Live commentary of a Stephen King classic, local film creators and more set for Eerie Horror Fest

A newly installed Wurlitzer organ and a centennial anniversary of a vampire silent-movie classic set the tone in planning for the 15th Eerie Horror Fest lineup.

"It was kind of a no-brainer," festival director John C. Lyons said of the first event planned for the Oct. 5-8 film festival at the Warner Theatre, 811 State St. "We started building the design and artwork around the vampire theme. It all hinges on that first awesome kickoff."

Patrons wait to go inside the Warner Theatre on Jan. 23, 2022, in Erie.
Patrons wait to go inside the Warner Theatre on Jan. 23, 2022, in Erie.

The Film Society of Northwestern Pennsylvania, in its second year running the Eerie Horror Fest, has partnered with the Erie Philharmonic on various film screenings with live orchestra accompaniment over the past few years, Lyons said. The completed install of the organ at the Warner and the commemoration of silent classic "Nosferatu" made the pairing an easy choice to open the four-day festival.

This is a still from the 1922 silent film thriller "Nosferatu," directed by F. W. Murnau.
This is a still from the 1922 silent film thriller "Nosferatu," directed by F. W. Murnau.

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"With it being our first year of bringing the festival to the Warner, and with it being the 100th anniversary of 'Nosferatu,' it was kind of the perfect marriage between the Philharmonic and the Eerie Horror Fest to showcase that Wurlitzer's 15,000 pipes and to bring in a professional musician in Ron Rhode. He has decades of experience playing on organs like these," Lyons said of the scheduled soloist. "We're going to have some really cool production value with this performance. I don't want to spoil any of that, but it will be a really cool intro of him and the organ to kick us off."

The annual festival will include a curated program of selected short and feature-length films — including locally-produced, directed and cast horror flicks — to go along with celebrity meet-and-greets, cast and crew Q&As, panel discussions, a pitch competition in front of industry professionals, game demonstrations, a vendor hall and more.

Among the screenings is Stephen King's 1984 film “Children of the Corn,” which includes live on-stage commentary from director Fritz Kiersch and some cast members. The critically-acclaimed "Hellbender" will be shown with directors and actors on hand, and a special 35th-anniversary showing of the Clive Barker classic "Hellraiser" also is among the highlighted films.

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'Children of the Corn,' 'Hellbender' headliners

Celebrity guests at the Horror Fest will include 2021 film "Hellbender" directors/actors John Adams and Toby Poser of Wonder Wheel Productions, as well as "Children of the Corn" director Kiersch and actors Courtney Gains, John Franklin and John Philbin.

"The highest-rated horror film this year is 'Hellbender' (with a 97% critics score on movie review site Rotten Tomatoes). We loved the story behind this film," Lyons said about the independent film based on witchcraft and directed by the Adams family. "They're true independent filmmakers who are really rising stars in the genre. The parents (John Adams and Toby Poser) are going to deliver a keynote and it will be cool to get their perspective on family-made films and film-making philosophy."

Zelda Adams plays a teenager isolated because of a sickness who learns about her family's dark history in the coming-of-age film "Hellbender."
Zelda Adams plays a teenager isolated because of a sickness who learns about her family's dark history in the coming-of-age film "Hellbender."

"Hellbender" will be screened Oct. 6 at 8 p.m. at the Warner. "Children of the Corn," with a plot consisting of children in a Nebraska town murdering adults, will screen with live guest commentary on Oct. 7 at 8 p.m.

"We wanted to do something a little different with them, something that we thought would be a little fun, so the film will be playing and they'll be up there on stage," Lyons said of plans for the "Children" cast. "If one of them says to hit pause or rewind or fast forward, we will be watching the film in their hands. They'll be taking us through the experience of making this film basically as kids and revisiting the film as adults.

"You can buy a DVD or Blue-ray and listen to a commentary track, but this will be a commentary track right there in person."

As well as meet-and-greets and Q&As with the celebrity casts and directors, the festival will include a "Hellraiser" screening on Oct. 8 preceded by a keynote speech from local sociologist and pop culture authority Rhonda Matthews, Ph.D., who led a discussion on race and horror at last year's festival. A "Hellraiser" remake is scheduled to debut on Hulu on Oct. 7.

