By CASS CLARKE
Known for uniting filmmakers, cinephiles, and weirdos, Salem Horror Film Festival rises again to showcase 100 groundbreaking films. Founder and Cinema Salem creative director Kay Lynch continues to focus on uplifting marginalized voices and horror’s cathartic and queer power. As someone who has been to the festival, I can attest that this space welcomes all gals, ghouls and badass theys of the world. In a time when political attacks are determined to destroy our queer community, this festival is needed more than ever. Speaking with Fangoria, Lynch shares, “The world is becoming an increasingly scary place, but Salem remains queer as fuck with zero tolerance for fascist bullshit.” In 2023, a third of the films presented at Salem Horror Fest are from queer filmmakers, including So Vam creator Alice Maio Mackay, who will be presenting the world premiere of T Blockers.
Running from Thursday, April 20th to Sunday, April 30th, Salem Horror Fest features a whopping 66 features and short films in competition for jury and audience awards and the George A. Romero Foundation Fellowship for emerging filmmakers. RUE MORGUE’s executive editor, Andrea Subissati, kicks off the festival’s opening night, moderating a discussion with horror icon Tony Todd at the Peabody Essex Museum. Horror scholar and filmmaker Kier-La Janisse will be the keynote speaker. A screening of 1992’s Candyman will close the event.
Horror podcast fans will want to keep an eye out for two live recording sessions. Weekend one will feature a screening of Blood on Satan’s Claw, followed by a live podcast from Faculty of Horror. Weekend two will feature a screening of The Hitcher, followed by a live episode of Horror Queers.
Here’s a rundown of films premiering at Salem Horror Fest. (Synopses culled from the 2023 program.)
Your Love is Mine
Directed by Luke Wijayasinha-Gray and Luke J. S. Australia, 81 minutes
A sudden tragedy threatens the relationship between Violet (Sene Priti) and Sam (Lester Ellis Jr). One of them goes to unthinkable lengths to preserve their union.
In a Dark, Dark Room
Directed by Denis Sobolev
Ukraine, 83 minutes
In a small town, misfit teens discover an ominous site of pagans, awakening a dark force that is fought by a mysterious biker – a history teacher by day and a witch hunter by night.
Directed by Terence Krey
United States, 90 minutes
Jessica Whitman isn’t a witch. Not anymore, at least. She left it behind when she left her hometown almost ten years ago. But when a childhood friend needs her help to perform a dark spell, she finds herself questioning her sense of right and wrong, and grappling with her late mother’s secrets.
Directed by Mitch Wilson, Troy Hart, Dan Repp & Lindsay Young, Steven DeGennaro, Carlos Ibarra, and Sahvannah Rae
United States, Canada, 88 minutes
A witch anthology. A young girl, Olivia, seeks out Miss Rosewood, an infamous local witch, for training. But first, Olivia must join Miss Rosewood’s coven. Miss Rosewood shares the story of each member of her evil sisterhood.
No More Time
Directed by Dalila Droege
United States, 82 minutes
A couple seeks refuge in a remote mountain town to escape a mysterious disease that makes some people disappear and others turn into hateful murderers. Strange figures emerge from the surrounding forest, and it’s unclear if they are helping or harming. As the stakes grow higher and the dangers draw closer, the couple must decide who to trust and what they are willing to do to survive.
Directed by Danny Dunlop
Canada, 103 minutes
Inspired by true events. When a young social recluse stumbles onto a series of unsolved cold cases, he finds himself pulled deeper into society’s dark underside and must face his own demons to learn the truth.
Directed by Alexandra Spieth
United States, 93 minutes
Jenny, an urban loner, must fight for redemption at her estranged BFF’s bachelorette party. This film, the director’s horror-comedy feature debut, is a female-friendship saga that examines loss, gaslighting, and betrayal, and asks Can you overcome the past? In the words of the director, “My film is for women of all ages, and especially college and high school students. It’s for the girl I was then, and the woman I am now.”
Bury the Bride
Directed by Spider One
United States, 83 minutes
Bride-to-be June’s bachelorette weekend turns deadly when her bloodthirsty fiancé and his friends show up to crash the party.
Directed by Dane Elcar
United States, 84 minutes
A couple finds themselves trapped while on a run around a pond.
The Ones You Didn’t Burn
Directed by Elise Finnerty
United States, 70 minutes
A young man returns to his family home after his father’s death. He meets two women who claim his father’s land was stolen from their ancestors after they were accused of being witches. He soon finds himself the center of an occult conspiracy that led to his father’s suicide and now threatens to destroy him.
