As our car rounds the bend on a secluded bush-lined road, a disheveled masked figure lurches out from the bushes, clutching a chainsaw against his blood-splattered overalls. Then he’s gone. Suddenly, his face appears in the passenger-side window. Fuck!
Everyone in the car chuckles and waves at him. He runs off to tackle the windscreen of the car behind us. We’ve arrived at the Horror Movie Campout 2016. We haven’t even unpacked the car yet and the show is in full swing.
Already a successful regular event in other states around Australia, 2016 is the first year the Horror Movie Campout has ventured up to Sydney. Well, in the Panang Parklands near Gosford to be exact. Expectations are high and the turn out is large and enthusiastic. As we begin the laborious task of setting up tents and blowing up mattresses, we occasionally stop to marvel at the many already costumed punters doing the same.
To our left a coven of witches is putting the finishing touches on their dwelling for the evening, a glow-in-the-dark skeleton rattles in the wind from their front door. To our right, an undead bride is lumbering towards us, spitting blood and moaning at passersby. We soon realise she’s not actually a camper but rather one of the many paid actors roaming the crowds. Hammering in uncooperative tent pegs at your campsite while a zombie howls inches from your face is quite the experience.
Set up, made up and ready to rumble, we head down to the event gates just before nightfall to sample the booze, food and further jump scares that are sure to be on offer.
“Hooray for full-strength beer, 1am nachos with the lot, and getting shit-scared in the woods.”
“Well, I guess I’m just gonna piss myself instead,” concedes one of our guests as he realises that in order to make it to the port-a-loo section he will indeed need to navigate “The Death Maze”. “Nah, it’s not that bad,” explains our fearless leader, turning to face our most fearful member of the group, “they’re not even set up yet.” She spins around purposefully, right into a towering live Jason Voorhees brandishing a foot-long knife. Loud screams and laughs ensue. The tone for the night is set.
The setting for the Horror Movie Campout is almost too perfect. At the top of the hill is an easy-to-access bar and seating area with a host of vegan and carnivore-friendly boutique food trucks. Beneath this chill-out zone is the main outdoor amphitheatre which plays host to the large blow-up cinema screen and proper festival stage for the bands. People are already claiming their spots for the double feature, the field littered with multi-coloured inflatable chairs and picnic blankets.
The choice of bands for the evening is unexpected, given the hand-in-hand nature of horror films and more extreme styles of music. Rather than amping up the growing crowd with a few metal bands, the organisers have kept things chilled – perhaps a deliberate tactic – as a selection of inoffensive blues and rock acts provide a pleasant backing for the pre-game drinking and gorging of gourmet food.
Headliners The Lazys step things up with a healthy blast of no-bullshit punk’n’roll but by the time they hit the stage it’s well past dark and punters are getting very itchy for their dose of big screen thrills and chills. They close out their set with a stage full of various monsters, killers and clowns drawn out of the crowd and our fingers are crossed as we wait to find out what will be the two fan-chosen flicks about to be played.
A Nightmare On Elm Street gets a huge cheer while The Conjuring – announced in an impressive death metal growl by host Victoria Ferrara (Housos) – earns some polite applause. First, we’re gonna sit through a handful of horror shorts though, varying in quality from terrible to excellent. The pick of the litter is Skypemare. Definitely worth checking out.
“As our car rounds the bend on a secluded bush-lined road, a disheveled masked figure lurches out from the bushes, clutching a chainsaw against his blood-splattered overalls. Then he’s gone.”
As everyone loads up on beers and popcorn for the main event, it becomes clear that there’s been a decent amount chair thievery taking place under the cover of darkness. The group of three unsavoury folks who’ve commandeered our photographer’s set of blow-up couches are quick to move when we explain, “I mean you can sit there, but just know she’s got a big knife and a real bad temper.” There’s some fun horror-themed pantomimes happening during the shorts as well, as paid actors chase each other around the venue, even at one point setting one of the killers on fire.
A Nightmare On Elm Street holds up really well and everyone seems to get a huge kick out of the mix of hilarious ‘80s fashion and iconic Freddy moments. Johnny Depp’s death gets the best reaction and the Campout truly reaches its peak here: a well fed crowd (in many cases, well drunk also) kicking back in some truly beautiful surrounds watching a classic horror flick on the big screen with big audience reactions.
The only real criticisms to be had for the Horror Movie Campout 2016 all regard the 12am-2am section of the event. A combination of a sudden drop in temperature and a no pass outs policy sees quite a few shivering horror fans and despite a slew of outraged and sometimes very funny comments on the event’s official page, the organisers are unable to turn down the music from their dance party garden area enough to not distract from the viewing of The Conjuring. The film certainly loses a lot of its potential scare factor when it’s matched with what sounds like a dubstep version of the Grease Megamix blaring from a few hundred metres away.
That said, nobody gets it perfect the very first time, and we can safely say that with a few tweaks (let’s hear it for heavy metal, pass outs and no doof party, right guys?) this will become a staple destination festival for genre film fans from across NSW. Unlike plenty of festivals where the worst element is the punters themselves, this is an event where the people who attend are arguably a drawcard themselves, a likeminded community focused on creativity and having a great time, with barely any dickhead factor. Hooray for full-strength beer, 1am nachos with the lot, and getting shit-scared in the woods.