INDIE HORROR’S SECRET SEVEN
The Most Influential Horror Leaders You’ve Never Heard Of
In a crowded industry that sometimes rewards the loudest over the best, these seven leaders behind some of the most influential work of the decade have been quietly determining the direction of independent horror.
TO UNDERSTAND HOW INDIE HORROR’S MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE COULD remain largely a secret, you first have to understand the nature of indie horror today.
Our current era and all its frenetic noise and new-legends-born-daily has its origins in the indie filmmaking explosion of the late 2000s (specifically November, 2008 – the month the Canon 5D Mark II was released and the fuse was lit).
At that moment, two ingredients combined to become the accelerant that would blow a fan-sized hole in the wall that Hollywood studios had built around filmmaking. First, DSLR cinema-look cameras became inexpensive enough for enterprising indie filmmakers to buy, learn to use and shoot on. And second, internet video hosting on YouTube and later Vimeo democratized sharing indie films with a worldwide audience – especially shorts.
Suddenly, a generation of aspiring filmmakers who’d grown up on VCR horror had access to make and show their own homegrown scary movies. And make them they did: In the resulting new frontier, a massive community/industry grew at a speed we’ve never seen before. Aspiring filmmakers become actual filmmakers. Weekend filmmaking contests cropped up around the world, generating tens of thousands of films. To screen all the new content, the number of film festivals doubled, doubled and doubled again. Horror outlets were started by the dozen to cover them. And social media shared and re-shared it all.
In that crowded Wild West, getting the attention of an audience became a game of “who-has-the-best-gimmick?” Hell: an entire sub-genre of horror was created, where an aging horror star is brought in for a half-day shoot, then lands on the poster as bait to horror lovers, who’d maybe see her or him in the opening scene, or hear them as voiceover.
Finding an angle in the noise was everything – too often even more important than finding a great story, or pushing the genre.
But if you listen closely to that roar, you can single out a handful of voices who have been steering indie horror, and lifting up their colleagues, in ways that are making a lasting difference in the content we see, and in the culture of horror overall.
We at Cinema Runner set out to identify the unsung leaders who have the most influence on the true indie horror community – non-studio, usually non-distributed horror made with sweat equity and brought directly to the fans. To complement our own research, we polled two dozen horror filmmakers, fans, festivals and critics to ask: who do you look up to for the direction of indie horror? (Some, to protect relationships, chose to remain anonymous.)
What will follow each day this week is an examination of what we found in the major indie horror categories: conventions, film festivals, short films, feature films and horror media…
MOST INFLUENTIAL HORROR CONVENTION
Days of the Dead: Adolfo Dorta and Jason Hoover
“Days of the Dead has revolutionized the scene, from the film fest to the after hours events. They wear their love of the genre on their sleeves, have very reasonable prices, and each one feels like a family reunion that leaves the bullshit at home.”
– From Dusk Till Con
There’s no better place to celebrate horror than a horror convention, and they’ve sprung up in every state over the last decade to accommodate fans’ desires for horror film, merch and photo ops. But where many are more focused on cash than customers, Days of the Dead (founded in 2011 – now hosting four shows a year) is dead-set on advancing and lifting up horror without drama or compromise. As a result, they are the fastest growing convention over the last five years, thanks largely to their rabidly loyal fanbase, many of whom travel to more than one of the multi-city events each year.
While the Days of the Dead horror lineups are regularly the most celebrated on the convention circuit, Days also books genre talent, not just horror, and won’t apologize for it. Convention director Adolfo Dorta (pictured above and below) and team recognize that horror is the nucleus, but that other great content circles in horror’s orbit, and fans love it all. And Jason Hoover (also at the top), who curates the Jabb Pictures 48 Hour Film Festival attached to every Days of the Dead event, is a die-hard horror film advocate with deep connections in the community. He’s also a notable horror filmmaker himself.
“Adolfo has always wanted the best for Days of the Dead. Time and time again, he has gone out of his way (and into his pocket) to ensure that fans are provided the very best convention experience possible,” said Hoover about his partner. “His contributions to the independent film scene have played a huge part in the popularity and legitimacy that we are experiencing today.”
People we talked with commented again and again on the inclusive vibe, the drama-free environment, the top mix of horror and genre content, and the professionalism of Adolfo, Jason and the rest of the Days staff. Fan review after fan review reflect the feelings in this quote, from Rhonda in Chicago: “DOTD truly lives up to being ‘by the fans, for the fans’ and not just a cash grab like other conventions. They consistently show that they love the scene and their events feel like a family reunion for genre lovers.”
Also receiving votes: HorrorHound Weekend.