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The Best Horror Festivals in the World 2021

Dead by Dawn Horror Film Festival

Edinburgh, Scotland / April 22-25, 2021 /

For one panelist, Dead by Dawn Horror Film Festival is a place where “I always felt welcomed into the ‘body of the Kirk,’ as we say in Scotland.”

According to its website, Dead by Dawn programs about 5% of what’s submitted to its staff, and it never screens two films at the same time. The fest is all about its films and not so big on workshops, but it does see its share of horror greats as guests—like Jeff Lieberman, who visited last year to present Blue Sunshine, Squirm, Satan’s Little Helper, and other classics from his filmography. 

images - The Best Horror Festivals in the World 2021
Courtesy of Dead by Dawn Horror Film Festival

Dead by Dawn boasts an impressive track record of discovery: In years past, the fest has hosted the U.K. premieres of Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles and Braindead; Jaume Balaguero’s The Nameless; Jim Mickle’s Mulberry Street and Stakeland; Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers; and Mike Flanagan’s Oculus. And if you want your horror film to be discovered next, you can submit it free of charge. 

“If the dedicated fans who run this fest hadn’t gotten off their backsides to organize it, the genre scene would be a much less vibrant place,” says a panelist.

Dead North Film Festival

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada /

“Yellowknife, Northwest Territories might be a blip on the map of Canada, but it hosts a unique festival that celebrates independent filmmakers who live north of the Arctic circle,” says a panelist of Dead North Film Festival, which wrapped its eighth edition last February.

The majority of Dead North’s selected films were made in extreme climates throughout the Northwest Territories, where it’s not uncommon to shoot in -54C windchill. (In 2020, 40 of the fest’s 50 features came from Dawson City, Tulita, Fort Smith, Inuvik, Hay River, Dettah, Norman Wells, Iqaluit, and Yellowknife.) 

dead north film festival poster.png - The Best Horror Festivals in the World 2021
Courtesy of Dead North Film Festival

This year, Dead North launched its HyperBorea Talent Lab—a free, two-day lab that helped nine of its accepted filmmakers prepare their projects for the major festival circuit and beyond. Ginger Snaps writer Karen Walton, Blood in the Snow Film Festival founder Kelly Michael Stewart, and Blood Quantum director Jeff Barnaby all participated in the lab as mentors. 

“Dead North touts itself as a ‘filmmaking festival,’ and that’s accurate,” adds one panelist. “It celebrates not only the end product of filmmaking, but everything that goes into the production of cinema.”

Festival organizers Jay Bulckaert and Pablo Saravanja announced on the fest’s Facebook page in September that Dead North will be going on hiatus “for the foreseeable future,” but added that it is “not dead—merely resting for a while, like a Lovecraftian beast, just below the surface… biding time until an inevitable, terrible, and triumphant return.”

Dead North’s commitment to championing circumpolar horror cinema has already left a lasting legacy. We eagerly await the day it’s thawed from its frozen slumber. 

Dracula Film Festival

Brașov, Romania / October 2021 /

“Dracula Film Festival’s wonderful atmosphere is something you have to experience,” says a panelist. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a better place to sink your fangs into fresh gothic horror and dark fantasy films than in Brașov, steeped in medieval milieu and encircled by the chilly Carpathian Mountains. 

DFF usually comps travel and lodging for guests who trek to its Transylvanian home turf, but this year’s experience was an all-virtual one. The fest was well prepared for that, though: In 2016, it launched Dracula Digital—an educational section geared toward discovering and developing Romanian horror filmmakers ages 16-29—so it came into its 2020 edition with years of online organizing experience under its belt.

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Dracula Film Festival director Ioan Big (L) awards Lamberto Bava (R) with the 2019 Count Dracula Award. Courtesy of Dracula Film Festival

While a panelist notes that “of course, much of its programming consists of vampire films,” festival director Ioan Big says that this year, DFF expanded its base of competition finalists from five to 10, “in order to underline the variety of subgenres and filmmaking approaches at the festival.” DFF also added a Best Documentary Film award category for the first time ever. 

Fittingly, DFF 2020’s closing night featured the world premiere of In Search of Dracula Castle. The doc, written, produced, and narrated by Bram Stoker’s great-great-great grandson, Dacre Stoker, follows Dacre’s journey to find the real location that inspired Count Dracula’s fictional dwelling place. 

Dragon Con Independent Film Festival

Atlanta, GA / September 2-6, 2021 /

“Want to feel like a superstar?,” a panelist asks. “Want a packed house that sometimes turns hundreds away from screenings? Want an all-shorts lineup?” 

For this panelist, there’s one fest that delivers all of the above: Dragon Con Independent Film Festival, “a one-of-a-kind experience that every filmmaker should have at least once, and fans should have every year.” 

DCIFF has been a part of the circuit since 1987—the same year that its parent festival, the massive, multimedia Dragon Con convention—was founded. Early on, the fest only screened amateur sci-fi shorts made by fans, but by 2002 it evolved into a showcase for true blue indie genre film. DCIFF’s history of guest speakers reads like a horror hall of fame: Charles Band, Clive Barker, Brian Yuzna, and the late Ray Harryhausen are just some of the vets who’ve shared their wisdom with attendees over the years.

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Courtesy of Dragon Con

Last year, shorts from over 10 countries were presented over the course of four days in themed blocks, including “Demons, Psychos, & Ancient Evils,” “Pagan Magic & Folk Monsters,” “Horror Documentaries,” and more. 

“The shorts are terrific and the atmosphere is unbeaten by any fest, including the biggies,” says a panelist. “The screening room is secreted in the epicenter of Dragon Con—on the bottom floor of one of five gargantuan, sold-out hotels, with every hallway, elevator, meeting room and spare ledge packed to bursting with tens of thousands of genre fans, cosplayers, geeks, and weirdos.”

Dublin Horrorthon Film Festival

Dublin, Ireland / October 2021 /

“Dublin Horrorthon has the backing of the Irish Film Institute, but is none the less enjoyable for that,” a panelist jokes. 

Last October, Horrorthon spokesman Mick Fox announced on IFI’s website that although 2020 was “a very tough year—the hardest Horrorthon to put together—the festival is an achievement we did not expect, and one that we feel will not let fans down.” 

IFI horrorthon resized for season page - The Best Horror Festivals in the World 2021
Courtesy of IFI Horrorthon

The fest kicked off with a recorded Q&A with Joe Dante, and from there, dished out droves of horror cinema from Canada, Denmark, Japan, Slovenia, Spain, and Uruguay. It also proudly touted home-brewed horror in its lineup—like Caveat, the claustrophobic directorial debut from Damian McCarthy that was filmed in Bantry, West Cork. 

Written by Max Weinstein

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