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Short film about UFOs at Presque Isle

To go along with 13 feature-length films, the Horror Fest will offer 14 shorts ranging from 4 to 36 minutes.

Erie filmmakers Brian Dailey and Cole Daniel Hills each have a short screening among the selections.

Dailey, a 52-year-old software engineer who graduated from Strong Vincent High School and went to Penn State Behrend, will be on hand to introduce his 11-minute film, "The Waterworks Incident-Project Algerine," on Oct. 8 at 12:10 p.m. The short is based on a 1966 incident of a UFO encounter on Presque Isle State Park and is part of a "Project Algerine" 22-part series on Erie's history that is available at youtube.com/c/ProjectAlgerine.

According to Dailey, the short is, "inspired by the true events of July 31, 1966, where four people report a strange UFO encounter on Presque Isle State Park, which sets off a top-secret investigation at the highest levels of the U.S. government."

Dailey said he has been a longtime fan of the horror genre, and especially those made in the region.

"I grew up watching films produced not far from Erie. Films like 'Night of the Living Dead,' 'Knightriders' and 'The Crazies,'" Dailey said in an email to the Times-News. "Pittsburgh-based director George A. Romero and his talented group of friends really helped pave the way for filmmaking in Pennsylvania."

Dailey is staying busy in the region with other upcoming projects.

"Just this past spring I completed the film 'Beachworld,' taken from the 1984 Stephen King book 'Skeleton Crew,'" Dailey said. "I am currently working on a film about the life of a doctor and his family living in Erie through the 1800s."

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'Night Mare' tale told in minutes

Erie's Hills, a 21-year-old director, will screen his 4-minute short, "The Night Mare," on Oct. 7 at 10:30 p.m. The movie, according to Hills, is based on a young woman's night being terrorized by a folkloric creature known as The Mare.

"'The Night Mare' was actually developed as a short version of a feature-length screenplay I'm working on," Hills said. "The short sort of took on a life of its own, and I believe it stands alone while also leaving the door open for curiosity and interpretation."

Hills released his first full-length feature shot in Erie, ­­­­­"The Root of Perfection," earlier this year. The movie was an independent film developed by Chills Productions, a company founded in 2018 by Hills and his older sister, Brittany Hills.

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"I've spent a lot of my life in Los Angeles, but since the start of the pandemic in 2020, I have been primarily in Erie. I attended high school online with California Connections Academy and have since taken various film classes with UCLA," he said. "My favorite directors are David Lynch and Charlie Kaufman. A lot of their films are surreal explorations of the human mind, which is a concept I'm really fascinated by."

Hills will tap into that Lynch and Kaufman inspiration with his current project involving an expanded version of "The Night Mare."

"I'm currently working hard at developing the feature-length version of this very film. The working title is 'The Dreadful Place,'" Cole Daniel Hills said. "It's about a young woman who, on the anniversary of her father's tragic death, finds herself trapped in a nightmare she can't wake up from. It's a story about the human subconscious, the traumas we bury, and the lies we tell ourselves in order to keep us from facing the truth."

Cole Daniel Hills said the script for the movie is written, and it will be filmed in Erie using actors from the region and other areas.

"I want to start rolling with preproduction stuff as soon as possible," he said. "I would like to shoot it sometime next year."

Director Carter Smith returns

One of this year's likely big draws, director Carter Smith, returns to Erie for the festival. Smith, a Maine native who started as a fashion photographer and was discovered by Dreamworks and Steven Spielberg, was given his first big-budget feature film job in 2008 with "The Ruins." In April 2008, an early screening of "The Ruins" was held at Erie's Tinseltown theater, 1910 Rotunda Drive, and was later followed by a meet-and-greet with Smith at Edinboro University.

"(Smith) is a big supporter of my last film, 'Unearth,' and so we've stayed in contact," Lyons said. "He has this new film 'Swallowed,' which is doing really well on the festival circuit and winning a lot of awards. One of his actors, Mark Patton (whose credits include 'A Nightmare on Elm Street 2'), will be out on Saturday. Carter is teaching a workshop, as well, which will be a great opportunity for creatives to pick his brain about starting his own brand and finding his own look in photography and cinema."

