Denver horror film fans, rejoice! Theresa Mercado, your scream queen, is back on her deadly throne and she’s putting her Best of Denver award for Best Bloodthirsty Movie Host to good use by taking her scary Screen Scream series to the Sie FilmCenter, where it will kick off Thursday with a focus on some of the recent, very bloody horror offerings from France.
Kicking off the subtitled frights is High Tension, Alexandre Aja’s 2003 film that tested the limits of just how far the land of wine and cheese would go in shocking with buckets of blood and chills instead. The four-film series will continue every Thursday at 9:30 p.m.; future offerings include Calvaire, Them and Martyrs splattering the screen. And Mercado will always be on hand, most likely in costume, to hand out collectible buttons and discuss the joys and merits of all of this cinema “couvert de sang."
Mercado is also knee-deep in her monthly Church of Coen (Brothers) series at the Syntax Physic Opera and is kicking off a weekly salute to John Waters at Fort Greene in Globeville. We caught up with Mercado — after dark, of course — and asked her a few questions about all of this terror in the aisles.
Westword: Welcome back to the wonderful world of film hosting and congratulations on your Best of Denver award! How did it feel to be acknowledged for what you do?
Theresa Mercado: Thanks! I wanted to take a quick break from horror-hosting to focus my energy on a new series, The Church of Coen, which is co-hosted by Ian O'Dougherty, who teaches us about the music while I talk about the films. So I've still been hosting, just focusing on some non-horror stuff for a bit — and I was honored to be acknowledged as Best Bloodthirsty Film Host in Denver by Westword! I put so much blood and love and time and blood into my horror series, so it was awesome to be recognized.
Tell us about Scream Screen, its new home at the Sie FilmCenter and this latest series you've cooked up for it?
You used to host my favorite series in Denver called The Watching Hour at the Sie, which showed the best horror and cult flix. It went into a hiatus for a few months, which left me sitting home on most Friday nights watching weird movies with friends instead of the theater, so I was thrilled when you asked me to co-host its predecessor Channel Z at the Alamo Drafthouse, which had you curating the cult films while I chose the horror titles. After a fun year-long run, you departed the Alamo and Channel Z then morphed into my deformed and grotesque loudmouth baby, Scream Screen. After a few more months at the Alamo, Scream Screen was back on the streets looking for a place to call home — so what better place to bring this series full circle than to the Sie Film Center.
I wanted to bring this series back with a bang that would get people's attention by showing a series of films that they could rarely see anywhere else in town on the big screen that would haunt them for days after watching. The Sie is also kicking off its J'adore French Film Fest this month, so it seemed a perfect time to celebrate some horror from a lesser seen movement, the French Extremist films of the 2000s.
What is your favorite film of this whole bloody bunch, and why?
Calvaire. An homage to American classics like Deliverance and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but with a fucked-up French flair, Calvaire is a true modern masterpiece and the epitome of the new French Extreme. It's a visually stunning film filled with bold choices like having no score, which focuses our auditory senses on the three times music does occur, one of them being a creepy bar scene that will replay in your nightmares forever. Interesting decision also since the protagonist himself is a musician. A beautiful, disturbing and magnificent film.
You're known for keeping the love of 35mm presentation alive as well in Denver. What does 35mm mean to you?
It's a cinematic link to the past. I love old things, from cars to clothing to buildings to how we watch movies. When these links to our past are gone, they are gone forever. The experience of seeing and hearing a movie on film is very different than experiencing it digitally — it's not perfect, it has flaws, it's unique and special, it's a romantic experience. I always try to show 35mm prints when they are available to keep this dying medium alive and give viewers a viewing experience they can't find at just any theater — so I'm thrilled that High Tension, Calvaire and Them will all be presented on 35mm film.
Of all the regions in the world, who do you think does horror best?
They all do it awesomely and have their own specialized treatments, but I'm a huge fan of Italian “giallo” films. Dario Argento's early to mid-career work like The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, Suspiria, Inferno, Tenebre and Phenomena are some of my absolute favorites. I also love David Cronenberg, who's a Canuck.
Not everyone is into horror as much as you. What's a horror primer you would recommend for a squeamish newbie?
A friend of mine once said, "Horror movies are like Chinese restaurants: There's so much bad you have to get through to find the good." It's true. I'd recommend the classics that are able to transcend horror into mainstream cinema, like John Carpenter's The Thing, Kubrick's The Shining, Polanski's Rosemary’s Baby and Friedkin's The Exorcist. Those are a good place to start for a newbie.
What's your favorite scary movie and what movie still gives you the heebie jeebies to this day?
I hate having to choose one of anything, so in addition to all the films listed above, some of my favorites are The Brood, Dead Ringers, Near Dark, Ravenous, Eyes Without A Face, The Unknown, Phantasm, Creepshow, the Coffin Joe movies, Possession, Dawn of the Dead...the list goes on and on. And some movies that still gives me the heebie jeebies: the Zack Snyder Dawn of the Dead remake (when they board the boat through the credits), The Omen, Who Can Kill a Child?, a Serbian Film.
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What else do you have cooking for Scream Screen?
I'm really hoping to keep this series going at the Sie and would love to do a series of films featuring animals turning on people, female directors and eco-horror.
Scream Screen: Films of the New French Extremity starts at 9:30 p.m. Thursday, June 25 at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax. Tickets are $11 or $8 for Film Society members. Get yours at denverfilm.org and keep up with Scream Screen on Facebook.