Panic Fest Marks 10th Anniversary and Return to Normalcy


As I sat in the main theater at Screenland Armour for the start of Panic Fest on Thursday, April 28, I couldn’t help but feel relief. That relief comes with the knowledge that since January 2020, I haven’t experienced anything like this in a little over two years. The pandemic extinguished the lights at repertoire cinemas across the country, but some managed to fight through the uncertainty to emerge victorious; shining brighter than ever. So Panic Fest 2022, the 10th iteration of the genre film festival, felt personal in the context that the pandemic is now over, we can begin congregating again to partake in films that make us peek at the screen between our eyes or laugh at absurd things with a large group of degenerates some of us refer to as friends or family.

The 10th annual Panic Fest kicked off with Joe Bob Briggs and Darcy the Mail Girl presenting a 20th anniversary screening of “Bubba Ho-Tep.” The second day of Panic Fest kicked things into gear with films ranging from the comically bizarre, “CRABS!,” to the gory insane, “The Sadness,” which kept the hundreds who were in attendance happy and horrified. The directors came out to play Saturday as Joe Lynch introduced, what he called an undiscovered gem waiting to become a cult classic, 1984’s “Surf II.” don’t bother asking me about “Surf I.”

Director Mick Garris was in attendance as a nearly sold out theater laughed along and cheered to 1992’s, “Sleepwalkers,” which I can only describe to people as a horror film featuring indescribable super powered cat people who are not only deathly allergic to house cats, but also incestuously horny. Spider One, the lead singer of Powerman 5000 and brother of Rob Zombie, attended the global premiere of his first film, “Allegoria.” Spotted amongst attendees Saturday at several films, including “Sleepwalkers,” was Lloyd Kaufman. Yes, that Lloyd Kaufman. Kaufman would be introducing his latest Troma film, “Shakespeare’s Shitstorm,” a Troma adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” on Sunday.

While the celebrities and filmmakers are just one joyous part of Panic Fest, the other joys come in the form of independent films looking to break the mold. This year’s line-up films ranged from tense thrillers about neighbors next door, “Watcher,” to nightmare fuel bat shit insanity, “The Outwaters.” Just like in 2021, this year’s Panic Fest was a hybrid of in-theater selections and virtual selections. For fans who only attended in-person, you missed out on some great stuff that was only available digitally through Panic Fest like “The Chamber of Terror,” which feels like a midnight film waiting to burst onto the scene and “Masking Threshold,” a serious contender for one of my favorite films of 2022. While a few films, both virtually and in-person, weren’t really my thing, most of the films were diamonds in the rough while others showed great promise for the future creators behind it.

While it’s clear that not everyone was ready to be back in a theater, Screenland Armour was hopping with life during the four days I was in attendance. It was refreshing to be around like-minded people devouring high-brow and low-brow horror content. While the pandemic certainly had an effect on 2021’s and 2022’s Panic Fest, it’s safe to say the founders haven’t skipped a beat when putting together a well-crafted mix of genre films and events that most certainly put a smile on everyone who sat down to once again enjoy the magic of the movies.

 

 

Panic Fest Film Review: “Malibu Horror Story”

Starring: Dylan Sprayberry, Robert Bailey Jr. and Valentia de Angelis
Directed by: Scott Slone
Rated: NR
Running Time: 93 minutes

If I had to pick a genre that’s hard to create something new in, it would definitely be the found footage genre. From “Cannibal Holocaust” to “Paranormal Activity,” there’s a lot of genre busting films that manage to take the basics of the genre and elevate them to a new brand or style of horror. But this seems to be a genre that’s more miss than hit in my opinion. For every “V/H/S,” there’s at least a dozen bad ones like “The Amityville Haunting” or every “Paranormal Activity” film with a number after it. So that brings us to 2022. I’m not gonna lie, “Malibu Horror Story” isn’t necessarily a good title for a found footage horror film, but never judge a film by its title or genre.

We open with four paranormal investigators in a reclusive cave amongst the mountains north of Malibu, California. They’re in this desolate location to film their latest episode and investigate what happened to four teenagers back in 2012. For more backstory on the teens, the film shows the investigators showing off what work on the episode has already been completed. From that point, we dive from found footage of the investigators into their show which features newspaper clippings, interviews with law enforcement and of course the found footage left behind by the teenagers. To the general public, the found footage only revealed that the teenagers were dirtbags. The search for the teens pretty much ended when the found footage showed the teens doing drugs and partying more than it actually show what happened to them. So, you could say it’s technically a found footage film within a found footage film or within a fake paranormal investigator show all wrapped around a conventional claustrophobic film. Either way, without getting too deep in the thick of it or confusing you, “Malibu Horror Story” structures the story like a puzzle so that we can comfortably sit back and let the mayhem and story unfold as the pieces fall into place.

