The Nevermore Film Festival, a NC mainstay for horror films, filmmakers, and fans of all things creepy, returns in person at the Carolina Theatre in Downtown Durham, Feb 24-26.
“No matter what else happens, if they kill a cat intentionally, I will hate it,” says Jim Carl, Nevermore founder and Carolina Theatre’s senior director of film. Which is exactly why Carl instituted a flagging system for the horror film festival’s jurors. He wanted to prevent jurors from watching personally triggering content—whether spider infestation or cannibalism—so that films would be judged equitably for all types of gore.
It’s this commitment to showcasing the creepy in all of its forms (a pinch of Carl’s intuition for what works cinematically) that’s made Nevermore a haven for an extremely devoted fanbase and the place where many now famous horror films got their start—Donnie Darko, The Boy, and The Host are just a few. “We were showing these movies before anybody knew what they were,” says Carl.
Now in its 24th year, and finally live again after two virtual festivals, Nevermore has screened over 1,000 films since its creation in 1999 and is an internationally recognized genre film festival. The three-day in-person event starting this weekend features a juried competition of brand-new feature and short films in horror, science fiction, dark fantasy, and thrillers from around the world.
From Poe Impersonator to Horror Haven
When Carl was initially hired to run the film department at the newly reopened Carolina Theatre in 1995, he was essentially given free range. The theater did not yet have an established identity (other than vaguely “arthouse”) and it was up to Carl to establish one.
He started with a series of retro films, classics that he knew would draw in an audience. But, after throwing a few horror classics into the mix, he began to notice a pattern. “I found that there was a huge market in the Triangle that was being underserved, [and] that was horror movie lovers.”
He tested out his theory with the first Nevermore Film Festival in 1999. Along with the juried features and shorts, the festival included a live performance by an Edgar Allan Poe impersonator. “Nevermore” is a reference to Poe’s famous poem, “The Raven.” Though the impersonator act didn’t catch on, the festival was an immediate hit and the name stuck (evermore).
The festival unites a community of fans—some of whom have gone on to be jurors. “Our film lovers are some of the most passionate, dedicated, and loyal audiences in the world,” says Carl. Even when people move away, they fly back to town for the festival and bring new friends along.
Their dedication and support has not only bolstered the festival (when other similar festivals around the world have petered out) but inspired Carl to continue the production each year—no matter how many times he’s accidentally been submitted to cat torture.
“I do it for the fans. While some do break out, a lot of these films are never going to get distribution deals. They are going to disappear. So seeing them at the festival with a filmmaker in attendance for a lot of fans is the only opportunity they will get to see this work,” he says.
Making it Real
While the festival was originally targeted to the Triangle’s burgeoning horror subculture, it has become a haven not just for an extremely devoted fan base but the filmmakers as well.
“To give filmmakers the chance to actually see their film on a big screen in a real movie theater with a live audience—not just friends and family but a paying audience who’s going to be objective—is something that cannot be replicated,” says Carl.
For Raleigh-based filmmaker Christopher Moore, the fans that have kept the festival alive all these years is truly what makes Nevermore different. “You go to some film festivals, and it’s just made up of other filmmakers. At Nevermore there’s actually dedicated fans who show up just for horror every year. It feels like a celebration,” he says.
Moore has premiered multiple shorts at Nevermore over the years, but 2023 will mark the premiere of his first feature film at the festival—a segment of the three-part film “Worst Laid Plans” called “You’ve Been Saved,” which he shot in North Carolina.
“It’s about these two friends traveling cross country to Atlantic City who get mixed up in what they think is a kidnapping,” says Moore. As one should expect with horror, things are not quite what they seem.
Another one of Moore’s shorts which premiered at Nevermore, “Backward Creep,” has recently received backing for a feature-length version and boasts 36 awards at film festivals across the country. In “Backward Creep,” a group of cosplayers on their way to a convention think they’ve run over a pedestrian in the road but there’s something more nefarious going on.
For Moore, the support that Nevermore offers horror filmmakers is a crucial ingredient in his success. “I’ve had film festivals contact me because they’ve heard about my screening at Nevermore. And you get to meet a lot of these other artists that recommend you for other opportunities,” he says.
What to Expect at 2023’s Nevermore
For any newcomers wishing to attend this year’s Nevermore, expect a razor-blade-filled treat. With over 500 film submissions from Kentucky to Korea, Carl has a pretty good lens into the annual trends of horror film, even if only a small percentage of submissions make it past the jury.
“Last year for some reason, 50 filmmakers from around the world woke up one morning and said ‘I’m going to shoot zombies,’” Carl says.
However, for this year, audiences will be greeted with some social commentary (a la “Get Out”), plenty of vampires and beautiful cinematography (“with drones these days, some of these films look like professional Hollywood leather budget films,” Carl says), but blissfully few “Wizard of Oz” endings.
“I hate the whole ‘it was all in their head, Shutter Island ending.’ I hate it so much. It has been done three thousand times.”
Nevermore runs Feb. 24-26 in downtown Durham, though there’s still the option to attend virtually through March 2. Individual tickets are $13.05 with a $105 10-pass available at the box office. Check out the Carolina Theatre website for the festival schedule and ticketing.