Thanks to Matt Garrett, the Philadelphia indie horror scene has been drastically improved. He is the curator of Vivisections International Horror Shorts, where he has been consistently bringing highly acclaimed horror shorts to the Philly public. In addition, he is an accomplished filmmaker himself, responsible for the shorts Ellie (2006), Beating Hearts (2010), and the disturbing 2009 anthology film, Morris County. Cinedelphia had the opportunity to ask him some questions about Vivisections, filmmaking, and the PhilaMOCA favorite, Neil Breen.
On Sunday, April 19, the Cinedelphia Film Festival is presenting a "Best of" program. Event details and tickets here.
Cinedelphia: Can you explain how Vivisections International Horror Shorts got started?
Matt Garrett: I had been touring festivals with my own films starting in 2007 and had the pleasure of seeing a lot of really incredible underground and horror shorts that never seemed to make it to Philadelphia. I also hadn’t been seeing anyone locally doing the kind of carefully curated programs I love, by which I mean selecting not only great films, but also films that play well together to form a unique short film mixtape of sorts. My first exposure to such a program, and my primary influence, was Mitch Davis’ legendary Small Gauge Trauma block at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. I pitched the idea to Eric Bresler and he decided to give me a shot at it. My first screening was called the North American Tour of Terror and was featured at a one-off event at the PhilaMOCA called The Mausoleum Horror Con. As the name implies, the program consisted of various genre shorts made in either the US or Canada. The show was free, so we had a packed house and all of the films were very well received. Based on that enthusiastic response, Eric invited me back to program a similar block for the first Cinedelphia Film Festival. By that point I decided I really wanted to expand the program to include international films, as well as come up with a better sounding name, and thus Vivisections was born. Ever since, I’ve stuck to the same template which is to find the best shorts I can that are Philadelphia Premieres and not publicly available online. Most are plucked straight from the festival circuit, having previously played some of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. In addition, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have some pretty well-known filmmakers allow me to screen their films as either US premieres or exclusive sneak previews, including shorts by Robert Morgan (ABC’s of Death 2), Can Evrenol (Baskin), and underground pioneer Jörg Buttgereit (Nekromantik).
C: What do you specifically look for in the shorts that you consider?
MG: A lot of it obviously comes down to my own personal taste, but that usually boils down to a well-crafted short that succeeds in what it sets out to do. If it’s a comedy, make me laugh till it hurts. If it’s a bleak dramatic piece, make me feel dead inside. If it’s an unclassifiable mind-fuck, I want my brains to be goop by the end. In the words of Tom Atkins, thrill me.
C: What draws you to the horror genre in particular?
MG: I’m honestly not sure. I’ve always been a big horror fan ever since I was 9 or 10, and at that point it probably had to do with the forbidden nature of it all. Ever since, I’d been increasingly drawn to subversive, challenging, and confrontational art in general, so my taste in horror evolved as well; though I still love B-movies, slashers, and campier fare.
It’s funny, as much as my programming and filmmaking fall under the umbrella of horror, most of what I show and create aren’t what one would call straight-up horror. In fact, the films that tend to effect people the most are the quiet, understated ones that could just as easily be labeled as an art film or drama. Those are my favorites to screen, as I tend to be a bit of a cinematic sadist and take great pleasure in watching an audience squirm.
C: What’s one obscure horror film (either short or feature length) that you wish everyone would see?
MG: That’s a tough one, as there are so many, but the one short I’ve been recommending the most often over the last few years is Alexander Yan’s Elko, screening as part of our CFF program. The director would be the first to say that it’s not a horror film, but just about every person I’ve shown it to has had a pretty visceral reaction, including two people who had to step outside for a bit when we screened it back in 2012. Like all of Yan’s work, Elko gets deep under your skin and is incredibly hard to shake off in a way most horror shorts can’t match. He’s a fairly prolific director, so our audience can look forward to seeing more of his work later this year.
C: When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
MG: Probably when I was around 16. The indie boom of the ‘90s was in full effect and I was finally of an age and level of maturity to start watching more serious fare as well as cult films, and the kind of horror I hadn’t previously been exposed to.
C: If a movie were made about your life, who would you want to direct it?
MG: Neil Breen because I’d assume he would want to star as well. We have dissimilar body types and cheekbone structure, but I think he’s one of the few who could capture both my essence and my fear of governments and corporations.
C: Any upcoming projects that you’re excited about?
MG: One event that I’m really looking forward to is something I’m co-presenting with Rob Skvarla of lowculture at the PhilaMOCA. On April 29th we’ll be screening a rarely-shown, uncut 16mm print of Buddy Giovinazzo’s classic Combat Shock under its original title American Nightmares. After that we have the next installment of Vivisections on Sunday June 7th, which I’m just putting the finishing touches on now. As for filmmaking, I’m a few months away from announcing anything, but fans of both my previous stuff and Vivisections should be pleased.