Connor Holt, Staff Writer Oct 1, 2020 Updated Oct 2, 2020
The 12th annual Knoxville Horror Film Festival will be screening horror classics all weekend from Friday, Oct. 23 through Sunday, Oct. 25.
Though the event will have its hosting split between Maryville, Tennessee’s Parkway Drive-in, The Bird & The Book and the festival’s typical locale at Central Cinema in Knoxville, festival goers can expect a bone chilling weekend that revives the nostalgia of the drive-in cinematic experience.
The Knoxville Horror Film Festival is operated by Programming Director William Mahaffey and Festival Producer Nick Huinker.
In 2018, the KHFF team opened Central Cinema, a single screen theater that now acts as the festival’s base of operations.
“Horror is a rich genre with a broad and passionate fanbase,” Huinker said. “There are a lot of filmmakers doing inspired work in that realm.”
“I couldn’t have said it any better,” Mahaffey added. “It’s gratifying to be a part of an event that exposes these artists and audiences to one another, especially on the big screen.”
However, uncertainty was the team’s biggest hurdle when organizing this year’s events.
“We spent the summer unsure it would even happen, and even at this late stage there are various minor unknowns,” Huinker said.
Despite the interference with their standard procedures, the team remains excited and enthusiastic, remaining the longest running film festival in Knoxville. Founded back in 2009, they’ve grown the festival from a short film program to a two city, triple-venue event that highlights and uplifts the cinematic art horror has to offer.
Friday night’s lineup includes Sam Raimi’s 1987 film “Evil Dead 2,” a horror/comedy that received critical acclaim, and J.P. Simon’s 1982 film “Pieces,” a horror/mystery that garnered a cult following and has long been a popular screening for drive-ins.
Following that, Friday night will conclude with the regional premiere of “The Stylist.” The film is the debut piece of festival alum and collaborator Jill Gevargizian. This gory, psychological horror follows actress Najarra Townsend in her role as a hairdresser hiding a disturbing and grotesque secret life.
Saturday night will run a 35th anniversary double feature event screening the 1985 films “Return of the Living Dead” by Dan O’Bannon and Lamberto Bava’s “Demons.”
Wrapping out the night, the recently restored and finalized edition of the 1983 film “Grizzly II: Revenge” will make its debut. The film is a once abandoned sequel to William Girdler’s 1976 B-movie “Grizzly” that played at last year’s festival.
“Grizzly II: Revenge” features a mama grizzly taking vengeance upon an outdoor rock concert for the murder of her baby bears. Actors and actresses that appear in the film include John Rhys-Davies, Louise Fletcher, Charlie Sheen, Laura Dern and George Clooney.
“We’ve put together something of a dream lineup, so hopefully it’s shaping up to be a strong year,” Mahaffey and Huinker said in spite of the hurdles they’ve had to face due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the temporary shutdown of Central Cinema.
Saturday night’s event will also feature a special “Grindhouse Grind-In” edition of the festival’s regular Grindhouse Grind-Out film contest. In this competition, local teams who signed up have been tasked with fabricating and producing a movie trailer or drive-in advert.
Festival goers who’ve purchased full passes will be granted exclusive access to tours and viewings of short films produced by locals. A live kickoff episode of the locally produced podcast Nerdy Laser will also air (one of the festival’s sponsors).
“Filmmakers are thankful for every view on YouTube, but they didn’t produce these labors of love to have them watched in a browser window,” Huinker said.
These events will be hosted by The Bird & The Book pub and eatery in Maryville and Central Cinema north of downtown Knoxville. The short film blocks will be limited to 30 guests and will each run at least twice through the weekend to prioritize both safety and comfort.
“This year will be more intimate for full passholders since capacity precautions at our indoor venues limited us to 60 weekend passes versus the 90 we usually sell . . . But there’s plenty of room for everyone at the drive-in Friday and Saturday night,” Huinker said.
The Knoxville Horror Film Festival is considered to be the southeast’s utmost respected genre film event, running this year under guidelines outlined by public health officials. Passes to the festival are available in limited number, both for weekend and single night tickets, and are purchasable through KnoxHorrorFest.com.