Portland Columbia Symphony A Very Brassy Holiday First Presbyterian Church Portland Oregon

Masters of Horror


When Dylan Hillerman and Julia Reodica were performers at the legendary Portland haunted house FrightTown, they specialized in subjecting people to fantastical terror. Yet in 2013, Reodica discovered a more mundane horror.

“I told her, ‘I had to walk six miles to my new place last night and I’m not getting paid until next week for FrightTown,’” Hillerman remembers. “She was like, ‘Oh shit! You’re gonna die!’ And I’m like, ‘I’m aiming at the Earth and hoping to miss.’”

Sensing his desperation, Reodica offered him a lifeline. “I hadn’t connected with a person in this way in a long time,” she says. “I said, ‘Come hang out with me. I’ve got sanctuary.’”

“She gave me six weeks,” Hillerman adds, “and it turned into a marriage.”

Reodica and Hillerman, partners in horror. AMBERED Photography

That marriage (which Hillerman and Reodica sealed with a promise that they made to each other in Transylvania) has not only transformed their lives, it has been a boon to filmmakers who participate in Guignolfest, the 72-hour horror film festival that Hillerman founded and produces with Reodica. This year’s films screen Sunday, October 28, at the Clinton Street Theater.

Now in its tenth year, Guignolfest is one of Portland’s most brazen movie contests, a not-so-little shop of horrors that has unleashed films featuring everything from a killer eyeball to a nipple being sliced off in a church. Yet while Guignolfest revels in the strange and the grotesque, it has been sustained by the palpable sense of community generated by Hillerman and Reodica’s collaboration and the filmmaking teams whose hellish visions continuously inject the festival with (pun intended) fresh blood.

Guignolfest originates from what Hillerman describes as “a drunken moment when I was in a bar in my mid-thirties and realized that I didn’t have a legacy of any kind.” “I had read a website or a book with a bucket list and realized that I had actually hit a lot of things on the list,” he explains. “But there was one thing I hadn’t done—I hadn’t run a film festival.”

After completing his Dante-inspired film Halloween Lullaby (about a man struggling to retrieve a lost child from hell), Hillerman fulfilled his ambition by taking over a local contest (which he prefers not to name) and renaming it first the Portland Halloween Horror Film Contest and, later, Guignolfest.

Hillerman’s dream has since solidified into a series of rituals. Guignolfest teams begin their creative journey by reaching into a real pumpkin and drawing out soggy slips of paper, each of which is emblazoned with the name of a horror subgenre. (This year, the list includes corporate, drug, grindhouse, ghost, occult, musical, vampire, psychological, haunted object, foreign, sci-fi, slasher, holiday, monster, erotic, environmental and zombie.)

Just your friendly little October surprise.

Teams then spend the remaining 72 hours adapting any preconceived ideas they have generated to their chosen genre. “Some people’s stories change completely,” Reodica says. “I once watched a team that had a set story they wanted to do and then got a text saying they got a genre they didn’t expect. But then in walks one of their buddies who says, ‘I found this bowling ball with a skull on it.’ They threw out their script and said, ‘Okay we’re starting over again.’”

With a record-setting number of teams (at least 18, 11 of which are Guignolfest newcomers), this year’s edition of the festival promises to be a well-attended tenth anniversary celebration. Yet the greater achievement is that a decade in, Guignolfest still has the intimate feel of a family business—a family business that leaves plenty of room for contestants to, is they so desire, express outrage at the Trump administration via their art.

“We know people have something to say,” Reodica says. “We can’t wait to see what kind of horror they’re going to bring to the screen this year, because we have a lot of angry people. I’m suspecting, personally, a lot of fear-based horror.”

“We talk about a lot of politicians being fear-based and there’s a little guilt at my end when I realize, ‘Oh, I’m actually basing a lot of our show on fear,’” Hillerman adds. “Except in our case, it’s about working out the fear, working through it and figuring out what’s going on.”


Portland Playhouse A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens Portland Oregon

Guignolfest films screen at the Clinton Street Theater on Sunday, October 28. Ticket and scheduling information here: https://cstpdx.com/show/guignolfest-2018-10th-annual-diy-horror-movie-contest


Bennett Campbell Ferguson is a Portland-based arts journalist. In addition to writing for Oregon Arts Watch, he writes about plays and movies for Willamette Week and is the editor in chief of the blog and podcast T.H.O. Movie Reviews. He first tried his hand at journalism when he was 13 years old and decided to start reviewing science fiction and fantasy movies – a hobby that, over the course of a decade, expanded into a passion for writing about the arts to engage, entertain, and, above, spark conversation. Bennett is also a graduate of Portland State University (where he studied film) and the University of Oregon (where he studied journalism).

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