Matthew Courson, Patrick Heraghty and Aleksander Varadian in “Family History.” Courtesy of Mark J. Parker

Horror movies are often overlooked. Overlooked by critics, awards shows and much of the viewing public, who are “just not into that sort of thing.” And that’s just how horror filmmakers like it. 

Sure, who wouldn’t love to be raking in awards and box office dollars, but horror movie makers have long relished the freedom their dark and relatively unsupervised corner of the film industry offers them. After all, it’s on the fringes where you can really say what you want.

“Since the beginning, horror has always been a way to scare us, and to put ourselves in the shoes of people in scary situations,” said Kittery-based filmmaker Mark J. Parker, adding, “And it’s also been where filmmakers could add in another layer to the story.” That’s the case in Parker’s latest short film, “Family History,” which just played at the Sanford International Film Festival and is making the rounds of film fests across the country. 

Filmmaker Mark J. Parker Courtesy of Mark J. Parker

The story of a young gay man whose trip to introduce his boyfriend to his conservative father winds up even more unnerving than that all-too-familiar situation sounds, Parker’s 16-minute film shows how adept horror has always been at turning our inner fears into big-screen chills. Parker describes his taut, exceptionally shot (by Brendan H. Banks, who also shot the very entertaining, Aya Cash-starring horror comedy “Scare Me”) new film as, “a dark family fairy tale.” And, with its creepy unease unfolding in the father’s outwardly placid lakefront condo (with one door that no one should ever, under any circumstances, open), “Family History” delivers – as almost all great cinematic horrors do – on several levels of our fear. 

It’s an achievement the experienced Parker is particularly proud of; the gay filmmaker notes that there’s a rich and evocative vein of fears specific to the gay community that informs his work. “Because the LGBTQ community loves horror, I made a horror film that’s all about the horror of homophobia in a family,” said Parker, noting that the strong central couple fulfill the long-denied promise of a horror film gay character who’s not just “the gay sidekick,” but the driving force of a genuinely creepy and dramatic tale. Citing filmmaker Jordan Peele’s example of making horror films couched in the specific and often misunderstood or ignored fears of the Black community in America, Parker says that he draws from the same sort of narrative energy in his work. 

“As a white filmmaker and horror lover, I have no idea what the Black experience is like,” said Parker, “but, seeing horror films (like ‘Get Out’) gave me insight into the Black perspective in horror. And the idea of being part of a marginalized community, having to overcome all this crazy (expletive), having to fight for your life, for your right just to be heard – it’s something I could relate to.”

Parker, who, in his decade-plus in the New York entertainment industry, worked on everything from “30 Rock,” to “Ugly Betty,” to “Live! With Regis and Kelly,” came to Maine during the pandemic (“the perfect time to move,” he laughs), settling with his Belfast-native husband in Kittery – which just happens to be the setting and inspiration for his next horror short, “Twin.”

Showing that he’s already clued into one of Maine’s spookiest times of the year, Parker explains that “Twin” follows a lesbian couple (from away) whose late-season Airbnb cottage rental comes complete with cold and emptied streets, and an unadvertised rental feature in the form of an old twin bed that – as a sign states, ominously – no one is ever, ever supposed to sleep in. Said Parker of the near-completed short (which should hit festivals right in time for Halloween 2021), “I like to write and produce things that are realistic,” noting that the all-indie “Twin” was shot in his own, deceptively creepy cottage home. “Why not a super-cute but creepy pastel cottage?” asked Parker, indicating, once more, that he knows how uniquely ominous an off-season Maine vacation spot can be. 

For the busy Parker (he’s already prepping another film to be shot in Portland this summer), “Horror is always around to bring to the surface those fears that have always been there.” Noting that his upcoming film has a story “so dark I can’t believe I wrote it,” Parker describes an update of the old “killer on Lovers’ Lane” urban legend, with the additional terror that the lovers are gay, that they are trying to keep their love secret, and the lurker intends to use that secret against them. “Call it ‘hate crime horror,’” said Parker, who plans to use his deepening roots in the Maine film community to work with cast and crew from here in his new home. “I’m slowly meeting more and more of the film community here,” said Parker. “From what I’ve seen, it’s a small but really great and exciting group of people.”

For now, Maine horror fans (or just those with a hunger for ambitious, Maine-made film) can learn more about Parker’s work (he’s an acting teacher, actor, writer, producer and more) at his website, mjp-pov.com. Parker’s first film, the also Maine-set horror short “Sticks,” can currently be seen on Amazon Prime. For more on “Family History” (and to see the film’s excellent trailer), go to filmfreeway.com. 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.


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