It was a dark and stormy night, and the 13th Knoxville Horror Film Festival held its spooky activities until the late hours of Sunday, Oct. 24.
After 13 years, the Knoxville Horror Film Festival came back bigger and better than ever. The festival is run by Central Cinema, a local theater owned by general manager Nick Huinker, programing director William Mahaffey and operations manager Logan Myers. They were able to hold it last year during the COVID-19 pandemic because of the Parkway Drive-In theater in Maryville.
This year, they held the festival in two locations from Thursday, Oct. 21 through Sunday, Oct. 24. The first two nights took place at the Parkway Drive-In, with the last two nights moving to Central Cinema at 1205 N. Central St. The drive-in nights were open to the public with tickets available until the start of the movies, whereas the Central Cinema days were for festival pass holders only.
Huinker talked about the festival and coming back to the drive-in because of how fun it was last year despite the circumstances.
“Every year, we like to be able to claim that the fest was bigger than the year before, and it looks like we’ve once again gotten away with that,” Huinker said. “There’s a lot of interest and people are going to come out.”
The drive-in contained a good amount of feature films, focusing more on the classics. They were also able to hold several vendors at the drive-in. Mahaffey talked about being at the drive-in.
“I really like the atmosphere at the drive-in, and I like doing the repertory stuff here, because a lot of those films were made popular playing at drive-ins when they were originally released, and I like having the vendors set up,” Mahaffey said. “Our festival is a mixture of repertory and new, independent stuff, so we can do classic repertory stuff at a drive-in, which is a really fitting setting for it, and then we can do the new indie stuff at Central Cinema, and it gives our festival two different flavors.”
Several of the vendors set up during the festival included Hagcult — who also worked on several designs for the festival — Xul Beer Company, Orbit DVD, Raven Records, Knox Video and Gemini Twinn. Vendors sold either their own merchandise or horror memorabilia including movies, toys and shirts.
They want to keep using the drive-in for future festivals, along with continuing to use their space at Central Cinema.
The festival started on Thursday, Oct. 21. The drive-in opened at 5:30 p.m. before the first showing at 7:30 p.m. It rained right up until the first film, which had a short film that paired with it.
The first scare of the night came with J.M. Logan’s short, “The Relic,” before kicking off the features with John Carpenter’s “The Fog.” A side note, the rain stopped when the film started, but came back perfectly when the titular fog first appeared in the movie.
After a short break, the second block started. They played the Estrada Brothers’ “The Wereback” to lead into Joe Dante’s “The Howling.” They ended the night at 1 a.m. with festival favorite Chris McInroy and his newest short film “Guts” before the 1981 film “Trick or Treat” — or “Ragman” depending on which version you watch.
Friday’s screenings were split between Central Cinema and the drive-in. Early in the afternoon, they played the documentary “The Last Wolf” by Brandon D. Landon and Brian M. McKnight, along with the Tennessee Terrors Short Film competition, which is a local and regional competition that the festival puts on.
Myers appeared at Central Cinema during these screenings. He talked about hanging back during the festival as well as making sure that the ship keeps running at the theater.
“I just feel like when you add more people into it, it’s just going to add more problems potentially, especially because those two guys have been running it for 10 years before I came along,” Myers said.
He isn’t responsible for the programming of the festival, Mahaffey takes care of that, but he likes keeping the theater in check and running smoothly.
“I’m more of a tech guy, I set up everything here that way,” Myers said.
After this block, the festival moved back to the drive-in, with a few more vendors and an equally large crowd of cars.
The night of films kicked off with the short film “Snowblind” by Joanna Tsanis. They were also going to play “The Lake Parasite” by Joe Reilly, but had to delay the short film to Saturday.
Because of that, they moved right into the Grindhouse Grind-Out Filmmaking Contest, which celebrated its 10th anniversary. The contest prompted local filmmakers to make their own B-horror movie trailer, which they played on the big screen before letting the audience vote for a winner.
Afterwards, they finished the night off with two classics. They played the 1984 slasher “Friday the 13th IV: The Final Chapter” first and ended with John Landis’ werewolf masterpiece “An American Werewolf in London,” which Mahaffey cited as one of his all-time favorite films.
