Joe Lynch buddies up to Syracuse with midnight marathon of horror films

SU alum talks industry, screens his own work plus a frightening favorite at the Syracuse International Film Festival

Earlier this year, The New Republic published an article entitled “What It Says About You If You Enjoy Horror Movies,” which posed that fans of horror films are more likely to lack empathy. On January 9, 2015 — five days later — writer Nat Brehmer, for the website Wicked Horror, argued just the opposite: that the passion and kindness of the majority of genre enthusiasts, in his experience, has been overwhelming. In Brehmer’s words, “Horror is not a fandom. It’s a community.”

Joe Lynch, Long Island native, working filmmaker, and 1998 graduate of Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, agreed that there is a social stigma surrounding the horror genre — and attested that, in the face of criticism, fans and moviemakers alike have only gotten stronger, and as a result, happier and prouder to do what they do.

And with considerable pride, Lynch brought his 2014 gritty revenge feature Everly, starring Salma Hayek, to the Palace Theater for the Twelfth Annual Syracuse International Film Festival on Friday night, then entertained the crowd with a gross-out zombie short he directed for the 2011 anthology Chillerama, as well as the world premiere of a new Faith No More music video and a 35mm print of the picture that inspired him to get into the business: Chuck Russell’s 1988 reimagining of The Blob.

The night was dubbed “An EVILning with Joe Lynch.”

Lynch, who donned a Halloween III: Season of the Witch t-shirt and frequently jogged up and down the aisles of the theater with a microphone, admitted to emulating the playful vibe of two of his favorite genre film festivals — Toronto’s “Midnight Madness” and Austin’s “Fantastic Fest.”

These events, he said, prove that attending a film festival doesn’t have to be a stuffy and pretentious activity.  Instead, it can be a party. This sense of unity in edginess, Lynch added, is what makes horror a thriving niche. He said that the horror world’s glue is its “high school outcast” sensibility.

“You find that one guy who listens to Slayer, and you want to hang out with that dude,” Lynch said, “or you find that girl who actually knows what Dawn of the Dead is, and you want to be friends with her, too.”

Lynch emphasized that, in the recent history of horror filmmaking, this kind of “buddy” connection has been essential to the advancement of the genre as a whole.  Unlike the larger, “general [film] industry,” where many actors and directors are cutthroat competitors embittered about not scoring each other’s respective gigs, Lynch said horror artists are more often rooting for their peers.

Daring filmmakers like James Wan, he noted, turned investors onto upcoming artists when Saw (2004) found financial success. Lynch mentioned that his friend and fellow filmmaker, Adam Green, with whom he hosts the horror podcast The Movie Crypt, probably wouldn’t have been able to make the scene favorite Hatchet (2006) had Saw never happened.

Regarding the success of his own work, Lynch said he has maintained a rejection of the “four-quadrant movie,” or one which, by design, appeals to all major audience demographics: male, female, over-and-under 25s.

“Basically, summer blockbusters,” he said.

Lynch acknowledged that, while it’s not necessarily a good idea for a filmmaker to tell his investors that he’s making something “only for [himself] and his 10 friends,” there’s a subtle way to make a movie for just one demographic — “one-quadrant” filmmaking, as he calls it — that has worked for many of horror’s biggest and brightest.

British filmmaker Edgar Wright, Lynch mentioned, made 2004’s Shaun of the Dead in this way (“’I’m going to make my zombie movie,’” Lynch dramatized). Even in the case of Everly, a bloody action-horror set during the holiday season, Lynch said, “I want to make a good entry in the Die Hard-ripoff genre.”

He noted that most successful horror filmmakers won’t go into a project expecting to redefine the horror game — instead, they’re often hell-bent on first making something they know their immediate community will like.

And if it’s a good movie, Lynch added, wider success will follow.

“’If you build it, they will come’— but if you’re trying to make the ark too big, nobody’s going to get up on it,” he said.

Joe Lynch’s commitment to this idea was made clear on Friday “EVILning” when iconic ‘80s comedian-turned-filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait, himself a Syracuse native, introduced the horror director with a personal story of their artistic kinship.

When Goldthwait said he was reluctant to make his 2013 Bigfoot found-footage film, Willow Creek, he took to Lynch to commiserate. “Found-footage films — they’re so played out,” Goldthwait recalled saying, to which Lynch said, “No! It’s going to be great! It’s going to be your found-footage movie.”

“I made it because of him,” Goldthwait told the crowd.

Around 2:30 am, after hours of gory material he admitted was polarizing, Joe Lynch thanked the Syracuse film community for welcoming him back to the town that got him started — and for allowing him to show The Blob when maybe the festival standard would be to show The Bicycle Thief.

When the lights came up in the Palace Theater, Lynch cried out to those remaining in their seats, “You are all my heroes!”

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