Chicago Gets a Genre Film Festival in Cinepocalypse: Our Preview

Chicago film lovers have had their pick of horror conventions, comic cons, and niche film festivals (by nationality, shared movie theme, etc.) over the years, but from November 2-9, the famed Music Box Theatre will host the city’s first (at least in recent memory) full-length genre film festival. Known as Cinepocalypse, it's sponsored by such genre distributors and brands as IFC Midnight, Bloody Disgusting, and The Onion’s A.V. Club. Cinepocalypse happens at Music Box Theatre November 2-9

Boasting feature films (including Midwest, U.S., North American, and World premieres), documentaries, short films and repertory offerings, Cinepocalypse is an offshoot of the now-defunct Bruce Campbell Film Festival, a four-day event that took place for the last three years in conjunction with the genre convention Wizard World. That film festival was co-founded by Josh Goldbloom (also founder and artistic director of the Philadelphia-based The Awesome Fest), who is now Artistic Director of Cinepocalypse. Working with Music Box Theatre General Manager Ryan Oestreich (acting as Cinepocalypse Festival Director), the two formed an epic alliance to re-emerge as a brand new horror behemoth for Chicago.

Of the more than 60 films selected for the festival, highlights include the World Premiere of Primal Rage; North American Premieres of Rendel, Snowflake, and The Terror of Hallow’s Eve; and U.S. Premieres of Beyond Skyline (the Closing Night selection), Lowlife, Downrange, and Motorrad. For a complete list of films and my take on each (full disclosure, I participated in programming the festival and will moderate several Q&As), check out this post.

For now, here are some exciting highlights:

Once the Cinepocalypse programmers whittled down its hundreds of short film submissions into a small number of favorites, the realization was made that a startling number of them were directed by women. So they'll be showcased in one wildly eclectic block that covers a variety of subjects, from small-town psychos to otherworldly mysteries. Fifty percent of all proceeds from this screening (Saturday, Nov. 3 at 11:30a) will go to The Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen screens at Cinepocalypse

Among the guests at this year’s festival is writer/director Larry Cohen, who will receive the festival’s first Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on such films as Black Caesar, It’s Alive, Q: The Winged Serpent, and The Stuff. To further honor Cohen, Cinepocalypse will feature the Midwest premiere of the newly completed documentary chronicling his life and wildly impressive career, King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen (directed by Steve Mitchell), on Saturday, Nov. 4. The festival will also screen a rare 35mm print of Cohen’s 1990 feature The Ambulance on Sunday, Nov. 5, with Cohen and star Eric Roberts in attendance. The film also stars James Earl Jones and Janine Turner.

Before The Ambulance screening on Nov. 5, Roberts (with more than 476 acting credits to his name) will take part in a live recording of Doug Tilley and Liam O'Donnell's acclaimed film podcast “Eric Roberts Is the Fucking Man,” marking the first time the Oscar-nominated actor has actually crossed paths with the show that has borne his name for dozens of episodes, in what promises to be an epic meeting of the minds.

Another Lifetime Achievement Award will be given to the great character actor Antonio Fargas, whose body of work stretches from the late 1960s to the closing night film Beyond Skyline. Perhaps best known for his exploitation work (and parodies thereof), highlights in Fargas’ filmography include Shaft, Across 110th Street, Cleopatra Jones, Foxy Brown, Starsky and Hutch, and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka! To honor Fargas, Cinepocalypse will screen Foxy Brown (co-starring Pam Grier; directed by Jack Hill) on Wednesday, Nov. 8, and the blaxploitation send-up I’m Gonna Git You Sucka! (directed by Keenan Ivory Wayans) on Thursday, Nov. 9 (right before Beyond Skyline).

Suspiria screens at Cinepocalypse, November 2-9

Actress Jessica Harper will attend Cinepocalypse for a 40th anniversary screening of the uncut, 98-minute version on a newly discovered 35mm print of Dario Argento’s Suspiria (in Italian with English subtitles) on Monday, Nov. 6. Filmmaker Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces, The A-Team, The Grey) is on hand as the festival’s Guest Curator, screening his 1998 debut Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane in a rare, 35mm print on Tuesday, Nov. 7, as well as programming and introducing four genre classics to honor the title of his first film. He's selected Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (Blood); Walter Hill’s Hard Times (Guts); John Woo’s Bullet in the Head (Bullets); and Steven King’s Maximum Overdrive (Octane). All films will be shown in 35mm, except Hard Times, which will be screened as a brand new 4K restoration premiere.

Also attending is actress Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator; You’re Next), who is not only on the festival's Feature Film Jury but also has a film at the festival: the Midwest Premiere (on Tuesday, Nov. 7) of Applecart, from director Brad Baruh and co-starring AJ Bowen, Brea Grant, and Chase Williamson. The film is executive produced by Don Coscarelli. Acclaimed screenwriter Simon Barrett will serve as Cinepocalypse’s Guest Host, introducing the occasional film and moderating certain Q&As. Barrett is the writer of such recent genre classics as A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next, The Guest, and the recent relaunch of Blair Witch.

A pair of curious events will also be a part of Cinepocalypse’s inaugural year. “The A.V. Club Presents: Beyond The RoomGet Even takes place Sunday, Nov. 5. This special presentation of the 1993-shot/2007-completed opus from directors James Paradise and John De Hart (also the writer, composer, producer, and star alongside Wings Hauser), Get Even was never given mainstream distribution and is only available directly from the De Hart himself. So this screening is a chance to see this cult-classic-in-the-making at the ground floor, possibly making it as beloved as The Room.

“The Cinepocalypse Midnight Movie Challenge” (Monday, Nov. 6) is a challenge issued to the production team at Boulderlight Pictures, the team behind both Contracted films, Bad Match (which received its premiere at FrightFest) and the upcoming Dismissed (starring Dylan Krause). The Cinepocalypse team challenged 23-year-old JD Lifshitz and 24-year-old Raphael Margules to produce a genre feature exclusively for the festival. They were given no parameters other than it must be a feature-length midnight movie and that they had to begin production when the first wave of titles was announced just two months ago. Attendees of Cinepocalypse will all experience the World Premiere of this yet-untitled production during this special midnight slot.

The complete Cinepocalypse schedule, film/event details, and advance tickets can be found at the Music Box Theatre’s event page here. And my take on every feature film screening at the festival is here.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.