While the Big Easy was still shaking off a slight springtime chill, my horror-loving heart was heating up as I rode the escalator to the third floor of the Canal Place mall: home of the sprawling food court, the terrific Prytania Theaters, and, for this weekend, the official headquarters of the “summer camp for genre fans,” the 2024 Overlook Film Festival!

Taking that second escalator up to the third floor is akin to ascending to horror nirvana, as I was immediately immersed in all manner of the macabre: the Vinegar Syndrome table of essential physical media waited on my right, the Super Yaki merch table of eerie apparel lied straight ahead, and must-see screenings lurk around every corner. After meeting up with fellow Daily Dead team members Jonathan and Christy, we headed to our first screening of the fest: I Don’t Understand You. Written and directed by David Joseph Craig and Brian Crano, I Don’t Understand You was the perfect way to launch into Overlook—an equal parts hilarious and horrifying tale of how escalating misinterpretations lead to malicious actions, bolstered by scary good performances from Nick Kroll and Andrew Rannells, who fully embrace the humor and horror of the film.

Still wondering whether I should be laughing or crying (or maybe both!) as I processed the ending of I Don’t Understand You, I joined the throng of moviegoers heading into our next screening: Tilman Singer’s Cuckoo. Bonkers in the best possible way, Cuckoo simply has to be seen to be believed, and I’m already looking forward to another repeat viewing just to experience its uniquely quirky story and fantastic performances by Hunter Schafer and Dan Stevens. It was the perfect way to cap off a perfect first evening of Overlook (which continued deep into the night for many attendees at the Vampire Ball).

With the arrival of Friday came the commencement of the immersive experiences, beginning with Tales By Candlelight: The Scent of Fear, a Walk The Night production that uses scented oils and an immersive storyteller to guide you through a vivid mental journey into the dark corners of your imagination… and beyond. Entering through a door in the corner of the food court, I was soon transported into what felt like my own horror-themed version of Choose Your Own Adventure, propelled by the storyteller’s enthralling performance and scents ranging from cornmeal (at least that's what my nose thought) to earthiness. Titled “The Descent,” my Scent of Fear experience took me through the floor of my grandparents’ home into an open field where something sinister watched me from the outskirts of the woods. You could do Tales By Candlelight one hundred times and not have the same experience twice, and I highly recommend you let its smells wash over you if you get the chance, especially since you’re left with a scented memento of your harrowing journey… if you survive.

After emerging from The Scent of Fear, it was time for a quick round of snacks and old-fashioneds at the ONE11 Hotel bar before heading to the courtyard at B Mac’s for horror trivia sponsored by Daily Dead! This year’s trivia was wonderfully hosted by author Mike Miley, and while I didn’t officially compete in the trivia since Daily Dead was a sponsor, I will say that those who won prizes definitely earned them! Trivia participants were treated to an appearance by Mike Flanagan and Kate Siegel ahead of a very special screening later that night, and actor Ry Barrett also prowled the courtyard as the imposing masked killer from In a Violent Nature (which was also screening at the festival)—making for quite the killer photo-op.

Following trivia, it was time for the Daily Dead crew to head to Rahm Haus Ice Cream and Courtyard Brewery for the Night of the Living Art Market (where I purchased some delicious horror-themed cocktail recipes from PaperSnapDragon) before going next door to the Grand Hall immersive experience, where we used flashlights and archival insights to solve a mysterious murder that occurred at a fateful dance more than a century ago.

After our perilous ponderings at the Grand Hall, we headed to the Prytania Uptown Theatre for a 10th anniversary screening of Oculus, preceded by director Mike Flanagan being presented with the festival’s legendary Master of Horror Award in the form of a custom-made axe (which is especially fitting for the director of Doctor Sleep). Admittedly, Oculus was a first-time watch for me, and a decade of waiting did not disappoint, as Flanagan’s exploration of a haunted mirror and fractured family ties is pure nightmare fuel that was great to experience with an audience that included a lot of other first-time viewers (and some great reactions to that lightbulb scene—if you know, you know).

With the horrors of Oculus fresh in my mind, we next headed to the French Quarter for a midnight séance hosted by the medium Zabrecky. Having survived a séance at last year’s Overlook, I came into this one knowing a little more about what to expect, but I was nonetheless still amazed by the feats of magic that Zabrecky dazzled us with before we all joined hands and reached out to the afterlife. Suffice to say that some things do go bump in the night when you reach out to the spirit world, and I’m glad that I left the séance with all of my fingers and limbs still intact, as the spirit we made contact with has a bit of a violent reputation.

Following a fright-filled Friday, we kicked off our Saturday with a screening of Jack Clark and Jim Weir’s Birdeater, a fever dream of a film that invites viewers to a bachelor party from hell where relationships gradually unravel and true intentions (no matter how twisted) are revealed. With a gap in the schedule before heading to the closing night film later that night, we decided to grab a bite to eat at the ONE11 Hotel bar… and that’s when my weekend—and my life in general—took an unexpected turn. You see, to promote the screenings of Sébastien Vanicek’s new spider movie Infested, Shudder had an extra immersive experience for those brave enough to take part. In the bar area of the Prytania Theaters at Canal Place, you could sit down on a chair and have tarantulas placed on your face for a photo-op with your new furry, eight-legged friends.