The set-up and premise are actually quite clever in that it never becomes too confusing and it manages to give us enough exposition to explain things while making us thirsty for more of the mythos behind the cave and the potential Native American curse that is about to show our paranormal investigators what happens when they meddle in something they shouldn’t, much like those dirtbag teenagers. The film has some effective scares once the monster/entity/ghost/thing makes its appearance. Of course, you have to wonder why the teens continued forth once things were clearly going awry, much in the same way the paranormal investigators find out they’re someplace they shouldn’t be.

When characters keep filming, I always wonder if that’s the urge filmmakers or voyeurs get in that situation because if I was in their shoes, I’d be using the camera as a blunt weapon to escape instead of making sure I frame the monster right. I’m not the first to make an observation like that, nor will I certainly be the last. While “Malibu Horror Story” breaks the mold of found footage storytelling, it can’t help but rely on tropes to get us from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’. “Malibu Horror Story” doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it manages to add a few neat spokes to it.

Panic Film Fest Announces Lineup for Hybrid In-Person and Virtual Online Programming

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Panic Fest kicks off two weeks of genre packed programming as the ninth annual festival begins April 8, 2021, virtually and in person at Screenland Armour in Kansas City, MO. 

“We are absolutely thrilled to be able to offer Panic Fest as both in-person and virtual experiences. It’s important that we allow for all comfort levels and situations. The prospect of bringing Panic Fest to the entire country is unbelievably exciting for us,” says Panic Fest Co-Founder Adam Roberts. 

This year’s lineup includes over 25 feature films and 40+ short films from around the world in addition to signature podcasts, special events, and virtual meet-ups via the Gather platform. 

Panic Fest Co-Founder Tim KC Canton says, “We know that our festival is built upon networking and a sense of community. We wanted to ensure that when people attend virtually that it feels like our festival. That they walk away with new relationships as well as discovering new, emerging voices through our unparalleled programming.”

For the first time in fest history, all films will be in contention for awards picked by audience members. “Each year we assemble a panel of judges to decipher the awards. This year we’re putting that in the hands of our attendees,” says Canton.

Panic Fest continues their partnerships with IFC Films, Shudder, Dark Sky Films, Epic Pictures, Dark Star Pictures, and Fangoria. New this year as presenting sponsors are 4 Hands Brewing Company and Logboat Brewing Company. 

“Horror movies and great beer. It’s one of the all-time great matches and we couldn’t be happier with our new partners,” says Roberts.

The festival will utilize the latest in networking applications to bring the fest experience into your home with meet-ups, happy hours, and more over the Gather platform and special events via Clubhouse. 

Panic Fest kicks off April 8, 2021, as one of the leading genre festivals in the world. Don’t miss what MovieMaker Magazine and Dread Central have named one of the best genre festivals in the world for three years running.

Get your tickets here.

Feature Film Programming

An Ideal Host
D: Robert Woods
Regional Premiere, 1h 25minLiz just wants to host the perfect dinner party but an unexpected guest sends the evening into chaos, with potentially apocalyptic consequences.

An Unquiet Grave
D: Terence Kray
Regional Premiere, 1h 12min
A year after the death of his wife, a man enlists her sister to help him bring her back.

Below the Fold
D: Clayton Scott
World Premiere, 1h 32min
Without a trace, Susie Potter vanished from her home in the quiet town of Skidmore, Missouri. Ten years later, two reporters uncover a harrowing new detail, which leads them on an obsessive hunt for the truth through the dark labyrinth of rural northwest Missouri.

Benny Loves You
D: Karl Holt
Regional Premiere, 1h 34min
Jack is desperately trying for a new start in life, but when he throws away his childhood bear Benny, it’s a move that can only end in death.

The Blazing World
D: Carlson Young
Regional Premiere, 1h 41min
Decades after the accidental drowning of her twin sister, a self-destructive young woman returns to her family home, finding herself drawn to an alternate dimension where her sister may still be alive.

Blood Conscious
D: Timothy Covell
North American Premiere, 1h 46min
A vacationing family turns the tables on a mass shooter who claims to be fighting demonic forces.

Caveat
D: Damian Mc Carthy
Regional Premiere, 1h 28min
A lone drifter suffering from partial memory loss accepts a job to look after a psychologically troubled woman in an abandoned house on an isolated island.

Censor
D: Prano Bailey-Bond
Regional Premiere, 1h 24min
After viewing a strangely familiar video nasty, Enid, a film censor, sets out to solve the past mystery of her sister’s disappearance, embarking on a quest that dissolves the line between fiction and reality.

