The Ed King interview: Movies, IFI and Horrorthon

The Liberty had the honour and delight of interviewing Ed King, one of the main organisers of the Dublin IFI Horrorthon Festival – which took place around Halloween, as it does every year, in the IFI Cinema in Temple Bar.

Image: Stock image & text by Derek Price

Ed is always an interesting man to talk to: he has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of not only horror movies, but movies of all genres – and a nicer guy you could never meet.

How long has the Horrorthon being going for?

“Horrorthon was founded in 1996. It began small, programming a one-day event in association with Atlantis Promotions with my friend and fellow horror fan Declan McGregor. It was held in the old Virgin Cinemas, Parnell Street, now Cineworld. It became a shared event with the IFI (then named the IFC), in 1998 where it has since been running annually, and grown to become a five-day festival.”

How did the Horrorthon originate? What originally brought it about?

“Well, I always felt there was nothing in this country for horror fans. And this was all pre social media times, so horror fans were really in the dark, with no actual way of connecting. One day I heard there was a weekly meet up for Elvis Presley fans in Dublin. This made me think, you know, if there can be something for Elvis fans, why not have something for horror fans? This is what inspired me to do something, and create a horror movie community in Ireland. Thankfully, it worked!”

Have you been involved every year since its beginning?

“In terms of advising and/or selecting films, yes. Some years more than others, some less. As the festival expanded by the mid 2000’s, it became impossible for me, one person to programme everything. Therefore, fellow founders, programmers, organisers, Lorcan Dillon Kelly, Mick Fox, Michael Griffin, Nigel Dungan and Jennifer Burns, got more involved. But I viewed this as a good thing, because one opinion is not always right, the second opinion is important. Especially when a festival grows, it’s not possible to do it alone. It now becomes a collaborative process.”

Which year was your favourite so far (if you have one), and why?

“Each year is the same but yet different. Probably 2001 and 2012. 2001 was a great year highlighting the works of John Carpenter, including a 70MM screening of The Thing, and 2012 had Scream Queen Danielle Harris attend the festival – and she was a great guest that totally engaged with everybody. In fact, she raised money after learning that 56 new-born puppies were found abandoned at Dublin Port. She raised money signing her photos in exchange for what anyone could afford, to donate to feed them for a week, while they found homes for all of them too. A class act!”

Ed (3rd from left), Frank Henenlotter (2nd from left), and Jessica Cameron. (Photo courtesy of Ed King)

Who are your favourite actor(esses) and/or Directors?

“My tastes are very universal. All of my favourite actors and directors are very much from my era of growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. Almost all of my favourite actors happen to be Italian-American from the golden era, Stallone, Pacino, Travolta, DeNiro – with the exception of Steve Martin who has such range from comedian, screenwriter, actor, musician, magician, author, column writer. Directors? My favourites would be John Landis, John Carpenter, William Friedkin, Walter Hill, Brian DePalma, and Martin Scorsese. There are others I admire, but unlike the ones I’ve mentioned, I don’t necessarily like all of their films, or collect them on DVD or Blu Ray.”

I heard that you are sometimes in contact with Director John Landis (director of many movie classics including An American Werewolf in London, The Blues Brothers, Coming to America, and Trading Places). What’s he like in person?

“John Landis is an absolute gentleman. Very kind, generous, and hilariously funny in person. There’s never a dull moment whenever in his company. There’s always something interesting said. If you ever want to treat yourself to three hours of how knowledgeable, funny, and interesting the man himself is, then watch the 2011 episode #121 of him on The Kevin Pollock Show. It’s like a film in itself. His brilliant book Monsters in The Movies is an essential read not just for horror fans, but for film buffs also.”

Do you have any good stories about meetings/conversations you’ve had with John?

“Yes. There are two that spring to mind. When my friend Kenny, who is also a big Landis fan, lost both of his parents within a short period of time, I asked John Landis would he be kind enough to send Kenny something, as I thought it would cheer him up during a very tough time. He was a total gentleman about it. Ten days later, Kenny received a signed photo, and personal note in the post, and it totally raised his spirits. Again, another class act!

“The other is, well, this is and was something I never expected, but Mr. Landis knows how much I adore his 1986 comedy Three Amigos. Well, I adore his body of work, but Three Amigos is just timeless to me. I had just suffered a heart attack a week earlier and was due to attend him hosting a tribute to late great composer Elmer Bernstein in the Dublin National Concert Hall, and conducted by Elmer’s son Peter (who I believe went to school with John Landis). Elmer composed almost all of Landis’ movies from National Lampoon’s Animal House to Oscar. On the evening of the event after John Landis put me on the guest list, he gave me a shout out from the stage, as the RTÉ orchestra were about to perform the main theme from Three Amigos. I didn’t expect that.”

