To overcome fear, we must first understand it. Salem Horror Fest * Sept 21 – Oct 15
By Amber Newberry
Salem has long been known for its dark history and tendency toward all things spooky. We’ve celebrated Halloween in a month-long jubilee, delighted locals and tourists with haunted tours and attractions, and honored the witch history by retelling the story to ensure it never happens again on our watch. With such a love for the darker side of things, it was only a matter of time before Salem built its own Horror Festival. We had the pleasure of asking Kevin Lynch, founder of the first ever Salem Horror Festival, a few questions about this exciting new venture.
Q. What is Salem Horror and what inspired you to start it and work toward hosting the inaugural Salem Horror Festival this fall?
A. We’ve got twenty screenings, dozens of musical performances, museum exhibits, parties and more; all over the downtown district. It’s gonna be nuts.
I’ve always been a huge horror fan. I grew up on Elvira, TNT’s Monstervision with Joe Bob Briggs, and Saturday afternoon horror movies on UPN. While sure, some of them would freak me out, I mostly associated the genre with fun and creativity. A lot of satirical world-building goes into this notion that there are forces in this world that are out to get you. Having been bullied, and feeling like I didn’t belong for most of my childhood, I kind of just accepted that life is gonna be rough so might as well make the best of it.
It’s that jaded love of horror that led to projects like the midnight rock show Scary Mary and the Audio Corsette in 2012 and gay-themed Scream Out Loud parties in 2013 and 2014. They were more fun and campy celebrations. There can be a sort of flamboyant glamor to owning society’s rejection of you.
Salem Horror Fest comes from a much darker place. We live in a time of such toxic uncertainty, I feel like we’ve forgotten how it feels to be truly afraid. In my time on this planet, every year had been slightly better than the last when it came to social issues. Painfully slow progress, but progress nonetheless. It’s terrifying to realize that newly gained rights aren’t guaranteed. It doesn’t always get better. This festival is about processing that fear.
Q. Why are horror festivals important, and why do you believe it is necessary for Salem?
A. I can’t believe one doesn’t already exist. Halloween is a big tent – and while family friendly spooks are nice and all, I think Salem should own it’s dark history in becoming an authority on fear as a way to remind the world what can happen when it runs amok.
Go anywhere in the world and say you’re from Salem, and people will say “ah yes, the witches!” It’s our responsibility to say, “Yeah – that was fucked up. Here’s what we learned from it.”
Q. ‘Know Fear’ is the theme for the very first Salem Horror Fest, what made you choose this theme and how is it represented in the events
throughout the festival?
A. We were going for something that felt like the ‘NPR of Halloween.’ I kept coming to the slogan “TBS knows comedy” except “Salem knows fear,” and my buddy Scott Kearnan cut through the bullshit and said “Why not just ‘Know Fear’?” Boom. It was everything that needed to be said.
The festival program focuses on social themes such as race, gender, sexuality, xenophobia, and mass media. There’s a lot of intersectionalities throughout, but when it comes to the double features at CinemaSalem, two films are united by a common theme.
Roger Ebert has this quote about why he loves movies, calling them “empathy machines.” They allow us the opportunity to see life through the eyes of someone different than us. I want people to experience fear through the pounding hearts of others.
Q. One of the festival events is called ‘Women with Guts’, can you tell us why it’s important to shine a light on women and minorities working in the horror industry?
A. American Psycho would be have been a very different movie, had it been directed by a man. Diverse perspectives in filmmaking allow for great storytelling. I have to experience life from my vantage point every day. When I go to the movies, I want to expand my consciousness and relate to characters in ways I never imagined.
Growing up, I always looked up to the Final Girl, the independent wallflower whose full beauty is revealed in her triumph against oppression. Always underestimated, but she gets the job done when no one else can. Women and people of color are often raised to work twice as hard for a seat at the table. That tenacity should be acknowledged.
Q. You’ve hosted several events featuring short films at Halloween and Christmas and I see you’ve planning another screening of ‘Wicked Shorts’ for the festival. How do you go about choosing shorts for these screenings?
A. I approach it like I’m trying to put together a great mix-tape. Kick it off with a bombastic hook, go on a journey through different perspectives leading up to a mid-point jam for an Act 1 finale. By this point, it’s getting later in the evening – themes and imagery get darker and darker until the end where I usually try to close on a crowd-pleaser.
I keep an Excel spreadsheet of my favorite shorts as I come across them. They’re labeled by running time and specific themes. My main goal is to get a reaction out of the audience, so things that are either over the top in the sense of laughs and gore – or something with a really unique perspective or craft to it.
Horror shorts are great because there are some elements of fear that can’t sustain a feature-length film. These usually become more allegory than narrative. It’s a great platform for emerging talent too. Making movies is extremely expensive, so this form can give filmmakers the portfolio piece they need to grow their careers and secure funding.
This year, we have a jury to curate the program from the submissions we receive through the website. All entries will be in consideration for the first-ever Salem Orlok Award, named for the ten year anniversary of Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery.
To overcome fear, we must first understand it. Sept 21 – Oct 15
Q. You’ve worked hard putting together the programming for the Salem Horror Festival and I’m impressed with the films you’ve chosen to represent throughout the ongoing event. Can you tell us which features you’re most excited for?
A. Thank you! Being a horror fest in Salem, there are so many ways this could have become a tired and predictable series. I really wanted to feature films that don’t get as much credit as some of the classics and give people the opportunity to see them on the big screen.
I am super pumped to be partnered with the Peabody Essex Museum for a series of horror screenings and a metal-themed party in the atrium. That’s bucket list material right there! I can’t wait to honor Duane Jones and welcome Ken Foree to Salem with one of my favorite Final Girls, Lar Park Lincoln, and the ultimate Jason Voorhees, Kane Hodder.
We’ve also got the New England premiere of 2017 SXSW hit, Tragedy Girls, and will be hosting The Faculty of Horror’s first-ever live podcast at CinemaSalem! Been listening to them for years. In many ways, they helped inspire the concept for this festival.
Oh! And you can’t miss M Lamar. I saw him perform at the American Realness festival in New York City last year. Absolutely brilliant.
Q. What are your plans for the future of Salem Horror?
A. I hope to establish Salem as a prestige destination and platform for horror fans and creators by promoting emerging voices and attracting top talent for premieres, reunions, and industry-related events. I think there’s a huge opportunity for a horror convention here. I mean – we’re Salem, Massachusetts for crying out loud – Halloween is our home. Let’s embrace it.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions and give us insight into this incredible event that we are so looking forward to!
You can find out more about the upcoming Salem Horror Fest, and buy event tickets at SalemHorror.com.
Be sure to follow Salem Horror on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to keep up with news as it is released.