As Paul Blom brings another slot of great scares at the Horrorfest in time for Halloween, we asked about the road taken to cement this Cape Town staple for film fans and about his varied artistic ventures.
The Horrorfest and Celludroid Festivals seem to be a joint effort between yourself and your wife Sonja Ruppersberg, did you conceive of Horrorfest together? What was the inspiration behind launching the first project?
We did indeed. Sonja and I also always loved horror movies, even before we met in 2000, and my love of movies in general led to me starting to review and write about movies (and music) in the late-1990s. In 2004 Sonja and I made a dark/horror short film – but on completion we found there was no real local genre festival option where something off-centre like this could be screened. It did show at events abroad like the Edinburgh Festival, but we really wanted it to be on a local screen. So, we simply decided to create one ourselves! Just like with our alternative music, we’re used to do-our-own-thing and to an extent even create, or at least help build your own scene.
Our Celludroid sci-fi/fantasy film festival grew out of the Horrorfest in that with the increase in submissions each year, we started receiving movies with more sci-fi angles and sometimes no horror at all, so we created a festival for that specifically. The same with our X Fest extreme/underground film festival – we received movies that were a bit too hectic for what we want the Horrorfest to be. And then on another tangent, we had an Extreme Music edition of the X Fest with movies/documentaries/concert films with metal, industrial, punk themes. From that we created the Sound On Screen music film festival.
Did you have to grow the fests into legitimacy from humble beginnings or were people eager for a platform to share their work straight away?
Definitely. It is our 17th edition (in 2021) and while we started with some old public domain classics and hand sourced sometimes obscure indie movies with our first Horrorfest in 2005, the exponential growth has led to much more logistics to consider and far more time to allocate for viewing the mountain of submissions we receive from around the world each year.
The eager bunch were very small at first, but… some of them still turn up at the festival each year, which is amazing.
Many festival runners have said that due to the delays and straight-to-streaming antics of 2020, 2021’s festivals have been absolutely stacked with great holdovers delayed from last year. Has this been true for your festivals as well?
We didn’t experience many holdovers with 2020 being probably one of our best batches except for this year of course – each year is better than the previous one! We mainly screen indie movies, except for a few bigger commercial releases each year, like Halloween Kills, which we managed to get as a pre-release screening to open the festival with on 27 October. These filmmakers are innovative, energetic and creative and eager to get their movies premiered in Africa with a festival which has proven itself to be dedicated to the genre and treat the filmmakers’ work with respect, whatever the sub-genre.
You’re not only a showrunner, you’re a creative as well. Your band, Terminatryx, has quite a dark, metal-heavy sound to it, sometimes dipping into passages infused with electronic and industrial music. Was it your interest in horror and sci-fi films that pushed you towards this style, or vice-versa? Or just the landscape of South African music not being to your liking, leading to your joining Voice Of Destruction?
I just naturally drifted towards the more alternative/darker side of all entertainment as a kid, from music to movies and art, and in eventually creating these things myself, it was just a natural instinct. After my brother and my band Metalmorphosis (in Cape Town – Marq Vas had a band with the same name in Joburg a few years after) around 1988, V.O.D’s drummer left and they asked me to join. In 1998 after our European tour and recording for our German label I dabbled with bass guitar and started creating my own industrial-slanted music, which led to my solo project F8. After meeting Sonja, we started Terminatryx in 2002 and I expanded to guitar as well, and also production and engineering.
Influences on all of these definitely come from our environment, global situations and movies with more of an edge. We actually have a documentary at the Horrorfest this year, The History of Metal and Horror with major artists and filmmakers talking about how these two artforms have influenced each other over the decades.
I’m partial to your adaptation of Ingrid Jonker’s poem ‘Ontvlugting’, is there a particular song that you feel captures Terminatyx well?
For me I think “Shadow” would be one of our definitive songs as it is both melodic and heavy with emotional valleys and peaks, and also has a bit of a cinematic feel.
The song had its genesis via our Makabra Ensemble live soundtrack project – a concept that was born at the very first Horrorfest where we create new soundtracks to classic silent films and perform it live to the screen. Many of our songs had their start with scenes in these silent films, the score expanded into a full Terminatryx track.
“Shadow” was originally the opening piece for the original Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde.
You also direct videos for the group, and attended film school, could you tell us about your work behind the camera?