The night ended much like Thursday, with cars dwindling over time before formally ending after 1 a.m. But, Saturday kicked off bright and early at 1 p.m. The day saw a slew of films scheduled all day, with eight short films and five independent films planned.
They started off with the short films one after another, with Joanna Tsanis’ “Smile” first. Afterwards, they played Gregory Foltynowicz’s short “Lachesis,” John Veron’s “Annie, We’re Here for You,” Minsun Park and Teddy Tenenbaum’s “Koreatown Ghost Story” and finally David Mikalson’s “Stuck.”
Out of the short films creators, John Veron attended the film festival, even being brought up to the front for a short Q&A. He talked about some of his techniques in making his short film, along with saying that it was much better than his previous one. He works on commercials as his “day job,” but likes to make short films too. He praised the actors’ performances for carrying his short film.
He flew in from Los Angeles, California, for the film festival, saying that he did so because it got featured.
“I had always heard that the Knoxville Horror Film Festival was a really cool festival with a really cool community,” Veron said. “I think the whole point of getting into film festivals is to go to film festivals and meet filmmakers. So, if I get into a film festival, it’s really likely I’m going to get on a plane and I’m going to show up.”
He talked about his experience with the festival, reflecting positively on his time with the theater along with working on plans for his next film around Knoxville.
“It’s fantastic,” Veron said. “I really, really love it here. There’s a real sense of community. These are my favorite kind of festivals, it feels like going to movie camp because you’re just hanging out with other people who love movies!”
These short films lead into the first feature “The Beta Test” by Jim Cummings. Mahaffey opened the film with a brief word on it, telling the audience that it’s more of a thriller than a horror movie. It follows a talent agent who accepts a letter for a no-strings sexual encounter, but he begins to lose himself as he regrets his actions.
The second block of the day started with the delayed “The Lake Parasite” and Ali Chappell’s “Verified.” The second feature of the day was “King Knight” by Richard Bates Jr., who provided a short video to introduce the film. It follows a quirky Satanic cult dealing with a lie from their coven leader.
This film hasn’t been picked up for distribution yet but was able to be shown at the festival, along with many of the other films. These first features were more lighthearted and provided a nice breath of fresh air in-between the blood and guts.
After an hour-long dinner break, the third block kicked off with Anthony Cousins’ short “Every Time We Meet For Ice Cream Your Whole F****** Face Explodes.”
Afterwards, they premiered the independent film “Hellbender” by the Adams Family, consisting of John Adams, Zelda Adams and Toby Poser. Both Huinker and Mahaffey cited this film as their favorite new film in the festival this year. It focuses on a mother and daughter family of witches, breaking away from some of the traditional portrayal of witches.
The Adams Family drove in from a different festival in Utah to attend the screening. They joined in a Q&A after the film and were available for an interview outside. They talked about working as a family to make movies, especially since they’ve been making films since Zelda was six.
“It’s really great,” Zelda Adams said. “I think that we each contribute really different things to the film. I really love the cinematography aspect and the acting aspect of film, and I think Toby is a fantastic producer and writer and director.”
“I love doing sound,” John Adams said. “Zelda and I talk a ton about cinematography. Toby and I talk a ton about story. She’s our character maker and our actress. At this point, we’re all pretty good about knowing who’s good at what and letting them run with that baton when it’s time to run with it.”
“Over seven films, we’ve kind of just learned how to dance together and kind of wear whatever hat needs to be worn,” Poser said.
They’ve been able to interact with the horror community around the United States, moving from festival to festival for their film. They love interacting with everyone in the horror community. Hailing from upstate New York, they’ve enjoyed their time in Knoxville and other parts of the country.
“It’s such a universal language,” Zelda Adams said. “Everywhere, all over America, people are joining together over their love of horror at film festivals like these.”
They continue to work and improve on their films, operating mostly the same while evolving and gaining feedback, like using drones for some of the camera work in “Hellbender.” By working as a family, they’re able to incorporate that into their films.
“As for what’s the same, we constantly try to deal with familial themes,” Zelda Adams said.
Surprisingly, the Knoxville Horror Film Festival changed up their rules a little bit. Because the Adams Family came to the festival, the jury decided to hand out some awards early during the Q&A. They gave the family three awards: Best Screenplay, Best Direction and the Palm d’Gore — which is the Best Feature Film award. It took them by complete surprise.
