The world of horror festivals is as massive as it is marvelous, and it only seems to grow by the year. Finding your way through that world can be thrilling… but also overwhelming if you’re unsure of which horror hubs will best satisfy your needs as a horror filmmaker, fan, or both.
When we at Dread Central got to talking about what makes a horror festival experience truly great, we knew that the answers would vary depending on who you ask. So, it wasn’t our mission to tell you where in the world you should or shouldn’t attend. What we really wanted to do was tell the story of the horror festival circuit.
Our guide to The Best Horror Festivals in the World is a telling of that story. It’s a story we expect to change with each passing year—and one we hope will help you better understand the circuit’s leading horror hotspots, so you can decide which have the most to offer you.
All of the festivals on this list were selected by a panel of industry experts. (Say hello to those fine folks here.) No festival qualified for selection unless it received votes from panelists who are not associated with that festival. Once the list was set in stone, we surveyed our selected festivals to help us paint an accurate and vivid picture of what goes on at each event.
Beyond this process, the Dread Central team will also provide rankings of selected festivals in four key categories: Programming, Filmmaker Support, Market, and Fan Fun. (Rankings will be regularly updated based on availability of data.)
Launching the inaugural edition of this list in 2020 had its challenges. So much of the festival scene is about connection, community, and being at the heart of the action—all things that the COVID-19 pandemic has scaled back from public life for the foreseeable future. At the same time, we are moved by just how well these fests have managed to deliver unforgettable experiences in trying times, and we’re humbled to be able to share that part of their story with you.
So, here it is: your personal map to the brightest spots on the global horror festival circuit. Don’t lose it…
Ceredigion, Wales / November 2021 / abertoir.co.uk
“I found films at this event that I wouldn’t have found elsewhere,” says a panelist, who praises the “small, dedicated group of fans” that make up Abertoir’s staff.
Originally a three-day celebration of classic and contemporary horror film, the fest has since expanded to a six-day schedule with live concerts, theater performances, and workshops all held at its home venue, the Aberystwyth Arts Centre in Wales.
Last year’s lineup featured the U.K. premiere of director Simone Scafidi’s experimental doc on Lucio Fulci, Fulci for Fake, which was followed by a post-screening discussion with producer Giada Mazzoleni and Lucio’s daughter, Antonella Fulci. Fans also enjoyed silent horror shorts with live piano accompaniment, and a masterclass on practical special effects led by Dead and Buried director Gary Sherman.
In November, Abertoir made its 2020 program accessible via Abertoir Online, a virtual version of the fest that streamed new films, Q&As, and live performances—like at its closing night afterparty, where DJ Dellamorte spun horror-themed surf and psychedelic jams.
A Night of Horror International Film Festival
Sydney, Australia / 2021 / anightofhorror.com
One panelist calls A Night of Horror International Film Festival “Australia’s top genre festival,” and attributes its success to founding director Dean Bertram’s discerning curatorial eye.
“Dean has taken pride in the fact that ANOH mostly selects films from blind submissions, as opposed to sourcing from other festivals, distributors, or sales agents,” that panelist notes. Bertram recently moved stateside to start the exciting new Wisconsin-based hub, MidWest WeirdFest, putting ANOH on a two-year hiatus. ANOH returned this year under co-directors Enzo Tedeschi and Bryn Tilly, who are equally passionate about presenting new discoveries.
According to its website, the fest’s acceptance policy ensures that “no less 90% of short films and 50% of feature films are selected from our open submission process.” (Mike Flanagan’s 2011 breakout indie horror feature, Absentia, was one of many films that benefitted from this policy in years past.)
ANOH’s 2020 edition hosted the world premiere of the Aussie splatterfest The Slaughterhouse Killer, whose director, Sam Curtain, received the John Wiggins Independent Spirit Award. The crew of “The Malicious”—this year’s winner of the Aussie Short Film Audience Award—came away with $3,500 worth of gear, courtesy of festival sponsor Panavision Australia.
