Why do we like to be scared? South Carolina-born filmmaker Tommy Faircloth, founder of Charleston’s own Crimson Screen Horror Film Fest thinks horror movies are about familiarity meeting the unknown, the ordinary suddenly exploding with intensity. “I like the stories that seem simple, that could happen to anyone,” the director of horror features and award-winning short films says, adding that audiences want, “a good horror film to make them jump out of their seat.”

At least since Hitchcock’s classic Psycho (1960), horror movies have gone for our cultural jugular. A good horror flick seems to want to hurt us.

In Psycho‘s famous shower scene, audiences screamed in shock at what the director had done to them. Great horror movies put us in the hands of directors, screenwriters, and special effects artists that are liable to take us anywhere.

We must love it. Horror films are one of the most profitable genres for studios and independent filmmakers. Beyond the cineplexes, a thriving sub-culture has grown up around hundreds of horror film fests and conventions large and small. For instance, Toronto’s After Dark Film Festival has become one of the largest film festivals, of any kind, in North America.

Charleston has plenty of alleged ghosts and “haunted Charleston” has been an integral part of Lowcountry tourism since the 1980s. But the unquiet spirits that hover around our historic sites and gibber in our graveyards are mostly of the colonial and antebellum variety. We generally expect our undead to show up in tricorner hats, or maybe confederate uniforms.

If you prefer zombies, aliens, and murdering maniacs to haunted Civil War sights, Faircloth and fellow filmmaker Robert Zobel, have some monsters waiting for you.

“Last year we had our first festival on Easter weekend and did not know what to expect,” Faircloth admits. He had no reason to worry. Hundreds packed Sterett Hall Auditorium for two days of scare flicks. The success of the event encouraged Faircloth to extend the terror to three days.

This year’s Crimson Screen features 11 feature films and 32 short films. The frightful menu includes ghostly encounters, cabin-in-the-woods style slashers, a zombie apocalypse or two, movies that mix the macabre with the comedic, and some flicks that go to such strange places that they defy classification.

In addition to three solid days of the macabre, artists, authors, designers, and vendors who specialize in various horrific themes will appear at the festival. Local food trucks will get you through the long days of blood-curdling fun. Both Boogie’s Barbeque and the much-loved King of Pops will be at the fest on Sunday. Appropriately, Zombie Bob’s Pizza truck will be on site throughout the festival. “No brains served here,” they promise, “just epic pizza.”

This year will also feature special guests that will delight horror fans and film buffs of all varieties. Debbie Rochon, who has an unbelievable 200 film credits to her name and is much beloved by genre fans will make an appearance. Rochon, known to many fans as one of the classic indie horror “scream queens,” makes her directorial debut with the feature film Model Hunger.

Steve Balderson, producer of the critically lauded film Firecracker will join the gruesome fun to screen his new feature Hell Town. Roger Ebert was a big fan of Balderson and rated Firecracker as one of the best films of 2005. Aspiring producers, directors, and screenwriters should flock to the festival on Sunday, when Balderson will be holding a filmmaking workshop for those interested in learning the craft.

There’s another special guest coming, one that you certainly only want to meet in a well-lit hall with other horror lovers. Hollywood special effects artist Tony Rosen will be bringing along “Annabelle” on Saturday and Sunday, the creepy doll made infamous in horror hits The Conjuring and Annabelle. Rosen also designed “The Crimmy,” the film festival’s signature award for films in various categories.

Creepy atmosphere, a knife coming at you from the shadows, some thing waiting for you in the darkest part of the forest — there are plenty of theories about why we want these stories. But, whatever our reasons, Crimson Screen Horror Film Fest promises to meet all those monstrous needs.

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