The core of any film festival is, of course, the films, but a truly great one extends beyond sitting in a theater to become a multi-faceted social experience. The third annual Brooklyn Horror Film Festival recently ended, bringing a close to a week of festivities that felt like a long party full of horror movies, beer, and even a little education. It was an ambitious event for a young festival and they pulled it off beautifully, placing them firmly on the annual festival calendar in years to come.
It all kicked off with the launch party at YokeyPokey, a virtual reality club in Downtown Brooklyn featuring some awesome horror-themed VR games. The entire staff attended, including publicity coordinator Nicole Schilder, festival director Justin Timms, programmer Joseph Hernandez, senior programmer Matt Barone, development director Jackie Goldstein, festival producer Jess Byers, and festival operator Wynton Wong, as well as publicist Taylor Sprow. Filmmakers Chelsea Lupkin (Lucy’s Tale) and Ilja Rautsi (Helsinki Mansplaining Massacre) were also in the crowd. Here, festival pass holders picked up “swag bags” containing two blu-rays or DVDs, a horror film soundtrack on CD, sunglasses and a beer cozy. Keep that in mind the next time you wonder if it’s really worth it.
Once the festival came into full swing, the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies, a horror school based in New York, Los Angeles, and London, presented a lecture on made-for-television horror movies at Film Noir Cinema by former Film Threat writer Amanda Reyes. Her fascinating presentation covered the history of television movies and their explorations into genre filmmaking. Far from the bland droning one would normally associate with something of this sort, Reyes’ class included film clips, bumpers, numerous pictures and her infectious enthusiasm for the subject. Miskatonic founder Kier-la Janisse and writer Joe Yanick were among the attendees.
You never realize how essential drinking games are to festivals until you attend one. Matt Donato of Dread Central’s Drinking With the Dread, along with writer Anya Stanley, hosted a live drinking game to Return of the Living Dead at Videology, which closed shortly afterward. The rules included drinking every time “brain” or “brains” is spoken, two drinks for each prominent character death and a shot for the iconic skeleton jaw-drop to 45 Graves’ “Party Time.” Glasses also raised whenever the character Frank made a wiseass remark or let out a whimpering scream in tribute to actor James Karen, who sadly passed a few days later. Needless to say, everyone was pretty bombed by the end, but it’s probably the most fun you’ll have watching a movie in a group setting.
Festival centerpiece Starfish ran at the LIU Kumble Theater in Downtown Brooklyn. Director A.T. White mingled in the crowd before the screening along with Finnish short film director Ilja Rautsi. Vinegar Syndrome head James Neurath represented his catalog at a table where he sold items at a very reasonable discount. White spoke in a Q&A after the screening, but the crowd seemed underwhelmed, perhaps expecting more of a straightforward horror film than a beautiful art film with horrific elements.
Keeping in the shock tradition of horror, BHFF hosted a “secret screening” at Nitehawk Cinema. Most people seemed to expect an archival classic, but instead had their brains warped by Eddie Alcazar’s surreal cyberpunk masterpiece Perfect, which had only been shown in the US once before at 2018’s SXSW. Star Maurice Compte introduced the film, then held down a Q&A afterward in Alcazar’s absence.
Archival films remain integral to BHFF, as they do to horror fans. This year, the festival hosted screenings of Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse, Tony Maylam’s The Burning, George Mihalka’s My Bloody Valentine and a 35th-anniversary screening of Robert Hiltzik’s Sleepaway Camp. The most unusual presentation, however, proved to be Blood Harvest, a 1987 slasher directed by Bill Rebane and starring ‘60s ukulele legend Tiny Tim. This particular print premiered Vinegar Syndrome’s complete restoration from the original camera negative. It was something, too.
While we’ve heard of books of the damned and music of the damned, films of the damned come as a rarity. Directors Michael Laicini and David Amito presented their pseudo-documentary Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made at the Made in NY Media Center at IFP. According to legend, just about everybody who’s viewed this film has died mysteriously. Even the documentarians admitted to splitting the film in half in order to avoid the curse. This restored version features the full film sandwiched between Laicini and Amito’s chilling documentary. So far, everybody present at the screening appears to be safe.
If you grew up in the ‘80s and were into horror, chances are The Monster Squad made an impact on your life. Director Andre Gower, who played squad leader Sean in the original film, and producer Henry Darrow McComas presented their powerful documentary Wolfman’s Got Nards at Nitehawk Cinema. Far from just telling the story of the film’s production, this emotional story delves into the impact the film has had on everyone who saw it, despite its miserable box office failure in 1987. Both Gower and McComas proved to be very friendly and appreciative to the crowd as they spoke to strangers before and after the screening.
With a film festival this massive, it’s impossible to attend every single function, meaning you’ll likely miss out on some great things. You have to set the schedule that works best for you. Fortunately, Brooklyn Horror Film Festival has so much to offer, you’re unlikely to be disappointed by whatever you choose to attend. It should also be noted that in every single event, the staff proved to be professional, courteous and an absolute joy to see at each venue. They really know how to build a sense of community and their passion shows in the quality of their work.
Festival passes typically become available at the beginning of the year. Make sure to pick one up for 2019, as it’s sure to be even more exciting.