Panic Fest 2023 was a delightful death trip in the Northland. Here were our highlights.

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Panic Fest 2023. // Photo by Tim KC Canton

April 2023 marked the return of the annual Panic Fest genre film festival at Screenland Armour Theater in North Kansas City. As per usual, the collection of new horror & science fiction features—and shorts—were a delight to behold. Adam Roberts and Tim KC Canton put on yet another fantastic gathering for horror-heads from around the world.

Now that the festival is wrapped up, you can read through our full coverage here, including reviews, interviews, and much more. A ton of great upcoming movies were shown to us in the metro for the first time, and premieres like Sisu made national and international coverage in places like Fangoria and Forbes.

As part of that “more” category, we thought we’d close this out with some final thoughts from film critic team on their most memorable parts of the festivities.

The Pitch: What was the best new film you saw this weekend?

Abby Olcese: Birth/Rebirth! I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I watched it. A great flip of the Frankenstein narrative that takes on very modern concerns of parenting and gender identity as it relates to reproduction and social pressures on women to conceive. It’s so smart.

Adrian Torres: Hands down that honor goes to The Artiface Girl. Seeing it for the first time is akin to when Primer first came out. A lo-fi high-concept hard science fiction flick that feels extremely timely with its view of AI intelligence and the role that the human element can influence or hinder that field. A small film that deserves as many eyes on it as possible.

Caroline Rose Newman: Ted Geoghegan’s Brooklyn 45! Full review here.

Orrin Grey: Of course the best new film that I saw this weekend was Birth/Rebirth, one that I wasn’t even reviewing.

What a personal highlight from being at the fest?

Adrian Torres: Each year Panic Fest has an honorary mascot or cheerleader; a special guest who ends up taking over their fest by sheer presence or personality. For 2023 that honor belongs to the queen of horror herself, Barbra Crampton. Not content to just be here for her own films (From Beyond/We Are Still Here), Crampton made the rounds to numerous screenings and held court in the lobby.

Caroline Rose Newman: Hanging out in Shorts Block Number 1 Friday night, chatting with the director of That’s Our Time about the cast.

Abby Olcese: Watching From Beyond for the first time (my first Stuart Gordon movie). I promise I didn’t mean to be that loud watching it, it just…happens. I’m slowly turning into my mom, who reacts very loudly at outrageous stuff in movies, the older I get. Anyway, that movie goes HARD and I loved every second.

Orrin Grey: Most of my best memories of the weekend take place in the corners and at the fringes of the festival itself. Late night walks through the neighborhood behind the theater when I needed to get some air. Talking about the original Ringu novel series with Liz Nelson. Watching even more movies on VHS with Elijah LaFolette, host of Analog Sunday. And just hanging out with folks I get to see entirely too seldom.

Most insane thing you saw in a movie?

Caroline Rose Newman: This was my first time seeing From Beyond so… All of the goop going on there. (oh, and the preview for the upcoming Suitable Flesh.)

Adrian Torres: It may be weird to say, “There are too many decapitations to choose from?” but Panic Fest always brings some delectable kills, The most insane moment may come from Spider One’s new film Bury the Bride, where 30 minutes in the film pull the rug out from under you and reveals itself to be an entirely different film than you’d imagine.

Abby Olcese: Either Ken Foree’s disintegrated body in From Beyond or the scarecrow scene in Black Mold. Both are fantastic practical effects. But also Abruptio was just weird and wild beginning to end. It’s so hard to pick!

Orrin Grey: The bathroom masturbation scene in Birth/Rebirth.

What’s something you saw that you still have no idea how you feel about it, so Pitch readers can look forward to being conflicted on it down the line?

Orrin Grey: Blue Hour definitely tried going some places that I was not expecting. I’m still trying to decide if it actually got there.

Adrian Torres: Without a doubt, that’s Birth/Rebirth, which presents a twisted and modern take on the Frankenstein legend. Only this time under the guise of mixing motherhood, grief, and the pursuit of scientific breakthroughs. It’s one hell of a tense watch, but those who want a bit more straightforward horror may be left wanting.

Abby Olcese: Abruptio. I still can’t figure out if the conceit (life-size puppets in real locations) takes the movie to another level, or if it’s a weird attempt to punch up a script that wouldn’t have worked that well with live actors. I finished it thinking it was the former; the Q&A left me thinking it might be the latter.

Caroline Rose Newman: I’m still unpacking the multiple layers behind Black Mold.

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Panic Fest 2023. // Photo by Tim KC Canton

Hardest you laughed at anything?

Adrian Torres: Sisu is filled with many Nazis dying in graphic ways and while they are sure to elicit thunderous applause, most won’t cause much chuckling. Save for one kill that not only comes out of nowhere but involves one of the more creative ways a mine can kill a person. This is reason 765 that everyone should see Sisu. Bonus Moment: Film Editor Abby Olcese saw From Beyond for the first time at the feat and added an interactive element to the experience with her yelps and reactions

Abby Olcese: Anything and everything in From Beyond. Gross goopy monster effects make me VERY giggly, and this movie starts there and does not quit. A delight! The version we saw was from the new Vinegar Syndrome 4k release, so every single goopy tentacle and pile ‘o flesh looked sharp, so I like to think my reactions were appropriately amplified.

Orrin Grey: Sadly, I didn’t get to experience it myself first-hand, but the hardest I laughed at anything was probably at the apocryphal accounts I heard of our own Abby Olcese seeing From Beyond for the first time.

Caroline Rose Newman: Experiencing the heated Tennessee A&M Commonwealth/Alabama-Mobile Seahawks football rivalry at the screening of The Third Saturday in October Part V. Mine is different from everyone else’s, but also let’s include hearing Abby see From Beyond.

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