September in Lisbon is time for MotelX – International Horror Film Festival

September in Lisbon is time for MotelX – International Horror Film Festival

If you think horror films are an obscure sub-genre only uber-geeks care about, you’re probably right. 

What I’ve been noticing in the last years, though, is that the uber-geek horror-loving community is growing in Portugal. For the past 10 years, every September, MotelX is the place to be in Lisbon if you’re in for nice weather and horror films.

MotelX in numbers

The first edition, in 2007, screened 44 films to a total of 5,000 viewers. It sounds small, but in a country where the horror genre isn’t celebrated, that’s quite spectacular.

Fast forward 10 years. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the location – Cinema São Jorge, the 1950’s cinema theater in Avenida da Liberdade, halfway between Restauradores and Marquês de Pombal.

As the festival grew in numbers, 90 films and a total of 18,250 viewers in 2016, so did the MotelX’s duration. This year, all the gore and dark alleys come together in one place for six days, from 5th to 10th September.

Expect the... expected

From the beginning, MotelX has established itself as a horror-only film festival. CTLX, the organization behind the festival, was on to something when they planned the first edition.

Would Lisbon welcome a film festival that focused only on horror movies? The beginning might have been shy but, judging by the crowded room to hear Roger Corman on Wednesday evening, they were on the right track from day one.

If you think there’s nothing original or diverse about horror films (and a whole festival dedicated to them), the surprise here comes in the form of original, frighteningly twisted stories through short films and feature films.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel to be original. It’s how you spin it, though, that makes the difference.

What not to miss

For me, it’s always a tough decision to pick which movies to watch and which movies to skip. My job is particularly harder since during the festival, I avoid reading reviews or watching trailers.

Two events are always must-attend: the opening ceremony and the closing ceremony. This year the last film of the festival is the much-anticipated “IT,” Andy Muschietti’s version of Stephen King’s blood-freezing novel.

As a horror film fan, I’m not scared easily (although you’d be surprised how many jump scares still get to me even when I think I can see them coming). I particularly like to discover new material, and MotelX is perfect for that.

How do I put the films to the test? I go with the short films. If you can turn my world upside down in 30 minutes or less (sometimes a lot less), then you got my attention. Shorts are short and (not so) sweet, and they either make your skin crawl (or laugh out loud like one of them today, but more on that in next week’s post), or they don’t.

Here are the ones that made my shortlist (based on my availability to attend the sessions):

“When Demons Die,” Germany, 2016
“Julkita,” Mexico, 2017
“Ink, Cocks & Rock’n’Roll”, UK, 2017
“Garden Party,” France, 2016
“Animal,” France, 2016
“Decorado”, Spain/France, 2016
“The Corpse Series,” UK, 2016
“Carga,” Portugal, 2016
“O Candeeiro – Um Filme à Luz de Lisboa”, Portugal, 2016
“Depois do Silêncio”, Portugal, 2017
“#Blessed”, Portugal, 2017
“Thursday Night,” Portugal, 2016

Next week, I’ll focus on those who made the cut and why.

Monsters, it's all about the monsters

I was star-struck when I saw Roger Corman slowly making his way up the stairs for the opening ceremony. 

I came across Corman’s work by accident, at a time when I was slightly obsessed with Vincent Price and looked for films where he starred after watching Tim Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands.” 

The consensus about Corman across Hollywood was that he made B-rated films with low budgets look like big studio productions. Most of them were horror films.

Corman and Alejandro Jodorowsky (the Chilean-born director that never got around to make his very own surreal version of “Dune”) are the guest honors of this year’s edition, where they’ll be interviewed live. 

Roger Corman’s session was packed, and I expect Jodorowsky’s to be as well. There are no tickets for these sessions, so come early to save your spot in line.

The festival kicked off with a well-deserved tribute to recently-deceased Tobe Hoper, the introduction of the jury for the Portuguese short films competition (all enthusiasts of horror films but not necessarily part of the industry), and the screening of Kevin Phillips’ “Super Dark Times.”

This year’s mascot, the red devil, is a mix of old pagan traditions still happening at the present time in the North of the country. 

Portugal has more material to create original horror stories than most people think. All you need is to dig deeper into those traditions.

Read the full festival program here.