Be afraid: Panic Fest kicks off this Friday at Screenland Armour

Panic Fest just keeps expanding.

Now in its seventh year, Kansas City’s premier genre film festival returns to Screenland Armour this Friday, January 25, and runs through next Thursday the 31st. In all, the fest includes 21 feature films, 18 shorts, three live podcast tapings, and one tongue-in-cheek live script reading. The rest of the country is starting to notice, too. MovieMaker recently named Panic Fest one of the 30 Bloody Best Genre Fests in 2019.

“People come to us with films now,” says cofounder (and Screenland Theatres co-owner) Adam Roberts.

As the fest has grown, so, too has Screenland Armour. The Northland cinema recently expanded to four screens. The extra space means more movies, more special events, and an opportunity for horror and sci-fi fans and filmmakers to hang out together and geek out on movies. The kitchen and bar don’t hurt, either.

“We have several filmmakers at the festival each year, and almost all of our short films will have actors, directors, or producers representing them at the fest,” cofounder Tim Canton says, adding that he expects somewhere between 30 and 40 filmmakers and podcasters to be on hand this weekend.

In what should be a highlight of the fest, there will be a live, interactive script reading Saturday night of Jason Takes Manhattan, one of the schlockiest movies in the Friday the 13th franchise (it’s the thirtieth anniversary of the film). This won’t be a bunch of actors sitting around a table reading a screenplay, though. There will be props, an on-screen element, and even crowd participation. As with many famous horror “classics,” the trashier the film, the better the performance.

“It’s my least favorite of all the Friday the 13th films,” Roberts says. “It sucks. But that’s why it will be so much fun to create our own live edition of the film.”

“For me nothing beats Friday the 13th: Part II, mainly because I am a big fan of sack-head Jason vs. hockey-mask Jason,” Canton says. “I’m probably in the minority when it comes to mask vs. sack. I love sack.”

That kind of abiding, forgiving love of these often horrible movies — until he mentioned it, I had completely forgotten there was a non-hockey-masked version of Jason — is part of the joy of Panic Fest. It’s evident, too, in the podcast tapings. In previous years, Panic Fest has brought in the hosts of popular comedy-horror podcast The Last Podcast on the Left and The Movie Crypt podcasthosted by filmmakers Adam Green (Hatchet) and Joe Lynch (Mayhem, Point Break remake). This year, there will be a live taping of two indie podcasts on the rise: Cult Podcast, a true-crime show about bizarre real-life cults based out of Los Angeles, and Nashville’s The Horror Virgin, in which a horror guru makes a non-horror fan watch and discuss horror classics for the first time. Local favorite Nightmare Junkhead is also returning to tape an episode.

The Short Film Showcase is an increasingly popular way for fans to get directly involved in Panic Fest. This year, 18 short films from all over the world will be shown in two different blocks on Saturday and Sunday. Attendees then get to vote on the best, and the winner takes home the “Always Watching” Panic Fest Award. Two local projects competing this year include 42 Counts by Jill Gevargizian and Six Month Chip by Anthony Ladesich.

“We’ll also be screening St. Agatha, which was directed by Overland Park native Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, II, IV) and written by Kansas City local Clint Sears,” says Canton. “Our national premiere at the fest is The Luring, directed by Christopher Wells. It’s about a man who returns to his family vacation home where a murder took place during his 10th birthday party, hoping to finally resolve a memory gap that has been plaguing him for years.” Other new feature films playing at Panic Fest:

Lords of Chaos. Based on the true-crime story (including church burnings, suicide, and murder) of Norwegian black-metal pioneers Mayhem, this drama stars Rory Culkin and is directed by Jonas Åkerlund (Small Apartments).

Starfish. First-time filmmaker Al White, the lead singer of U.K. band Ghostlight, wrote and directed this trippy film, in which a young woman grieves the loss of her best friend on what happens to also be the day the world ends.

Luz. Variety called this demonic-possession thriller from German writer-director Tilman Singer a “modestly scaled yet slick and conceptually audacious enterprise.” So far, it’s racked up five wins from various genre film festivals worldwide.

Mega Time Squad. A fast-paced time-travel comedy from New Zealand cult-film director Tim van Dammen (Deathgasm), this heist movie follows the errand boy for a crime boss (Jonny Brugh from What We Do in the Shadows) who accidentally clones himself and releases an ancient Chinese demon.

Level 16. This sci-fi nightmare, written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Danishka Esterhazy, has been described as a dystopian YA cross between The Stepford Wives and The Handmaid’s Tale.

Panic Fest. Screenland Armour, January 25-31. Full-fest-passes, weekend passes (25-27), and full-day passes are available at

Categories: Movies