Signal Horizon

See Beyond

Cables From the Fest: Panic Fest 2023

Panic Fest is the local festival that started it all for Signal Horizon. Located in North Kansas City, itself going through its own renaissance, at the Historic Screenland Armour Movie Theatre, Panic Fest has developed a cult following amongst locals and fest goers alike. What separates Panic Fest from other regional film festivals continues to be the audience which seems to grow in size and enthusiasm every year. Here are the highlights from Panic Fest 2023.

Opening Night of the festival featured the release of Renfield, which was the perfect big and bonkers movie to prime the audience for what was to come. For the brave night dwellers Trim Season came next. The next feature for me came early in the evening on Friday when I sat for Give Me an A, which is an anthology film put together after Roe was overturned. The collection is beautiful and devastating and while every segment doesn’t completely land, the majority offer an insight into the world that Christian fascism is slowly creating (or already has). Featuring short films from Hannah Alline,Caitlin Josephine Hargraves, and Danin Jacquay, to name a few, the collection made me laugh and cry. Mostly though, the anthology scared the crap out of me. We need to listen to more stories like Give Me an A, and I am stoked the folks at Panic Fest gave it a forum to tell its stories. An absolutely devastating short about maternal death rates, and the punishment women receive when they get illegal abortions intersect in a short film I found compelling. “It will be ok”, is a phrase that will stick with me for a very long time.

Soon after Give Me an A, I managed to catch Ted Geoghegan‘s tribute to his father, Brooklyn 45. Brooklyn 45 is a deeply personal chamber piece that captures the optimism and trauma of a post world War America that must come to terms with suddenly being in charge of rebuilding the world while also reconciling what it had to do to win the war. Stand-out performances from Anne Ramsay and genre great Larry Fessenden made the movie an interesting character study. While not every moment connected with me, the movie has an absolute ton of heart, and you can see how personal this movie is to Geoghegan. It is getting a Shudder release later in May.

The first real miss for me came from the Australian director Scott Lyus. Walking Against the Rain seeks to tell the story of two people who find each other in a post-alien invasion wasteland through the walkie-talkies they find. It’s an interesting concept, but the special effects weren’t hokey enough to be ironic or good enough to be taken seriously. The story was slow, and the choices of the characters were questionable. A couple of the jump scares were effective, but Walking Against the Rain wasn’t for me. Evil Dead Rise ended the evening.

After Evil Dead Rise, we headed outside and around back as we took in the party at Rewind Video and highlighted one of the standouts of the fest. Rewind Video is the newest retro-themed dive bar in the basement of the Screenland. A perfect place to hang out and play some video games, the bar transformed itself into a post-fest hangout. Having a hang-out so close is one of the elements that sets Panic Fest apart from the others.

Saturday and Sunday were days to check out the special events at Panic Fest. Panic Fest has sought to highlight regional podcasts and staples. Nightmare Junkhead, and Cult Podcast continued to be funny and familiar faces. A special shoutout to Greg from Nightmare Junkhead, who seemed to be everywhere doing everything. Tim and Adam are the founders of Panic Fest, but it sure feels like Greg is the director. Warm and inviting, no one makes the horror scene in Kansas City shine brighter than Greg Dedrick.

Later in the weekend, I caught Black Mold, another charming chamber piece that felt like a Haunting of Hill House companion. Director Jon Pata has a bright future. To finish the evening, I took in the Tubi original Bury the Bride by Spider One. It was a perfectly serviceable entry but not a stand out for me, and is now available on Tubi.

The last full day of the in-person fest for me started with Invoking Yell, which was ostensibly a found footage film about a Chilean Band looking to make a name for itself in the hyper-competitive Icelandic Death Metal market. It was slow and confusing, and I think maybe something was lost in translation. If that makes me a poser, I am cool with that. I closed my experience at the fest with Medusa Deluxe, an A24 film that is exactly what you would expect from A24. It’s beautifully shot, very talky, long, and slow. Billed as a murder mystery in the same vein as Knives Out. it’s no Benoit Blanc mystery. Unlike some of their other horror movies coming out, this A24 film was not for me.

No rundown of the festival would be complete without mention of my favorite film. Agatha, which is a 50-minute rotoscoped nightmare, did not feature as part of the in-person entertainment, but rather I caught it on a whim as part of the virtual festival. It is a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life. I loved every minute of this short movie; that was almost all just atmosphere. But what a weird and glorious atmosphere. As always, Panic Fest continues to provide space for its audience to come and celebrate all things horror. Until next time, don’t forget to Panic.

Cables From the Fest will be a new regular column giving a general rundown of the festivals Signal Horizon covers. Been thinking about attending a festival? Check out Cables From the Fest to find your favorite one.