15 Essential: Horror Movies That Have Premiered at SXSW

ON

MCDKILI EC004

Certain film festivals have long existed as breeding grounds for what’s next in independent horror cinema. There’s Sundance, which kicks every year off with its tone-setting Park City at Midnight section—last year’s The Babadook, for example. Every September, the Toronto International Film Fest’s Midnight Madness reminds cinephiles why it’s 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, there’s Fantastic Fest, America’s biggest and best genre celebration, held inside the incomparable Alamo Drafthouse. 

And then there’s the wildest. Maybe it’s the mayhem happening on and around Austin’s 6th Street, or maybe it’s just the reckless programming, but the SXSW Film Festival’s Midnighters section has evolved into an undeniable must-attend experience, turning Austin’s 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 (it’s 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 what’ll be the coolest films in the coming months.

This weekend, SXSW’s 2015 edition kicks off with one of the fest’s most promising Midnighters lineups to date. Eleven—that’s right, eleven—new indie flicks make Austin extra weird for nine nights in a row, beginning with Jennifer’s Body director Karyn Kusama’s 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 year’s Midnighters top horror critics’ Best of 2015 lists is anyone’s guess, but they’re all chasing high bars of excellence. Before the cinematic madness begins, see just how impressive SXSW’s 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 he’s not contributing to outlets like Complex, The Dissolve, and Badass Digest, endlessly weighs in on all things horror on Twitter.