A preview of Bloomington's darkest film festival

The horror, sci-fi, fantasy and animation festival takes its final bow


David Pruett - SUBMITTED
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  • David Pruett

The Diabolique International Film Festival is David Pruett's baby — his creepy mutant baby. Dedicated to pitch-dark, pulpy genre films, it started nine years ago under the name Dark Carnival. Before the 10th and final festival, Pruett will discuss his creation with fellow contributors in a panel at IU Cinema. He talked about it like a proud father sending his child off to college.

NUVO: How did you give birth to Dark Carnival?

David Pruett: I had a childhood that might best be described as "difficult," and those kinds of films were my preferred means of escape. And, like a lot of people who love movies, I've always dreamed of making them.

I made my first film in middle school in the '80s — a stop-motion Star Wars fan film, shot on a stolen Super 8 camera. Later on, I befriended the one kid in my high school who owned a VHS camcorder. In the rural town I lived in, that was like finding a unicorn.

It wasn't until many years later, after I moved to Bloomington, that I met a group of like-minded individuals — people who could eat, sleep and breathe movies. That's where Dark Carnival was born.


NUVO: I can totally relate to using dark films as an escape. To me, horror films are the most imaginatively therapeutic movies. They not only force us to face our everyday fears — they hold a funhouse mirror up to them.

How did you feel when you and your friends' love of the horror genre's cathartic power turned into this festival? What was its first year like?

Pruett: It might be kind of controversial to say, but I feel like a lot of horror fans are maybe misfits in this world, maybe a little damaged. If watching horror movies is how we face our fears, then making horror movies is a way to truly embrace them. And by extension, a festival of horror films is a great way to bring us together and celebrate with our own kind.

The first Dark Carnival in 2007 was a great example of how ignorance can sometimes work in our favor. We had very little festival experience and really didn't know what was impossible. So we went all-out, screening films for six days across four different venues, including a drive-in. We had live performances, an art show, celebrity guests and a dance party. The last day of the festival ended with the fire department coming to the main theater. Best. Week. Ever.

NUVO: How did Dark Carnival turn into Diabolique?

Pruett: It's complicated. I'll start at the very beginning.

It was originally Arthur Cullipher's idea to create a "carnival of the weird." I proposed Dark Carnival — a fall festival that would showcase dark themes in art, film and live performance. Arthur and I decided that the festival should have an aesthetic that lived up to its name — an autumn color palette with shades of red and orange, creepy clowns and the atmosphere of a big top circus long past its prime. We strove each year to bring it more in line with our vision, but limited resources made it difficult.

By 2012, we found ourselves priced out of our main theater. We always treated each year like it would be our last, and that year almost was. Instead of giving up, we moved the festival to Columbus' old Crump Theater — a crumbling safety hazard, which actually felt closer to our original vision.

Unfortunately, the move resulted in our lowest turnout ever. So, we went back to Bloomington, where I felt like an identity change was necessary.

NUVO: What are you looking forward to the most in this year's festival?

Pruett: I'm looking forward to watching the movies. We have a screening committee that makes the selections, so I actually haven't seen every single film. And even for the ones I have watched, I still love to see the audience reaction. That's always been one of my favorite parts — when the audience responds to the films we've chosen. That's something I'll miss.

Panel, From Dark Carnival to Diabolique

When: Sept. 25, 3 p.m.

Where: IU Cinema, 1213 E. 7th St. (Bloomington)

Tickets: FREE


Diabolique International Film Festival

When: Sept. 25-27

Where: IU Cinema, (Bloomington)

Tickets: $6 individual screenings, $25 weekend pass



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