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Pitch contest, 'Pearl' hype

Finalists from the festival's pitch competition on Oct. 6 will present their ideas to a board of industry leaders, including Jackie George, who has been a production executive at Warner Bros., and members of Blood Oath, a consulting firm for horror and independent genres. A winner will be chosen and given a film development consulting package.

"With the film society taking over the Horror Fest, we really want to give creatives great opportunities to make their films, learn from industry people and have networking opportunities. And, hopefully, make more films here in Erie," Lyons said.

The pitch competition project finalists include:

  • "A Girl And Her Dog" by Erie-based filmmaker Erik Brown

  • "How Green Was My Uncanny Valley" by Ryan Imhoff

  • "The Incel" by Ryan Imhoff

  • "Morbid Curiosity" by western Pennsylvania-based filmmaker Jacob Perrett

  • "Rusalka" by Erie-based filmmaker Braden McClain

With films from 10 countries, several filmmakers in attendance and five industry events, the fest should have something for every horror movie fan.

"We have a really nice mix of films; we've got international films and some animated films in there ... some of the hottest films that are out there right now," Lyons said. "We're showing a doubleheader of 'X' and 'Pearl.' 'Pearl' has all the buzz in the horror community."

Filmmaker Cole Daniel Hills agrees.

"I'm really looking forward to watching 'Nosferatu' with the live score. I'm also super excited to watch 'X' and 'Pearl' back to back. I absolutely love both of those films," he said.

If you go ...

  • What: Eerie Horror Fest

  • When: Oct. 5, 3-9:30 p.m.; Oct. 6, 3-10:30 p.m.; and Oct. 7 and 8, 10 a.m.-1:30 a.m.

  • Where: Warner Theatre, 811 State St.

  • Tickets: All-access premium pass, $150; all-access standard, $123; $30 for "Nosferatu"; $25 for day passes. 814-452-4857, eeriehorrorfest.com/passes

  • Schedule information: eeriehorrorfest.com/program

Eerie Horror Fest schedule

Oct. 5

  • "Nosferatu" (1922): 8 p.m., Warner Theatre auditorium, 811 State St. Opening night special event by the Film Society of Northwestern Pennsylvania and the Erie Philharmonic, which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of "Nosferatu." Organist Ron Rhode will perform the movie score on the Wurlitzer organ. The movie event is preceded by a ticketed party in the Warner lounge from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 6

  • Adams family meet-and-greet: 3-4:30 p.m., second floor balcony of the Warner. "Hellbender" celebrity guests Toby Poser and John Adams will be available for autographs and photos.

  • Industry panel pitch competition: 4 p.m., Warner main stage.

  • Keynote speakers John Adams and Toby Poser: 5 p.m., Warner auditorium. Celebrity guests Toby Poser and John Adams introduce their 2022 film, "Hellbender."

  • Short films: Warner auditorium. "Canines," 5:30 p.m.; "Self-Actualization of the Werewolf Woman," 6 p.m.

  • "Children of the Corn" (1984) meet-and-greet: 6-8 p.m., second floor balcony of the Warner. "Children of the Corn" celebrity guests, including actors Courtney Gains, John Franklin and John Philbin, and director Fritz Kiersch, will be available for autographs and photos.

  • "Piggy" (2022): 6:15 p.m. Warner auditorium.

  • "Hellbender" meet and greet: 6:30-8 p.m., second floor balcony of the Warner. "Hellbender" guests available for autographs and photos.

  • "Hellbender" (2021): 8 p.m., Warner auditorium. Adolescent Izzy only has her mother as a friend. Izzy escapes to the city several times and discovers that her family has a past related to witchcraft. The movie is followed by a Q&A at 9:45 p.m. with cast and filmmakers Toby Poser, John Adams and Zelda Adams. There is an after party at Cloud 9, 25 E. 10th St., at 10 p.m.

