For more than a year and a half, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the way people around the globe experience movies.
Fewer big-budget blockbusters are being released in theaters and more A-list, highly anticipated films are going straight to streaming platforms.
But there is one area where the pandemic may actually have a positive impact, and that’s through annual film festivals, many of which have met the challenge of restricted in-person viewings by offering virtual experiences where fans don’t have to leave their couch in order to see some of the best, up-and-coming movies yet to be wide released.
As we enter the best month of the year to experience the visceral thrill of horror movies, specifically, the Salem Horror Fest has prepared a chillingly good slate of new horror and genre films that fans can watch by purchasing virtual tickets.
Among the standouts are “Wicked Games,” a new survival thriller by Teddy Grennan; “Bad Girls,” the second feature from South Carolina director Christopher Bickel, whose first film, “The Theta Girl,” blew us away in 2018; “What Happens Next Will Scare You,” a promising new anthology; and “Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes,” a surreal slice of mind-fuck psychedelia.
Salem Horror Fest has more than 25 premieres scheduled, as well its “Romero Lives” offering, a series of hand-picked screenings and programming designed through a partnership with The George A. Romero Foundation to celebrate the mastery of Romero, the godfather of modern zombie horror, who died in 2017.
Tickets for Salem Horror Fest feature tiered pricing from $125-$199 designed to give the public the ability to choose how many movies they want to check out and when, as well as what special events they want to see.
This year, already, we’ve seen a slew of soon-to-be classics debut at other virtual festivals, including the international Fantasia 2021 and Popcorn Frights Film Festival in Fort Lauderdale. Here’s a look at some of our favorites from those two virtual festivals, as well as one that should have been better:
Apps (Argentina, 91 minutes) Trust us when we tell you that you will be blown away by this insanely gory, ridiculously good new anthology of short films centered around technology. From “Eye Wolf,” which details a dark web live-stream gang rape that goes horribly awry, to “Eden,” which documents a road trip to a music festival that detours straight to cult-crazy hell, and “Barbed Wire Eyes,” which features outstanding practical effects,” this is just about as solid an anthology as you’re likely to find.
The Last Matinee (Uruguay, 88 minutes) This ode to Italian giallo thrillers is a gory delight, set entirely inside a movie house where a crazed killer is picking off patrons and staff with inspired panache.
House at the End of the Forest (Sweden, 84 minutes) We’re a sucker for head-screw stories that twist our perception and fool our expectations, and “House at the End of the Forest” is a smart, fast-paced long-con about a woman battling her worst fears that introduces a wonderful sci-fi swerve in the third act.
Agnes (U.S., 93 minutes) Director Mickey Reece continues to subvert traditional horror tropes with "Agnes," a demonic possession thriller that's more interested in what happens after an exorcism, especially when it causes a young nun to lose her faith and leave her convent, only to discover the real world is more scary than the demon she watched outwit a hapless priest.
Don’t Say Its Name (Canada, 84 minutes) If anything, the last five years has proven that original stories centered around unique cultural legends and indigenous lore can be highly entertaining. “Don’t Say Its Name” transports viewers to a remote tribal reservation where a rising body count forces local law enforcement to consider whether a supernatural entity is to blame.
The Wild Man: Skunk Ape (U.S. – Florida): St. Petersburg filmmaker Ryan Justice knocked our socks off in 2018 with his debut feature, “Followers,” so of course we couldn’t wait to see his follow-up, “The Wild Man,” which is set in South Florida and follows an amateur film crew trying to prove the existence of the mythical Skunk Ape. Justice’s sophomore feature starts strong, once again utilizing found footage, but about halfway through, writers Sean Michael Gloria and Ian Longen throw in a trio of subplots, hinting at a supernatural origin for the Skunk Ape and teasing a government monster-cloning program, that prove more than Justice’s competent direction can support.
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.