For the first time in my near five years of being on the road for The Horror Happens Radio Show (and Tom Holland’s Terror Time this past year), I had an opportunity to visit a variety of genre film festivals this year. Watching too many films to count in the fluid genre of horror, I brought together my list of five favorites along with another four that deserve recognition. Whether educating, thrilling audiences, creating laughs, cultivating deep seated dread or crafting emotion, these four films encompass not only diverse visions of horror filmmaking but were screened at different film festivals around the world, all exemplify what quality film festivals should be on every level. Each film not only is a powerful piece of filmmaking but has also affected the different crowds that watch them. Take a read, attend these film festivals and look for these incredible entries in 2017!

Train To Busan
  • Train to Busan (Directed by Sang-ho Yeon)

It rips your heart out in all the right ways… Powerful, thrilling, emotional, smart and so vicious. Train to Busan is a modern infection classic already showing horror done right! All three times I had watched this film in 2016, I made it a point even if I was busy to be at the screenings. I was very lucky to be part of the packed Fantasia Film Festival theater that experienced the blend of horror, action and true emotional filmmaking. As we watched the narrative unfold with no exposition on why the world was falling apart and an infected had boarded that train intrigued the crowd. Watching the infected and animation inspired undead multiple like rabid animals made the crowd jump as we it made me feel as I did watching 28 Days Later for the first time. Watching certain characters die right before eyes as we discovered the surviving human monsters were as vicious and merciless as the infected created waves of emotion. The claustrophobia on the train made you feel that each car you enter was a tomb that you might never leave. A release at the end of the film as the final credits rolled left everyone buzzing with tears and thunderous applause. For many, a rotted sub-genre of horror had found a life and was not just another cookie cutter like so many before. All these factors and more make this not only my favorite genre film of the 2016 but my overall favorite theater experience which kept getting better and better with each viewing.

Watched at Film Festivals: Fantasia, Toronto After Dark and Ithaca Fantastik

Cruel Summer
  • Cruel Summer (Directed by Phillips Escott and Craig Newman)

The only entry on this list that I did not watch in the theater, Cruel Summer is such a powerful and personal film for me. I want to thank Amy Humphries for assigning me this film. Watching this gripping story unfold based on the real events back in 2005 in Sheffield, England. I was frightened. My heart hurt and I became so angry after watching the film nearly breaking down into tears for the simple fact of such a personal connection to the character of Danny. A very simple story with a small and very talented ensemble that finds depth in an act of jealously, rage and hate. All performers casted, found their own fingerprint with each of the characters that were written with layers of emotion, damage and innocence. Each moment is a push forward to the terrifying third act that offers a balance between what we witness and what is implied that rips your mind as well as heart apart. I can only imagine the pain, respect and power this film would have had at its film festival screenings. For me, real horror is scarier than any slasher, alien or demon, it’s there deep inside and only takes one little push to spark it.

Watched Screener via the Film Festival: Frightfest

  • 24×36: A Movie About Movie Posters (Directed by Kevin Burke)

I cannot say enough amazing things about filmmaker Kevin Burke and what he helped create with this documentary. Catching it at  the Fantastic Fest press screening, I was overwhelmed on every level. A lover of movie posters myself for over two decades, I use to put my name on the back of my favorite movie posters in the mom and pop video stores hoping I would get that call to claim something larger than me. Again, I felt that way when I watched 24×36 in that dark theater. The way the multi-media presentation brought the posters together in paired with stories, footage and magic. The perspectives of so many artists from different disciplines and generations. A narrative tied together by the life cycle of movie posters. The scope to let fans, collectors, generations of artists and those influenced speak candid. It was everything I could have asked for and more returning me to those days and watching generations of movie poster art evolve and cycle. Watching 24×36, I applauded all those involved in this production including Snowfort Pictures and Kevin Burke who I was lucky enough to have several conversations with and watch his film at the Ithaca Fantastik screening.

Watched at Film Festivals: Fantastic Fest and Ithaca Fantastik

  • American Guinea Pig: Bloodshock (Directed by Marcus Koch)

With many unsure what to expect after Stephen Biro and Marcus Koch brought the disturbing and very visceral feel of the American Guinea Pig films here to the states, the first entry entitled Bouquet of Guts and Gore shocked many and satisfied the underground horror film crowd. Watching a very exclusive cut at the 2015 Slaughter in Syracuse opened my eyes and entranced me. It would be nearly nine months before I would see the finished as part of the 2016 at Days of the Dead Atlanta: 48 Hour Independent Horror Film Festival. At both screenings, many were ready for guts and gore like the first film and the Asian franchise. However, many were caught off guard as Biro and Koch took steps away from the blatant ceremony and grizzly dismemberment of the first film to create a haunting tale in Bloodshock that revolved around an abduction, imprisonment, torture, testing and connection. If you have seen both films, you wonder what the difference is? Sounds similar? The difference between the two is the power within the actual story that is so different then Bouquet of Guts and Gore was. Watching both films at different film festivals felt like I was watching macabre art versus being a voyeur with the first film. Both films made you feel dirty but Bloodshock affected the crowds so different, sensory and deep seated. This was created through a very mood setting score. Stages of escalating dread and tension harnessed through incredible practical FX makeup presentation and sequence. All this however, would never come together if it was not for the fearless and understanding performances of cult film legend Danny Ellis and the talented Lillian McKinney who play the leads, lovers and deservers that are put through the so many levels of hell. Offering so much more to fans of horror, Bloodshock is a power house piece that stretches the darkness inside you. Beautifully shot and executed as Koch shows the talent beyond just makeup and FX that has made his film work an experience on many levels. This has been reflected in each of the screenings I have attended for Bloodshock as it continues to unsettle, entrance and disturb in all the ways true mastered horror should.

Watched at Film Festivals: 48 Hour Independent Film Festival and Slaughter in Syracuse

Honorable Mentions by Alphabetical Order

  • Abattoir – Directed Darren Lynn Bousman (NYC Horror Fest)
  • Night of Something Strange – Directed by Jonathan Straiton (Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival)
  • Safe Neighborhood – Directed by Chris Peckover (Fantastic Fest and Ithaca Fantasik)
  • Sympathy for the Devil: The True Story of The Process Church of the Final Judgement – Directed by Neil Edwards (Boston Underground Film Festival)
  • Too Young To Die – Directed by Kankuro Kudo (Fantasia International Film Festival)
  • Under the Shadow – Directed nu Babek Anvari (Toronto After Dark Film Festival)

Follow Jay Kay on Twitter @JayKayHorror


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