Calgary Horror Con welcomes every horror subgenre, yet some are more played out than others, leading to a glut of unoriginal submissions. "It is all about seeking a good mix," said Calgary Horror CEO Dan Doherty. "I don't care for paranormal movies, yet we have had paranormal movies win for Best Feature."
Even so, he adds that "We typically stay away from experimental films." And he has grown "tired" of found footage and generic zombie films.
CHC receives "a flood" of zombie films, but rejects many "because if you're not a true horror fan, your film lacks sincerity. Most zombie submissions are neither original or interesting." Doherty likes The Walking Dead, yet "their fan base are not necessarily horror fans, so the ones making zombie films, for the most part, are just jumping on a trend."
The two determining factors in selecting winning films are story and the technical elements. "Ninety percent of submissions are the same gag, over and over again, with nothing added for originality." If your story is unoriginal, Doherty advises to add some unique element to "make it your own."
Such as last year's Best Short winner, Night of the Slasher. "While its story was pretty typical for the subgenre, it was entertaining and had its own little twist. The slasher wore a painted white Leonard Nemoy mask, whereas in Halloween, Michael Myers wore a white painted William Shatner mask."
A good story can "carry" a film despite its technical flaws. "I loved H.G. Lewis's Two Thousand Maniacs because I loved the story," said Doherty. "The effects were not at all believable. He used paper mache for severed heads."
The reverse is also true. Superior technical elements can help compensate for an unoriginal story. Again, while Night of the Slasher "was nothing we hadn't seen before, it was done so well, from casting to cinematography."
Regarding technical elements, "Can your audio stand up to any feature you see in the theaters? If you use digital FX, does it fit the movie? You don't need a high end camera, just know how to use the one you got. You don't have to be a professional to know about filmmaking -- camera angles, types of shots, lighting, sound, music."
Found footage films pose an additional critical challenge during the judging process. "Where is the line between found footage and shitty camera work?" asks Doherty. Is the filmmaker hiding his incompetence behind the found footage style?
The Calgary Horror Con is in its 7th year. "We screened films from the beginning, but were not a true film festival until the last four years. We are the first convention in Canada dedicated to horror, and also the largest -- with over 800 films submitted annually from around the globe, then narrowed down to 16 hours of screenings."
For a behind-the-scenes look at horror film festivals and the festival directors who manage them, see Horror Film Festivals and Awards. This book also includes a directory of over 200 horror film festivals, and a list of festival award winners from dozens of festivals over several decades.