A block-full of people descended upon Elvira's Macabre Mobile last night as the Mistress of the Dark pulled up in front of Los Feliz's Vista Theatre with fellow midnight movie authority Peaches Christ in tow. Cameras flashed, crowds swarmed and they emerged from the vehicle with big hair and bigger smiles. But, for every bit of grim glitz these two divas of dread brought to the Vista's red carpet, they were here for a decidedly unglamorous cause. They were here as the champions of independent film frights.
Elvira's Horror Hunt is a first-year film contest/festival helmed by the legendary late-night movie hostess and Peaches Christ, the famed drag performer renowned for her Midnight Mass movie screenings in San Francisco. They put together the contest in connection with HorrorHound Magazine. Submissions were judged by the duo, as well as performers Sybil Danning, Bill Moseley and Joe Bob Briggs. The grand prize-winning entries in both the film short and feature-length categories were screened at the Vista for a special event presented by Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo, the pop culture convention taking place this weekend.
Both Elvira and Peaches Christ are larger-than-life characters who share their distinctive taste in spine-chilling cinema with the world. However, the performers behind the characters — Cassandra Peterson and Joshua Grannell — have ample experience working without big studio backing. In 2001, Peterson co-wrote and starred in the independent release Elvira's Haunted Hills. Two years ago, Grannell wrote and directed All About Evil, starring Natasha Lyonne as well as Peterson and Mink Stole. Elvira mentioned their own efforts on Thursday night as an inspiration for the film festival, saying that they know how hard it is to get people to see your movie. Elvira's Horror Hunt is an opportunity to give others that chance to be seen.
Elvira noted that they went out in search of the best independent horror films and the grand prize winners were not the sort of movies that she and Peaches Christ are known for showing. In other words, this wasn't the sort of fare that would benefit from the Mistress of the Dark's clever quips. These selections were impressive feats of filmmaking on shoestring budgets. They were also legitimately scary.
“I hope you all brought your barf bag and a change of underwear,” Elvira warned. Her heads-up was only slightly over the top. I'm, admittedly, a little squeamish, and had to close my eyes a couple times. After the event, I couldn't walk back to my car without looking over my shoulder.
The grand prize winner for short film was Other, the story of a doctor whose terminal cancer diagnosis pushes him into a gruesome search for a cure. Director Daniel DelPurgatorio was on hand for the screening.
By day, DelPurgatorio is a creative director for the Chicago-based production company Vitamin. He works mostly on commercials and television projects. The evolution of Other is simple. “I tricked a bunch of friends that I worked with, and friends that don't work with me, to make a movie with me,” he says.
DelPurgatorio conceived the story with Rob Foster, who is also the film's art director. Another friend, Anthony Williams, wrote the screenplay. They spent one month in pre-production, one month in post-production and two days shooting. It cost $3000 to make Other. Everyone worked for free, the money went towards things like effects. It was money well spent.
Similarly, Scott Schirmer, director of the feature-length winner, Found, saved his budget for the equipment and technological necessities. Found cost $8000 to make, approximately $2000 of which went towards the gruesome special effects makeup.
Found is the story of a pre-teen boy who is going through a rough patch. He's being bullied at school. His parents don't understand him at all. On top of that, he just found a severed head in his brother's bowling bag. It's based on a novella by Todd Rigney.
Schirmer, who lives in Bloomington, Indiana, works at the publishing company that picked up Rigney's book. He read it, loved it and reached out to the author. A deal was made and they collaborated on the screenplay. As with Other, everyone who worked on Found volunteered.
“There's a lot of talent in Bloomington, and in Indiana in general, and it's all horror,” says Schirmer.
Making the movie was one thing, getting others to see it, though, has been a completely different beast. So far, Found has had one screening in Bloomington back in July and one at HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis last week.
Both filmmakers appeared humbled by the experience. Schirmer was excited to be at the Vista, a theater he knew by name, but never visited. “The first time I've been here is my own movie,” he says. “It's surreal.”
DelPurgatorio seemed genuinely awestruck that his short was selected by legends of the genre. “That's it, I'm done,” he says jokingly. “I'm retired.”
Elvira and Peaches Christ will be bringing Elvira's Horror Hunt to Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. in Room 411 of the Los Angeles Convention Center.