“Head explode,” John Adams said. “It was also head explode because we’re just knuckleheads that were answering questions and suddenly we won.”
“It was like someone stabbed me in the heart, but in the best way,” Poser said.
“It’s so extremely kind,” Zelda Adams said. “It’s such nice things like that that keep me excited to keep on making more films and come back here. I look forward to being able to come back, hopefully.”
After the excitement died down, the festival kept on moving. They showed “Mad God,” a 30-year long, stop-motion passion project by Phil Tippett. It doesn’t really have a narrative, but as a technical feat it’s worth watching. This was Myers’ favorite film within the festival, mentioning how he’s been waiting to see it in its entirety for years.
They ended the night with the 1991 film “Popcorn,” a horror film about a horror film festival at a horror film festival. The night went on a little longer with some trivia sponsored by Fangoria, with most of the remaining attendees stumbling out of the theater around 2 a.m.
On Sunday, the final day of the festival was described as a slower day, with less feature films and a larger emphasis on short films. The first block of the day started at 1 p.m. with the Australian short film “Sweet Mary, Where Did You Go?” by Michael Kratochvil. This led into the Welsh horror thriller “The Feast” by Lee Haven Jones, which is about a dinner party to discuss land development with a strange helper preparing dinner.
The second block consisted entirely of short films. It included “The Thing that Ate the Birds” by Sophie Mair and Dan Gitsham, the Swedish “Night of the Pigs” by Sebastian Candia, “Wich” by Anthony R. Williams, “Seek” by Kristoffer Aaron Morgan and “#NOFILTER” by Nathan Crooker.
The third block focused on animation, with two short films and a feature. They played “Posture” by Derek Stewart followed by “Monster Encounters” by James Smith. This introduced the film “The Spine of Night” by Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King. The film is a high fantasy, rotoscoped animated film about a god-like flower.
The final block of the festival featured the short film “You Will Never Be Back” by Mónica Mateo from Spain. They concluded the festival with a showing of the 1981 film “Possession” by Andrzej Zulawski, which recently received a 4K restoration. Producer and podcaster Elric Kane introduced the film with a video prompting the audience to leave the theater.
Left with pure confusion from the horror classic, the festival ended. They had one last ceremony, revealing the winners of their competitions and for the independent films that they showed.
For the Tennessee Terrors Short Films, “Sheets” won Best Score, “Who’s There” won Scariest Regional Film, “Big Bad Woods” won Best Visual Effects, “The Stockroom Stalker” won the Audience Award and “White Flight” won Best Regional Short Film.
For the Grindhouse Grind-Out, “The Slaughtering of the 7 Septuplet Sisters” won the “Nailed It!” award, “AM Nights” won Funniest Trailer and Best Performance for Zach Isham, “Hogman the Intruder” won Best Original Character, “Enter the Crystal Corridor” won Best Narration, “Scooby Doo, Why Are You?” won Childhood Ruiner, “Beacon” won the Movie We’d Like to See award and “The Ass That Wouldn’t Quit” won both the Audience Award and Best Trailer.
For the short films, “Verified” won Best Debut Film, “#NOFILTER” won Best Cinematography, “You Will Never Be Back” won Best Performance for Ximena Vera and Best Director, “The Relic” won Best Special Effects, “The Thing That Ate the Birds” won Best Script and “Koreatown Ghost Story” won the Palm d’Gore Award for Short Features.
Finally, for the feature films, “The Feast” won Best Cinematography, “Mad God” won Best Technical Achievement, “The Beta Test” won Best Performance for Jim Cummings and finally, along with Best Screenplay, Best Direction and the Palm d’Gore, “Hellbender” won the Audience Award.
That wrapped up the 13th Knoxville Horror Film Festival. It provided suspense, scares and surprises. With each year getting bigger and bigger, next year’s festival might shape up to be the biggest one yet. But only the horrific passage of time will tell.
“It can be exhausting, but it’s always very rewarding in the end,” Mahaffey said. “By the time the festival is over, I’m exhausted, but I’m kind of bummed that it’s over.”
They hope that people who have never come to the festival will join them in their spooktacular event next year.