October at the Old Town Horrorfest Brings Classic Horrors to Wichita
The October at the Old Town Horrorfest has haunted Wichita for six years, telling different stories each year. “Halloween,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Directors cuts of both “Alien” and “Blade Runner,” and several other classics have graced the screens of the Old Town Warren Theatre, each one telling its own tale. But the real story behind the Horrorfest is of one man whose love for the cinema unified a whole community of film-lovers.
“For the last few decades, I've been extraordinarily frustrated as a film buff when I'd hear about special screenings of restored classics having theatrical re-releases and they would never play Wichita. For example, back in 2007 & 2009 respectively, Ridley Scott's director's cuts of "Blade Runner" and "Alien" played all around the country, making millions of dollars - but they didn't show up here,” Local movie buff and filmmaker Leif Jonker said.
October at the Old Town
In order to bring those and other classic films to Wichita’s theaters, Jonker created the Wichita Big Screen initiative, a Facebook group of nearly 2,000 local film-lovers. Now, Wichita’s Old Town Warren Theatre is home to a festival of classic horror movies, called October at the Old Town, each October. Jonker’s work has also brought a variety of film revivals, restorations and anniversary screenings of cult classic films to Wichita.
This year marks the sixth year of the Horrorfest, and it promises some big titles. All screenings will be held at the Old Town Warren, and tickets are priced at $5 per person unless otherwise stated.
Oct. 3 - "The Exorcist" at 7p.m. and 10 p.m.
Oct. 4 - "Halloween III: Season of the Witch" at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Oct. 6 - "Phantasm: Remastered" Encore Presentation of the 4K Restoration at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Oct. 10 and 11 - "Phantasm5: Ravager" at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Oct. 17 - "Friday the 13th #1" at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Oct. 18 - Vincent Price double-feature of "The Fly" and "House on Haunted Hill". Starting at 7 p.m. with a 10minute intermission between films. $5 for both films, all age welcome.
Oct. 24 and 25 - "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" (4K Restoration) at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Ages 18 and over.
Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 - "Halloween" and "Halloween 2" double-feature. Starting at 7 p.m. with a 10 minute intermission between films. Tickets are priced at $10.
How it All Began
Jonker developed a love of movies at a young age. From watching them to creating them, he’s done it all. It began at the ripe age of 12 with a screening of Don Coscarelli’s “Phantasm.”
“It [Phantasm] was simply unlike any other horror film I had ever seen, or can even think of today,” Jonker said. “It is full tilt horror, but it blends science-fiction, action, adventure, other dimensions, alien worlds, bizarro dream logic, humor and experimental narrative structure…To say it blew my young mind is an understatement.”
"I sold my blood to make a vampire movie!"
Working as a Wichita filmmaker in 1993, Jonker saw the release of his first film, “Darkness,” which he describes as a very gory, micro-budgeted vampire flick. Due to the film’s limited budget, Jonker financed the production in part by selling his plasma to a local bloodbank.
According to Jonker, "Yes, I sold my blood to make a vampire movie!" became a common catchphrase when it came to discussing his film.
“Darkness” Makes it Big
“[Darkness] was the first feature independently produced here in Wichita to actually be distributed on VHS and DVD and play film festivals all over the world,”Jonker said.
In 2004, after earning a cult reputation, “Darkness” was remastered for a new DVD release.
“That restored print of the movie ended up playing on the big screen at the Warren Oldtown the entire final week of October before being released in a highly acclaimed 2-Disc DVD set nationwide through major retailers like BEST BUY etc.,” Jonker said.
In order to generate a buzz about his project, Jonker submitted it to Don Coscarelli, Director of “Phantasm,” for review. A few months later, Jonker’s phone rang. To his surprise, he found himself talking to the director of what may very well be his favorite movie (horror or otherwise) of all time - PHANTASM!
“Don had really enjoyed DARKNESS and was very happy to give me my first cherished review blurb."
"High energy gore - bravado filmmaking! A new director to watch! I wish I had the guts to make a movie like DARKNESS!"
-Don Coscarelli - Director of PHANTASM.
When Jonker visited L.A. for the first time, Coscarelli took him to lunch at the famous Musso & Frank's, gave him a film used Sphere prop from PHANTASM III and helped sell DARKNESS to some foreign countries.
“He was an extremely generous friend and mentor. We hadn't been in touch much the last several years, but I've always been very grateful to him,” Jonker said.
Despite the national and international success Jonker saw through “Darkness,” he elected to remain in Wichita.
“When Life Gives You Wichita, You Make Wichita Big Screen.”
“As for DARKNESS, from a career standpoint I should have moved to L.A. right after,” Jonker said. Though he made several trips to California, family ties ultimately kept him in Kansas.
“I fell in love with a girl from Wichita,” Jonker said. “Plus I had this grand idea that I wanted to be a staunch independent, the George A. Romero of Kansas.” (Romero was famous for making Zombie movies in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area for many years.)
“If I had gone to L.A., it is very likely I would have never met my wife Samantha and neither of my kids, Arrow and Rutger, would exist now, and I really like them all, so no regrets,” Jonker added.
When the success of "Darkness" afforded the film a screening at the Old Town, doors of communication opened with several members of the Warren Theater's corporate and managerial teams, and Jonker started urging them to book these revival screenings. When the Horrorfest began in 2011, it grew with each year. This led to the official creation of Wichita Big Screen.
Making A difference
Horrorfest has been the centerpiece for a charity fundraising effort for the L.A.P.P. (Lifeline Animal Placement and Protection) animal shelter here in town.
"In the last three years, we've raised over $3,000 in donations for L.A.P.P.," Jonker said.
The End of an Era
"I've dedicated thousands of volunteer manhours to making these shows and festivals happen, not only currating the titles, but creating all of the full sized movie posters, huge banners, flyers, buttons and full blown theatrical trailers for these shows and then distributing these promotional materials all around town," Jonker said.
The Jonker family has welcomed a second baby, and Leif will no longer have this kind of time to devote to WBS.
After five years and six festivals, Jonker reflects on the fruits of his labor.
"To this date I've felt our crowning achievement was the screening of the 4K restoration of William Friedkin's lost action classic SORCERER where the Academy Award winning director did a live 50 minute Skype Q&A with the audience following the screening!"
"Phantasm" Last of Jonker's "White Whales"
Jonker began his journey with a list of films, "white whales," as he calls them, that he hoped to screen in Wichita.
"Over the years we've landed many of my "white whales" including those restored prints of "Alien: The Director's Cut", and "Blade Runner: The Final Cut" along with various anniversary restorations of "2001: A Space Odyssey", "Taxi Driver", "Dog Day Afternoon", "The Warriors", Halloween", "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", along with other fun revival screenings like "Flash Gordon" "Escape From New York" and dozens of others," Jonker said.
With this year's screening of "Phantasm," the film that started it all, Jonker is ready to cross the last film off of his list.
Though Jonker's involvement will be much reduced after this festival, he says he'll still be around to offer an idea or two.
"Wichita Big Screen will stay on Facebook and will continue to announce and promote special screenings in the area. I wholeheartedly believe the Horrorfest will continue for many years to come under the management at the Warren and I'll still likely make a few suggestions here and there as well. We've created some great momentum for these revival screenings and I'm hopeful that it will continue to increase every year."