Since it started in 2001, Screamfest has served as both a launching pad for new filmmakers and a celebration of the horror genre's past, and this year is certainly no exception. Kicking off October 10th and running through the 19th at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Screamfest 2017 features an eclectic lineup of new horror films as well as celebratory screenings of Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse and Tom Holland's Child's Play.

To celebrate the 17th year of Screamfest, Daily Dead recently had the pleasure of speaking with the festival's founder, Rachel Belofsky, to talk about this year's diverse lineup, honoring the horror genre's history, her reaction to seeing Paranormal Activity for the first time after it was submitted to Screamfest, and much more.

Congratulations on 17 years of Screamfest. That's a really awesome achievement.

Rachel Belofsky: I know. It's unbelievable. Thank you.

When you co-founded the festival back in 2001, did you ever think that Screamfest would become such an enduring fixture in horror cinema 17 years later?

Rachel Belofsky: No. Definitely no. I thought it would be a little side thing. I had no idea it would bounce right ahead. It's awesome. Yeah, not in a million years.

Looking back to where you started with the festival, how much has it changed or stayed the same in those 17 years?

Rachel Belofsky: It has grown for sure. We started off as a two day [festival] and then in my second year I took it to a four day [festival]. Then, the third year, we went to nine days. Then it's been nine, 10 days ever since then. It's grown for sure. We just try to do things a little different every year and keep it fresh for the audience and hope that we're making the audience happy because it's all about the fans and the filmmakers.

Yeah, that's one of the things too that's so cool about this is that at the same time you're celebrating the movies, it's also a fan celebration, too. It's about the fans, even the filmmakers who are fans themselves. Screamfest is a true celebration of horror. Horror is not just one aspect of Screamfest. Horror is Screamfest. I love that.

Rachel Belofsky: When I go to a genre fest, I'm always perplexed. When we see other festivals call themselves a genre festival and then there's not that many horror films. There's action films or a combination of genres. It's like, "You're not a genre festival." Yeah, I was always a little baffled on that. Genre to me is horror. It's what we do—horror thrillers. We put it in primetime all the time.

Especially now when people seem to almost shy away from horror as a label. We had these claims that IT could be classified as not a horror movie but a thriller. People seem to almost go out of their way to say, "No, this isn't a horror movie. It's a genre movie. It's a grounded drama with horror elements." It's more important now than ever to actually wear that badge of honor for horror.

Rachel Belofsky: Oh, yeah. I remember when the Texas Chainsaw remake came out and we were trying to get it for the festival and New Line... I'll never forget this phone call. They were like, "Well, it's not a horror film." I paused and I'm like, "Well, what is it? A romantic comedy? I'm confused." "Oh, no, it's a thriller." I'm like, "Oh, come on. Seriously? Okay."

You look at all these films and Academy Award-winning films like The Silence of the Lambs. If that's not a horror film, what is? People skirt around it and polish it and not call it a horror film.

It's funny that you mention The Texas Chainsaw remake, because now you have Leatherface in this year's lineup, so it's coming full circle in a way.

Rachel Belofsky: Yeah, different studio, but yes. Lionsgate, they get horror. They're not afraid of it, which is why we love Lionsgate. They definitely embrace horror.

Top to bottom, this might be your most exciting lineup yet. You have Leatherface, but you also have Todd & the Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End, and you have creepy stuff like 1922 and really fascinating stories like To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story, which I think is really important to get out there. When you were looking at submissions for this year, what impressed you the most that you are excited for fans to experience this year?

Rachel Belofsky: Originality. Some, like the Mexican film Tigers Are Not Afraid, are definitely original. Vidar the Vampire is definitely original. Todd & the Book of Pure Evil, yeah, it's based on a show but it's not your straight haunted house movie. It's not your typical story. The movie starts fresh. That's what we're most excited about.

We're doing the Vampira documentary. It's done by this Finnish filmmaker and it's kind of cool to think there's a whole other generation that doesn't even know who Vampira is. It's a free screening. They can come and there's going to be a Vampira collectible art show going on before it.

Screamfest always does a really good job celebrating the present but also honoring the past of the genre as well. This year is no exception because you have a screening of The Funhouse, which is a great way to honor Tobe Hooper, and you'll have a Child's Play screening and Q&A with Tom Holland.

Rachel Belofsky: We honor the past films that may not always get the spotlight. Again, it's a whole other generation that don't even know these films. If they have, they haven't really seen them in a theatrical setting. There are generations who haven't even seen Halloween. We're not playing Halloween, but there are generations who haven't even seen that.

I also like how you celebrate student short films, which I think is really important because you're nurturing that upcoming wave of horror filmmakers.

Rachel Belofsky: Definitely. We always want to help get careers going and give them the contacts and the platform to showcase their work so they can make connections to go on to do other ones.

I know Screamfest is in October, but I imagine that being a festival director is a yearlong job. Can you give us some insight into what it takes to run this festival and prepare for it all year round?

Rachel Belofsky: Myself and my co-director Karen Martin do this year round. It's scouting films, it's promotion. The dreaded sponsorship thing you've got to do. Trying to come up with ideas to make it fresh. What are the fans looking for? Trying to come up with just fun things for the fans to do and implementing them and all of the aspects that go into that.

Do you watch each of the film submissions and evaluate whether they'd be a good fit for Screamfest?

Rachel Belofsky: Yeah, we all do. We all watch them together and critique them and judge them. Then, when the films are selected, you have industry judges that judge them because we don't judge the films that are selected.

Once they're selected, the actual judging process is done by the industry and producers. We try to keep it very up and honest because we do become so involved with the filmmakers, we want to make sure that we can be as impartial as possible and the only way to do that is to have judges that don't interact with the directors.

You've had some really groundbreaking horror films that have premiered at Screamfest or played at Screamfest over the years. What was it like for you to see Paranormal Activity for the first time when it was submitted? Did you realize it was going to be so different than anything else that had come before it?

Rachel Belofsky: I knew it would sell and I knew that it was different. I didn't know it would go beyond The Blair Witch Project. I knew it would sell and I thought there was definitely something there because you're like, "Wow. I didn't see that one coming." I was very excited for Oren [Peli].


To learn more about Screamfest, visit the festival's official website and watch the video for the horror film festival below.

  • Derek Anderson
    About the Author - Derek Anderson

    Raised on a steady diet of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Derek has been fascinated with fear since he first saw ForeverWare being used on an episode of Eerie, Indiana.

    When he’s not writing about horror as the Senior News Reporter for Daily Dead, Derek can be found daydreaming about the Santa Carla Boardwalk from The Lost Boys or reading Stephen King and Brian Keene novels.