Creature Feature

Back in February 2016, Hollywood stars and
big-screen monsters descended upon Santa Rosa’s Roxy Stadium 14 Cinemas for the inaugural Silver Scream Festival.

The brainchild of Famous Monsters of Filmland publisher Phil Kim and Santa Rosa Entertainment Group VP and CULT film series founder Neil Pearlmutter, that first incarnation of Silver Scream featured guests like director John Landis and actor Robert Englund, aka Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street, and welcomed close to a thousand attendees in its three-day run.

“We loved the fest,” says Kim, who purchased the genre-film magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland in 2007, revived it in print form and recently moved the company’s offices from Los Angeles to Sonoma County, where he lives with his family.

“The way everything went off, how receptive the attendees were and how pleasant all the guests were, I was very happy in that regard,” says Pearlmutter, whose CULT series regularly screens double features of classic horror and sci-fi films in Santa Rosa and occasionally features Q&As with guests like actor Robert Forster and director William Lustig.

After taking a hiatus in 2017 to retool the event, Kim and Pearlmutter will host another monstrously fun weekend of horror films and convention-style excitement when the Silver Scream Festival returns to the Roxy Stadium 14 in Santa Rosa on Feb. 16–18.

The three-day monster mash will gather several generations of scary movies, celebrity guests and the best in up-and-coming genre filmmakers, and will also include special VIP events to raise funds for North Bay wildfire victims.

OUT OF CHAOS

Twenty seventeen was a devastating year for the North Bay, and Phil Kim experienced the horror of last October’s wildfires at his doorstep.

Kim was working and staying in San Francisco, finishing contracts for the massive Famous Monsters Halloween Convention that was set to take place in San Jose at the end of October, when he got a call from a Famous Monsters employee in the middle of the night on Oct. 8 that Santa Rosa was burning. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” he says.

Driving back to the North Bay that night, Kim had just enough time to return to his home in the Bennett Valley neighborhood of Santa Rosa, gather his family and evacuate as the skies burned orange in the night sky,

“It was like looking at Mordor,” says Kim, making a Lord of the Rings reference without batting an eye.

As the fires grew over the following week, Kim didn’t know if he would even have a home to come back to, and the Famous Monsters offices in Petaluma were covered in ash. He decided then to cancel the Halloween convention. It was one of the toughest decisions of his life, he says

The fires reached Kim’s subdivision in Bennett Valley, but firefighters were able to keep the flames at bay and his home was spared. Moving ahead, Kim and Pearlmutter were determined to keep the Silver Scream Festival on track, for themselves as much as the film fans in the North Bay. “This fire woke me up to the fact that everything needs to be done with purpose and quality, and we need to give back,” says Kim. “We’re very committed to Sonoma County.”

HEROINES OF HORROR

Perhaps the biggest highlight of this year’s Silver Scream festival is the scheduled Heroines of Horror panel, which gathers beloved veteran horror and sci-fi actresses Dee Wallace, Barbara Crampton and Kelli Maroney for screenings of their best films and conversations about their eclectic careers. Just don’t call them scream queens. (Update: Actress Suzanne Synder has replaced Dee Wallace. Snyder will appear in the panel event and for a Q&A following the screening of her film Killer Klowns From Outer Space)

“When I think of a scream queen, I think of a victim, the biggest victim out there,” says Kim. “But these ladies were not victims. For me these women represented a true feminism in film, they were beautiful and they could take care of business.”

“It was a brilliant idea of Neil’s to do a Heroines of Horror event,” Kim continues. “I would say it’s perfect timing, but he has been talking about doing it from year one. It’s just that now we are in an era of awareness.”

Headlines the last several months have been rightly dominated by the #MeToo and #TimesUp social media movements that began after sexual misconduct allegations were made against film producer Harvey Weinstein, and which are now shining a spotlight on women facing sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.

“It will be interesting to see how that awareness globally translates locally to the festival,” says Kim.

All three actresses on the upcoming panel made their names in genre films of the 1980s, and through their work, they advanced the notion of what it means to be a woman in a horror film.

Dee Wallace is best known to general movie-going audiences as mom in Steven Spielberg’s E.T.

“It’s going to follow me to the grave, babe,” laughs Wallace in an interview.

Also known to horror fans for her work in films like The Howling and The Hills Have Eyes, Wallace will be on hand for a screening of 1983’s Cujo, based on the Stephen King novel and filmed partially in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, in which she plays a mother determined to protect her young son from a rabid St. Bernard dog.

Wallace never planned on becoming a horror icon. “I knew from the get-go that I loved doing film and I loved doing emotional roller-coaster rides, and the horror genre lends itself to that,” she says.

In addition to acting in film and television, Wallace has also created a consciousness healing practice, authoring books and offering private sessions in which she directs clients to manifest positive emotions and mental focus. In that vein, she credits her mix of emotional vulnerability and strength with her success in Hollywood.

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“I come by that, quite honestly, from my mom,” says Wallace. “She was literally my first acting teacher, but my father was an alcoholic so she worked full-time, held down the house and was the pillar of the family. There was this beautiful embracement of the human condition, where you can be vulnerable, strong, frightening and emotionally available all at the same time.”

