Like many horror fans, Timothy English considers Halloween the “best holiday ever.”
He is further celebrating the season through a return of Terror on the Plains, a horror film festival primarily showcasing local work Thursday at the Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet.
“I think of terror as a fear from which you can’t escape,” says English, a board member with the Paris of the Plains Film Group (PoPFilmKC) that is putting on the event. “Whether it’s a fear of clowns or whatever, it’s something where you’re not able to shake the images. It’s not easily overcome.”
Terror on the Plains kicks off with six short films: “House of the White Lotus” by Paul South; “The Terrible Vampire” by Casey Bauer; “Nuns vs. Dracula” by Dave Berry; “Children of the Candy Corn” by Alden Miller”; “Lemon” by Jenny Brinkman; and “The Eternal Pitfall of Prokofiev” by Patrick Clement. The block is mainly composed of student filmmakers with UMKC ties. It runs 45 minutes.
“‘Lemon’ is the beginning of a love story but with a sick twist,” says Brinkman, a UMKC senior in communication studies, with an emphasis in film and media. “The most challenging aspect of making ‘Lemon’ was dealing with the weather. It was so unbelievably windy the day we had to shoot exteriors at a car dealership. The actors’ hair was flying all over the place, and when it came to editing it was so hard to hear the lines to match them up.”
KU student Clement — a junior transfer from Los Angeles majoring in film and media studies — decided on a throwback approach for “The Eternal Pitfall of Prokofiev,” a Faustian tale about a young man who bargains with the devil.
“We used soft focus, a hand-cranked camera, an academy ratio and we shot at 16 frames-per-second,” Clement says. “There were lots of conversations about suppressing more modern approaches to framing, acting and editing. We also recorded the soundtrack as a live piano accompaniment, which was quite an undertaking.”
Headlining Terror on the Plains is “Halloween,” John Carpenter’s 1978 killer-on-the-loose movie that became one of the landmark indies of the era. With a production budget of $325,000, the film ended up grossing more than $50 million domestically while spawning a wave of slasher flicks attempting to cash in on its success.
“It’s the music,” English says of what he recalls most about the first time he saw “Halloween.”
“John Carpenter’s theme goes throughout the whole movie. It’s relentless. There’s not a lot of blood in the movie. There’s violence, but compared to today’s movies, it’s all very subtle.”
The festival debuted last year at the Mission Theatre with Sam Raimi’s “Army of Darkness” as its centerpiece film. This year it moves to the Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet. Coincidentally, “Halloween” had its world premiere in Kansas City on Oct. 25, 1978. It played at the Empire Theater — the site of the current Alamo.
“Having it at the Alamo is certainly an advantage,” English says. “We want to give some of these younger independent filmmakers a chance to see their work on the big screen — especially somewhere like the Alamo,” English says. “It’s very different from a place that’s a hall that books wedding receptions.”
An after-party will be held at the Alamo’s Chesterfield lounge, featuring a live performance by KC’s Odd-O-Matic. The electro-punk band describes its sound as incorporating “fast-paced drums, sporadic synths, sarcastic lyrics and fuzzy guitar riffs.”
A costume contest and trivia for prizes is also planned.
“I’m still working on my costume,” English says. “But last year I put on a little dog hat and went as Sam Rockwell from ‘Seven Psychopaths.’”
PoPFilmKC organizers say Terror on the Plains is one of what they hope is many annual events.
“Our goal is to put local talent up on the big screen,” English says. “We’re also giving everybody a perfect chance to meet the filmmakers because we’ve got a lot of great ones here in Kansas City.”
The Terror on the Plains film festival starts at 6 p.m. Thursday at Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet. Admission is $7. For more information, go topopfilmkc.org