Arts & EventsOttawa, A Very Scary Town: A Conversation with Howard Sonnenburg, Founder of OTTAWA HORROR

Ottawa, A Very Scary Town: A Conversation with Howard Sonnenburg, Founder of OTTAWA HORROR

Ottawa, A Very Scary Town: A Conversation with Howard Sonnenburg, Founder of OTTAWA HORROR

Started in 2008, Ottawa Horror is a blog and portal dedicated to all things horror in our nation's capital. If you are a filmmaker, musician, artist, or fan, this is the place for you. Founder Howard Sonnenburg urges you to recruit minions! Ottawa Life met with Sonnenburg on June 8.

Ottawa Life: How did Ottawa Horror originate? This doesn’t seem to be a big horror town.

Howard Sonnenburg: I work in the film and television industry here in Ottawa.In 2007, I was helping out on a local indie horror film when the director said they were running low on horror makeup guys.It occurred to me that I knew a lot of makeup artists in Ottawa who were in the horror genre and were all really good. Then I realized that I was working with many artists in the horror genre who had no idea that other people in Ottawa were doing this too. To my great surprise, there was no Ottawa Horror website, so I created one, mainly to serve as a networking vehicle for local filmmakers… a focal point for various made-in-Ottawa horror productions and/or events. We discovered that a lot of people didn’t realize there was a horror scene in Ottawa. Somebody said we have “a multitude of solitudes” here in Ottawa, horror-wise.

So, in May 2008, I officially launched and now there was a place where all Ottawa horror enthusiasts could come together and exchange information. In 2006, (actor/director) Brett Kelly and I attended Rue Morgue Magazine’s Festival of Fear in Toronto to promote his movie My Dead Girlfriend and participate in a question-and-answer session after the screening. We had a table and strung a banner at the Rue Morgue event, which drew the Ottawa visitors like flies.

My buddy the Zombie King (who runs and I have been attending the Festival of Fear since 2006 but in 2011, we decided to go the whole nine yards and rented a booth. That’s when the floodgates really opened. About 85,000 people were there and 2,000+ from Ottawa stopped by the Ottawa Horror booth during the course of the weekend. With few exceptions, the Ottawa people told us they didn’t know there was anything like Ottawa Horror available online.

In May, we had a booth at the first Ottawa Comiccon, which may have been the big tipping point for horror in the nation’s capital. Those who made it out to the booth at Ottawa Comiccon might have caught a little "sneak peek" from the performers of the sinister sideshow Carnival Diablo – Nikolai Diablo, Ophelia, and Colossus – in advance of their 20th Anniversary performance on May 26.

Ottawa Horror founder Howard Sonnenburg and Rue Morgue contributor Liisa Ladouceur at the 2011 Festival of Fear in Toronto.

I think horror has finally reached critical mass in Ottawa. It’s developing traction. There’s a lot of crossover between horror, sci-fi and comics. Sci-fi/horror is a huge genre unto itself. Another important factor is that we’re not a city of 300,000 anymore. We’re a city with a population of over 1.2 million. People are starting to wonder: are there others like me out there – other horror aficionados? I like to think that we had some small part in that, since we serve as a portal for the local horror community. We’re saying: it’s okay to be a horror fan in Ottawa, even if you’re an employee of the federal public service. It’s cool. Nothing to be ashamed of. We actually have buttons that say: “It’s okay to be a horror fan."

Alliance Films is now sending us passes to their horror films so we can promote the movies by giving free passes away to screenings. Alliance sent us 20 passes to The Woman in Black. The response to this giveaway was extraordinary. We received about 50 requests. A helluva lot of people wanted to see The Woman in Black!

In June, Fangoria (one of the most widely read horror magazines in the world – Ed.), Ottawa Horror and The Original Mayfair Theatre presented the Ottawa premiere of Father's Day (2011) – an action/comedy/horror film with five directors, produced by the legendary Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Entertainment. (Internet Movie Database plot summary: Ahab, a man obsessed with exacting a brutal, violent revenge on the man who murdered his dad, joins John, an eager priest, and Twink, a hot-headed street hustler, on an epic quest to find and defeat this mythical monster known as Chris Fuchman – aka The Father's Day Killer.) isn’t about money; it’s all about the community. Most people who find the website do so almost by accident, or via Google, although we’re developing a higher profile. People are now seeking us out and we’re posting more blogs than ever before. So Ottawa’s got a lot of horror in its future!

Ottawa Horror has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for me, but it’s also been a whole lot of fun. It’s nice to see that Ottawa is starting to shake that “town that fun forgot”-kind of image. It’s not a city of zombies anymore. (laughs) Just because we’re into horror doesn’t mean we don’t have a sense of humor. Like, I’d love to do a zombie film inside the Gothic Parliament Buildings, except there would be a logical inconsistency. Why would the safest house in a zombie apocalypse be the House of Commons of Canada? Well, what are zombies looking for? Human brains that they can devour! Where is the last place they’d look to find brains? The House of Commons! (laughs). And we had T-shirts made up that said: “More frightening than a Harper majority!” I’m comfortable making a political joke. Others aren’t. (shrugs).

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Editor’s Note: Howard Sonnenburg may be on to the next big thing in the National Capital Region. Pure, unvarnished horror! Something wicked this way comes (with apologies to William Shakespeare and the late Ray Bradbury).

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