Don’t worry, it found a new home.
Having to relocate a film festival months in the making just 48 hours before it’s set to begin is enough to make anyone shiver. But that’s exactly what happened to Kevin Lynch, the founder and director of Salem’s Horror Fest, a film and events series that explores the creepiness of everyday politics and culture through movies like Carrie, Stephen King’s It, and Critters.
Just a few days after an October print story Boston ran about the festival went live on the site, Lynch was called into an emergency meeting with officials from the Salem Visitor’s Center, the venue where Horror Fest was scheduled to take place this year. In that meeting, he says, he was given an ultimatum.
According to Lynch, the Visitor’s Center had gotten uncomfortable about the sudden attention focused on the festival’s political inclinations. He says he was told the event could still go on, but under some new, restricted terms. He would have to delete all the political posts from the Salem Horror Fest’s social media. He would have to promise to keep the accounts apolitical from here on out. And anything promoting the Horror Fest that included the Essex Heritage logo—from the expensive programs, to the lanyards, to the custom t-shirts designed for volunteers—was banned. Horror Fest could give their patrons the address of the Visitor’s Center so they would know where to go, but using the name was forbidden.
“The National Park Service is apolitical. We don’t take a partisan stance on anything, so we tend to avoid political-natured things,” Gavin Gardner, chief of resources for the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, told the Boston Herald.
But to Lynch, horror films and politics are inextricably linked. There are no political signs or rallies at Horror Fest. The festival does not endorse any political candidates. But the films Lynch chose to include have clear social justice themes, and the festival was designed to encourage people to explore them—and simply scrubbing Horror Fest’s Twitter account couldn’t do anything to change that.
“There was only one choice,” Lynch says. “And it was to move quickly and find a new venue.”
So that’s just what he did. As a professional events planner, Lynch says, he knows that when an event goes awry there isn’t any time to be angry or complain: “The only thing you have control over is how to respond.” While the Visitor’s Center was not the only venue hosting screenings—the Peabody Essex Museum, CinemaSalem, the Salem Waterfront Hotel, and Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery all play host as well—Lynch had to find a new home for the “literary horror” series that was scheduled to take place at the Center. Wednesday, he solidified a new partnership with The Bridge at 211, a former unitarian church. The show will go on on after all.
Overall, Lynch says, response to the news of Horror Fest’s ousting from the Visitor’s Center has been positive—and star-studded. Over the past few days, the festival’s following on social media has grown, almost rivaling the following on the “Destination Salem” page, run by the city’s marketing organization. Many of those followers are big names in the horror realm—Director Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity, Happy Death Day) tweeted his support, as did editors from Rue Morgue, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and Daily Dead magazines and producers from the “Shock Waves,” “Faculty of Horror,” and “Attack the Queer Wolf” podcasts.
— christopher landon (@creetureshow) October 10, 2019
Honestly, this is what horror is all about: To use the lens of the fantastic to fight against the darkness and that which would oppress. It’s a powerful genre, because when used well…it can say so much. And that is certainly NOT apoliticial. Cheering you on so hard.
— Michael Varrati (@MichaelVarrati) October 10, 2019
“This is the best thing that could have happened to us,” Lynch says. “All these movie directors are…reinforcing our message about the role of horror in society. And people are saying that horror is anything but apolitical. It’s amplified our message and has created solidarity with the horror community and beyond.”
To check out the updated Horror Fest lineup, visit the festival’s website.