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The Best Horror Festivals in the World 2021

Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival

Bucheon, South Korea / 2021 / bifan.kr/eng

“BiFan is the most important genre film event in Asia,” says a panelist, who praises the Korean festival’s consistently stacked lineup of feature world premieres. “Distributors and sales agents all over the world look here to discover the next Asian horror hit.”

Last July, BiFan attendees filled theaters at 35% capacity for world premieres of Whispering Corridors 6: The Humming—the latest installment in the long-running supernatural series that first shook up Korean cinema in 1998—and director Kyung-hun Cho’s animated horror debut, Beauty Water. Much of the fest’s screenings streamed online via the local platform Watcha.

BiFan didn’t let COVID deprive the DIY filmmakers in its audience of the lessons they crave, managing to hold numerous in-person Q&A and “Megatalk” sessions. Guests who couldn’t fly in still made an impact: William Friedkin—this year the subject of Alexandre O. Phillipe’s incisive documentary, Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist—pre-recorded a masterclass moderated by Phillipe that streamed after the film was screened. 

If accepted, those who submit their scary movies to BiFan can expect a reward-rich environment. The festival hands out some hefty cash prizes for competition features and shorts—Pelican Blood director Katrin Gebbe received $16,600 for winning this year’s Best of Bucheon Award—as well post-production services for select projects. 

Buenos Aires Rojo Sangre

Buenos Aires, Argentina / November 2021 / rojosangre.quintadimension.com/2.0

The oldest genre film festival in Latin America, Buenos Aires Rojo Sangre “has earned the respect of every other festival because of its endurance,” says a panelist. “It’s extremely well-curated and its fans love everything, from bizarre B-films to highbrow horror fare.”

“It’s also important to highlight this festival’s stubbornness,” jokes a panelist, and another panelist agrees, pointing out that it insists on “keeping its main idea of a festival made for horror fans by horror fans.” 

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Courtesy of Buenos Aires Rojo Sangre

Small but impactful, BARS has long helped kickstart careers for top Argentinian talent—like Adrián García Bogliano, who premiered his Best Feature Audience Award-winning horror, Room for Tourists, in 2004 and went on to helm the potent possession shocker Here Comes the Devil a decade later. 

BARS just wrapped its 2020 online edition, which streamed 45-plus features and 100-plus shorts via Contar, Flixxo, and YouTube throughout its 10-day schedule. The fest won’t return to its physical festivities until next year, but one panelist, who praises “the great environment that it creates,” assures that all the choripán—a local specialty sandwich with grilled chorizo—and beer in Buenos Aires make it well worth the wait. 

Celluloid Screams

Sheffield, England / October 2021 / celluloidscreams.com

“Celluloid Screams stands out from the crowded U.K. horror fest scene with a primo line-up composed entirely of feature film blocks,” says a panelist. 

That’s not to say there are no shorts at Celluloid Screams. (The same panelist notes that “the features are supported by great shorts,” and in fact, 100% of the shorts in the 2020 slate were programmed from submissions.) But it’s the fest’s decision not to have dedicated shorts blocks, one panelist argues, that “creates a really interesting change of pace for those on the circuit.”

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Courtesy of Celluloid Screams

This year’s run included the U.K. premieres of Peninsula, director Yeon Sang-ho’s highly anticipated sequel to Train to Busan, and The Block Island Sound, a taut, genre-bending thriller that served as the fest’s annual “secret screening.” 

Celluloid Screams pulls no punches for its public parties, like its opening night Halloween party that rang in its midnight premiere of Halloween in 2018. Its closing night karaoke party has also become the stuff of legend—always ending, without fail, in a group rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Ever since its 2014 screening of Dead Snow 2, the song “has become the festival’s unofficial anthem,” says founder and co-director Robert Nevitt.

Chattanooga Film Festival

Chattanooga, TN / April 15-19, 2021 / chattfilmfest.org

Chattanooga Film Festival earns the endorsement of one panelist not only because its online programming produced “great results” earlier this year, but because it was “one of the first genre festivals that dared to go online, and inspired others to do the same.” 

Another panelist agrees, adding that “Chattanooga’s partnership with Microsoft went very well and it was one of the best virtual festivals this year.” That panelist has also experienced CFF’s physical event, though, and says it’s not to be missed: “The fest is run by a small, tight-knit group of rag-tag misfits who feel like a family and sacrifice a lot to bring the best genre selections to the area.”

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Elijah Wood wins the “Moonstruck” moon pie eating contest at Chattanooga Film Festival 2019. Courtesy of Chattanooga Film Festival

“Plus, if you’re a filmmaker, you’ll get to go on cool field trips in a school bus while imbibing sponsored Chattanooga Whiskey,” a panelist continues. “There’s also plenty of barbecue and fried chicken biscuit sandwiches!” An axe-throwing adventure was on the 2020 itinerary, but fest-goers will have to wait until the next physical fest for any hatchet heaving to commence.

What did commence this year, though, was commendable: CFF and presenting partner Vinegar Syndrome hosted an all-night pajama party—featuring a horror triple-feature and live music from death metal band Undeath—and the great Barbara Crampton led a raucous live reading of the script for John Carpenter’s The Thing

Cinepocalypse

Chicago, IL / 2021 / musicboxtheatre.com

Although it’s still a relatively new kid on the block, Cinepocalypse is “one that’s started strong and kept it up,” says a panelist, who notes that the Chicago-based fest “has more of a balance between upcoming films and retrospective screenings than many other fests on the circuit.” 

Cinepocalypse has a habit of making horror history. One panelist reminds that just last year, its attendees were the first to see a cult classic in the making: “The fest brought Glen Danzig into town to premiere his debut film, Verotika… gutsy move, but that is very Chicago!” 

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Courtesy of Cinepocalypse

Another panelist recalls that Cinepocalypse “was one of the first festivals to show the ‘Gore Cut’ of Tammy and the T-Rex, which played brilliantly to a pumped and bewildered crowd,” and adds that having sponsoring bar The Music Box attached to its theater makes it easy for people to connect before and after its rowdy premieres. 

Despite this year’s unfortunate cancellation, the fest is currently taking submissions for its 2021 edition, which will once again open its doors to new and returning faces.

Written by Max Weinstein

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