Film & TV

From Religious Themes to Queer Stories, Popcorn Frights Showcases Horror's Depth

The 2023 edition of Popcorn Frights is a bloody cornucopia of horror cinema.
Popcorn Fright's opening film, Deliver Us, screens at Savor Cinema on August 10.
Popcorn Fright's opening film, Deliver Us, screens at Savor Cinema on August 10. Popcorn Frights photo
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Popcorn Frights, the Southeast's largest and longest-running genre film festival, returns for its ninth edition August 10-20. After nearly a decade of programming, the festival continues offering the latest from the horror genre while refining its voice and expanding its reach.

This year's offering features both in-theater screenings for the communal jolt of fear and virtual screenings to watch with the lights on or off. The offering from Popcorn Frights is vast and diverse, including world premieres and anniversary screenings, features, and shorts, as well as international, local, and everything in between. With such a large selection, here is a look at some of the many screenings to enjoy.

The festival opens on Thursday, August 10, with a screening of Deliver Us at Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale. A new entry in the sub-genre of religious horror featuring classics such as The Exorcist and The Omen or contemporary films like Saint Maud and The Witch, Deliver Us offers prophecies and unspeakable evil in a horror-meets-thriller package. Centering around a pregnant virgin nun who claims to be carrying twins — one a messiah, the other the Antichrist — cleverly twists the immaculate conception for terror. As the Vatican investigates, an American priest must protect the nun and the world from potential annihilation. Directors Cru Ennis and Lee Roy Kunz, producer Isaac Bauman, and star Maria Vera Ratti will be in attendance for its world premiere at the festival.

Outside of opening night, Popcorn Frights has assembled 30 new narrative features screening in theaters and online. Collectively the films show the nuances and variations of the horror genre while remaining united around the aim to create a visceral reaction from the audience. This year the festival will screen Perpe­trator, Trim Season, The Dive, Dark Windows, Don't Look Away, Somewhere Quiet, and Hundreds of Beavers in theaters. As an additional treat, titles such as The Puppetman, Founders Day, That's a Wrap, Frogman, Sour Party, and The Black Mass will feature appearances by filmmakers for introductions and Q&As.
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Alice Maio Mackay's T Blockers is the latest horror film out of Australia.
Popcorn Frights photo
In addition to new feature films, this year's festival has a robust reparatory lineup. Divided between 3D horror cinema and horror masters, plenty of retro movies still thrill. If you are looking for a spectacle, look no further than this year's selection of 3D horror films like Friday the 13th Part III 3D, Parasite 3D, Silent Madness 3D, and a 40th-anniversary screening of Jaws 3D, all screening at Savor Cinema. You can go from sea to sky in search of terror with a 60th-anniversary screening of Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds on Ocean Drive. Additional masters of the horror genre can be seen brought back to the screen with splatter-auteur Herschell Gordon Lewis' Blood Feast, queer horror maestro Clive Barker's Nightbreed, visionary Tobe Hopper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and controversial Italian filmmaker Romano Scavolini's Nightmare, which was banned in the United Kingdom and slapped with an X rating in the United States upon its release in 1981.

Speaking of censorship, as a certain governor continues his quest to make Florida a hellscape for the queer community, it is fitting that Popcorn Frights has abundant queer content this year. After battles to ban drag queens, Big Easy Queens is a welcome addition to this year's festival. The epitome of "glam horror," the film is a mélange of zombies, drag queens, and musical numbers. As drag queens rage against each other, an unexpected masked figure starts haunting them with bouquets of gardenias and threatening notes. The film's best part is that, despite drag discrimination, Big Easy Queens was filmed entirely in Florida.

Adjacent to drag horror, cult filmmaker Richard Elfman brings campy horror to South Florida with Bloody Bridget. After a burlesque dancer transforms into a vampire, gore and mayhem ensue in this gonzo tale that harkens back to the splatter films of yore with delightfully bloody practical special effects. Even with your eyes covered, you cannot miss Bloody Bridget's score composed by the filmmaker's brother and Oscar-nominee Danny Elfman. In addition, the festival has a fitting tribute to the iconoclast Kenneth Anger, the American underground filmmaker and occultist, who died early this year. Popcorn Frights will screen Lucifer Rising, one of the filmmakers' most daring works, featuring a live original score by Miami artist Slavvy.
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Darshan Patel's The Housefly will screen as part of Popcorn Fright's "Homegrown: 100% Pure Fresh Squeezed Florida Horror" series.
Popcorn Frights photo
On the virtual end, don't miss T Blockers, a new entry in Australian horror after films like The Babadook and this summer's Talk to Me. From teenage director Alice Maio Mackay, this neon-tinged trans homage to Invasion of the Body Snatchers is unapologetic and audacious, earning comparisons to Gregg Araki and John Waters. It's one of many Australian horror films you can find in the festival's "Australian Invasion" subsection.

Always a gateway to discover new horror talent, and many of this year's feature directors came up through the shorts program at Popcorn Frights, be sure to research the "Midnighters" programs. Consisting of three separate programs, 24 shorts cover every aspect of the horror genre and spotlight up-and-coming filmmakers from around the world. More localized, Popcorn Frights continues to platform Florida talents and films. On the festival's closing day, "Homegrown: 100% Pure Fresh Squeezed Florida Horror" returns, showcasing seven new horror shorts made in Florida. In addition to Big Easy Queens, Santastein is another Florida-made feature, which, as its title suggests, involves an undead Santa and a holiday party from hell. Cast and crew will be in attendance for the world premiere at Savor Cinema. If you still crave localized film culture, join the South Beach walking tour on Friday, August 18, starting at O Cinema, and see various famous filming locations.

Closing night consists of a special screening of the 1993 film South Beach, which follows a disturbed killer targeting phone-sex operators and stars Gary Busey, and Peter Fonda with a cameo by "Brother" Marquis Ross from the 2 Live Crew. The presentation features a live commentary by Miami comics Lisa Corrao and Elli Scharlin.

If it's not already clear, the 2023 edition of Popcorn Frights is a bloody cornucopia of horror cinema. It represents the past, present, and future of the genre.

Popcorn Frights. Thursday, August 10, through Sunday, August 20, at various locations; Ticket prices vary.
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