Certain film festivals have long existed as breeding grounds for whats next in independent horror cinema. Theres Sundance, which kicks every year off with its tone-setting Park City at Midnight sectionlast years The Babadook, for example. Every September, the Toronto International Film Fests Midnight Madness reminds cinephiles why its the most influential of all genre programs, having launched the careers of filmmakers like Eli Roth and Alex Aja, while later that same month, out in Austin, Texas, theres Fantastic Fest, Americas biggest and best genre celebration, held inside the incomparable Alamo Drafthouse.
And then theres the wildest. Maybe its the mayhem happening on and around Austins 6th Street, or maybe its just the reckless programming, but the SXSW Film Festivals Midnighters section has evolved into an undeniable must-attend experience, turning Austins already nihilistic SXSW nights into exhibitions of bold, unruly horror, science fiction, and action moviemaking. Dating back to 1999, the Midnighters section has gone through name changes (it was once called Round Midnight) and programmer regime shifts (its currently overseen by Jarod Neece – see his words on the 2015 lineup here), and through its maturation process has become a hotbed for genre distribution companies like IFC Midnight and Magnet Releasing to scoop up whatll be the coolest films in the coming months.
This weekend, SXSWs 2015 edition kicks off with one of the fests most promising Midnighters lineups to date. Eleventhats right, elevennew indie flicks make Austin extra weird for nine nights in a row, beginning with Jennifers Body director Karyn Kusamas latest film, the cultist drama/horror hybrid The Invitation. Other highlights include We Are Still Here, a Fulci-esque haunted house chiller from the producer of Cheap Thrills and Starry Eyes; Deathgasm, a metal-heads-versus-demons comedy straight out of New Zealand; He Never Died, in which Henry Rollins plays an immortal cannibal; and Excess Flesh, which Jarod Neece teases has one especially crazy scene involving mac-and-cheese.
Whether any of this years Midnighters top horror critics Best of 2015 lists is anyones guess, but theyre all chasing high bars of excellence. Before the cinematic madness begins, see just how impressive SXSWs history of horror is with this list of the best scare flicks that have premiered at the festival over the years, listed chronologically by premiere date.
Matt Barone is a film-obsessed writer who, when hes not contributing to outlets like Complex, The Dissolve, and Badass Digest, endlessly weighs in on all things horror on Twitter.