Even before the start of this year’s Panic Fest, “Mayhem” director Joe Lynch was salivating all over social media about Panic Fest, dubbing it one of his favorite film festivals. So we’re now at the point where you don’t have to take my word for it. You would probably get the same reaction from several other actors and directors who’ve attended over the years, but let me reiterate that if you’re in the vicinity of the Screenland Armour in North Kansas City, you should check out Panic Fest. The horror festival gem of the Midwest has slowly been building an audience, of normies like me, horror aficionados, celebrities and everyone in between, and if 2023 was any indication, it’ll continue to grow without losing its indie luster.
Panic Fest kicked off Thursday, April 13, with THE Nicolas Cage as Dracula in “Renfield,” which may have been one of the rowdiest and off-the-wall screenings in America. Slipping into Friday was what people have come to expect, low budget films with a lot to say, like “Give Me an A.” I’m sure the opening five minutes would surely infuriate any self-described “pro-lifer.” This was followed by a screening of Ted Geoghegan’s new film, “Brooklyn 45,” with Ted in attendance. Friday night ended with jam packed screenings of “Sisu” and “Evil Dead Rise,” both crowd pleasers. I can now also brag that I watched the new “Evil Dead” with Barbara Crampton in attendance. Sure we weren’t sitting anywhere near each other, or even in the same row, but I won’t pass up a mild brag.
Saturday may have been the big enchilada as filmmakers and their cast/crew were in attendance for several screenings throughout the day, including “Abuprtio” and “Blue Hour.” Things really kicked off when “Black Mold” had its world premiere with about two dozen members of the cast and crew in attendance. Not to be out done, Joe Lynch led a double feature of films starring Barbara Crampton, “From Beyond” and “We Are Still Here.” Saturday also saw the world premiere of “Bury the Bride,” a film that may just put Spider One on the map once it hits Tubi next month. If you can predict the twist in the film with absolute certainty, props to you.
While the pandemic is fading into the rearview mirror, the effects lingered throughout some of the films. “Trader,” one of my favorites of the fest, was a wild single setting ride, and it wasn’t alone. A lot of films utilized minimal crews, minimal spaces and worked with minimal time. “Invoking Yell,” which I wasn’t too fond of, was impressively shot in 72 hours while “Bury the Bride” managed to fit its insanity in a week of shooting. Even with packed screenings, packed lobbies, and long lines, Panic Fest has yet to lose its repertory cinema charm, highlighting some of the best indie horrors on the festival circuit and not shying away from some bizarre offerings like “Razzennest” and “Trim Season.”
The mix of mainstream and low budget horror has been a staple of Panic Fest, but this year seemed to be another peak scaled by the founders of the genre festival. Co-founders Adam Roberts and Tim Canton talked before nearly every film, talking about where they saw it or how they heard about it, at times, hyping up the crowd while equally showcasing their love of the genre and how much effort goes on throughout the year to get content to Panic Fest. While the festival still boasts an impressive line-up in-person, it also offers an impressive line-up of virtual films, which I am still binging through. While I may still be tired and struggling to focus at work, I can at least say the exhaustion and sleep deprivation was well worth it because Panic Fest remains the best horror fest in the Midwest.