Nevermore Film Festival attracts horror fans to The Carolina Theatre

The Carolina Theatre building in downtown Durham

The Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham. Photo by Lucy Kraus.

Friday, March 8, 2024

By Lucy Kraus

For 25 years, the Carolina Theatre’s Nevermore Film Festival has brought fans to downtown Durham for a weekend of horror. This year’s festival was held in-person Feb. 23-25, with a virtual component from Feb. 23 to March 1. 

This year’s ticket sales were the highest in the festival’s history, with over 4200 tickets sold. Jordan Hewitt Beard, senior director of marketing at the Carolina Theatre, said Nevermore always attracts a diverse crowd of attendees excited to share their love of horror films with other fans. Genre film festivals are not common, she said, which helps Nevermore bring in visitors from outside the Durham area. 

A volunteer selection committee watches hundreds of films every year to choose the final lineup for the festival. This year, 71 films were selected from over 700 submissions. Nevermore is a first-run film festival, meaning that the films have not previously been shown commercially. Many of the selected films are picked up by production companies after the festival, Beard said.

“Dr. Sander’s Sleep Cure,” which was written, directed and starred in by Mart Sander of Estonia, won the audience award for best feature film. With “Sleep Cure,” Sander broke the Guinness World Record for most characters played by a single actor in a film.

Michelle Iannantuono’s “Livescreamers,” a found-footage style film about a cursed video game that kills its players, won the jury award for best feature film. 

The festival added a virtual component in 2021 as a  response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of its success, Nevermore has continued to offer a virtual event, although Beard said the majority of ticket-holders are still in-person attendees. 

“Whereas most film festivals in the US saw a horrendous decline in audience participation in 2021, Nevermore increased its attendance to 3500,” Carl said in a written statement. 

Although the festival is focused primarily on horror, Beard said it has expanded to include some science fiction, mystery and suspense films as well. 

“I think horror can definitely be a hard sell for people,” she said. “It seems to be kind of alienating for some.”

The inaugural festival was created to showcase classic horror films and sold 732 tickets, senior director of film Jim Carl said in a written statement . This number jumped to more than 1800 tickets in 2002, the same year the festival eliminated classic flicks in favor of all-new films. 

Marshall Morgan, a longtime Nevermore attendee, said the festival has largely remained faithful to what it was a decade ago. The wide range of films is what makes Nevermore special, he said.

Nevermore has been named a “Top 100 Film Festival by FilmFreeway,” and attracts both local and international film submissions. Beard said she thinks the festival helps put Durham on the map for audiences both in the US and internationally. More than 40 of this year’s films sent at least one member of their team to attend or speak at the festival, she said.

“It is really important to be able to offer a place for people that enjoy horror or sci-fi films, a place that they can gather to meet other people who have the same or similar interest,” she said. 

Juliette, an attendee at this year’s festival who wished to be identified by only her first name, said she discovered the festival coincidentally this year while visiting Durham from Brazil. She said being “afraid of everything” as a child contributed to an unlikely love for horror films.

“I found out that I will never get rid of the thoughts that made me afraid, so instead of trying to push them away, I thought maybe I should dwell on them more,” she said. “If you can’t stop thinking about it because it makes you afraid, there’s something beautiful about that.”

Edited by Henry Thomas & Ava Dobson