“Get ready to be scared and/or disgusted.”

These words were more of an enticement than a warning for the room of avid horror fans at the first annual Ottawa Spookshow and Fantastic Film Fest on Sunday. The festival, organized by local filmmaker and uOttawa alumnus Brett Kelly, featured eight straight hours of independent horror and cult films from around the world.

spookKelly and a team of judges selected 26 shorts and 2 feature-length films from a pool of approximately 200 submissions, endeavoring to include entries from a variety of genres.  “We have Lovecraftian films, we have zombie comedies, we have creature features, we have slasher films,” Kelly explained. “A whole variety of stuff that’ll give people the willies.”

During his time in uOttawa’s Theatre program “many moons ago,” Kelly ran the Ottawa Student and Independent Film Festival. He told The Fulcrum that he founded the Fantastic Film Fest to “give something back to the younger filmmakers.”

In addition to films from Japan, the US, Australia, and Europe, the festival featured quite a bit of local fare, including a short by a sixteen-year-old Cantebury High student Morgana Mackenzie, who casted from Cantebury’s drama program. Mackenzie used Kickstarter to fund her latest film, and cites the ability to “[build] a community and crowd of supporters for your work” as an advantage of crowdfunding.

Other filmmakers spoke of budgetary limitations as incentives for increased resourcefulness. Violet in Red Silk director Kyle Martellaci explained that his “microbudget” required him to “get really creative,” utilizing practical effects and consulting Youtube tutorials for tips.

Kelly, who has himself made 26 genre films, believes that indie filmmaking allows directors to push boundaries and go farther than big-budget studios are willing to risk. “There’s no restrictions, anything goes. Whatever’s in your imagination ends up on screen, and this is certainly an anything goes festival.”

If any unifying theme could be found in the eclectic collection screened, “anything goes” would be it. Ranging in tone from straight horror to the intentionally campy, the movies didn’t shy away from cringe-inducing violence, graphic nudity, experimental plots, and outright bizarre content. They were also often smarter and more inventive than the average studio horror flick.

Take, for instance, the Italian short Leaning, which appears to depict a woman defending her child against a psychotic killer, deliberately misleading the viewer as to the identity of the villain until a shocking role reversal at the end. Or the clever mock trailer for The Hunter, which casts Looney Toons’ Elmer Fudd as a deranged slasher villain.

Other highlights of the festival included the Halloween-esque “Tickle,” the man-eating plant throwback “It Grows,” and the twisted anthology “Late Night Double Feature.” The night was concluded with a screening of grindhouse parody She Kills, followed by an after-party featuring Alice Cooper-tribute band Generation Landslide.

Kelly intends to make the Spookshow and Fantastic Film Fest an annual event, and hopes to attract larger audiences through word of mouth. There certainly is a demand; Ottawa has a vibrant horror scene which Kelly attributes to our place in the political bubble.

“We’re such a political town that a lot of people are looking for a venue of escape, and horror certainly does provide that.”

Originally published in The Fulcrum as Local film festival showcases Ottawa’s indie horrors, September 17, 2015