Who said that October was the only month of the year for watching scary movies? Cinepocalypse, now in its third year at the Music Box Theatre, proves that Chicago’s biggest horror fans want blood, guts, and terror in June too.
Since 2017, Cinepocalypse has been the city’s premier horror and genre film festival. Over the course of eight days, the Music Box will run 40 screenings, including world premieres of feature-length films, short film programs, and special 35-mm and 70-mm screenings of genre staples and forgotten treasures.
“I think there’s a punk-rock ethos to genre film,” says festival programmer Josh Goldbloom. “The beauty of genre films is that there are no rules.”
Goldbloom, a Philadelphia native, started his career programming Awesome Fest, a now-suspended outdoor independent cinema festival, and Bruce Campbell’s Horror Film Festival, which evolved into Cinepocalypse. While searching for new festival venues, Goldbloom fell in love with both Chicago and the Music Box.
“The beauty of the space at the Music Box Theatre is that it’s kind of like a cinematic church,” says Goldbloom. “It’s such a fun playground for a programmer to come into and design a festival. From a format standpoint, 35 mm, 70 mm . . . there’s really nothing you can’t do.”
Goldbloom took the seemingly unlimited screening possibilities at the Music Box and ran with them. What makes a genre fest so exciting, he says, is that there’s a breadth of great material out there—you just have to find it and show it to the world.
“Every independent project, if it’s put in front of you on paper, looks impossible,” says Goldbloom. “I love that filmmakers are able to push those boundaries. Artistically, that’s where I kind of connect to genre film. The beauty in it for me is it’s the one medium [where] we’re able to hear voices from everybody.”
As long as it has that DIY spirit and a little bit of grime, a film can find a home at Cinepocalypse—and with this philosophy, Goldbloom was able to fill the festival program with films from marginalized and first-time directors and lesser-known cult classics.
One of those first-time directors is Glenn Danzig, the horror-punk legend who founded the Misfits and Danzig. The fest opens with Verotika, an anthology film that combines Danzig’s fascination with the occult and his career in comic book publishing.
“I grew up listening to Danzig and the Misfits,” says Goldbloom. “The fact that he’s trusting us with his world premiere is pretty goddamn great.”
The festival also includes six feature films directed by women—each speaking to different elements of the genre.
Chelsea Stardust’s Satanic Panic is a dark comedy about a pizza delivery driver who encounters a group of Satanists who want to use her as a virgin sacrifice. Pollyanna McIntosh’s Darlin’ is a bloody coming-of-age film, a sequel of sorts to Lucky McKee’s The Woman.
Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s psychological slow burn The Lodge features Alicia Silverstone as a woman who is snowed in at a remote cabin with her future stepchildren. Sara Summa’s The Last to See Them follows an isolated family on the last day of their lives.
In order for horror to maintain relevance beyond demographics, though, filmmakers have to adapt to the times we are living in.
“Horror has always been ahead of the game, going back to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead,” says Goldbloom. “Whether it’s political fears, technological fears—horror films often are not what they seem. There’s an underlying theme, there’s a commentary.”
Several films in this year’s fest characterize the universal fears that come with living in the modern world—from politics to social media. In Culture Shock, Gigi Saul Guerrero’s contribution to Blumhouse’s Into the Dark modern horror anthology series, a young Mexican woman crosses the border to seek the American dream with dire consequences. Caryn Waechter’s Deadcon is an Internet ghost story told through the eyes of YouTube stars and Instagram influencers.
“I think there is this deep-rooted fear in everybody of what they don’t know,” says Goldbloom. “Things that are tangible are no longer tangible, they live in the cloud.”
While there are truly terrifying socially conscious features, that doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had at Cinepocalypse.
In addition to some of the more lighthearted or comedic horror films, the real showstoppers are the restorations of several cult classics.
Paul Verhoeven’s violent sci-fi masterpiece Total Recall will be shown in 70 mm with actor Michael Ironside in attendance. Joel Schumacher’s Flatliners, starring an incredibly 90s-looking Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, and Julia Roberts, will also be shown in 70 mm. The festival will premiere a new 4K restoration of Peter Markle’s Hot Dog . . . The Movie for the film’s 35th anniversary.
Tammy and the T-Rex, the unconventionally campy sci-fi flick about a girl whose boyfriend gets his brain implanted into a dinosaur, will be shown in its original R-rated gore cut on 35 mm. Michael Lehmann’s Airheads will close the festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary in a rare 35-mm screening.
“When I look at the festival first and foremost, I look at it as how can we create a good time for everyone?” says Goldbloom. “[At] a lot of film festivals . . . there’s pretension, and [pressure] to be this prestigious festival—we can’t touch movies like Airheads.”
For Goldbloom and the rest of the programming team, searching for these rare prints was the most exciting part of the job.
“If you go on Google and type in ‘Airheads 35 mm screening,’ nothing comes up,” says Goldbloom. “You have to move away from the Internet and you go back into reality and track these things down. . . . That’s exciting for us because we get to put on these private detective hats and go, ‘OK—how the fuck do we go out and find these movies?'”
Putting together this year’s fest let Goldbloom and the rest of the team explore real-life film communities and societies across the country. The rare prints of Airheads and Tammy and the T-Rex were found at the Academy Film Archive, the film preservation and restoration division of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in LA.
“Analog is kind of long forgotten, and so there’s a treasure trove of material that’s out there waiting to be discovered,” says Goldbloom.
Goldbloom advises going to the fest with open eyes (but maybe not an empty stomach). He hopes that there’s something for everyone at Cinepocalypse. If nothing else, it fosters a space for Chicago’s biggest genre film fans to both look back and look forward—and find some new things to be scared of along the way.
“The beauty in a horror movie is that it taps into a fear that every single person has,” says Goldbloom. “Everybody is afraid of something.” v