Now, those who have known me for a long time know that I have a bit of arachnophobia, especially when it comes to tarantulas (thanks to them skittering through many ’90s movies and TV series that I grew up watching—thanks, Home Alone!), so taking part in this clever but creepy photo-op was not something I planned on doing. But after Jonathan checked social media and saw that the spider experience was still going on, he rushed back to the theater to take part in it. Within minutes, Christy and I received a photo of Jonathan with tarantulas on his face, and after some encouragement from Christy (and a couple sips of liquid courage from my old-fashioned), I decided to go back to the theater to at least get a closer look at the tarantulas. Walking up to the photo-op on wobbly legs, I still wasn’t sure if I was going to actually let spiders—big spiders—walk on my face, but with a little extra encouragement from Jonathan, I decided to face my fear of spiders head-on—literally. After being warned not to breathe too heavily or make any sudden movements, two handlers each placed a tarantula on either side of my face, and as I felt their prickly legs on my skin, I realized there was no going back on this unique facial treatment! While it lasted longer than I expected and one of the tarantulas started to explore my eye socket, there was an exhilarating and soothing feeling that washed over me when the spiders were taken off my face, and I was immediately glad that I had done the photo-op… and even more glad that I had survived to tell the tale!

After my spider experience, it was time to change into my costume for the Closing Night Halloween Party. After dressing up as Eddie Munson from Stranger Things last year, I decided to once again don a wig for this year’s costume: David from The Lost Boys—one of my favorite characters from my favorite movie of all time. Thanks to some excellent wig-cutting from my brother-in-law and amazing help from my sister and mom, I was able to put together a David costume that I think Kiefer Sutherland would be proud of, and it was an especially fitting costume since the closing night movie that night at Prytania Uptown Theatre was Abigail, the new vampire horror comedy from Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (aka Radio Silence). A hilarious, heartfelt, and very gory horror comedy, Abigail is a blood-soaked blast from start to finish, and I can’t wait for horror fans to see it pull no punches… or fangs… when it sinks its teeth into theaters on April 19th.

Following Abigail’s crimson-spattered conclusion, we all piled onto a school bus to head to Generations Hall for the Overlook Film Festival’s 3rd Annual Halloween party. With myself as David, Christy as a skeleton, and Jonathan as Ash from Evil Dead, we made a scary good trio, and it was great to see so many amazing costumes interacting at Generations Hall, including Chucky, Valak from The Nun, Oliver’s and Felix’s costumes from Saltburn, Ursula from The Little Mermaid (who won the costume contest with resounding applause), a chainsaw head, and many more! The music by The Unnaturals and Boyfriend, combined with the costumes and gothic ambience, really made it feel like Halloween in April, proving that you can bring the Spooky Season to undead life any time of the year, especially in New Orleans!

Waking up on Sunday morning, I felt like a real-life vampire, but there was no time to waste, as after a delicious brunch with great friends, Christy and I headed to the Apothecary bar to meet the Most Dangerous Man in America for an immersive experience filled with comedic commentary and impressive card tricks that still have my jaw on the floor, as well as one trick that put my phone’s passcode on the line (luckily I didn’t lose either the code or my phone)! A few hours after surviving the Most Dangerous Man in America, it was time for me to consult the Oracle at the Regrets from the Dead experience—an equal parts eerie and comforting consultation involving tarot card readings and a reflective look inward that still has me in a contemplative state.

With my immersive experiences for this year’s Overlook completed, it was time to bid farewell to Jonathan and Christy before heading to my final screening: Infested. While having tarantulas on my face helped prepare me for the film’s intense spider-centric scares, I was really blown away by how well the film explores socioeconomic divisions and the lingering effects of emotional trauma. I highly recommend everyone sees Infested when it begins streaming on Shudder on April 26th, and while there were fake spiders waiting for us outside of the theater, I’m just glad that the festival staff didn’t unleash those real tarantulas inside the theater during the film!

After calming my spider-frayed nerves with an old-fashioned at the Ghost Bar, I enjoyed the chill music and great conversations at the REEL Reset party at the NOVAC house before going back to my hotel for one last night of rest. The dawn of a new day then brought the eclipse (albeit shrouded by clouds) and a memorable trip to the Vampire Café to sate my thirst with a Blackberry Vampire Mojito before my voyage to the airport. With another memorable stay at the Overlook in the books thanks to the amazing staff and volunteers who make this festival possible, I headed back to Minnesota with a full bag, a full heart, and thankfully, after a quick look in the bathroom mirror just to be sure, no tarantulas in my hair!

  • Derek Anderson
    About the Author - Derek Anderson

    Raised on a steady diet of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Derek has been fascinated with fear since he first saw ForeverWare being used on an episode of Eerie, Indiana.

    When he’s not writing about horror as the Senior News Reporter for Daily Dead, Derek can be found daydreaming about the Santa Carla Boardwalk from The Lost Boys or reading Stephen King and Brian Keene novels.