Being a horror fan ain’t easy. There’s an added layer of difficulty if you’re a woman and another one if you’re a Person Of Colour (POC). Then there’s the challenge of being a horror fan in Australia, a place that is still treated like the butthole of the world by most major film studios and distributors. When a horror movie gets a theatrical release here, it’s a big deal. It’s something to be celebrated. Unlike being a horror fan in, say, the US or even the UK, there are limited options to catch scary movies in the cinema unless they’ve got a major push behind them. Think flicks like A Cure For Wellness, Rings, Get Out, Jigsaw and Happy Death Day, which are just a handful of the horror movies released in Aussie theatres this year. Smaller fare – such as It Comes At Night, Personal Shopper or The Lighthouse Golem – are harder to track down and can often lead you on a mythic quest to your local arthouse or boutique theatre chain if you’re lucky enough to have one in your city/suburb/town. Yet for horror fans, that journey can be worth it because if you love horror movies, you really love horror movies.
Enter stage right and our saving grace: genre-specific film festivals. They’re usually the only opportunity horror fans have to watch international, indie and cult movies in the desired setting: a theatre. While there are dozens of dedicated horror film festivals all around the world, there’s only a few Down Under and they are to be treasured like sweet, baby angels. As part of most city film festivals there is a dedicated horror program, with a pocket of movies scheduled into this slot among other exhibiting movies at the Sydney Film Festival, Melbourne International Film Festival and Brisbane International Film Festival etc. The Gold Coast Film Festival originally started out as being specifically genre focused in 2002, but even now that it has broadened its scope and incorporated more types of films, it remains a sacred space for those looking to catch a highly anticipated horror movie that may or may not end up in cinemas otherwise.
Yet when it comes to straight up, down your guzzle genre occasions, A Night Of Horror is one of the few film festivals in Australia that caters specifically for horror. On again in 2017 at the Dendy Newtown in Sydney, it runs from Wednesday, November 29 to Sunday, December 3 and features the return of director Steven Kastrissos. The Aussie filmmaker debuted his first flick – The Horseman – at the festival in 2010 to sold-out screenings (not to be confused with the Dennis Quaid horror movie from the same year called The Horsemen). “The film won four of the festival’s major awards that year and its sold out screening was a favourite of the jury and audience alike,” says the festival’s programming director, Dean Bertram. “Needless to say, we are delighted to have his highly anticipated sophomore film Bloodlands open the festival in 2017. Shot and set in Albania, the film tells the tale of a traditional family’s blood feud with a witch and her violent clan. And it just oozes atmosphere, mythology and palpable dread.”
Bloodlands plays alongside an eclectic slate featuring highly anticipated horror comedy Cannibal and Carpet Fitters from the UK, which follows a rag-tag group of carpet layers who come across a horde of cannibals in the English countryside. There’s also Bad Black from Uganda, Aussie rockabilly revenge flick Musclecar, Dee Wallace starrer Ayla from the US, the Australian premiere of The Marshes and shit tonnes more. Plus, there’s a collection of horror and sci-fi shorts, with one playing before each feature. If you live outside of a major city, the opportunity to see a diverse range of horror films from a diverse range of creators is depressingly limited. And in terms of solutions, there doesn’t seem to be one in sight besides driving, flying or trekking to the one nearest to you. It’s an interesting state of affairs when Australia currently has some of the most in-demand horror filmmakers in the world – James Wan, the Spierig Brothers, Jennifer Kent, Leigh Whannell, Cate Shortland, Greg McLean – but opportunities to support the next generation coming through with ticket sales and butts in seats are, well, scant.
Maria Lewis is a journalist and author previously seen on SBS Viceland’s The Feed. She’s the presenter and producer of the Eff Yeah Film & Feminism podcast. Her debut novel Who’s Afraid? was released in 2016 with the sequel – Who’s Afraid Too? – out now. Her new book It Came From The Deep is available worldwide in eBook format. You can find her on Twitter @MovieMazz