2020 Festival Recap & Awards


PORTLAND, OR – Don’t worry! It all happened virtually. Portland Horror Film Festival™ was the first all-horror film festival in the US to take its program online, working with the Hollywood Theatre to stream 65 short and feature films to isolated horror fans, June 10th and the 17th-21st. For the first time, Portland Horror Film Festival’s program was available to anyone in the US, so fans from all over the country joined Portlanders virtually at the Hollywood Theatre for the massive event that showcased the works of independent filmmakers from 14 countries, including Iran, Russia, France, Slovenia, Poland, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, and the US. In addition to evangelizing the works of indie filmmakers during a time when most film work has halted, and providing much needed relief to fans stuck at home, a portion of ticket sales also benefited the historic Hollywood Theatre, Portland’s beloved non-profit movie palace, which has been closed since March.

Between the ongoing COVID-19 global health crisis and the continuing protests for the Black Lives Matter movement, we’re living in tumultuous times, and festival directors Brian and Gwen Callahan believe that Horror is the medicine we all need. The festival featured films from around the world, from filmmakers of many different cultural backgrounds, plus more horror films by women than ever before. “If the last few weeks have shown us anything, it’s that this kind of representation in film is more important than ever before,” said Brian Callahan. 

As an interracial couple, the Callahans are no strangers to casual racism, with Gwen Callahan being Korean. “What we’ve experienced pales in comparison to the daily struggle of black Americans, who are part of a system that was designed to keep them from succeeding,” Gwen says, “and as horror fans, we are enriched by the contributions of black filmmakers that often have to work twice as hard to prove themselves. As a film festival that celebrates diversity, we haven’t always felt that we’ve done a great job of showcasing the works of black filmmakers, and going forward, this is something that we’re going to change.”

“Fear knows no borders, and horror is the most essential human genre because it exposes the fears that we all have in common, regardless of religion, skin color, politics, or geography,” says Brian Callahan. “We take our mission seriously, because we feel that horror films are the universal language that brings us all together.”

Despite being streamed, this year’s festival was a true fest experience and was much more than just watching movies. The Callahans introduced and contextualized each block of films for the audience and also hosted live streamed and pre-recorded Q&As over Zoom with over 90 independent filmmakers, including genre favorites like Barney Burman, an Oscar-winning makeup FX artist in his own right, but whose father also innovated the makeups for the original PLANET OF THE APES, Gregg Hale, the Portland-local producer of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, John Penney and Brian Yuzna who talked about RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3, Janina Gavankar, known to genre fans as an actress on the TV Series SLEEPY HOLLOW and TRUE BLOOD, with her directorial debut, “Stucco”, as well as CollegeHumor’s Katie Marovitch and Kerry Barker who wrote the comedy-horror short “Waffle.” 

Every year, the festival directors and jury exhibit only films they believe to be the absolute best of independent horror, so they give only a few meaningful awards to honor those films that truly shatter the expectations of the genre. 

MAKING MONSTERS, the debut feature by Justin Harding and Rob Brunner, went home with the “Goule d’Or Award” for Best Feature. A Youtube prankster and his wife are subjected to horrific abuses during a weekend getaway. This layered, quintessentially modern horror film deftly mixes genres and creates an experience like nothing you’ve seen before. Lead actress Alana Elmer’s outstanding performance demonstrated such depth and range of emotions, she also took home the festival’s “Masque Rouge Award” for Best Performance.

The “Goule d’Or Award” for Best Short went to “The History of Monsters,” for its beautiful cinematography, frightening monster design, and an unexpected take on male/female relationships. Written and directed by Juan Pablo Arias Muñoz, the film is set against a post-apocalyptic landscape, where a woman makes a gut wrenching decision about whether her need for companionship outweighs her need to be safe. 

The “Main de Gloire” celebrates films that are not only great horror but which also use that horror to teach us a lesson about ourselves or our world. It was awarded to Polish filmmaker Kasia Babicz’s short film “Attachment” about a man who leaves his wife for his young mistress, but soon suspects she is becoming something monstrous. Both beautiful and terrifying, Babicz’s film is an exploration of gender dynamics and male privilege that resonates strongly in our MeToo era. 

The coveted “Horde Award” is the festival’s Audience Choice Award, decided entirely by audience ballot. Of the 60+ films shown during this year’s festival, UNCLE PECKERHEAD, the feature debut by Matthew John Lawrence reigned supreme! When punk-rock band DUH finds themselves on their first tour with a man-eating hillbilly for a roadie, the “gig life” is paved with nightmares and half-eaten bodies. Between the comedic kills, awesome soundtrack, and demonic action, this film had something for everyone. 

Each year, the festival invites a celebrity guest judge from the world of horror to select their favorite short film for the “Bloody Judge Award.” Brian Trenchard-Smith (Dead End Drive-In, The Man From Hong Kong) was this year’s Bloody Judge and he singled out “Destroyer of Worlds” by Humayun Mirza for this honored award. A couple, trying to rid the world of injustice and tyranny, perform a ritual sacrifice which results in the destruction of humanity.

The “Funny Bone” Award for excellence in horror comedy went to “Lonely Hearts” co-written by Dennis Cahlo and Bethany Watson, which impressed the festival not only with its humor, but also with its deft homages to fan favorite Giallo and serial killer films. Italian filmmaker Andrea Corsini used sweeping camera angles and immaculately designed shots to effectively convey physical and emotional spaces in his short film “Ferine”, taking home the “Caméra de Sang” Award for Best Cinematography. Joseph Graham’s bizarre short film “Mashed Potato Face,” about a killer obsessed with mashed potatoes, won the “Abby Normal Award,” and the winner of the annual Bumper contest for micro shorts was “Criss Cross” by Matthew Robinson.

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