Barbara Crampton landed her first horror film role as Megan Halsey in 1985’s Re-Animator, based on a story by horror author H. P. Lovecraft. “Work in horror movies was not something I was chasing, it sort of landed in my lap,” says Crampton. “I was the second person to get the part of Meg in Re-Animator because the first girl dropped out after her mother read the script.”

Indeed, the film’s story of a medical student and his girlfriend partaking in bizarre experiments involving reanimating the dead is filled with gore galore, though her follow-up film, 1986’s From Beyond, also based on a Lovecraft story and featureing shape-shifting interdimensional beings feeding off humans’ brains, takes the cake for sheer insanity. Crampton will offer colorful commentary on From Beyond when it screens at the Silver Scream Festival.

Despite those early films’ notoriety, Crampton never considered herself a horror-movie icon until the last decade. “I hadn’t worked in a while, and someone asked me to be in a movie [2011’s You’re Next] because of my supposed cult status—and I say ‘supposed’ very emphatically—and I realized I belonged to a club that I didn’t know I belonged to,” says Crampton.

After the success of You’re Next, Crampton re-dedicated herself to working in films, especially in the horror genre, and she has acted in nearly 10 films in the last five years. “I feel really lucky and fortunate that I’m working with a lot of young filmmakers today who grew up watching my movies,” says Crampton. “It’s really nice to feel embraced by the new horror community.”

In 2016, Crampton made headlines in this community when she penned an editorial on the website Birth.Movies.Death titled “Don’t Call Me a Scream Queen,” that broke down why she felt that the label was a limiting and outdated term.

“Women are today given a lot more to do in movies,” says Crampton. “I think putting somebody in a category and reducing them to some sort of terminology is just not favorable to the kind of work a lot of actresses are doing out there. We’re doing a lot more interesting work now. I think it’s time to move on from that.”

Kelli Maroney echoes that sentiment. “Now what they call my characters is a ‘final girl,'” says Maroney, referring to her performances in films like 1986’s Chopping Mall, in which she not only survives but also defeats her pursuers while spouting awesome one-liners. “Well, in the olden days, we used to call that the ‘star of the movie,'” she laughs. “But, OK, we’ll go with ‘final girl.'”

Maroney will be on hand for a screening of the 1984 valley girls-versus-zombies cult classic Night of the Comet.

“I’m right there with Barbara regarding that article,” says Maroney. “She wrote it first, but we were all thinking the same thing and she just laid it out and did a brilliant job with it.”

“There are some wonderful actresses out there, and it’s not everybody that can pull this thing off.” The term “scream queen,” says Maroney, “is just dismissive of people’s craft and talent and ability to get where they are.”

LEGACY MONSTERS & THE NEW SCHOOL OF HORROR

The Silver Scream Festival’s other highlights include several legacy horror stars on hand to present special screenings of their most famous films.

First up, celebrated stuntman, actor and director Ricou Browning, best known for portraying the Gill-man in the Creature from the Black Lagoon movies of the 1950s, appears for a screening of the original film.

“If you want to live a long, healthy life, become a diver,” says Kim, referring to the 87-year-old Browning, who also created the 1960s television series Flipper and who worked as recently as 2010 on marine stunts for Boardwalk Empire.

Browning’s Gill-man is one of cinema’s most enduring monsters and served as a clear inspiration for the creature in director Guillermo del Toro’s recent Academy Award–nominated feature The Shape of Water. Del Toro’s love of Famous Monsters of Filmland is well documented in interviews.

Also slated to appear is screenwriter and director John Russo, who is on hand to present a screening of the iconic zombie feature Night of the Living Dead, which he co-wrote with director George Romero.

“Of course, Romero is one of the greatest horror directors of all time, but John really wrote about half of that script with Romero,” says Kim. “They wrote the script almost as they were filming, and John had to come up with what became the zombie movement, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.”

Recently restored by archivists at the Criterion Collection, Night of the Living Dead is marking its 50th anniversary this year, and the new Criterion print will be shown at the festival.

In addition to the hoary horror icons, Silver Scream is also hosting up-and-coming figures in the genre. The festival’s opening-night film, Living Among Us, is a new take on the vampire trope written and directed by fast-rising Asian-American auteur Brian Metcalf, who will present the film along with several members of the cast on Feb. 16.

Another soon-to-be household name in horror scheduled to appear is 21-year-old self-taught special-effects makeup artist Ellinor Rosander, who has amassed nearly a million followers on YouTube with her gory makeup tutorial videos produced with photographer Macs Moser under the moniker ElliMacs sfx.

“We’re hoping that Silver Scream is groundbreaking in the sense of showcasing the next generation of creative quality that bigger shows don’t usually touch,” says Kim.

All of these guests will be on hand for Silver Scream’s VIP dinner at the Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa on Feb. 17. That event will feature gourmet food, live entertainment and a chance to mingle with the stars of the festival, and proceeds from that event will go to Sonoma County fire-relief efforts.

“People in the rest of the world may have moved on, but for us in this region, it’s several years before we go back to normal,” says Kim. “It’s important for us to give back.”

“Everything that I do, and Phil is likewise, is for the people of this area,” says Pearlmutter. “With this festival, I want to keep giving something to this county and this city that is going to make people happy.”

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