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The Best Horror Festivals in the World 2021

Etheria Film Festival

Los Angeles, CA / June 20, 2021 / etheriafilmnight.com

“This festival sets the example of how women should be celebrated for their voice in genre,” says one panelist. Another panelist agrees, adding: “Etheria is extremely important to female-identifying creators. This fest has fostered meetings to help careers and highlights the very best short genre films to be found.” 

Forced by COVID to forego its usual festivities at Hollywood’s iconic Egyptian Theatre, Etheria opted to make its entire 2020 shorts lineup temporarily available on Shudder.

 

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Courtesy of Etheria Film Festival

Last year, Roger Corman presented Gale Anne Hurd with the Etheria Inspiration Award to honor her illustrious career. Corman and Hurd also served as jurors—providing feedback for every filmmaker who screened in competition, win or lose—and attendees had the opportunity to meet both producing legends in person. 

To kickstart creative careers, Etheria puts its money where its mouth is: Each year, the festival offers a $5,000 grant to a woman-identifying film student.

L’Etrange Festival

Paris, France / September 2021 / etrangefestival.com

“One word: Paris.” That’s the first thing that springs to mind for one panelist who recently attended L’Etrange Festival. 

It’s not hard to see why: The City of Light’s historic theater, Forum des images, has long proven to be an ideal home for L’Etrange’s brand of deliciously dark cinema. Crowds continued to flock to this year’s physical screenings, even when only 50% of the venue’s tickets were made available to enforce social distancing.

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Lux Æterna star Béatrice Dalle (L) and Gaspar Noé (R) at L’Etrange Festival 2020. Courtesy of L’Etrange Festival 2020

L’Etrange 2020 attendees enjoyed guest appearances from The Voices director Marjane Satrapi, who was given carte blanche to program her own repertory screenings; Gaspar Noé, who screened his metafictional mockumentary, Lux Æterna; and Trouble Every Day and Inside star Béatrice Dalle, who plays a version herself in Noé’s film.

Always on the prowl for the next great discovery, L’Etrange awards its New Genre Grand Prize to one of many films in its International Competition. Each year’s winning film is directly purchased by French distributor Canal+, a longtime festival partner. Last September, that sweet deal was given to Tomiris, a lavishly produced sword-and-sandals adventure from Kazakh director Akan Satayev.

Fantafestival

Rome, Italy / November 2021 / fanta-festival.it

At Fantafestival, a fixture of fantastic cinema in the heart of Rome, it’s not uncommon for filmmakers to connect with fans in a very informal way. Last year, fest-goers took a break between screenings to hang out with A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 director Jack Sholder at La Città Perduta, a popular pub where locals play vintage board games over a pint. 

Of course, it’s the fest’s guest list of Italian icons that outshines that of any other. Giallo maestro Pupi Avati, Dark Waters director Mariano Baino, and Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni— the star of seminal films by Avati, Dario Argento, and Mario Bava—are just some of the folks who’ve recently mingled with fans in and around the fest’s main venue, Nuovo Cinema Aquila.

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Jack Sholder received the Golden Bat award at Fantafestival 2019. Courtesy of Fantafestival

“Since 1981, Fantafestival has been known for its unique programming that celebrates horror, sci-fi, and fantasy that other festivals might overlook,” says a panelist. “With an emphasis on Italian cinema—they’ve given lifetime achievement awards to Argento, Lucio Fulci, the Bava family, and more—their prestigious premiere section is met with great respect and adoration by filmmakers around the world.”

Typically, Fantafestival collaborates with Italy’s national film archive, Cineteca Nazionale, to host 35mm repertory screenings, but this year that was tabled due to COVID restrictions. Virtual viewers did, however, get to revisit director Jeff Lieberman’s 1988 sci-fi-horror gem, Remote Control, which was followed by an online masterclass led by Lieberman. 

“We hope to return to normality in 2021,” say artistic directors Michele De Angelis and Simone Sarace. Until then, the dynamic program it streamed in 2020 gives Fantafestival plenty to be proud of. 

Fantasia International Film Festival

Montréal, Canada / August 5-20, 2021 / fantasiafestival.com

Plenty of festivals use superlatives like “largest” or “longest” as marketing mantras, but those descriptors don’t always indicate high quality. They do, however, at Fantasia International Film Festival—a horror-lovers’ haven with a list of raves from attendees almost as long as its three-week runtime, which remains unsurpassed in North America.

“Though it’s certainly not an underdog, Fantasia is my greatest love,” says a panelist. Another panelist agrees: “It’s a huge and popular A-list fest, but I can’t help but put it near the top of my list. Co-director Mitch Davis is a sublime human with such vision and enthusiasm, and Fantasia’s Frontiéres Market is a great place to launch a new project.”

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Filmmakers Kaye Adelaide and Mariel Sharp accept Fantasia 2020’s Audience Award for Best Canadian Short for “Don’t Text Back”. Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

Frontiéres connects genre filmmakers with industry pros to promote collaborative opportunities. Its 2020 edition showcased 20 international projects in the stages of advanced development and early financing, including There’s Something in the Barn, a new project from Dead Snow producer Kjetil Omberg, and Electric Child, the first film from Switzerland to be selected by the program. 

Fantasia’s crowds are a horror filmmaker’s best friend—“the best I’ve ever seen, crazy and enthusiastic,” a panelist says. “You can feel the energy and excitement as the theater darkens—especially when they start meowing, which is an inside festival joke that doesn’t end.”

One panelist adds: “When I saw our film there in 2019, I had no idea I’d be walking into a 500-person screening. The audience reaction was incredibly warm and our Q&A went on and on and on, eventually moving into the hallway for another hour. Afterward, I got to see Phantom of the Paradise among its incredibly loyal Winnipeg fans, which was the ultimate treat. Legendary Canadian hospitality is a real thing.”

Fantaspoa International Fantastic Film Festival

Porto Alegre, Brazil / April 16-25, 2021 / fantaspoa.com

For three of our panelists, Fantaspoa International Fantastic Film Festival is truly the gold standard for fests of its kind. One raves that it’s “South America’s finest genre event,” another dubs it “the premier showcase of Ibero-American genre films,” and a third proclaims that “the programming here is far superior to that of any other genre festival in the country.” 

Even as Fantaspoa’s size and length—each edition runs 18 days—is unrivaled in the region, its first-ever virtual event still managed to grow, reaching some 70,000 viewers online this year. (That’s about a 600% improvement from the roughly 10,000 attendees that typically turn out for the physical festival.) “Given the COVID situation in Brazil, we know that we’ll have to have another online edition in 2021 and we hope to do the best we can under that limitation,” says festival director Joao Fleck.

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Fantaspoa festival directors Joao Fleck (L) and Nicolas Tonsho (R) celebrate Ruggero Deodato’s (C) birthday. Courtesy of Fantaspoa International Fantastic Film Festival

Fantaspoa prides itself on its masterclasses led by filmmakers from around the world—with recent years’ led by the likes of Roger Corman and Larry Wilson (Tales From the Crypt)—and its parties, which one panelist describes as “total madness.” Another panelist appreciates that the fest’s “chill evening events make the vibe less stressful.” 

Somewhere between the fest’s myriad Latin American premieres—batshit horror-comedy Porno and Portuguese slasher Skull were two of this year’s standouts—and drunken sing-alongs that rage into the wee hours at the cult-themed Mondo Cane bar, “people end up with Fantaspoa tattoos on their bodies and a new horror family for life,” a panelist says fondly.

Written by Max Weinstein

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