The Carnivores
D: Caleb Michael Johnson
Regional Premiere, 1h 17min
Alice and Bret’s dog Harvey is dying, and he’s ruining everything. What had been a bright little family is quickly getting consumed by clouds of self-doubt, suspicion, and a disturbing amount of ground beef.

The Djinn
D: David Charbonier, Justin Powell, Clayton Scott
North American Premiere, 1h 22min
A mute boy is trapped in his apartment with a sinister monster when he makes a wish to fulfill his heart’s greatest desire.

Duncan
D: John Valley
Regional Premiere, 1h 31min
A dark social satire inspired by the real-life conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate. An amateur journalist and a far-right militiaman team up to expose the ugly truth behind rumors involving sex cults, a pizza place, and the lizard people.

Honeydew
D: Devereux Milburn
1h 46min
Strange cravings and hallucinations befall a young couple after seeking shelter in the home of an aging farmer and her peculiar son.

Jakob’s Wife
D: Travis Stevens
Regional Premiere, 1h 38min
Anne, married to a small-town minister, feels her life has been shrinking over the past 30 years. Encountering “The Master” brings her a new sense of power and an appetite to live bolder. However, the change comes with a heavy body count.

Katherine’s Lullaby
D: Savvas Christou
Regional Premiere, 1h 29min
A teenage runaway who’s trapped by a delusional man, pretends to be his daughter in order to escape.

Keeping Company
D: Josh Wallace
Regional Premiere, 1h 22min
A fateful chain of events begin to unravel after two brash insurance salesmen go knocking on the wrong door and find themselves trapped in a stranger’s basement.

The Last Matinee
D: Maximiliano Contenti
U.S. Premiere, 1h 28min
It’s a soaking wet day with rain pouring down and one of the best things to do is to go seek refuge in a great old cinema. There’s only one problem: A scary murderer is on the loose and he also has taken refuge there.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It Too
D: Jonathan Cuartas
Regional Premiere, 1h 30min
Two mysterious siblings find themselves at odds over care for their frail and sickly younger brother.

Night Drive
D: Brad Baruh, Meghan Leon
Regional Premiere, 1h 22min
A rideshare driver’s life is turned upside down after an unexpected series of misfortunes.

The Old Ways
D: Christopher Alender
Regional Premiere, 1h 30min
Cristina, a journalist of Mexican origin, travels to her ancestral home in Veracruz to investigate a story of sorcery and healing. There, she is kidnapped by a group of locals who claim she’s the devil incarnate.

Parallel Minds
D: Benjamin Ross Hayden
Regional Premiere, 1h 26min
In the near future, an A.I. called URM is investigated by a detective and researcher for a lab about to release a contact lens with the power to record what the eye can see to re-create memories.

Prisoners of Ghostland
D: Sion Sono
Regional Premiere, 1h 40min
A notorious criminal must break an evil curse in order to rescue an abducted girl who has mysteriously disappeared.

Red Snow
D: Sean Nichols Lynch
World Premiere, 1h 20min
A struggling vampire romance novelist must defend herself against real-life vampires during Christmas in Lake Tahoe.

She Watches From the Woods
D: Beau Ballinger
World Premiere, 1h 19min
A troubled artist with a dark past attempts to make peace with her dying mother while investigating the mysterious death of her teenage sister.

The Stylist
D: Jill Gevargizian
1h 45min
A lonely hair stylist becomes obsessed with the lives of her clients and descends into murderous madness.

Threshold
D: Powell Robinson, Patrick Robert Young
Regional Premiere, 1h 30min
A sister claims to be cursed and persuades her brother to embark on a cross-country road trip to break her spell.

Vicious Fun
D: Cody Calahan
U.S. Premiere, 1h 36min
Joel, a caustic 1980s film critic for a national horror magazine, finds himself unwittingly trapped in a self-help group for serial killers. With no other choice, Joel attempts to blend in or risk becoming the next victim.

The Whooper Returns
D: Samuel Krebs
U.S. Premiere, 1h 24min
Following the death of their mother, four estranged siblings find themselves fighting for their inheritance and their lives when an eccentric stranger arrives, claiming their famous haunted childhood home was left to her.

