SILVER SPRING, Md. -- The seventh annual Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival, which opened Wednesday night at the AFI Silver Spring, is giving cinema fans all the fake blood they've been craving.
The nine-night festival featuring 53 horror films -- from gore to comedy to documentary -- began in 2006 with a few dozen shorts, a handful of features and modest goals. Since then it has moved from Fairfax, Va., to the Artisphere in Arlington, Va., and will celebrate its first complete year at the AFI.
The Huffington Post spoke with founder and director Curtis Prather about documentaries, festivals and the importance of seeing a film with a crowd.
The Huffington Post: Why did you start the festival?
Curtis Prather: I'm a filmmaker. I make mostly DIY-style documentaries. I was looking to see what was available on the D.C. landscape. I was talking to a venue to do a trial festival, I wasn't specific about genre or type, and we were looking at dates and there was an openings near Halloween. Since '95, I've been working on "The Spooky Movie Television," so it seemed like a perfect storm. For the first year we screened about 10 features and 20 shorts and found an audience that enjoyed it.
Each year we've kicked the can a little bit further. I'm at a point now where I don't think we'd even want to have a bigger festival. Now it's about finding the audience. Based on early ticket sales, I think we can say yes.
It's exciting to be working with AFI. They have 40 years of experience in the D.C. area.
HuffPost: Why did you start a horror movie festival when you make documentaries?
Prather: I'm a huge fan of horror. I think D.C. already has one of the best documentary film festivals in the country (Silverdocs).
If you're looking at independent filmmaking, I think the two areas where you can have the biggest impact is documentaries and horror. There are audiences and avenues for both that can make it easier than say an independent comedy or drama. You can make a really great horror film with not a lot of money. You still need good directing, good actors, but you can make a tremendous films with not a lot of resources. We have a lot of films that look ten times greater than what they cost.
The genre is also wide enough to have the really serious and the really silly. We celebrate that element as well. I'm a big fan of "Shaun of the Dead" as well as David Lynch-type films.
HuffPost: What's the vetting process?
Prather: It'll start as early as November. We'll get a few hundred submissions on our initial call for entries. As rounds go by, you can see which ones will rise to the top. I also stay in touch with alums.
HuffPost: What's the biggest pratfall of most horror films?
Prather: Everyone needs to be aware of their running time. Even when I'm making my own movies I think, "When do I start to squirm?" That said, some movies just really need to take their time. It comes down to the filmmakers.
We've got a couple of films close to two hours. There are certain formulas that even independent filmmakers fall into. We see stuff that people are making that are geared more towards direct to DVD. It seems like it's not geared towards a theatrical experience.
I had to laugh when everyone made a huge deal about "Cabin in the Woods." It's a fantastic movie, but that has almost has become its own genre, a horror film that makes fun of other horror films.
A lot of people think found footage might be easier, but that's really hard to do. "Blair Witch" was successful because they were able to get great performances from their actors.
HuffPost: Does programming a horror movie film festival influence your documentaries?
Prather: Not really. I make really personal documentaries about things from my life that interest me. I've done documentaries about the first Habitat for Humanity in the D.C. area, the protest around George W. Bush's inauguration, local television personality Count Gore De Vol. They're stuff that I can do on my own without a lot of money. Sometimes I see some films and think I'd like to tell a zombie or vampire movie, but right now I see something that I've never seen before and it's very exciting for me.
The festival actually has four documentaries, all of which have won awards. We've added a 10th night, a documentary from the guys that made "Best Worst Movie," "The American Scream."
I want people to come out and just see the movies. Nothing replaces seeing these films in a theater.
Visit thespookymovie.com for an updated list of films, times and additional screenings.