Sitges horror and fantasy film festival - Catalonia’s Halloween warm-up act

The 52nd year of the festival is giving the Catalan town a slightly “Insidious” edge...

Patrick Wilson and Sam Neill will be among stars on the red carpet (by Sitges)
Patrick Wilson and Sam Neill will be among stars on the red carpet (by Sitges) / Oliver Little & Cillian Shields

Oliver Little & Cillian Shields | Barcelona

October 2, 2019 11:45 AM

Weird. Wonderful. Fantastic. Such a trio of adjectives probably brings several things to mind. Christmas. The existence of narwhals. Aunt Mildred’s Sunday best. 

Between October 3 and 13, the rest of the world bringing all of this to Catalonia (the weird, the wonderful and the fantastic that is - there will be no narwhals), at the renowned Sitges fantasy film festival. 

Held in the Southern Catalonia town of Sitges, the festival attracts hundreds of thousands every year with its star-studded lineup and packed programme of events. Its 52nd edition is expected to be even bigger. In the buildup, ticket sales are nearly 2% higher than those of last year. 

Big names draw big crowds

The special guests at the festival certainly justify ticket sales. “Jurassic Park” icon Sam Neill will receive the Grand Honorary Award for this year on the final night of the festival, on Saturday October 12. Here’s to hoping that his imminent return in the next Jurassic World film can rescue the modern-day franchise. 

While Neill is more well-known for his work in fantasy films, Patrick Wilson’s presence at the festival will draw the crowds of people who prefer instead to be scared out of their skin. 

For those not wanting to miss the star of “The Conjuring” and “Insidious” sagas, he will receive the Time Machine Award on opening night. Then again, in these films he tends to be a bad omen people around him - if you’d rather not get possessed maybe best not.

Fans of TV series will have plenty to bring them to the festival too. Jesse Pinkman and Jaime Lannister will both be gracing the festival with their presence. 

If these names are somehow unfamiliar, perhaps “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones” will ring more bells. Indeed, Aaron Paul, who plays crystal meth cook and dealer Jesse Pinkman in the “Breaking Bad” series, will present the premiere of Netflix Original, “El Camino: a Breaking Bad movie”. Meanwhile, Dane Nikolaj Coster-Waldu, the man behind the ever-popular Jaime Lannister from ‘Game of Thrones’, will introduce the premiere of “Suicide Tourist”.

The festival will also pay tribute to Italian director Pupi Avati, the mind behind horror masterpieces “The House with Laughing Windows” (1976) and “Zeder” (1983), who will collect the Nosferatu Award on Sunday October 6. 

Premieres and returning films fill 10 days

Although organizers have announced that fewer films will be screened at the festival, there are still plenty of premieres and returning pieces to see. 

Perhaps the headline premiere film is by José Luis Montesinos, whose work, “Cuerdas”, depicts the struggles of a woman trapped with no one for company but her sick dog. “The Advantages of Travelling by Train”, featuring Belén Cuesta, Luis Tosar, and Pilar Castro will also debut at the festival.

New films this year include “Suicide Tourist” and “El Camino: a Breaking Bad movie” (mentioned above), as well as “3 from Hell”, by Rob Zombie (what a brilliant name for a horror director), and Adam Egypt Mortimer’s “Daniel Isn’t Real” and Larry Fessenden’s “Depraved”. 

Returning films include “The Possession”, as requested by Sam Neill himself, short film, “A Trip to the Moon” and many others. For a full programme of films listed, visit the festival’s official website - there is certainly enough there to stop you from sleeping before Halloween.

Virtual Reality experiences

Returning this year is the virtual reality section of the festival, putting fans directly in the middle of the action. A total of 20 works make up this year’s VR offering, available to enjoy for free in the Samsung Sitges Cocoon 360º.

Visitors get to unleash their inner Jedi by fighting Star Wars robots, and even live their nightmares by playing a horror movie protagonist, working up a sweat on a treadmill for a terrifying interactive experience. 

Feel the thrill of the chase in Mad Max with the interactive VR and car gaming equipment too, continuing with the dystopian action thriller theme of the festival.

Female director focus

The festival has dedicated a large section to female directors. Mirrah Foulkes’s revenge tale “Judy and Punch”, “Greener Grass” with Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe and “Braid” directed by Mitzi Perione are notable inclusions. 

The 2011 edition of the festival hosted the premiere of “The Woman”, a film centered around the treatment of violent clans. This year the film’s director, Pollyanna McIntosh, returns with her film “Darlin”, which resurrects the story through the eyes of the daughter of the wild woman.

Sitges remembers 

There will be a tribute to Chinese director King Hu by playing four of his key works: “Come Drink with Me” (1966), “Dragon Inn” (1967), “A Touch of Zen” (1971), and “Legend of the Mountain” (1979).

2019 also marks the 40th anniversary of the “Alien” saga, regarded by many as the king of science fiction horror. In commemoration of this, a memoir by Alexandre O.Philippe will be screened entitled “Memoir - The Origins of Alien”.

Much, much more

There is so much on offer over the course of the 11 days - short film screenings, book presentations, scavenger hunts and even a zombie walk are some of the many activities on offer. 

There will also be a nighttime Renfe service from Sitges, for those that are worried about the journey back in the dark...

With Halloween season around the corner, as well as the imminent release of Joaquin Phoenix’s highly anticipated “Joker”, what better way to get the blood pumping a bit early?