Short Film Programming

“Aftertaste” D: Chloe Wicks
“Bloodshed” D: Paolo Mancini, Daniel Watchorn
“Body of Mined” D: Eric Jungmann
“Coil” D: Spencer Ryerson
“Crock Pot” D: Ty Jones
“Death Scene” D: Mando Franco
“Deep Learning” D: Andrew Laudone
“Diabla” D: Maya Korn
“Diving Bell” D: Kyle Brewis, Josh Klaassen
“Dystopia” D: Laura Ugolini
“Gastral Projection” D: Zachary Eglinton
“Green Cobra” D: Sigurd Culhane
“Hare Hunt” D: Ken van Mierlo
“Hey, It’s Me.” D: Courtney Sposato, Mark Sposato
“Koreatown Ghost Story” D: Minsun Park, Teddy Tenenbaum
“Lake Forest Road” D: Ashton Avila
“Late Night” D: JJ Pollack
“Love Bite” D: Charles de Lauzirika
“Make A Wish” D: Dinh Thai
“Mourn” D: Joanna Tsanis

“New Not Normal Trilogy Supercut” D: Ryan Oksenberg
“No One is Coming” D: Matthew Barber, Nathaniel Barber
“Occurrance” D: Deb 
“Pare” D: Lauren Sick
“Pirouette” D: Peter Howard, Glenn Delaney
“Strayed” D: Sarah Bonrepaux
“Stuck” D: David Mikalson
“Suspense” D: Jacob Burghart, Ben Burghart
“Sweet Nothings” D: Christian Klein
“The Good Samaritan” D: Jonathan Norberg, Maria Forslin
“The Occult Son” D: Patrick Murphy
“The Rage” D: Steven DeRock
“The Relic” D: J.M. Logan
“The Rule of Three” D: Elwood Quincy Walker
“The Snoop” D: Tom Hipp, Scott Hipp
“There’s Someone in the Garden” D: Nicholas Cole
“Watcher” D: Meg Swertlow
“Who Wants Dessert?” D: Venita Ozols-Graham
“Witches Midnight” D: Lisa Ovies

Event Programming

A Puff of Smoke Short Film Special Presentation Presented by Yellow Veil Pictures
Clubhouse Weekend Hangouts
Colors of the Dark Podcast
Final Exam (Horror Trivia) FREE hosted by Ted Geoghegan
Frightday Podcast
Gather Fandom Weekend Happy Hours
Gather Weekend Filmmaker Networking Happy Hour
Knight Light Podcast
Nightmare on Film Street Podcast
Nightmare Junkhead Podcast
Screen Drafts Podcast with Rebekah Mckendry & Graham Skipper



Film Review: “The Swerve”

Starring: Azura Skye, Bryce Pinkham and Ashley Bell
Directed by: Dean Kapsalis
Rated: NR
Running Time: 95 minutes

What’s it look like to have it all? For some people, its financial stability; while for others, it’s about having a white picket fence, two-story home and kids. But ultimately it’s what makes you happy. That seems like a very obvious notion, but it isn’t. Millions of couples every year still get divorced. Millions more go to see a psychologist every year to discuss emotional and mental stress. So what makes us happy is very nuanced and different and it’s not a one shoe size fits all. That doesn’t stop the gears of society from forcing us to make decisions that we may not want to make.

Holly (Skye) is a victim of those gears. She’s trapped with a dreary husband that turns every argument onto Holly. He knows he wears the pants in the households and sometimes lords it over her. She’s also the mother of two sons that don’t view her as a mother, but more like f a personal chef and maid. She goes to a job that she’s lost all passion for, teaching. She attempts to teach classic literature, but her classroom is full of students who are mindlessly on her phone. So it isn’t surprising that during this rinse-repeat mundane life, the smallest thing, a mouse, upends everything.

As “The Swerve” goes along, several layers are peeled back, revealing that Holly is dealing with more than just a rut in her life or a hiccup along the trail. She’s stuck, doesn’t know how to escape, and everything is slowly picking away at her on the inside, and that feeling of emptiness is slowly eroding everything that made her whole and happy. “The Swerve” isn’t the kind of movie that will lay out everything and then spoon feed it to you. You have to pay attention to every little detail, every little character, and every little bit of information that dribbles out of someone’s mouth. It all builds towards a shocking, yet understandable finale.

Skye guides Holly’s character on this somber journey. Skye, whose IMDB is less than impressive, gives one of the best performances of the year. She starts out with a haggard look and approach to her acting method, before flipping the script and giving us a performance that’s equally riveting and heart breaking. Skye breathes a world of life into a character that has become lost and empty in her own life. It actually overshadows every other performance in this movie, including Claudia (Bell), Ashley’s sister. Claudia has a very integral role, but Bell is outmatched in every scene she has with Skye.