Arrow Video Frightfest
London, U.K. / August 26-30, 2021 / frightfest.co.uk
“Arrow Video Frightfest is huge, but feels totally personalized and handcrafted,” says a panelist. “Co-director Paul McEvoy curates the films he loves, and in so doing, he expands audiences’ notions of genre.”
Frightfest’s 2020 slate reached far beyond the bounds of conventional horror fare, showcasing the world premieres of a taut, character-driven thriller (Concrete Plans), a sci-fi survival story (Dune Drifter), and a supernatural gangster noir (The World We Knew). And for the first time in its 21-year history, it did so digitally—working around the constraints of COVID-19 with a schedule of live, online screenings, rather than with the on-demand time window utilized by other virtual fests.
“Fans needed to be in front of their device at the appointed time or miss the film,” explains co-director Ian Rattray. “This was our attempt to recreate an in-cinema event at home and get as many people as possible together to watch films at the same time.”
Frightfest supports up-and-coming British genre filmmakers with three initiatives: First Blood, which screens first-time and low-budget films to attract sales agents and distributors; New Blood, which helps genre screenwriters get their scripts into production; and Fresh Blood, which awards funding to filmmakers who successfully pitch their project to industry pros.
Guests of past editions include Dario Argento, Christopher Nolan, and the late George Romero. Frightfest’s team are “lovers of filmmakers and of connecting people,” adds a panelist, so while other genre giants may have stayed at home this year, you can bet they’ll be back to mix and mingle with lucky fans as soon as they’re able.
Los Angeles, CA / Fall 2021 / beyondfest.com
In 2020, Beyond Fest was the first place on the west coast where you could see Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor, the first place in the U.S. where you could see Bryan Bertino’s The Dark and the Wicked, and the first place in the world where you could see Jim Cummings’ Wolf of Snow Hollow.
It was also the only physical genre fest held in the country this year, thanks to its team’s success in converting its usual in-theater event to an exclusively drive-in experience.
“Beyond Fest always has an amazing line up,” one panelist raves. “It’s a fantastically organized festival and has some of the best Q&As I’ve seen, moderated by thoughtful hosts.” The fest’s repertory screenings are often epic: John Carpenter, Al Pacino, and Arnold Schwarzenegger are just a few marquee guests who’ve attended anniversary showings of their beloved works.
Festival founder Christian Parkes stresses that “filmmakers and talent who attend the festival view films in the same seats as everyone else. Whether you’re Guillermo del Toro or attending your first Beyond Fest screening, we want everyone to be part of the same shared communal experience.”
While all that star power certainly helps ticket sales, Beyond Fest has remained a not-for-profit entity since its inception. All of its sales and concessions go straight to American Cinematheque, the essential L.A. film institution whose affiliated venues, The Egyptian Theatre and Aero Theatre, need steadfast support now more than ever.
Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival
Toronto, Canada / October 2021 / bloodinthesnow.ca
“This Toronto horror fest has grown immensely in the past few years and will keep getting better,” says a panelist. This year’s run of Blood in the Snow saw the addition of presenting partner Super Channel, whose streaming platform has made the fest’s stellar Canadian genre programming more accessible than ever before.
Over the years, fans and attending filmmakers at BITS have hung out with such horror heavyweights as Tony Burgess (Pontypool), Steve Hoban (Ginger Snaps), Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice), and Julian Richings, whose Satanic chiller Anything for Jackson had its regional premiere streamed by BITS this past October. “It isn’t surprising, given the Canadian location, that everyone was so nice and welcoming,” adds a panelist. “On my first night, the staff was concerned about me finding the bar for after-screening drinks, and once I got there it was easy to find friendly people to chat with.”
BITS is fiercely committed to the future of fright filmmaking from its motherland. This year, the fest’s four-day Deadly Exposure Industry Market brought upstart Canadian creatives and industry vets together for discussions on production and distribution in the age of COVID-19, undoing horror tropes with cultural sensitivity, and more.
Publicity coordinator Jen Gorman says that next year, BITS hopes to return to its stomping grounds at The Royal Cinema and resume its routine of “an after-party every night.” Until then, this year’s virtual visitors could at least let their hair down on Facebook with live-streamed parties on Halloween and closing night.