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Popcorn Frights film festival founders don't think Miami is scary enough

Popcorn Frights, #SoFla's new horror film fest, will scare attendees Aug. 12-18 at @OCinema.

Marc Ferman met Igor Shteyrenberg after midnight in a darkened movie theater. Which seems fitting, since the pair of film nerds spent that night scaring up a new horror movie festival.

At the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, the Miami-based film buffs struck up a conversation, which went like this: Why is the horror genre getting short shrift in Hollywood (the one in California), and especially in Miami?

Another question pressing on Ferman's mind: How have we never met before? Ferman programs Popcorn Nights, screenings of classic and cult movies such as "The Goonies" and "Back to the Future" at O Cinema in Wynwood. Shteyrenberg directs the Miami Jewish Film Festival.

"We both live in Miami, so it only makes sense that we would discover our love of horror film in Austin," Ferman says.

Popcorn Frights, the passion project Ferman and Shteyrenberg debuted last fall, returns for a second year Aug. 12-18 to O Cinema Wynwood in Miami. Their bloody horror fest will deliver the South Florida premieres of 17 feature-length indie films and 17 shorts, starring a strong bill of actors including Christopher Lloyd, Natasha Lyonne, Lance Henriksen and Amy Sedaris.

Describing the first Popcorn Frights as a "test pilot," Ferman says the festival featured just four movies over four days. All 500 seats sold out, which signaled to him that local moviegoers crave the types of low-budget, high-intensity horror often shut out of South Florida's theaters.

"There are so many great new horror films out there that people never get exposed to," Ferman says. "Unfortunately, most of these films don't get theatrical releases outside New York and Los Angeles. We had no evidence a horror festival could be sustained, but so many people turned out last year."

Kareem Tabsch, O Cinema's co-founder, says Ferman brings an infectious energy to exposing more moviegoers to the genre. He overheard dozens of fans "rehashing plot points" in excited whispers as they exited last year's screening of "Howl," about a group of derailed train passengers who are besiged by werewolves.

"And I'm sitting there thinking, 'Who cares about Hollywood?' " Tabsch recalls. "There was no proper horror festival in the area, and now there is, and people have a hunger for it."

Shteyrenberg and Ferman are particularly hyped for the opening-night premiere of "The Black Coat's Daughter" (9 p.m. Aug. 12), which follows two students at a prestigious all-girl prep school (Emma Roberts of "American Horror Story," Kiernan Shipka of "Mad Men") who are terrorized by an invisible evil.

"It's really going to catch people off-guard," Shteyrenberg says of the film. "It's a sucker punch to the gut. It's astonishing and topical, and the score is brilliant."

Shteyrenberg is likewise excited for "Evolution," (7 p.m. Aug. 14), a French-language film that debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, about a boy held captive inside an isolated seaside clinic. Same for "I Am Not a Serial Killer" (9 p.m. Aug. 13), in which a small-town teenager suspects his elderly neighbor (Christopher Lloyd) of being a serial killer.

"They're not just simply brain-dead, moronic comedies," Shteyrenberg says. "These are films that will astonish us, that will make us catch our breaths, send shivers down our spines."

Here are a few more highlights:

Antibirth (11 p.m. Aug. 13), stars Natasha Lyonne ("Orange Is the New Black") as a hard-partying stoner in a horror-comedy involving monster pregnancies and alien abductions.

Francesca (7 p.m. Aug. 15), a slasher film following a psycho killer who murders victims with a sinful past, pays homage to director Dario Argento's Italian giallo films of the 1970s.

The Barn (7 p.m. Aug. 16), a throwback to low-budget 1980s horror, concerns a pair of high school best friends who awaken a trio of demons on Halloween night.

The Popcorn Frights Film Festival runs Friday, Aug. 12, through Thursday, Aug. 18, at O Cinema Wynwood, 90 NW 29th St., in Miami. Admission is $12 per screening, $120-$180 for festival passes. For the full schedule, call 305-571-9970 or go to PopcornFrights.com.

pvalys@southflorida.com or 954-356-4364

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