In 2011, two out of state filmmakers, J.T. Seaton and Ryan Blake George, were scouring the nation for the perfect venue for a new horror film festival.

After searching the country, they picked New Orleans.

“J.T. and Ryan realized that New Orleans didn’t have a genre film festival,” said Chuck Lucia, the NOLA Horror Film Fest’s local co-director. “The city had the New Orleans Film Festival, but nothing specific to the sci-fi and horror genres.”

Seaton and George also thought that New Orleans, a culturally rich locale where many horror movies have been filmed, would provide fitting ambiance.

“Neither J.T. nor Ryan are from New Orleans,” Lucia said. “So, they thought, ‘It’s a horror festival. Let’s do it at Halloween on Bourbon Street.’ But locals know how bad an idea that is.”

By year three of the festival, Lucia had persuaded the festival’s originators to move the event away from both Bourbon Street and Halloween. The seventh annual NOLA Horror Film Fest runs Thursday, Sept. 21, through Sunday, Sept. 24, at Castillo Blanco Art Studio, 4321 St. Claude Ave. There’s also a slate of post-midnight, early Sunday screenings at Rare Form, 437 Esplanade Ave.

The fest features 55 films, including features, documentaries, short films and student films. Tickets are available at nolahff.com.

Festival highlights include the Shreveport-filmed “Welcome to Willits,” a feature film Lucia describes as “Breaking Bad” meets “The X-Files.” In the film, the residents of a small community in northern California battle mysterious beings who seek to abduct them.

Other feature-length offerings include “Long Live the King,” a documentary about the enduring king of monsters, King Kong. Another feature, “Danger, Dames & Dangerous Curves” tells a film noir-style story about a boss who snacks on his employees because he’s a vampire.

The NOLA Horror Film Fest receives between 500 and 600 submissions each year. Horror and sci-fi are the festival’s programming foundation, but films that defy categorization are also welcome.

“We screen things that don’t really fit genres,” Lucia said. “If a film has an original story, good production values or amazing acting, that’s really what we base our criteria on.”

Many films, such as the recent hit “Get Out,” begin as conventional dramas but evolve into horror, Lucia said. “We call them slow burns. That’s a specific style of horror writing.”

In addition to films, the festival accepts unproduced scripts for awards consideration. Writing is the topic of this year’s panel discussion, to be held at 2 p.m. Sunday.

“It’s not just a film festival,” Lucia said. “We love our writers.”

A full schedule of NOLA Horror Film Fest screenings and events is available at nolahff.com.

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NOLA Horror Film Fest feature films

“Welcome to Willits”: 8 p.m. Thursday. Deep in the Northern California woods, residents battle repeated attacks by mysterious creatures. When a group of lost campers gets caught in the slaughter survival becomes the only goal.

“Gnaw”: 7:45 p.m. Friday. Jennifer Conrad is a small-town girl starting over in the big city. Fleeing an abusive relationship, she wants a new life. But it’s difficult to start over when something gnaws on her while she sleeps.

“Danger, Dames & Dangerous Curves”: 10 p.m. Friday. After his vampire boss snacks on a few employees, an accountant learns that monsters are real, hungry and searching for him.

“Long Live the King”: 1 p.m. Saturday. This feature documentary examines the enduring influence of King Kong, the giant ape who tore his way through the 1933 classic “King Kong.”

“The Glass Coffin”: 3:15 p.m. Saturday. An actress on her way to a gala ceremony to receive a lifetime achievement award gets a nasty surprise. The windows in her limousine go dark, her phone dies and a strange voice demands she follow instructions.

“Muse”: 7:45 p.m. Saturday. A painter’s life is forever changed when a mythical spirit from Celtic lore becomes his lover and muse.

“Ruin Me”: 10 p.m. Saturday. A young woman named Alexandra reluctantly attends a Slasher Sleepout. An “extreme” event, Slasher Sleepout is part camping trip, part haunted house and part escape room. When the fun turns deadly, Alex must play the game or die.

“Tempus Tormentum”: 1 a.m. Sunday at Rare Form. Three masked psychopaths force a drifter to play a strange game of cat and mouse. The evening of terror has lingering consequences.

“Replace”: 8:30 p.m. Sunday. A beautiful young woman contracts a horrible disease. Her skin ages rapidly, dries and crumbles. When the endangered beauty discovers that she can replace her skin with someone else’s skin, she must choose between death and survival.