“But what a memory. However, the amount of text messages I received on my phone that night from people asking, ‘You know John Landis?,’ That was funny!” 

Any other good stories come to mind about meetings/conversations you’ve had with other movie people?

“I’ve been lucky to have had good experiences with many and all that I’ve met. I got on great with Michael Biehn (Terminator, Aliens), have hung out and drank with Dario Argento, but never in Dublin funnily enough.

“However, the 70’s Disco night, hanging out with actress Danielle Harris, with her now husband David Gross was a ton of fun. Another Disco night with Basket Case and Frankenhooker director Frank Henenlotter, was a ton of fun also. Frank is a native New Yorker, and when I played the song ‘Native New Yorker’ by Odyssey, Frank was in his element singing along to it in the nightclub. Something I never thought I’d ever see, but great to see that your guest is having such a great time. And that’s all that matters. It’s all about the show, and everybody enjoying it!”

If you plan to continue the Horrorthon Festival in the future, do you think it will ever move from the IFI Cinema?

“No, I could never see that ever happening. It is part of the furniture, and the right venue to share the event with. It is never easy to find the right partner to make it happen, and get the right support without disputes. But the IFI has always supported Horrorthon 100%. Although, Horrorthon wouldn’t be what it is today had my late friend Pete Walsh, the former programmer of the IFI, not have welcomed Horrorthon to be a festival back in the late 90’s.

“Pete was an exceptional man. We could talk movies all day. Although we never really ever talked about horror movies, unless it was festival related. We’d talk about all genres. One of my greatest memories of Pete was, I showed him one of many comedies, because he rarely saw mainstream movies due to him programming art house cinema, but one night I showed him Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and he laughed so much, it apparently hurt. He turned to me at the Bob Dylan moment in the movie and said: ‘Ed, this is too much,’ with his hand on his chest from laughing so much. It became one of his new all-time favourite films.

“He looked for every reason to screen the film in the IFI, but could never find a hook, or justification for screening it. When he tragically passed away in December 2012, the IFI arranged a tribute to him, and that consisted of screening a selection of his favourite films.

“They sent me the list, and I immediately said: ‘There’s not one comedy.’ So, I called them and pretty much insisted by saying: ‘You need to screen Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story‘. He loved that film.

“I proudly introduced the screening in memory of my late friend, and the audience had a blast watching it, laughing hysterically, and many coming up to me afterwards saying that it was such a great choice, and how funny it was.

“I looked upon it as, Pete got the last word. I still miss him. He became the grandfather of Horrorthon, and a special friend that I enjoyed many a movie hangout night with. If we weren’t out in bars, having a few beers and talking to women, we’d be watching movies. That kind of friendship is not something you have often in your life. Nor is it a professional collaboration you often come across in life either.”

Horrorthon/IFI logo (Image courtesy of Ed King)

Do you have an all-time favourite movie, and is it a horror, or from another movie genre?

“Too many to mention (laughs). We would be here all day. Almost all the movies from my favourite directors mentioned earlier.”

Are there any well-known people that you tried to invite to the Horrorthon Festival that didn’t pan-out, that you were looking forward to meeting? Do you think you might try to rearrange a future appearance with these people?

“The festival has been lucky to not have experienced that.”

Do you conduct the interviews for the Horrorthon festival and website, or is it a team effort? Who are the other people involved?

“No, never. I’m not an interviewer. I’m actually terrible at that. Interviewing is a skill in itself. Various film academics and film critics, Tara Brady from The Irish Times, and the festival co-ordinator Kevin Coyne who works in the IFI, have always conducted the interviews. And as mentioned above, Horrorthon is very much a team effort with a great crew and the staff of the IFI, who dedicate their time to give horror fans what they call ‘Their Christmas time of the year.’ The fact that it’s still going, is something I never expected, but it worked. It’s loved, and to me, that’s all that matters.”

The most recent advert for Horrorthon

If this article has whetted your appetite enough to want to grab some movie tickets, and attend the Dublin Horrorthon Festival in the IFI Cinema next Halloween, then check out the Horrorthon website, the IFI Cinema website, or join the HORRORTHON Facebook group page.

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