Directed by Alice Maio Mackay
Australia, 71 minutes
Ancient parasites that thrive on hatred rise from beneath a small town and take the most fearful and susceptible as hosts. A young trans filmmaker, who is struggling to transition in increasingly hostile times for LGBTQ+ people, realizes that only she can sense the possessed and must rally the resistance before the horror escapes and spreads.
The Forest Hills
Directed by Scott Goldberg
United States, 80 minutes
A man is tormented by nightmarish visions after enduring head trauma while camping in the Catskill woods.
Guys At Parties Like It
Directed by Micah Coate and Colton David Coate
United States, 79 minutes
A jaded party girl finds herself engrossed in a dangerous game of survival when a ritualistic fraternity party spins out of control and descends into madness.
Bliss of Evil
Directed by Joshua Morris
Australia, 83 minutes
Isolated and stalked, a band must attempt to escape the recording studio where they’re trapped before they fall prey to a mysterious intruder in Josh Morris‘s soon-to-be-classic Aussie slasher.
The Weird Kidz
Directed by Zach Passero
United States, 80 minutes
On a weekend campout, a dark monster terrorizes a group of campers who fall prey to an ancient legend and conspiring local townsfolk. For preteen Dug, Mel and Fatt, and Dug’s older brother and girlfriend, a night out in the desert becomes a survivalist horror adventure. Zach Passero’s heartfelt coming-of-age tale about growing up and surviving a night of terrors juggles frights, laughs, and an amputated arm in this unique hand-animated joy ride of a creature feature.
Directed by K Pervaiz
United Kingdom, 92 minutes
After a childhood incident leaves her without any memories, Maya is adopted by an elderly couple, along with another orphan, Kalika, who she forms a sisterly bond with. Through feverish nightmares and unsettling events, Maya travels to Karachi and rediscovers her traumatic childhood through the grips of jinn (demonic) possession.
He BGB TV
Directed by Jake McClellan, Adam Lenhart, and Eric Griffin
United States, 78 minutes
A retro-horror TV cable box infiltrates a neighborhood and curates nostalgic killer content to its audience. Drawing on television themes throughout the decades, this feature is jam-packed with fun shorts, scary songs, and creepy characters all for a cheap laugh. A movie about watching TV!
Directed by Sylvia Caminer
United States, 95 minutes
In this psychosexual thriller, Jess Peters, a struggling actress and live streamer, has finally found her hook: secretly filming creepy interactions she encounters via online job listings, and using the kinks of others to fuel her streaming success. For her next episode, she’s been hired to write the ending of a screenplay in a remote cabin. Once there, the alluring self-proclaimed screenwriter hands her a script in which the two of them are the main characters. This client isn’t what he seems, and even though the money is great… the real payment here could cost her life.
Directed by Jaco Minnaar
South Africa, 90 minutes
POU (PEACOCK) is a South African gothic horror following the psychosexual journey of a young woman into the dark recesses of the Afrikaner psyche and its compromised past.
Directed by Michael J. Ahern, Ryan Miller, Brandon Perras
United States, 80 minutes
A gay couple, Caleb and Adrian, begin having similar, unsettling dreams concerning Caleb’s ex, who had been working in Provincetown for the summer. Under the guise of taking an impromptu respite, Caleb convinces Adrian to trek to PTown in the winter only to find that his ex appears to be missing. As Caleb’s dreams and hallucinations continue plaguing him, he becomes more determined to find his ex. But the longer he persists in his search, the sooner he nears the sinister secret the town is hiding.
Directed by Carter Smith
United States, 93 minutes
After a drug run goes bad, two friends must survive a nightmarish ordeal of drugs, bugs, and horrific intimacy in this backwoods body-horror thriller.
Along with the premieres, Salem Horror Fest has also dedicated time to revel in restored Czetch and Hindi horror films. Strap in during weekend one to be the first to see the premiere of Severin Films’ restored Morgiana and The Ninth Heart as well as Deaf Crocodile’s restored Prague Nights and The Pied Piper. Severin Films has also restored Bakeneko: A Vengeful Spirit, which will be followed by Faculty of Horror co-host and scholar Alex West’s lecture, “The Cat Came Back: Female Familiars in the Horror Genre.”
Horror fans who love the work of Joko Anwar want to dive into South-Asian horror, stick around for weekend two when the festival will present the Ramsay Brothers’ resurrected and restored cult classics from the Bollywood crypt, Mahakaal, Veerana, Aatma, and Purana Mandir.
Looking for some revelry and repertory screenings? Salem Horror Fest will screen The Fog (1980), Night of the Demons (1988), Demons (1985), The Blair Witch Project (1999), Fright Night (1985), Fright Night: Part II (1988) and Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror.
For a complete look at events and screenings, check out Salem Horror Fest’s website.