I was in film school after my BA degree at university, but dropped out in second year to do my own thing. It led to starting as an editor in 1993 on one of the first commercially available digital edit suites called Media100 for the Mac (which pretty much became Final Cut Pro). My training on the system resulted in me editing our V.O.D Live ’93 home video consisting of live shows and shenanigans in between. We released it on VHS and several years back re-released it on DVD.
Across the years I’ve worked on all kinds of corporate and commercial projects, even did some weddings(!), but with our music there was an avenue to create small movies with a built-in soundtrack. Most of our Terminatryx music videos have horror and/or paranormal themes – comes naturally, I guess!
A filmmaking background also comes in handy with the Horrorfest requiring a whole lot of production, from creating trailers, teasers and projection cuts of the silent films, to compiling the substantial short film collections.
We’d love to make feature films someday.
With things looking a little dire as of late, has your appetite for the horrific slowed, or are you and the fans of Horrorfest hungrier than ever to be thrilled, or looking for a sense of catharsis?
Yes, catharsis is definitely part of it, but no, we’re always excited to see where filmmakers will take the genre. It’s also a case of we want our horror to be entertaining, not something that leaves you feeling depressed and terrible. A dark escapism without consequences.
One of my favorite additions to the festival is the Makabra Ensemble’s accompaniment to appropriately unsettling or grand silent classics, especially the industrial take on Metropolis, could you explain what the Makabra Ensemble and its style is?
The Makabra Ensemble consists of 3/4 of Terminatryx (Sonja, Ronnie and I), and talented musician friends including Sean Ou Tim, Matthijs van Dijk and Simon Ratcliffe but we’ve had some special guests over the years when someone can’t make a show, like Grimehouse, Sara from Polar Dust, Max Starke, Sonja’s Isobel dark-acoustic project partner Nerine Dorman etc.
There is no specific style – I split the movie up into scenes and allocate it to the various musicians and they create their individual part to fit the mood of the scene, so it can be anything from a light piano or violin piece to a thunderous industrial-metal blast. We don’t get to hear each other’s creations before the night of the actual live performance and usually add little improvised bits to each others tracks which makes it feel more cohesive.
Unfortunately the Covid seat limits made it difficult to do a full live show and cover costs, so like last year for 2021 people can see one of our previous live soundtrack shows at the Horrorfest’s online streaming chapter on Labia Home Screen. We shot the performance of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari but never utilised the footage. So I edited the performance shots and placed both the movie and the musicians on screen.
Recently we interviewed an actor who professed he wished that more South African filmmakers would take risks and be daring with their films. Horror and sci-fi are both genres where filmmakers are required to go-for-broke, do you think this is a part of why your festivals have consistently drawn the crowds they have? Horrorfest is the only festival of its in kind in South Africa, as I understand it?
Yes, that was one of the reasons we started it. We had this little movie but nowhere to show it, and felt we needed to create a platform where likeminded people can showcase their work.
People are sometimes a bit hesitant, thinking that making something daring can come back to haunt them… pun intended, but they get ahead of themselves before they’ve made their mark, thinking horror is below them. Jason Blum would beg to differ…
Typically Horrorfest includes a full theatrical line-up, circumstances have moved things online, meaning viewers may be able to catch even more showings than they would have otherwise. Still, will there be any theatrical showings at all this year?
Yes, we have just under 30 movies and 5 feature length short film collections. These will be streaming, but we 15 titles in cinema across the festival period, a few of them cinema-only.
What gets the honor of showing on Halloween night this year?
We celebrate a full ‘Halloween Season’ with the festival usually between 10 days to two weeks.
The streaming movies will each be available for a set period of 3 – 5 days, a few titles for the full duration, and cinema shows only get single screenings. But while we take it as Halloween Weekend, in cinema on Halloween day you can see Masking Threshold, an amazing new take on the genre and crazy, fun cinema-only creature feature Crabs! Movies that fall on Halloween day for streaming access include Jason Rising – a Friday The 13th fan film, Shadow Realm Short Films Volumes 1 & 2, Cyst, The Changed, The History of Metal and Horror, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Masking Threshold, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: The History Of Folk Horror.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg – check out the Horrorfest.info for the extensive full line-up in cinema and on-line.
This online migration means you’re going global too? What does the future of Horrorfest look like?
We had a global option last year with some filmmakers making their productions available to be seen worldwide via the festival’s virtual leg, but this year there were more requiring it to be geo-blocked for South Africa only, so we kept it contained just to be available in our region. We may pick on the global option again in 2022, but it remains a huge expansion to reach beyond the Cape Town cinema to homes across the entire South Africa, though.