Interview with Jay Kay of Highlands Horror Film Fest

Always giving filmmakers a safe and inclusiive environment




Howdy fellow horror hounds! The Blood Shed is thrilled to be a sponsor for the 5th Annual Highlands Horror Film Fest in New Jersey!


I recently had the opportunity to talk one on one with Jay Kay of Horror Happens Radio to talk about Highlands Horror Film Fest & his role in the festivities.

And it went like this..


M: Hi Jay! Thank you for sitting down with me to talk about the 5th Annual Highlands Horror Film Fest.

Jay: Thank you so much Michelle for taking the time. We appreciate you and The Blood Shed for taking the time to cover our up-and-coming festival October 7th and 8th!

M: I imagine you must be very excited to see Highlands Horror Film Fest hit the half decade benchmark. How would you say the festival has evolved from year one to today?

Jay: Well, that is a question for our fearless leader Rob Kneller who has been there since the start. As for me, I began working with the festival over the last couple of years and I am an alum as well. This is the first year I came on in a more full-time role as co-director, host, programmer and more!

From what I have seen, it has grown leaps and bounds, starting in the community center down the Jersey Shore in Highlands, NJ. It began as more of a balance between a specticle for the halloween season and a film festival that was supporting the indie horror vision. Since horror is fluid, it offered the audience so many different shades of the genre.

M: That’s incredible, we certainly need as many outlets as possible for independent filmmakers.

Jay: Without a doubt, festivals are so crucial in an ocean of VOD and streaming where a film can be lost usually.

Seeing it grow so much the years, it has been amazing to see so many filmmakers come through the doors with their nightmares and dreamscapes. Always giving filmmakers a safe and inclusiive environment to show their films and projects. Now at Kevin Smith’s SModcastle Cinemas, the festival has taken a huge jump that will benefit for a long time as the quality and support continues to grow!

M: What in particular drew you to take on such an integral role with Highlands Horror Fest over the years?

Jay: Well, for one thing I am Jersey boy all my life, raised not too far from Camp Blood in Blairstown, NJ. It felt right to be part of a homegrown film festival with a man who is wonderful to collaborate with and is passionate like Rob. Second, my work has screened there and been award winners, his support for my film work and covering the event before for Horror Happens Radio, gave me the chance to see the festival from a variety of angles. So, when the chance opened up, I jumped in and continued to grow my involvement for the festival. I can do the same now for filmmakers from all walks of life including student filmmakers like myself at one point.

M: I love the fact that it all came about so organically. Was HHFF always all ages inclusive, or is that a more recent development?

Jay: Without a doubt. I have worked, judged, programmed, and covered many festivals. So it worked out well!

Great question. It always has been open to student filmmakers. In fact, I believe that this year is the first year we have a middle school horror short film from a charter school. It is called “Not Your Business.” We get several entries from high school and university each year. Why we focus on the quality of films for the event, we look at the entire picture and give a platform for filmmakers who are learning as well.

M: So Highlands Horror Film Fest really puts their money where their mouth is in supporting indie horror? That’s phenomenal.

Jay: We want filmmakers who are learning to know this is a home for them and as they grow, they can return to show their work. That is how it has been for me, I want to see that for them. Our student films no matter the skill level really excite me in watching, judging, and maybe programming since we only have a certain number of spots over the two days and three blocks!

M: At what point is the official selection announced?

Jay: We announce in mid-September, and I believe everything was selected via filmfreeway. Our submissions continue to grow each year and it shows that our reputation grows as well. I mean, the Jersey shore, a passionate film festival, and now a cinema like SModcastle!

We run until the end of August and then break down the numbers and our notes with the judges. Not re-inventing the wheel but Rob and I come from different backgrounds so after it is all funneled from everyone involved, it’s a great blend for fans to enjoy both days along with the Q&As and the happenings during that weekend in Atlantic Highlands!

M: As this year’s festival gets closer do you find yourselves already thinking about next year and what you want to add to the event?

Jay: Of course! We have ideas all the time. Resources, money, and time always shape it. We have larger plans ahead for the festival. Things we wanted this year, however it is not possible yet… But we will get there I promise. We want this to be a top film festival that entertains as well as educates and frightens a bit!

However, with the fest coming up this weekend. We are all set to run at the new venue and see how it rolls! The Highlands Horror Film Fest (Not festival) is evolving. We hope many will continue to come for the ride as we continue to grow and balance our audience.

M: I’m excited to see what you & Rob will have in store for us! It’s wonderful that HHFF is so accessible & that the team is ambitious. It sounds like participants & attendees are in for a fantastically spooky weekend.

Jay: We hope so, we have three full blocks of films for them! Two blocks on Saturday and an awards show and film block on Sunday. Sunday will feature Jersey horror and student films in the block. We have a total of 21 projects including three awesome feature films “Mind Leech,” “Lore,” and “Model House.” Next year we hope to expand a little bit more.

M: Well, our time is about up, I want to thank you again for speaking with me this lovely October evening. But before we leave is there anything in particular that you would like your audience to know about HHFF?

Jay: Of course. We want to see everyone this weekend!!! Come out and support this weekend October 7th and 8th at the SModcastle Cinemas in Atlantic Highlands, NJ. whether it is one block of films or all of them by heading over to We are growing, but we can only get to where we want to be for the filmmakers, fans, students, and horror freaks by support! Thank you so much for your time and support Michelle! We are so honored to have you and The Blood Shed as sponsor this year! Pleasant nightmares….


It’s wonderful to see that the motivation for Highlands Horror Film Fest is so pure; celebrating true independent cinema & growing to the point of having their 5th Annual at Kevin Smith’s SModcastle. It speaks to the Jersey spirit.



Below is the list of the official selection & daily start times for the 5th Annual Highlands Horror Film Fest 2023:


Saturday 10/7 – 2:30 PM 

Part-Time – Anthony Misiano

Septichexen – Anders Elsrud Hultgreen

Storage – Kelly Krause 

Three Baths – Rafael De Leon Jr. 

Shop at the Edge of Town – Caitlin Tamplin

Feature: Lore – James Bushe, Patrick Ryder, Greig Johnson  


Saturday 10/7 – 7:30 PM

Birdie – Andrew Edison 

Escalation – Christian Bachini

Party’s Over – Neil Willoughby 

No Slasher Here – Robert Tiemstra

Solitude – Trevor Hancock 

Greed & Gore – Adam Kirkey

Feature: Model House – Derek Pike 


Sunday 10/8 – 3 PM

Middle School: Not Your Business – RTA MS Film Collective 

There is Someone at Your Door – Jacob Ewing 

See No Evil – Shangmou Xiu 

High School: Joints – Hadrian Lynn 

University: 404 – Alvaro Aldana Correia

Don’t Fret the Devil – Law Ferreira

University: NOMAN –  Matt Robb 

Cover Your Ears – Oskar Johansson

Feature: Mind Leech – Chris Cheeseman & Paul Krysinski 





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