William Mahaffey is a local filmmaker and movie buff who founded the Knoxville Horror Film Festival, which will celebrate its second year this weekend (and will also have a premiere screening of Mahaffey’s newest short, “Sick”). Mahaffey, a University of Tennessee graduate, has spent a lot of the past few years attending genre film festivals and, well, watching movies. Now, what started as a horror fan doing a last-minute screening of one of his own movies has become one of Knoxville’s most original events.
What originally got you into horror movies?
When I was little, I was scared of Jason and Freddy movies and my dad would watch them and get a kick out of me being terrified by them. In high school, one thing that strikes in my mind was when we had a friend that was one year older than us and we had never seen Evil Dead 2 and he showed us that and the Phantasm movies; I guess those were the first that really struck a chord with me. In part because the Phantasm movies, they’re kind of cheesy, but they’re so much fun to watch, in part because of that. The year before, I had a friend that didn’t have a job and we lived together—we watched 75-80 horror movies in the month of October.
That has to have an effect on the psyche.
I tried to write a script based on somebody who did that and how it can affect people. But it didn’t affect me at all. I kept thinking, “I mean, surely there’s got to be something wrong with me.” But I never had bad dreams or anything. Nothing came out of it except for creative ideas.
You wrote a script about how that would affect a person, although it didn’t affect you?
I started writing a script about these characters watching movies and it was kind of autobiographical in a way, because of watching movies when I was a kid. I guess another thing is going into a crappy video store in Johnson City called Movie Tracks that eventually burned down, I think. I remember going in there to the horror section, and VHS worked very differently than DVD. On VHS it was about having the most messed-up cover possible to get people’s attention to rent it. So this movie store was near my house and I’d go there when I was younger and see all these boxes and now those images are stuck in my brain. One that really stuck in my brain was Slumber Party Massacre. The cover had this rockabilly-looking guy with a guitar that has a drill on it and all these half-naked women, like, cowering away. When you see that and you’re 10 years old, you can’t even process that.
Why did you decide to do this festival?
I got the first bug when I did a horror film, a zombie film called 33 Nights Under the Zombie Moon. I was in a band that played a lot at the Pilot Light and Jason [Boardman] asked if I wanted to play my movie there, and I did. Then I thought it would be cool for me to get a bunch of other people to show movies, too. This was, like, three days before I was going to do it, so I was trying to get people to show movies and I ended up getting two movies or something. It wasn’t that much, but a decent amount of people came. People were looking to have fun with it. That’s the one thing I like about film fests, is that people interact and are more enthusiastic about it.
What do you think of the increasingly popular zombie fad?
There’s a lot of good ideas for zombies out there. I mean, we are showing Colin Saturday night and it’s great, and we’re showing a lot of zombie movies Friday night. I’m not saying I hate zombies, but it’s coming to a breaking point.
Do you see low-budget filmmakers, like Marc Price, the maker of Colin, being trendsetters in the near future?
I don’t know. It’s hard to say. Trends are kind of always set by the mainstream, but there are underground trends. I’m sure his making that movie that cheap and being successful encourages people. But now you can do anything with a camera and all the editing software at home. He’s a product of that trend. He’s better than a lot of people because he has good ideas.
What kind of trends or resurgences in horror genres do you see happening, or would you like to see happen?
I think it would be good to have more ’80s horror because it’s funny, but now movies are all working off of torture porn-type stuff or just extreme horror. It’s either remakes or things that have hardly any humor in them, and are just cold.
What do you think of the art/film scene in Knoxville?
I think there’s a lot of potential for both. I never thought that we would have had a reaction like we did last year on this festival. There are obviously people that want to attend stuff like this.
Have you watched all the local submissions for this year’s festival?
Yeah, and we’ve got some really good local ones.
Are there any trends you’re seeing in the local videos?
Torturing women. That’s not just here, that’s, like, everywhere.