says. "They can stay at our house."
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