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David Graves is really passionate about horror films—so passionate, in fact, that he has convinced the Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center to present horror-film double-features most Friday nights through the end of the year.

The Art of Darkness series debuts this Friday, Oct. 11, with The Innocents at 6 p.m., and A Tale of Two Sisters at 8 p.m. I had to ask Graves: Why so passionate about horror?

“Well, I’m basically a very fearful person,” he said with a laugh. “My passion for horror films started very early, and it may be because that’s just a familiar space for me, but I find that (horror) sharpens all of your senses. … You know, fear is the oldest, deepest emotion that we have; it’s a lizard-brain thing. It was part of our survival. Watching horror movies is sort of the modern equivalent of cavemen setting around a fire telling each other spooky stories. … It’s a safe way to experience fear and (learn to) understand what you fear.”

Graves spent much of his career in film production—he was the assistant costume designer on a little film you may have heard of called Titanic—and considers himself a “huge movie buff.” He said he’s dreamed of doing a horror-film series for years, and it came to fruition after he discussed it with Rick Seeley, a longtime friend.

It turns out Seeley is the president of the board of the Palm Springs Cultural Center. Seeley loved the idea, as did Michael Green, the center’s executive director. Thus, Art of Darkness was born.

“I feel like this is an element that’s missing in the cultural life here,” Graves said. “There are horror-film festivals everywhere all over the country and all over the world; on any given week, and you’ll find one somewhere. It was something that I wanted to bring to the community—and to deepen people’s understanding of what horror is.”

Graves pointed out that horror isn’t just a genre—it’s an emotion. He said the Art of Darkness series goes beyond slasher films and explores horror at a deeper level.

“Many films that aren’t, strictly speaking, horror films still have horrific elements and have various different moods on that spectrum,” he said. “The critical sphere has been taking horror films much more seriously over the last 20 years. This is great, but I want to bring some of this to the local audience and say, ‘Look deeper at these things. Look at the substance and what they are about instead of looking at the surface, and let go of the idea that a horror film equals a slasher film’—because it doesn’t.”

Series-opener The Innocents, with a screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote, came out in 1961 and is described thusly on IMDb: “A young governess for two children becomes convinced that the house and grounds are haunted.”

“It’s really visually stunning, but it’s also very creepy and unsettling—and ultimately, it’s ambiguous,” Graves said. “It’s first movie that really, truly scared me. I was about 10 or 11 years old. My parents put it on, and everyone—my sister and my parents—fell asleep. I was watching the whole thing sort of by myself, and it really, really, unsettled me. And I loved it.”

While tickets to individual films in the series are $10, attendees who want to see both portions of the double-feature get in for $15. I asked Graves why he decided to present the Art of Darkness series via double-features.

“It’s a more interesting way to present these films thematically,” he said. “The whole idea was to present films that, on the surface, aren’t necessarily related, but that resonate with each other. … A Tale of Two Sisters, the second film on (the first) double-feature, is a stunning, hauntingly beautiful, really creepy Korean ghost story from the early ’00s. Both it and The Innocents are ambiguous, because they’re ghost stories—but is the ghost real, or is it the person imagining it or projecting it?

“(On Nov. 1), we’re showing remakes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing, which are interesting, because the original films from the ’50s were both products of post-war, Cold War paranoia. The fact that they were remade in the late ’70s and early ’80s … (gives them) different context in a different thematic background. One of the great things about horror films is that they really are a mirror of the time that they were born in.”

Graves said he hopes the Art of Darkness series becomes a regular fall occurrence at the Cultural Center.

“I’ve got at least three years’ worth of these pairings that I’ve plotted out,” he said. “I’ve been ruminating about this for years, and it was just a question of choosing what we wanted to launch it with.”

The Art of Darkness series takes place most Fridays through the end of December at the Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets to the individual films, at 6 and 8 p.m., are $10; admission to both films costs $15. For tickets or more information, call 760-325-6565, or visit psculturalcenter.org.

Published in Previews and Features