If old legends and stories have taught us anything, it’s that you should never accept treats from unfamiliar witches. Fortunately, local drag crone Old Witch is well known enough that we can trust her to host The Stranger’s upcoming SLAY horror film fest. Oh, sure, whatever she's planning will be fiendish and diabolical, but at least we know that going in.
“It’s a dream come true because we’re in the middle of a horror movie,” she cackles, presumably while stirring a cauldron. “We’re all living it out, and this is the bite-sized horror that we can turn off, we can walk away from. It’s very cathartic.”
From killers stalking the woods to haunted toys and hexes on the president that get out of hand, SLAY promises two weeks of jump scares and gore—and also a drive-in party!—and our witchy host may have additional surprises up her blood-drenched sleeves.
“I play your Elvira/Cryptkeeper master of ceremonies,” Old Witch says, adding that “I’m breaking out trunks and trunks of Halloween stuff from discount bargain bins across the country.” It’s like that scene where Mary Poppins pulls the lamp out of her bag, except it’s entrails.
Because there are so many entries in the film fest (2,500 submissions!) it’s been broken up into two “volumes,” each with more than a dozen short spoopy films. They’ll be livestreamed starting this Thursday, October 15, through the end of the month.
In Volume 1 of the SLAY screenings, look forward to short films like “Dead Lyft,” featuring a sinister rideshare passenger; “The Dirge,” in which a mother discovers a malevolent presence inside her newborn child; and “The Devil’s Dice,” an '80s-style found-footage story of an unlucky artifact.
In Volume 2, there’s “There Can Be Only One,” in which a woman decides to kill everyone who shares her name; “Bill,” featuring communion with a dead husband; and an exorcism conducted via Zoom in “The Divorcing.”
And don't miss the drive-in screenings at the On the Boards parking lot, on October 24, 30, and 31! There'll be drag-judged costume contests at each, so dress to distress.
Personally, I find horror extremely stressful because I am frightened of EVERYTHING (earlier this morning I literally jumped in surprise when a bird cheeped outside my window) but maybe that’s a sign that I’m so tightly-wound right now that a little screaming would actually release some tension. Worth a shot, right? Maybe after I yell at my screen for a while, I’ll be too tired to feel jumpy.
“Horror acknowledges the bad things in the world that it’s not polite to talk about,” says Old Witch, who now also seems to be my therapist. “When we collectively experience horror, it’s a release. That stress of what’s lurking around the corner in real life becomes actualized on screen, and … sometimes we see people surviving that. Viewing horror through that lens allows us to have that release and brace ourselves for the real life horrors which are often even worse.”
This is a welcome return to hosting for Old Witch, who stepped away from the stage at the start of quarantine to focus on her children. (Her real-life kids, that is, not just her drag children.) The pandemic will make this whole season weird, she says, which is why it’s such a relief to have some livestreamable frights.
“If it wasn’t for SLAY, I think the season would have passed by,” she says. “Horror is a very American tradition. We love horror and Halloween, and it would be a shame to let current things destroy every celebration.”
Well, when you put it that way, it’s our duty to be scared. I’m not saying that one online film fest will single-handedly save us from all of our quarantine stresses. But it might just break the mental curse of it feeling like we’re all still stuck in a never-ending month of March.