When talking about this year’s Frightfest, taking place at the Lucas Theater on September 29, Graveface Records owner Ryan Graveface sounds energized.
The local legend, who started his label and record store after moving to Savannah from Chicago, is teaming up for the first time with the Psychotronic Film Society’s Jim Reed and plotting an all-day horror extravaganza that will be capped with a Q&A from famed horror director Jeff Burr.
Reed and Graveface, both seasoned touring musicians with strikingly similar backgrounds and interests, came together after Graveface had already done some Frightfest events over the last few years.
“I used to be involved with a 24-hour horror movie fest in Chicago,” Graveface explains.
“I moved down here in 2010, and after getting my feet on the ground I did my first event in 2013. Jim and I have been talking about doing something for a long time, so it made sense to try it with this.”
Graveface, a known horror film buff, said he became interested in being involved with the local movie community after realizing that he was “desperate to watch horror films again.”
“For the first two years that I lived here, I’d go back up to Chicago just to attend the 24-hour event I used to be a part of. Just because I’m a sicko, I need that sort of experience. And then I thought, ‘Fuck it, I guess I’ll do that too,’” he says.
“That’s how everything has evolved in Savannah. I didn’t move here with any intention of being a music space or a movie hub, but a lot has happened oarganically.”
Reed’s collaboration with Graveface was a natural one, given the former’s dedication to, and passionate work with, PFS.
“We both share great passions for obscure and marginalized genre cinema as well as fringe recordings and musical artists,” Reed says of Graveface.
“Individually, we have both put on 12-hour horror movie marathons in the past at a few different venues, but for us to join forces to create something bigger and perhaps more varied than what either of us might have come up with on our own is a real joy for me.”
Psychotronic Film Society, Reed explains, came out of a desire to nurture a flourishing film community in Savannah.
“As an adventurous film lover myself, I was extremely frustrated that locally, there was nowhere for the general public to regularly see non-mainstream feature films from around the world in any sort of theatrical environment,” Reed says.
“After complaining frequently about the lack of diversity at our local, corporate-owned multiplexes, a number of friends suggested that perhaps instead of waiting around for someone else to offer an alternative, perhaps I should just do it myself.”
Perhaps the most noteworthy happening at this year’s Frightfest is the screening of Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, followed by a Q&A session with director Jeff Burr.
The film has become an undisputed classic since its release, but was famously bogged down by studio intrusion and delays - causing Burr to object to his name being attached to the final product.
Despite the issues, Graveface says there are things about the film that undeniably have Burr’s stamp - and those elements have contributed greatly to its enduring legacy.
“It’s definitely a cult classic, and it wasn’t upon release,” Graveface says. “I don’t think Leatherface has trumped the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it’s definitely trumped the second. I think Jeff has a lot to be proud of, despite it being stressful as hell to make.”
“He’s the sweetest dude ever,” Graveface adds of Burr, with whom he’s worked in the past on issuing a vinyl version of the score for From A Whisper To A Scream.
In the current political climate, a lot of what’s considered great modern art is also fundamentally social and political. The same goes for the horror genre, which Reed says has been seeing something of a return to form and a shift away from “cheap jump scares and grisly, extended scenes of depraved, graphic violence.”
“Horror movies have long been used as a tool for ambitious filmmakers to espouse non-traditional viewpoints without attracting much attention to their ulterior motives,” he says, citing George A. Romero’s classic Dawn Of The Dead as his not just his favorite horror film of all time, but an example of the genre at its best and most politically vocal.
The film, he explains, is “essentially an in-your-face barrage of socio-political broadsides damnably criticizing America’s racist, classist and patriarchal power structure.”
“The flesh-eating zombies are merely window-dressing. They’re the applesauce surrounding the bitter pill. You come back and watch again for the tasty applesauce, but the pill gets into your bloodstream and, hopefully, changes your mindset for the betterment of the world around us,” he says.
Graveface agrees that issues of race, politics, and social injustices have always been present in the best that the genre has to offer, albeit much more subtly.
“I think the reason that it’s not going to be subtle anymore is because the political climate is so intense that you kind of have to scream louder than everyone else to get your point across,” he says. “It’s 2018, there is no subtlety.”
With Graveface and PFS teaming up for this year’s Frightfest, the future of Savannah’s film community is in the most capable of hands.
Savannah, Reed exclaims, is “a wonderful city that –generally speaking—has virtually no idea just how amazingly lucky it is, and much of that richness and majesty has to do with the art, film, music and literature communities.”
“This city is unfortunately led by civic, business and religious leaders who are (in far too many cases) charlatans and hoodwink artists. Their collusive, self-serving behavior and opportunistic decisions are an existential threat to the history and mystery of this dirty swamp diamond I have made my home,” he continues.
“If all the creative and active (as opposed to re-active) people who live in Savannah and love it for what it is, not what it could be were to focus their energies and ideas in a constructive and fearless manner, it would solve many of the city’s most vexing internal problems within one or two election cycles, like a Krell Machine for altruism.”
Frightfest at the Lucas Theater begins at 11:00 a.m., with all-day passes just $20 each. Reed notes that the price comes out to just $3.33 per film, which is “exactly half of $6.66.”
“I’ll let folks make of that what they will.”