Fear factor: These film fest frights keep you on the edge of your seat

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Portrait of a Zombie plays the Virginia Film Fest on Sunday at Regal Downtown. Portrait of a Zombie plays the Virginia Film Fest on Sunday at Regal Downtown.

Who says you can’t celebrate a holiday for two weekends in a row? Halloween may be on the 31st, but the Virginia Film Festival continues the fright with creepy offerings to audiences every night during its four days in Charlottesville beginning on Thursday.

THURSDAY:The waters haven’t been this unsafe since Jaws in Thursday night’s mockumentary thriller The Bay, the story of a deadly parasitic infestation of the Chesapeake Bay. Three years after the gruesome and mysterious deaths of roughly 700 Bay-area residents, a reporter sets free some footage revealing the truth about that fateful Independence Day. Combining Barry Levinson with the forces behind Paranormal Activity, the film’s central premise of a biological murderer and its cover-up by a small town’s authorities isn’t only a chance for mile-a-minute scares – it’s timely and ecologically aware.

FRIDAY: Not that it needs much introduction, but terror takes a turn for the extraterrestrial in sci-fi classic Aliens on Friday night. It may have taken a more action-oriented route than its predecessor, but James Cameron’s second entry in the infamous series continues to frighten nearly 20 years later. Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley once again finds herself face to face with the alien beasts 57 years after the initial attack on the ill-fated Nostromo, thanks to a mysterious disappearance from planet LV-426 and some fortunately advanced stasis.

SATURDAY: We’ve all heard Sartre’s “hell is other people” bit, but what happens when family becomes those other people? That’s the idea behind Saturday night’s House Hunting, which tosses two families into a horrifying purgatory in the form of a haunted and inescapable piece of real estate. Locked away in the secluded home, the families begin working together to escape only to quickly degrade as they learn – from the mouth of a prior owner’s spirit, no less – that only one family will make it off of the property alive. This is competitive real estate at its finest, folks.

SUNDAY:Because the found footage theme continues to grip the horror genre, Sunday night’s Irish flick Portrait of a Zombie similarly uses the mockumentary style as the narrative revolves around an American documentary crew keeping its lenses locked on a family whose son has fallen victim to the zombie outbreak racing across Dublin. Family is one of those ties that bind and all, but when Billy’s parents decide to keep him around even as he craves brains and blood, people are reasonably upset. But hey, it’s the 21st century, and family is all about unconditional love, right?

Whatever your preference – maybe it’s the action-packed terrors of space, or perhaps the ecological commentary found in parasitic infestations – the Virginia Film Festival won’t let Halloween disappear at the stroke at midnight. Horror is alive and well – make that un-dead and well in some cases – all weekend. Complete details at virginiafilmfestival.org.

Virginia Film Festival/November 1-4 

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