Eric Khoo has been watching horror movies since the tender age of five.
“It was the earliest cinema that I [was exposed to],” Khoo, 53, tells 8 DAYS over the phone. “My mum was a horror cinephile. Growing up, she’d bring me and my sister to watch all these horror films, and it was always the four o’ clock session.”
And the one that scared the bejesus out of the future director of Mee Pok Man then was It’s Alive, Larry Cohen’s 1974 cult classic about a monster baby. And thus began Khoo’s lifelong obsession with the genre.
When he isn’t making slice-of-life dramas, Khoo runs Gorylah Pictures, a shingle specialising in all things horror and fantastical. This year, he takes his cinematic bloodlust up a notch — by serving as the creative director for the inaugural Scream Asia Film Festival.
The 10-day event kicks off tonight (Oct 19), with the Alaric Tay-starring Zombiepura as the curtain-raiser. Other highlights in the line-up include Lars von Trier’s polarising serial killer thriller The House That Jack Built, the British anthology Ghost Stories, and The Fake, an early animated effort from Train to Busan helmer Yeon Sang-Ho.
Here, Khoo lets us in on the bigger picture of doing a festival for shriek fans.
8 DAYS: You’ve been to countless film festivals. Did you model Scream Asia Film Festival after them?
ERIC KHOO: No, because those film festivals are huge! They’re really big. This is more of an intimate thing. We never want to become one of those festivals with over 100 films. No way, man. Let’s just keep it tight. Melvin Ang, CEO of mm2 Entertainment, the festival organizer, and I share the same vision. We all believe that horror can run that extra mile — they can be exported. We really want to try to have for next year’s edition a short film competition. It’s open to anyone from Asia and then we’ll screen the finalists’ works at the festival and the ones that have strong merits can be developed by mm2 into features. This year, we’re premiering Hana, a short film by Japanese director Mai Nakanishi. We’re helping her to develop it into a feature.
There are only 11 titles in this year’s line-up. Are there movies that didn’t make into the programme?
Of course, [the goal of a festival is] to show horror films that won’t get a general distribution. I had wanted to do a classic section. The ones I had in mind was Pang Ho-Cheung’s Dream Home, starring Josie Ho. It’s really super-violent. The other one was Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer. Maybe [we try to show them] next year.
It sounds like next year’s Scream Asia Film Festival will be larger and more ambitious.
I really want to have the short films in there lah. I think that would be good. I come from a short film background with the Singapore International Film Festival. I’m already in discussions with some of these short filmmakers from overseas, strong ones that I would like to rope in. When you look at Lights Out and Mama, all of these started out as shorts on the Internet before they were made into features. So what I want to do is also show young filmmakers that there is somewhere to go within this genre.
Eli Roth said he learnt filmmaking from making horror films.
For me, I really respect [horror filmmakers]. If you look at the genre, it’s always the B films [that are inventive] because they have small, tight budgets. They really have to think out of the box. When Sam Rami did Evil Dead, the budget was small, so he had to raise money by showing his short films at night. There was no Steadicam at that time, so for that dramatic opening shot, what he did was he took a coffee table, sawed off two legs, plonked the camera on it, and then walked down the slope and sped up the camera.
Two episodes of Folklore, the HBO anthology series you executive–produced, are part of the line-up as well. You’ve served as EP on film projects before. How different is it from doing a TV show with other established directors?
I love The Twilight Zone series, and when we spoke to HBO, I wanted to do something that I have more of a paranormal spin on. The stories are standalones, each with a different tone and feel. I wanted to use directors that I really respect, as well as directors that I know. It was wonderful because they told me a lot of their own permutations of their own folklore. [Ep 2 ‘Tatami’ director]Takumi Saito said the Japanese have a hay spirit which stays inside the tatami floors. That’s fantastic, right? I just told them to take whatever they have from your country’s folklore, and come up with a treatment. With the treatment, HBO and I would look at it, and then we would give our points. The scripts would come in, we will have some suggestions. But for me, whenever I produce anything, the minute I pull in a certain filmmaker, I will not go around and disturb his or her vision. I let them do it their way, seriously. Initially, HBO wanted me to do eight episodes, but I was a bit concerned about doing something at that scale because it’s the first time we’re doing an anthology with all these Asian directors. So we decided on six. Basically, the minute production started, our producers would go on set, but we let the directors have full creative freedom.
If Folklore gets a second season, do you have a wish list of directors?
Oh yeah. I have a whole bunch of directors (laughs).
I [don’t want to say because I] don’t want to jinx it lah. I’m thinking of other countries outside of the six — Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand — that we have here. And that means more episodes (laughs).
Early on, you spoke of developing a feature with Mai Nakanishi. It got me thinking: Where are the local female horror directors? Do you know anyone who can give horror a go?
[Pop Aye director] KirstenTan would be super. Actually, all you need is a good director/storyteller, but ultimately, it depends on whether they are keen to tackle the genre.
What’s the scariest movie you’ve seen this year?
I enjoyed Hereditary, but nothing really seems to scare me these days. But Hereditary was really well done; I enjoyed that.
For more info, visit screamasiafilmfest.com. Eric Khoo’s Folklore episode, ‘Nobody’ premieres Oct 21 on HBO (StarHub Ch 601) and HBO Go, 10pm.
Photos: HBO, MM2
Here are some of the festival highlights...