I have several nitpicky things about this film, but I feel they’re not warranted because this is Dean Kapsalis’ feature film debut. As writer and director, he shows an impressive cinematic pedigree, crafting a gripping atmosphere around an engaging narrative that refuses to let go of your psyche, even as the credits roll. When it comes to directorial debuts, this is one of the most incredible and is certainly a sign of things to come. “The Swerve” is a nearly flawless outing with palpable tension and a script that’s equally shocking and sensitive to the ground it covers.

Panic Fest Presents Tricks & Treats – A Halloween Celebration

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Trick or Treaters. Candy bingeing. Horror marathons. Pumpkin carving. Costume contests. Even though this Halloween turned out to be more gnarly than Regan projectile vomiting green pea soup – that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the best time of the year together! Panic Fest won’t let Halloween die! Panic Fest Presents: TRICKS AND TREATS, a special virtual Halloween celebration that runs Oct. 30 through Nov. 1. 

Every year we look forward to these traditions but with the pandemic they are in real jeopardy of not existing this year. Fear not, Panic Fest is here to satisfy your horror appetite.The three day event features new and classic films, shorts, live events including horror themed trivia, live podcasts, special guests and more. Best of all, you, the horror community get to participate with each other throughout the weekend. Hell, we even have a ‘Best in Show’ style pumpkin carving contest. So, grab your costume and bowl of candy and join us for a jam packed weekend celebrating our favorite time of year. Tickets are now on sale with full programming coming in October. 

Have a feature or short? Submissions are open: https://filmfreeway.com/TricksTreats

Tickets on sale now: https://panicfilmfest.com/tricks

Panic Fest enters it’s 9th year and has been recognized for three years running as one of the top 25 best genre festivals in the world by MovieMaker Magazine. Panic Fest is scheduled to take place Jan. 29th – Feb. 4 2021.

Film Review: “Clementine”

Starring: Sonya Walger, Otmara Marrero and Sydney Sweeney
Directed by: Lara Gallagher
Rated: NR
Running Time: 90 minutes
Oscilloscope

Very rarely am I tempted to turn off a movie, but unable to because I’m curious as to what is happening and what will happen. “Clementine” opens on Karen (Marrero) getting a good morning wake-up call from her lover named D (Walger). The bliss is incredibly short-lived as the film smash cuts to the aftermath of a bad break-up, which D initiated. A heartbroken Karen then heads to D’s lakeside house, breaks in, and temporarily sets up shop.

The film dug its hooks into me from the very beginning and I couldn’t let go, as much as I wanted to. That’s because at times the film is very meandering, the dialogue is often mumbled and I honestly am not invested in Karen. But just as soon as I pull out one of the film’s hooks, the movie introduces Lana (Sweeney), a peculiar, sweet, potential seductress that talks with Karen. But unlike Karen, she’s not necessarily confident in her own sexual identity, seemingly turned off and turned on by the prospect of a steamy lakeside fling or relationship.

Every time I inched closer to turning the movie off, another curveball would come at me and pretty soon, I was determined to see what was going to happen between Karen and Lana, even if I didn’t enjoy the outcome. So once the credits rolled, I didn’t feel like I got a satisfying payoff, but some part of me felt something positive. It’s an emotion I’ve grappled with for a few days now because I’m still unsure as to what I’m supposed to take away from the movie. I can conclude to some extent that “Clementine” is a deeply personal LGBTQ movie with elements of #MeToo in it. I think. 

The movie isn’t very direct. It’s not a mainstream film like “Love, Simon,” even though that movie and “Clementine” are similar because of their coming-of-age theme and relationship dynamics. “Clementine” is just a lot more subdued and I’m not sure if some of the lapses in storytelling are intentional or just amateurish. I believe they’re intentional because a lot of other pieces of this film are expertly done. The soundtrack is ripe with tension, the cinematography and settings are absolutely gorgeous and the acting (when I can hear it) is magnificent. It’s just hard for me to make a recommendation because I don’t think I’m qualified to.

Yes I’m a film critic, but I also understand that some movies speak to certain demographics and they’re not meant for mass consumption. I can assume things, but I also don’t want to say that that’s what “Clementine” is aiming for because I don’t have a spot in which to claim knowledge. I also don’t want to spoil the movie. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I enjoyed this movie that I found boring. Which ultimately is a contradiction on the surface level.

I can’t make a recommendation for “Clementine,” but I do know certain people who will enjoy this more than me. People who’ve been in a vicious emotional cycle, been in a manipulative relationship and those of the LGBTQ community will understand this movie better than I. I can relate on a generic level, but this film is a bit too esoteric for me to sink my teeth into. Maybe over time I will have a better grasp of what “Clementine” means, but for right now, I’m content with simply stating that “Clementine” exists and if anything in this review peaked your interest, by all means seek it out.