Welcome to October, although it feels like a different kind of month because it’s 2020. It’s still Halloween season for many and Inktober for artists of all skill levels. What better way to commemorate a terrifying year with terrifying visuals and stories? Salt City Horror Fest returns for its 15th year on Saturday, Oct. 17. Gates open at 6 p.m. and the festival kicks off at dusk. This year, the single-day event is taking place at Finger Lakes Drive-In, 1064 Clark Street Rd. in Auburn.
Normally, the event is a day-long celebration of the genre and film at The Palace Theatre in Syracuse. This year’s event was going to span over two days. There are several features, vendors, guest appearances, food, and more. Organizer Jeff Meyer, who has been at the helm since the beginning, continues to be diligent through the years with producing one-off movie nights, which are sometimes themed, with single or double features. Unfortunately, there have been a few obstacles to hurdle over and around to make quick, appropriate changes to make this a success.
Considering restrictions in place, the majority of theaters are unable to show big screen blockbusters, independent gems, or familiar favorites. This is all due to an invisible and airborne virus that’s more intimidating than the antagonizing invisible force in M. Night Shyamalan’s flop, The Happening. The truth is reality can be stranger than fiction.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 put the kibosh on the extra perks of having vendors and special guests. However, Meyer said, for those who already purchased tickets for the original event, tickets will cover admission for this year’s festival and next year’s.
Meyer is simply grateful to have Salt City Horror Fest taking place. “We held out until the beginning of October. [Governor Andrew] Cuomo had a couple conferences and theaters were brought into the mix. There is no definite plan, and that put us in a bind.”
Meyer is also the director of the Bristol Omnitheater operations at The Museum of Science and Technology in Downtown Syracuse. Although the museum is still open to the public, the only domed IMAX theater in New York is currently closed to the public. In the interim, he’s been utilizing his skills in other departments of the museum.
As in years past, Meyer is working with Buffalo-based entertainment promoters After Dark Presents. The agency, which nobly serves Western and Central New York, is strongly focused on concerts. In the last few years, they’ve diversified their offerings and, of course, this includes films. Meyer credited After Dark’s Eric Binion to reaching out to Finger Lakes Drive-In and making that connection.
Plus, drive-ins themselves play their own roles in classic and even modern horror movies.
Film formats are a critical components. In the world of cinema, a lot has changed since the early 1970s. Salt City Horror Fest has stuck by its promise to present films in their original 35mm formats and it’s successfully been accomplished at The Palace Theatre. The flick of the switch, the whirring of fans, the turning of the reels, and even the flapping of the film — nothing can really compare to that aesthetic, that art. Finger Lakes Drive-In, however, presents movies in digital formats.
“There is a market for horror films in Upstate New York, granted it’s not for 35mm. Right now, drive-ins are the only places where you can see movies in New York,” said Meyer. “We just wanted to make [Salt City Horror Fest] as simple as we can.”
To compensate for not being able to show 35mm film, Meyer said there are digital cinema packages, or DCPs, that are the modern mediums for film. DCPs also boast a quasi-35mm mystique and the format does these classic horror flicks justice. “To see a transfer is cool on television and even better at the drive-in,” said Meyer, “especially to see Basket Case since no one plays it.” The 1982 comedy-horror flick about vengeful, formally conjoined twins is a rarity.
The drive-in theater also works with larger studios providing those movies you’d see in typical theaters. Smaller studios, like Rialto Pictures, own the rights to other films, including the first feature of the evening: John Carpenter’s Escape From New York.
Along with the aforementioned film, what else is in store for a such a classic outing and experience: The Exorcist (Director’s Cut), The Silence of the Lambs, and Basket Case. There will be 15-minute intermissions between each feature, except for (as it stands right now) the last two films. Meyer said he hopes Basket Case will play immediately after Silence of the Lambs.
Acquiring the rights is also critical. A person, theaters, and even libraries can’t simply set up movie nights. Expect fines at the very least. Meyer said there are stipulations that vary by distributer and even by film. Some directors don’t want their movie shown in a particular formats. For instance, The Exorcist will be shown as its “Director’s Cut” version and Silence of the Lambs will be shown in 4K.
Get out and have some fun Saturday, Oct. 17, at 6 p.m. Escape the confines of your abode. Allow the spirit of Halloween possess you. From under the stars, gaze these classic films — safely and social distantly — from your cars. Bring a nice Chianti and a bowl of fava beans if popcorn isn’t healthy enough — no, don’t do that because nothing beats popcorn and M&Ms.
Visit Salt City Horror Fest for more information and to purchase admission. Tickets are $20 a person or $40 per car. There is a four-person limit per car; extra people will mean extra cost. Finger Lakes Drive-In is handicap-accessible and accommodating; please contact the venue with questions and for more information.