Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Gorst Underground Is Northwest Noir

The Gorst Underground Film Festival debuts this year, backed by experience. "Our organizers have been involved in other film festivals, both horror and underground," says festival director Kelly Hughes.

"We created Gorst to incorporate local artists and musicians into the event. To make it more multimedia, while still exploring darker themes and alternative approaches to filmmaking."

* What They're Seeking

"We love the underdog," says Hughes. "It’s very satisfying to showcase films that aren’t getting the attention they deserve.

"I would love to see more real-life horror. Documentaries on scary individuals or happenings. Documentaries about horror films and people associated with horror (e.g., actors, composers, writers, directors, SFX artists, etc). "Documentaries such as Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy. There’s room for docus like that, but which cover even more obscure aspects of horror and underground film.

"Non-linear, abstract, and experimental narratives are appreciated.

"We’re open to ultra-low-budget/no-budget works. Films that are rough around the edges."

* Tips to Improve Your Craft

Hughes recommends that you "Put the fantasy back into dark fantasy. Take advantage of the freedom horror gives you. Get surreal. Go hallucinogenic.

"Re-watch all the movies that inspired you. Remind yourself about all the elements that got you excited about these films. Use those elements, but put your personal spin on it."

* What to Avoid

1. Long Opening Credits.

"Just dive into your film. Save the credits for the end."

2. Excessive Running Time.

"Be brutal with editing. Maybe your two hour feature can be 90 minutes? Maybe your feature would be stronger as a short? Even then, shave off a few seconds from every cut? Maybe you can delete entire scenes? Or cut to the middle of a scene?

"We don’t need to see people opening and closing car doors. We don’t need to see their every step from the bedroom to the bathroom. Audiences are aware of the basics of day-to-day living. Get to the point. Move your story along."

3. Static Shots

"Many beginning filmmakers pose their actors in shots like it's a still photo. If you're drawing attention to a 'cool' shot, you probably aren't advancing the story. Make your action so compelling that we don't even notice your beautiful lighting, production design, whatever.

"Get over the fact that you can create a workable image. Get back to telling a story that is constantly progressing and offering new information. Think in terms of a series of useful connecting shots, not a slide show of money shots."

4. Slow Burn

"Some filmmakers use it as an excuse for lazy filmmaking. Don't. If you achieve a sense of dread with gradually building suspense, more power to you. But don't defend your slow-moving story with the 'it’s a slow burn' excuse. It's not a slow burn. It's just slow. And boring."

5. Lovecraft

"Why do Lovecraft inspired films always end up unintentionally silly? It's not the filmmaker's fault. Lovecraft is a big tease. His literary 'payoffs' don't translate well to screen. If you want to adapt his work, go ahead. Maybe you'll be the exception. Maybe you'll crack the Lovecraft code."

6. Retro Synth Soundtracks

"Go ahead. Use 'em. But they're approaching cliché status through overuse. Sorry. Try shocking us with piano music. Or bagpipes. Or xylophone, even."

7. The Graffiti Wall Shot

"If you have access to a wall covered in colorful graffiti, resist the urge to shoot a random shot of your actor walking past the gratified wall. It's self-indulgent. It adds nothing to your story.

8. Giant Head-Covering Masks

"To achieve a sinister, horrific, kinky vibe, resist the urge to cover your actor's head with a big bunny head, or a big pig head, or even a slick black gas mask. These have all lost their shock value. Show us a villain with pantyhose pulled over his face. Or just give him crooked teeth and a wonky eye. The fetish dungeon look is so cliché."

9. Alarm Clock

"Never start your film with an alarm clock going off. Not even ironically."

* Gorst Is Northwest Noir

Why makes Gorst unique among the many horror film festivals out there? "Gorst is true Northwest Noir," Hughes answers. "It's a small community at the edge of Bremerton, near the Naval shipyard. A working-class town with steelworkers and an authentic blue-collar sensibility.

"Seattle is just across the water, but it feels like it's a thousand miles away. Gorst has that authentic Twin Peaks vibe. There is nothing ironic or self-conscious about it.

"We'll be screening our films in the warehouse workshop of metal artist Ray Hammar. It's a remote location. The space has an industrial feel. The audience will be surrounded by iron rods, steel beams and scrap metal.

"We'll have an art show, musical performance, reading of the winning screenplay from our writing contest, and a welding demonstration. But the films themselves will take center stage on a specially-built screen/set-piece created by local metal artists.

"This warehouse would make a good setting for a horror film. As the sun sets, the later screenings will take on a more immediate, spooky tone. Every little sound will make you think there's a killer hiding in the shadows behind the clusters of rusty metal. And since there's a women's prison not too far away, who knows? Maybe we’ll get a surprise visit from an escaped murderer."


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.


  1. Great commentary on the festival and filmmaking. Keep up the great works! That includes, everyone. :)

  2. Thomas, thanks for this interview and for promoting our festival. You've built up an amazing site here, and it's an excellent resource. Much appreciated!