Living in New Orleans, there are always tons of things to do around the end of October. As Halloween approaches, the tally of concerts and horror movie screenings grows exponentially. However, some years it’s easy to feel as though you’ve done it all before and the staleness weighs on you. If for nothing else but a change of scenery, why not go to a horror-themed music and film festival in Austin, Texas? Philip Anselmo, frontman of Down and owner of Housecore Records, was approached by true crime author and metal enthusiast, Corey Mitchell, to organize just that. In 2013, they launched the Housecore Horror Film Festival, featuring performances by The Melvins, Down, Repulsion, Goatwhore, Honky, First Jason, and many more. The headliner and main attraction was easily Italy’s Goblin, a band best-known for their epic scores and soundtracks to horror director Dario Argento’s vast film library. The festival also boasted numerous film screenings with introductions by international filmmakers, including Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust, The House on the Edge of the Park), Jorg Buttgereit (Nekromantik 1& 2 ), and Jim Van Bebber (The Manson Family).
The layout of the fest was unique. On one end of a strip-mall style shopping center stood Emo’s, the music venue which housed the main stage. At the other end was Antone’s, home to most of the daytime performances. The courtyards in the center of the shopping complex were home to a variety of vendors, meet-and-greet tables, and an autograph signing room. In an alley behind the complex were two film screening tents and a screening room. The suburban setting was conveniently surrounded by a variety of restaurants, food trucks, gas stations/convenience stores, and big-box drugstores, with hotels less than a mile away. After getting there and witnessing the layout, it became apparent that fest organizers would have been hard-pressed to find so perfect a location anywhere else.
2014 brought with it some big changes. Antone’s is now Midway’s, a sports bar with a kitchen operating out of a food truck parked around back. When we arrived on Friday, we were pleased to find that, in keeping with the spirit of the festival, they were showing AMC’s Fear Fest horror marathon on the many TV screens around the bar. They also let the Who Dat Nation take over on Sunday night to watch the New Orleans Saints roust the Green Bay Packers, and then hosted the afterparty for the fest. Instead of having bands on their stage during a busy weekend of college and NFL football, they allowed their parking lot to be converted into festival grounds, with a huge stage and drink and merch tents. Also, the film tents in the alley were pushed closer together and centered to try to prevent some of the noise bleed from the stages at either end, a common complaint from the year prior. This year also featured screenings of VHS and 35mm formats. There wasn’t a cavalcade of rare appearances by foreign filmmakers, but there were panel discussions and Q&A sessions.
The focal point of the festivities was a reunion of cast and crew members from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1 and 2, even including the truck driver from TCM1. There were the usual meet-and-greet sessions and panels, wherein cast and crew fondly remembered the $10 lids of weed back in 1973 in Austin and dispelled the long-running rumor that the character Leatherface was based on serial killer Ed Gein (only the mask was). They offered their widely-differing views on the sequels and remakes, but it seemed they were mostly on the same page in what made the first film so terrifying with very little blood and gore and an $80K budget: it was what was left to the viewers’ imaginations. Cast and crew also participated in a panel to remember actress Marilyn Burns. Burns played Sally in the first Chain Saw film and was scheduled to appear at HHFF. Sadly, she passed away in August. But there was a huge surprise in store for fans: on Saturday night, a surprise screening of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre took place on a giant screen in front of the Midway’s stage.
Amongst the myriad other films, videos, and documentaries shown throughout the weekend, another standout entry was the premiere of American Guinea Pig, an extreme exploitation film designed to act as a prequel to one of the Japanese Guinea Pig shorts. The filmmaker intended to film audience reactions and people leaving. Who would know if they were leaving from disgust, or just to go check out one of the bands? The documentary Welcome to Your Funeral: The Story of Rigor Mortis, was truly entertaining, including interview footage with late guitarist Mike Scaccia, although the film wasn’t completed until after he died. (The band that Rigor Mortis has become, Wizards of Gore, also performed the night before, and vocalist Bruce Corbitt’s other band, Warbeast, played Saturday night.)
It was amazing to see so many veteran metal bands like Napalm Death, Voivod, Neurosis, and Macabre (a real treat, with every song preceded by a short tale outlining the inspiration for it), but it was also surprising to see so many mindblowing side projects. Mike Williams of Eyehategod did a short set with his industrial band, Corrections House, and Pat Bruders of Down played in his brutal crust hardcore band, Gasmiasma. Former DRI drummer, Felix Griffin, opened Sunday’s festivities with d-beat punk outfit, Krigblast, and informed me later that his other band, BAT, is writing and recording and hopes to tour next year. Other members of Down, Phil Anselmo and Jimmy Bower, performed a rare set as Superjoint Ritual, and Glenn Danzig started the set as Danzig, came back out covered in blood and played a Samhain set, then finished with a few more Danzig tunes, joined by Anselmo for “Mother.”
It’s always a great feeling to discover bands you’ve never seen or heard before and Portal, a death and black metal band from Australia, did not disappoint. The music was tight and aggressive, yet still hauntingly melodic, and they employed the best overall use of backdrop projections, lighting, fog, music, and costumes working together to give the crowd one hell of an experience. The band wears executioners’ hoods, and one of the guitarists even wears a noose around his neck. The menacing frontman, known only as The Curator, has been through a few costume changes throughout their career, but now appears as an eerie, shrouded figure with long tentacles for fingers who moves very little, save for his arms. The show is hypnotic, unsettling, and exhilarating all at once, and easily became a highlight of the fest. Bad news, Ghost fans: Portal’s been doing it better since 1994.
Although Danzig/Samhain was billed as the headliner, there were as many or more devoted fans gathering with a mixture of trepidation and elation to see GWAR. Legendary frontman Oderus Urungus (portrayed by Dave Brockie) passed away this past March, but had always insisted that due to the nature of the band’s mythos, storytelling, and costumes, band members/characters could and should be brought in anytime someone left— even Oderus—so that the band could live on infinitely. So, after giving him a Viking funeral, GWAR introduced two new characters, Blothar (who’s actually Mike Bishop, the original “Beefcake the Mighty”) and Vulvatron (the new GWAR Woman), to lead GWAR on a final quest. Due largely in part to Bishop’s previous experience in the band, complete with lead vocals on some songs, the transition was executed smoothly and with confidence. Plus, Vulvatron’s breasts squirt blood at the audience—enough said! The set was an emotional ode to Oderus, complete with many chants of “Oderus” throughout, a touching performance of “The Road Behind,” and a cover of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died.” GWAR fans can rest easy; the band’s fate is in good hands.
Overall, the 2014 Housecore Horror Film Festival was tremendous fun, and at times, sensory overload. It was impossible to catch everything on the schedule, because there were just so many impressive acts and films. Sometimes that’s a good thing. The fest would’ve been a tradition I would’ve loved to incorporate into my annual Halloween activities. Unfortunately, founder and festival director, Corey Mitchell, died after the festival on Monday (see sidebar). A PR rep hinted that the show will most likely not go on without him, although it remains to be seen. The man’s legacy most certainly lives on, and thousands of metal maniacs and horror film fanatics will never forget him.
To learn more about the Housecore Horror Film Festival, for updates, and to find out how to donate to the fundraiser for Corey Mitchell’s family, go to housecorehorrorfilmfestival.com