Film fest features horror, sci-fi, and cult classics

Photo: Zach Verret

“Get ready to be scared and/or disgusted,” warned Brett Kelly before playing the first film of the first annual Ottawa Spookshow and Fantastic Film Fest.

These words were more of an enticement than a warning for the room of avid horror fans on Sept. 12 at LIVE! on Elgin. The festival, organized by local filmmaker and University of Ottawa alumnus Brett Kelly, featured eight straight hours of independent horror and cult films from Ottawa and around the world.

Kelly and a team of judges selected 26 shorts and 2 feature-length films from a pool of approximately 200 submissions, endeavouring to include entries from a variety of genres.

“We have Lovecraftian films, we have zombie comedies, we have creature features, we have slasher films,” Kelly explained. “A whole variety of stuff that’ll give people the willies.”

During his time in the U of O’s theatre program “many moons ago,” Kelly ran the Ottawa Student and Independent Film Festival. He founded the Fantastic Film Fest to “give something back to the younger filmmakers.”

In addition to films from Japan, the U.S., Australia, and Europe, the festival featured quite a bit of local fare, including a short by sixteen-year-old Cantebury High student Morgana Mackenzie, who casted from Cantebury’s drama program. Mackenzie used Kickstarter to fund her latest film, Ellie, raising $2,275 more than her original goal of $3,000 and found that an advantage of using crowdfunding was the supporters and fans that you gain before your film has even been released.

Other filmmakers also spoke of budgetary limitations as incentives for increased resourcefulness. Violet in Red Silk director Kyle Martellaci’s “microbudget” required him to get creative using practical effects and consulting YouTube tutorials for tips.

Kelly, who has himself made 26 genre films, believes that indie filmmaking allows directors to push boundaries and go farther than big-budget studios are willing to risk. “There’s no restrictions, anything goes. Whatever’s in your imagination ends up on screen, and this is certainly an anything goes festival.”

Ranging in tone from straight horror to the intentionally campy, the movies didn’t shy away from cringe-inducing violence, graphic nudity, experimental plots, and outright bizarre content.

The films were also often smarter and more inventive than the average studio horror flick. Take, for instance, the Italian short Leaning, which appears to depict a woman defending her child against a psychotic killer, deliberately misleading the viewer as to the identity of the villain until a shocking role reversal at the end. Or the clever mock trailer for The Hunter, which casts Looney Toons’ Elmer Fudd as a deranged slasher villain.

Other highlights of the festival included the Halloween-esque Tickle, the man-eating plant throwback It Grows, and the twisted anthology Late Night Double Feature. The night wrapped up with a screening of grindhouse parody She Kills, followed by an after-party featuring Alice Cooper tribute band, Generation Landslide

Ottawa has a vibrant horror scene, which Kelly attributes to our place in the political bubble. “We’re such a political town that a lot of people are looking for a venue of escape, and horror certainly does provide that.”

Kelly hopes to make the Spookshow and Fantastic Film Fest an annual event. Given Ottawa’s thriving horror community and the variety of exciting indie content to screen, it’s guaranteed to be a welcome tradition.