FAIRFIELD — Sacramento’s first Twisted Terror Convention is an opportunity for fans to watch screenings of horror films and meet purveyors of the craft including Chandler Riggs of “The Walking Dead” and Michael Berryman of “The Hills Have Eyes.”
For Solano County residents, one of their own, filmmaker and 1973 Fairfield High graduate, Kevin S. Tenney, is a featured guest at the event Saturday and Sunday.
Tenney wrote and directed the 1986 film “Witchboard” that was set, but not filmed, in Fairfield, as well as “Witchtrap” with footage shot at the Stonedene mansion near Solano Community College and other Fairfield locations. His first two films, “Witchboard” and “Night of the Demons,” were released on Blu-ray in February by Shout! Factory with newly added documentaries, interviews and audio commentaries.
The fact that Tenney is now firmly established as a horror filmmaker is ironic, as that was not exactly his plan.
“Actually, I wasn’t necessarily that big of a horror fan, but when you are starting out in the business, horror is the genre that always works,” Tenney said. “Other genres go through ebbs and flows like westerns where they are popular and then they are not. Actually, horror is enjoying a huge resurgence right now, but even before that, horror films were the steady ones (that) always did well.”
The built-in audience for horror films, coupled with word-of-mouth buzz, helped make “Witchboard,” a movie made for less than $1 million, into a hit that made eight times its small budget.
“We opened in 1,100 theaters, which for an independent movie with a (then) no-name cast and a first-time director was unheard of,” Tenney said. “A distributor gave it a decent push. Still, most hardcore fans of ‘Witchboard’ did not see it in theaters. Most became fans after seeing it on VHS or HBO or Showtime.”
Tenney honed his filmmaking chops at the University of Southern California’s Cinema/Television Department where he is still the only student to direct a senior project and a graduate film. His senior project, titled “War Games,” was about a rookie police officer who was a Vietnam vet in an officer-involved shooting of a young Asian man. It won an Emmy.
“It takes place in 1975 and as the film starts, he is going before a shooting review board. As he is relaying the story, he keeps confusing it with flashbacks of a young kid in Vietnam he didn’t shoot who then ended up tossing a grenade and killing another soldier who was with him,” Tenney said. “It was about classical conditioning and how something that happened in your past can affect something in your present.”
Tenney was part of a household where he had to grow up quickly and now finds that he enjoys the horror genre as a 50-something adult.
“Growing up, my dad was an alcoholic and was irresponsible and I felt like I had to be the responsible one as the oldest son. Consequently, I always had more grown-up tastes,” Tenney said. “I liked the more sophisticated Hitchcock films while my friends were watching beach movies. Now, since I feel like I didn’t get a childhood, I tend not to like the more serious stuff and prefer films that most teenagers like.”
While he has made numerous films outside the horror genre, Tenney is well aware of how the movie industry works. If you’ve proven yourself in a particular genre, the next person to hire you wants you to do the same thing, he said.
“He doesn’t hire Wes Craven to make a romantic comedy, he wants a horror film hoping it will be the next ‘Scream,’ ” Tenney said. “I’ve done action, thriller, film noir – I even did a family film called ‘Bigfoot’ along the lines of ‘Harry and the Hendersons.’ I told my wife I finally get to do a family film and I’m still dealing with a big animatronic monster.”
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at [email protected].
Sacramento’s Twisted Terror Convention
11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
DoubleTree by Hilton, 2001 Point West Way, Sacramento