• Dylyn C. S.

Salem Horror Fest - Bewitching Fans for the Fifth Time

In its fifth frightful year, Salem Horror Fest featured gripping short films, killer music videos, and a hair-raising line-up that charmed fans from across the globe.

The annual Salem Horror Fest wrapped up on October 31, 2021 after serving a spine-chilling program for the fifth year in a row. Thanks to its brilliant contributors and incredible festival director Kay Lynch, it boasted over 60 screenings with more than 100 freaky features available to stream virtually. Its line-up entailed a heap of short films, festive music videos, and feature-length chillers, including eight world premieres. In addition, its hybrid viewing model coupled with its “Witch City” roots made the fifth Salem Horror Fest a uniquely accessible experience for genre fans worldwide. I’m eternally grateful I had the opportunity this year to tune in virtually.

The fest held its in-person events from October 1-11, 2021 over the course of two weekends. Included in the line-up was its first regional showcase of Local Mass Hysteria, a highlight of films from Massachusetts-based talent. The physical fest additionally featured a six-day long marathon of Night of the Living Dead co-presented by The Satanic Temple. With all proceeds donated to Texas Abortion Funds, this ghoulish marathon was one of the many ways Salem Horror Fest linked horror with love. Described in Advocate as “So Queer It’s Scary”—which I can attest is wonderfully true—the fest’s full-length films and Wicked Shorts were comprised largely of LGBTQIA+ creators, which pulled my queer heart right the hell in. On top of all that, the festival was iconically sponsored by the George A. Romero Foundation and SYFY alongside jack-o-lantern labyrinth Hollowed Harvest and Salem “ghoulish gift” shop House of Boo, solidifying its place as a bustling hub of horror.

The fest’s virtual program ran from October 22-31, 2021. Featuring a jam-packed schedule of songs and scares, I couldn’t have imagined a better lead-up to Halloween. As a horror-loving music buff, I just about died when the fest partnered up with FANGORIA to bring scary music video blocks to the line-up. In fact, Breanna Whipple’s devilish intros to “Heavy Horror’s Sleaziest Halloween Bangers” was one of my favorite parts of the festival. The streamable films were additionally stellar, and I was delighted to catch six world premieres and some creepy new favorites, including:

Two Witches (2021), a hallucinatory female-led horror film challenging patriarchal notions of propriety. It stars Belle Adams (This World Alone) and Rebekah Kennedy (Law and Order: SVU, Criminal Minds) and is director Pierre Tsigaridis first feature-length film. It had its world premiere at the festival and is a film I predict will gain a following as large as recent release Malignant (2021). You can read my full Bloody Knife review of this witchy ‘70s throwback here.

So Vam (2021), a vampire film starring drag queen and actor Benjamin Putnam (Waxie Moon in Fallen Jewel). Another world premiere at the fest, this was Alice Maio Mackay’s directorial debut.

Death Cast (2019), an exploration of deadly fame and the directorial debut of Bobby Marinelli. It had its world premiere at the fest and features Andres Erickson (Dopesick) and Lacy Hartselle (The Purge).

If She Screams (2021), an sci-fi horror film introducing Romy Boloix in her first role. Directed by Stephen Garnett and written by Judah Ray, it also had its world premiere at Salem Horror Fest.

What Happens Next Will Scare You (2020), a hilarious horror anthology starring Melissa LaMartina of festive-favorite WNUF Halloween Special alongside Rachel D. Wilson and Kalima Young. Directed by Chris LaMartina, the same visionary who brought us WNUF Halloween Special. The film thrilled fest-goers during its East Coast premiere. Check out my full Bloody Knife review of this exciting tribute to physical media here. Fun fact: I was also able to purchase the DVD directly from writer and producer Jimmy George, which made me absolutely giddy.

The Free Fall (2021), was another world premiere featured at the fest. Directed by Adam Stilwell (The Triangle) and written by Kent Harper, it's an anxiety-inducing psychological thriller starring Andrea Londo (Narcos) and Shawn Ashmore (Frozen, The Ruins). Check out E. L. King's review of this refreshing possession film here.

Landlocked (2021), an eerie and emotional fantasy horror film directed, written by and starring Paul Owens in his feature film directorial debut also world premiered at the festival. Summoned to his soon-to-be demolished childhood home, Mason discovers a video camera that can see into the past, driving him to record as many memories as possible before the doomed house is destroyed.

Alone with You (2021), a claustrophobic mind-bender, co-directed by and starring Emily Bennett. Also featuring Emma Myles (Orange is the New Black) and horror legend Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond), This is Bennett and Justin Brooks first feature-length film and it had its Northeast Premiere at the fest. Read my full Bloody Knife review on this horror of queer delirium and heartache here.

Of all the features I viewed at Salem Horror Fest, Alone with You stuck with me the most. Emily Bennett seemed a stand-out name in the 2021 line-up, especially given her jarring short film Bed, which was also available to stream. Providing a unique correspondence with Alone with You and additionally written, directed, and starring Emily Bennett, the multi-talented creator proved herself a force to be reckoned with. I cannot wait to see what she brings next to our screens. I hope in the coming years I can attend the fest in-person and meet some of the talented trail-blazers from this and past festivals.

As the fest concluded, our virtual votes for the Audience Awards were tallied up and revealed. While every film was noteworthy, only one took the prize. A music video award was additionally announced at the festival’s conclusion. The prize-winners include:

  • What Happens Next Will Scare You, directed by Chris LaMartina. Judging from all the buzz on social media, I am not surprised this film won the award, and it was tremendously deserved. The last day of the 2021 fest also included a Halloween treat for guests and residents of Salem, offering a double feature of LaMartina’s WNUF Halloween Special and Scott B. Hansen and Desiree Connell’s Bad Candy on SATV Channel 3 in celebration of the win.

  • Music video for Uglyhead’s “Disembodied,” directed by Jake Alejo.

Salem Horror Fest held its in-person events from October 1-11, 2021 and its virtual program from October 22-31, 2021 in Salem, Massachusetts. For more festival information and announcements, visit the website, follow Twitter and on Instagram.