Oct. 7

  • Meet-and-greets: Noon-3 p.m., second-floor balcony of the Warner. Celebrity guests will be available for autographs and photos, including "Children of the Corn" (1984) actors Courtney Gains, John Franklin and John Philbin, and director Fritz Kiersch; director and writer Carter Smith; and actor Mark Patton.

  • Short films: Warner auditorium. "All You Can Eat," noon; "The Night Mare," 10:30 p.m.; "Chimera," 10:45 p.m.; "Black Dragon," 11:15 p.m.; "Unheimlich," 11:30 p.m.; "Golem," 11:45 p.m.

  • "Super Z" (2021): 12:30 p.m., Warner auditorium.

  • RED camera demonstration workshop: 2 p.m., Warner conference room. The Behrend Open Lab for Digital Creations brings a presentation by Tommy Hartung and Penn State Behrend students on basic RED camera operations.

  • "X" (2022): 3 p.m., Warner auditorium.

  • Facing Your Darkness: Developing your Brand workshop: 5 p.m., Warner conference room. Writer/director Carter Smith explains how he managed to establish his unique career. Hosted by Andre Jones.

  • Meet-and-greet: 6-8 p.m., second-floor balcony of the Warner. Meet actor Mark Patton.

  • "Pearl" (2022): 6 p.m., Warner auditorium.

  • "Children of the Corn" (1984) with live commentary: 8 p.m., Warner auditorium. Three members of the cast and the director give live commentary on stage during the feature showing. The classic film is about a boy preacher named Isaac who goes to Gatlin, Nebraska, and gets all the children to murder every adult in town. Movie is followed by Q&A with actors Courtney Gains, John Franklin and John Philbin, and director Fritz Kiersch at 9:45 p.m. and a meet-and-greet from 10 p.m. to midnight.

  • "Scare Package II: Rad Chad's Revenge" (2022): Midnight, Warner auditorium. Director Aaron B. Koontz introduces his film — which includes segments directed by Alexandra Barreto, Anthony Cousins, Jed Shepherd and Rachele Wiggins — about a girl evading a sinister creature waiting in the shadows.

Oct. 8

  • Meet-and greets: Noon-2 p.m., second-floor balcony of the Warner. Celebrity guests will be available for autographs and photos, including director and writer Carter Smith; and actor Mark Patton.

  • Short films: Warner auditorium. "Pox," noon; "665," 3 p.m.; "The Waterworks Incident-Project Algerine," 12:10 p.m.; "Bugcrush," 8 p.m.; "Incubus," 11:30 p.m.; "What Killed Timmy Benson," 11:45 p.m.

  • "Night Shift" (2022): 12:30 p.m., Warner auditorium. Directors Greg Swinson and Ryan Thiessen feature about a young mother dealing with a scary situation while working as a night shift janitor at a furniture factory. Filmmaker introduces the film before screening.

  • Script to Screen: How to Get Your Film Produced: 2 p.m., Warner auditorium. Industry experts reveal how to get a film made.

  • Meet-and-greets: 2-5 p.m., second-floor balcony of the Warner. Celebrity guests will be available for autographs and photos, including "Children of the Corn" (1984) actors and director.

  • "History of the Occult" (2020): 3:15 p.m., Warner auditorium.

  • Workshop: Starting a monster: mask making basics: 5 p.m., Warner conference room. Mark Kosobucki presentation on how a creature sculpture and mask is created.

  • "Hellraiser" (1987): 6 p.m., Warner auditorium. The 35th anniversary of the Clive Barker classic that spawned a series of films. The movie follows demonic beings that are pursuing a victim after he escaped their sadistic underworld. The movie will be preceded with a keynote speech by Rhonda Matthews.

  • "Swallowed" (2022): 8:45 p.m., Warner auditorium. Carter Smith film about two friends on their nightmarish final night together. Feature is followed by a Q&A with director Smith and actor Mark Patton. Meet-and-greets start at 11 p.m. at the second-floor balcony of the Warner.

  • "All Jacked Up and Full of Worms" (2022): Midnight, Warner auditorium.

Tony Battaglia can be reached at tbattaglia@timesnews.com. Follow us on Instagram at GoEriecom.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Eerie Horror Fest: Film event features 'Children of the Corn' cast