After watching classic horror films The Omen and The Exorcist at the age of 5 and 6, filmmaker Courtney Solomon was destined to be a part of the horror genre.
The Toronto-born writer, director and producer, was even sometimes called ‘Damien’, after the devilish child in Richard Donner’s 1976 flick The Omen, in primary school because he would "emanate" the ‘son of the devil’.
“I was a little kid so I’d watched those movies and I’d go to school and try to emanate the characters,” Solomon tells IF, inside his Sydney CBD hotel room.
“I love those classic movies. The genre has changed a bit, so sometimes it’s harder to do a movie that has such a slow build – although I really like those movies – and I just think it’d be great if the audience had that attention-span today.”
Solomon wasn’t a die-hard horror fan through his later years but got back into the genre when penning the script to what would become An American Haunting, starring Donald Sutherland (The Italian Job), Sissy Spacek (Carrie), Rachel Hurd-Wood (Tomorrow, When The War Began) and James D’Arcy (Master and Commander).
The 2006 film was released on almost 1700 screens in the US against Mission Impossible 3, and went on to gross $US29.6 million worldwide, according to IMDB. It continues to have a cult following among horror fans to this day and it was this film that sparked Solomon’s relationship with independent distribution company Lionsgate. After An American Haunting, Lionsgate then told the young filmmaker to produce more, which resulted in company After Dark Films – best known for offering After Dark Horrorfest: a one-week national film festival that celebrates all horror sub-genres.
“The theatrical event was for fun – it was for the fans,” LA-based Solomon says, indicating the eight films in the first year were shown on 360 screens across the US.
“We were only there in cinemas for one weekend. There’s no way to make back all your prints and advertising and marketing money, but it was really to have the event and drive it and make it fun for the fans.”
One of the After Dark Films' productions in 2007 was The Deaths of Ian Stone, which was produced by special effects legend Stan Winston, best known for his phenomenal work on such franchises: The Terminator, Jurassic Park, Predator and more recently, Iron Man.
“He’s a great guy. He was always very sweet to me and super-talented,” Solomon says of the Oscar-winner, who sadly passed away in 2008.
“It’s sad when you lose people like that because he was just a great talent.”
Then last year, Solomon re-branded and extended the company's grasp in the horror genre, launching After Dark Originals: A New Brand of Fear. The new brand would see Solomon – in partnership with SyFy and Lionsgate – produce at least eight original horror films every year.
“We’ve become the biggest producers of horror in the US – not the biggest films, but by volume,” he says.
“We make eight new ones a year but there ends up being a rollover so literally 10 go into production every year.
“You bring your script in and if we say we’re going to do it, it’s usually in production 3-4 months after that and everybody knows that, so the filmmakers are anxious to get in – they want to make movies, they don’t want to sit in development.”
Solomon says, without revealing names or titles, that he’s interested in working with an Australian filmmaker on remaking the Australian film in the US.
“There’s a couple that we’re looking at but we haven’t decided yet.”
On top of producing horror films, Solomon is now collaborating with action legend Joel Silver (Die Hard, Predator, The Matrix) on franchise: After Dark Action. As part of the collaboration, five feature films are produced annually. Such names involved include Jean-Claude van Damme, Dolph Lundgren and Christian Slater.
In Australia, Solomon has partnered with Transmission and Paramount to distribute (not only the After Dark Action films but) the After Dark Originals’ eight horror films – seven on DVD and one theatrically (with DVD to follow). Solomon is solid on them not being the same sub-genre – for example there wouldn’t be eight slasher films.
This year’s batch include Seconds Apart, Prowl, Husk, The Task, Scream of the Banshee, Fertile Ground, 51 and Re-Kill – the latter will receive a theatrical release in the US and Australia early next year.
Solomon says Re-Kill, a “high-concept zombie movie”, is a cross between Cloverfield, 28 Days Later and District 9.
While horror traditionally doesn’t do well at the box office in Australia, Solomon says filmmakers need to lift their game – particularly with doing a good trailer.
“There’s a lot of horror fans. Maybe a lot of those will say ‘I think we’ll wait for it on DVD’…you have to make films that are interesting enough in the trailer form and what they’re about, that the audience says ‘actually I want to go to the theatre to see that film’.
“Because a lot of the time horror movies aren’t a spectacle like a Avatar – you have to go and see Avatar in the theatre. Even Transformers 3 – you have to go and see it in the theatre just because it’s a spectacle film. Whether it’s a good or bad film it doesn’t matter.
“There’s a lot of competition at the theatrical box office, so it’s hard for a little horror movie to go against a big movie. We need to make movies that are interesting enough.”
After Dark Originals: A New Brand of Fear launches tomorrow night (Saturday) with Seconds Apart and Husk.
Seconds Apart follows murderous twins Seth and Jonah, who share an evil kinship. Damned from the moment of their births, the brothers possess a gruesome talent for telekinesis – a power they use in the most horrific ways imaginable. As their fellow students meet gory fates, the local law enforcement begins to suspect the twins’ connection to the depraved murders. What started as a jealous rage escalates into a supernatural showdown – pitting brother against brother, evil against evil.
Husk tells the story of a group of friends who are forced to abandon their vehicle when crows smash into their car windshield. This results in the group being stranded beside a desolate cornfield. Hidden deep within the cornfield they find a crumbling farmhouse – but they soon discover that instead of a sanctuary, the house is actually the centre of a terrifying supernatural ritual that they are about to become a part of.
Courtney Solomon (left) with Chris Murray at a special Popcorn Taxi event