Dark Mirror reflects on horror film themes

By Rachel Ambelang
Staff Writer

More than 120 people celebrated Halloween this weekend by attending The Dark Mirror, a horror film festival hosted by Matt Cardin, horror writer and McLennan Community College Writing Center Instructor, and Dr. Jim Kendrick, associate professor of Baylor’s film and digital media.

The festival began as an idea Cardin presented to Kendrick in the spring of 2010.

“We had met briefly a few years ago, and we were both aware of the other and that we were both interested in the horror genre,” Kendrick said.

That summer, Cardin and Kendrick began discussing films they wanted to show at the festival, deciding eventually to pick movies that dealt with the prominent social issues during the time they were released. After the success of the first festival, the two decided to continue the festival for future years.

The theme for this year’s festival was “Horror and the Soul,” featuring movies that dealt with spiritual, religious and supernatural fears. Kendrick said the theme was primarily Cardin’s idea.

“It immediately struck a chord with me because I have always felt there is a strong connection between the horror genre and religion/spirituality,” Kendrick said.

The Dark Mirror featured six films total, with three on Friday night and three on Saturday night. “Risen”, a low-budget zombie movie directed by Waco filmmaker Damon Crump, was the first film shown. Crump talked about the challenges of making an independent feature as well as the fun he had with the project.

“Risen” was shot partially in Waco. Several Waco residents play the flesh-eating zombies. Some of the extras were in the room, excited to see the finished product.

The next screening featured “Jacob’s Ladder,” a film that follows Jacob Singer (played by Tim Robbins) as he fights to distinguish the line between his imagination and reality.

Kendrick said “Jacob’s Ladder” was acknowledged as one of the greatest scripts not produced. Even though everyone knew how unique the story was, no one in Hollywood could figure out how to direct it. Finally in 1990, director Adrian Lyne succeeded in translating the complex writing to the screen.

Perhaps the most provocative film of the weekend was “The Mist,” which is based on a Stephen King novella. The film has a twist ending, different from the book, that Stephen King has said he wished he would have thought of. The ending caused several audience members to scream.

San Marcos Junior Alex Kresta was particularly moved by both the films and the commentary from the festival organizers. Kresta admitted he only came to the film festival because a friend asked him to, originally believing that horror films are a form of tasteless entertainment, but Kresta came back on Saturday for the next three films.

“I never looked at the horror genre critically before. I think these films have more artistic value than people give them credit for,” Kresta said.

Saturday began with the 1978 remake of the film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” in which humans are steadily replaced by apathetic creatures that take on human appearances.

Afterward, Cardin introduced “Session 9,” the most disturbing film he’d ever seen, but not because of the gore. “Session 9” follows the trials of four renovators as they attempt to remodel a mental hospital that was abandoned in the 1980s.

“The Exorcist” (the 1973 version), probably the most well-known, was arguably the most disturbing for the majority of viewers on both a visceral and emotional level.

Kendrick and Cardin said they felt one of the most important things about viewing a horror film is the audience participation. Horror films are meant to be watched with an audience, Kendrick said. The pair also hoped to show the elements of the horror genre besides the obvious blood and gore, working to highlight deeper themes in the films.

“There is a misconception that horror films are shallow products designed to either scare you or gross you out, but both Matt and I feel that the genre offers an excellent means of reflection on a number of levels; hence the name of the festival, The Dark Mirror,” Kendrick said.

Both Kendrick and Cardin said that by giving historical background, as well as a brief analysis of the films, horror fans and critics alike will gain a better understanding of the genre and why it is more than just scares and gore.