Three Rivers Film Festival taking a deep look into niche of horror cinema

| Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 5:29 p.m.

Several decades ago, a Vietnam vet and low-budget filmmaker in Maryland named Karl Atticus pushed the boundaries of bloody, gore-splattered filmmaking into disturbingly realistic territory.

To film historians and horror fans, he's remembered as “godfather of the slasher movie” — though, plenty wish they didn't remember him at all.

Then, he disappeared.

“He's a legendary figure in certain circles,” says Pittsburgh-based filmmaker Christian Stavrakis. “People don't like to talk about him. A lot of people walk away when you mention the name. A lot of people deny that he even existed. There's legends out there about this guy, and that's what we took off with.”

A new movie, “Mortal Remains,” attempts to discover what really happened to Atticus and what his true legacy is beyond the small coterie of horror-film fans who still shudder at his memory. It's screening at 9 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Harris Theater, part of the Three Rivers Film Festival, which continues through Nov. 23.

Stavrakis made “Mortal Remains” with his Maryland-based partner Mark Ricche. The film was shot in Pittsburgh, but set in Maryland.

“We both have full-time jobs,” Stavrakis says. “We did it a couple days here and there over a period of years. ... It's a lot easier to work under the radar in the ‘Burgh because we know people. In D.C., it's such an established film community. If someone sees you shooting something, the police will come up and ask for permits.”

There really isn't an existing description or category for a micro-budget meta-horror-mystery like “Mortal Remains.” Ricche likes the term “docu-thriller.” Stavrakis prefers “shockumentary.” Whatever it's called, the pair — who have been making movies together since high school — wanted to do something different.

“We were definitely striving for something new, something that hadn't been done before,” Stavrakis says. “It's all sequels and remakes these days. Such a glut of zombie movies — I'm glad that they're finally having their day, but let's try something fresh.”

Curiously, the horror movie that most successfully blurred the lines between documentary and narrative fiction was “The Blair Witch Project,” whose co-director, Eduardo Sanchez, went to high school with Stavrakis and Ricche in Maryland. Sanchez is featured as a horror expert in “Mortal Remains.”

Stavrakis will attend the Nov. 16 screening to introduce “Mortal Remains” and discuss the movie. More information can be found at their website,

“We financed it out of our own pockets,” Stavrakis says. “We didn't have to seek any investors, or pay for locations. Everyone chipped in through the goodness of their hearts. Hopefully, we can repay them when this gets picked up (by a distributor).”

There's one thing they have in common with the types of horror movies that they were trying to avoid, though.

“Of course, we're preparing the sequel,” Stavrakis says.

“Mortal Remains” will be shown at 9 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Harris Theater, Downtown. Admission is $9. Details:

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7901.

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