Welcome to the Halloween edition of ChattaPop’s "A Beer With…." I met local film connoisseur and founder of film club Mise En Scenesters Chris Dortch at The Honest Pint for some Guinness, tater tots, and conversation about Halloween and horror movies.
Chris, why don’t you introduce yourself?
Hi. I’m Chris Dortch and I’m from Mise En Scenesters. We’re a pop-up, art-house movie theater, which sounds weird, I know.
I’ve always wanted to know how to pronounce that.
I know. It’s kind of that great canary-in-a-coalmine, litmus test where I know right away if someone pronounces it right that I have to not just talk about "Porky’s."
Where does that name come from?
It comes from a film term that I’m a big fan of, which is "mise-en-scène." What I love about it is that, depending on who you’re talking to, it’s either the most important term in all of cinema; or it’s the most pompous, pretentious, means-nothing term. It refers to the building blocks of a moment in a movie; and that’s everything from the costumes on characters, the props, the makeup, the scene, the lighting, the mood, every bit of it makes up mise-en-scène. When we started showing movies here in Chattanooga, we got accused of only catering to the hipster set, and we sort of co-opted the term "scenester" and slapped it and mise-en-scène together, and now we’re stuck with it.
You’ve got a film festival coming up. I’d like to talk about that and horror movies.
It’s a subject very close to my heart. In fact, this is the 16th year that every day in October I’ve watched a horror film, which is a really stupid ….
No, it’s awesome.
It’s something I’ve made myself do every year, and it’s kind of as much about revisiting these movies that I love as it is about discovering new movies. This year, I’ve had a blast doing it. I’ve dragged my girlfriend into the fold, and 14 days in [at the time of this interview] and we’ve already watched 19 films.
What are some of the films you’ve been watching?
We’ve gone all over the map this year. We’ve done some classics. Last night, we did "The Changeling" with George C. Scott, which is a great haunted house flick. We’ve done "Chopping Mall," which is not a classic but is very close to my heart. It’s a slasher film, sort of, where these kids get locked overnight in the mall, and of course, the night the mall is starting to test out their new android security guards, which of course malfunction and all hell breaks loose. And it shares a lot of cast members with a major cult classic that I adore called "Night of the Comet." We did "Slaughter High" and "An American Werewolf in London," things like that.
So when you think of horror movies, is there one movie that comes to mind that defines the genre?
That’s a great question. To me, the horror genre kind of gets a bad rap sometimes. And I’m always glad to talk to people who have a place for it in their heart because I feel like, just like anything, there’s a spectrum to it. There’s the slasher movies, and there’s the more cerebral "Jacob’s Ladders" and the really great stuff. So to me, when I think about great horror films, I think about "Night of the Living Dead" because it’s got this great social subtext that a lot of the best horror films manage to have. It’s so iconic, legitimately scary, and it was made for peanuts. To me, one of the great things about the horror genre, maybe more than any other genre of film, it’s got a real DIY spirit to it. A lot of guys went out and figured out how to make fake blood in their parents’ toolshed and went out and did it. And you see that a whole lot in the horror genre. That’s one of the best movies, and also "Nightmare on Elm Street," which I completely love. It might actually be my all-time favorite horror film. And that to me [is] a slasher movie, but as a kid, it was the reason I was terrified to go to sleep.
So what would you say is your favorite part of Halloween?
You know, there’s a lot of things I like about it. My grandparents and my whole family are from the South. My grandparents were huge fans of telling ghost stories. And there was a lot of folklore passed around every year, and this time of year really reminds me of being a kid and getting the absolute s#* scared out of me by my grandfather, in a good way.
Talk a little about your festival coming up.
Well, we call it the Frightening Ass Film Festival because I’m a Southern guy like you are, and I’ve always loved that great Southern modifier. On the day I was trying to come up with a name for this three years ago, I was literally sitting at Champy’s Chicken, and I heard a guy describe a piece of chicken as "Man, this is a good-ass piece of chicken." And I just thought, "What if I had the Frightening Ass Film Festival?" and it made me giggle so much that now I’ve kind of locked myself into it. We’re now into our third year. Basically, what it is is sort of a daylong celebration celebrating horror films and rock 'n' roll music because I think that music and films taste great together, and I try to combine them as much as I can.
Reminder: Don’t forget to send me your Halloween costume photos at email@example.com. I’ll post them in next week’s column.
Charlie Moss writes about local history and popular culture, including music, movies and comics. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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