Archive for May, 2015

When I embarked for a weekend of horror movies at the Stanley Film Festival, I had all of these grand ambitions of spare time. My children would not be in attendance, so surely, I would be drowning in surplus hours. I was going to go for mountain runs; I was going to blog, review, Facebook, and tweet in real time; I was going to work on my next horror novel.

Very few of these things actually happened. Instead, my waking moments were utterly and wholly consumed by horror movie viewing. Fitting for a horror film festival.

So I devoted myself to the cause and emerge now to finally recount the experience.

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Estes Park is gorgeous. I am Colorado born and bred, so I am an insatiable sucker for a beautiful mountain town. Something in the looming peaks speaks to me deep, in my bones. I could have simply vacationed there, could have been content visiting the famed Stanley Hotel, yet coupled with my resounding love of horror, I was euphoric.

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Attending the Stanley Film Festival marked my first film festival experience. I had no idea what to expect. My exceptional partner secured the trip to celebrate my birthday.

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The Stanley Hotel is a character within itself. I could see how the setting, how that personality could inspire Stephen King, how it still has a draw for horror and paranormal enthusiasts. It was like a pilgrimage. The hotel is, at its essence, creepy. The walls and floors themselves creak; the physical building speaks and whines. It is not a faceless, renovated, cookie cutter hotel you can stay at in any American city.

I loved it.

IMG_0240_editedWe braved the fury and fickleness of mountainous Colorado spring weather as we waited for the initial screening. Huddled under our daughter’s rainbow polka dot umbrella, we felt decidedly un-horror, but it was worth the freezing pelting wait.

Cooties was the opening night screening (Cooties review here). Cooties was potentially the perfect film to kickoff the festival for us. It managed to be funny yet still scary and wildly entertaining throughout. My partner and I laughed out loud, and I flinched on multiple occasions.

Directly after the screening was the opening night party. The party was a strange experience. I am a cinematic civilian, so it was surreal to me to be in arm’s reach of celebrities or actors like Elijah Wood. As much as I wanted to gush over each and every one of them (and also hand them a copy of my book), I forced myself to keep a quiet and respectful distance.

The party was oddly low key. The music was loud, but the crowd was more sedated. People stood stoic with drinks around tables. It only became more lively when the chicken nugget eating contest began (or perhaps after we left).

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On Friday, the first full day of the festival, it became an assault of movies. We went to screenings only to exit the theater to get back in line for the next film. There was no time for eating or sleeping. My partner and I took turns fetching beers (free from the Chiller Lounge) as we stood in these long and slow lines.

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We began Day 2 with The Treatment (The Treatment review here).  This was not the wisest of selections for us. As parents, a movie so graphically about child rape and abuse was hard to take. It was horrific but not in the way that we usually enjoy the horror genre. The film left us somewhat beaten and depressed. Afterward, all I wanted was another beer and to watch anything else.

Thankfully, Goodnight Mommy was only a line’s wait away (Goodnight Mommy review here). I enjoyed the film, and it made me forget (somewhat) The Treatment. Nothing could truly ever wash it from my mind. However, at this point, I began to question the Stanley Film Festival’s intentions when it came to children. Cooties had killer monster kids; The Treatment was all about child abuse; Goodnight Mommy brought us back to more killer kids.

Where we had intended to watch four movies in the second day, we dropped one from our roster. We could not make it between theaters (there were three around Estes participating in the festival) in time to line up. Instead, we capitalized on the opening to actually eat food.

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We returned to truly cleanse our palates with the midnight movie: Deathgasm (Deathgasm review here). Deathgasm was mindless, stupid, crude horror comedy. While it was not my particular flavor, my partner thoroughly enjoyed it, and I was relieved to have my brain realigned and distracted after the earlier trauma.

By Day 3, we were orientated to the routine. We fell into a horror viewing rhythm and started to recognize faces around the festival. Various actors, directors, producers, and our many friendly line mates.

Once again, we did not make the optimum choice for our first movie of the day. We opted for the documentary The Nightmare (The Nightmare review here). While I found the chronicle of sleep paralysis sufferers intriguing, my partner was relatively bored. Both of us agreed we would have rather invested our festival view on another selection.

The Invitation and The Boy made up for our slow start (The Invitation review here) (The Boy review here). Back to back quality horror, broken up only by more time queued up outside the theater. Both were slow burns. Both followed in the anti-child theme with a dead child in one and another killer kid in another. Consistency is important. What matter was how much we enjoyed them both.

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By this point, as much as we had enjoyed the many movies we had been offered, I was a bit burned out on slow burn, artsy, indie horror. I was ready for something a little more traditionally entertaining.

Enter the closing night movie. The Final Girls was potentially my favorite of the festival, though the competition with Cooties is fierce (The Final Girls review here). Like the opening film, The Final Girls was fun to watch in a full theater of horror lovers. And it was so very genre savvy and appropriate. It made me happy to watch it, right there on the grounds of the Stanley Hotel.

At this point in the festival, I began oscillating between wanting the festival to continue and being overstimulated and ready to relent. I missed food and sleep and exercise. My brain was awash of horror. Yet, at the same time, I loved it.

The final day arrived either way.

We attended the bloody horror brunch, which had themed food that could be served at a Halloween party and table decorations devoted to great horror films. At the end, they distributed some of the awards from the weekend. It was fun, and the drinks were strong.

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Then we concluded our weekend and our viewing with the Pumpkin Pie Show. Amazing. The show consisted of four live monologue performances. The actors were brilliant; the stories rich and appropriate. It was the perfect way to end our time.

IMG_0231_editedIn the end, I am glad we attended the Stanley Film Festival when we did. It is on the cusp of becoming too big for itself. The schedule offered more to do than you could ever indulge. We missed out on multiple movies, the virtual reality experience, the immersive game, and yet we took no time off. There was very little time to eat or sleep, mainly due to the time that had to be committed to waiting in line to obtain seats to the screenings.

I am not sure how any of these issues could be resolved. The festival is popular, rightfully so, and will only become more so, but the Stanley Hotel venue will never be able to accommodate more patrons. The city of Estes Park will also probably not have more or larger theaters to offer.

Success is a double-edged sword.

I do know I hope to attend again. I also may venture out to check out the horror festival in Telluride, Colorado in October. I enjoyed the experience, the environment, and the people. I am glad I was initiated at the Stanley.

While I attended as a horror and movie lover, I also did sprinkle in a bit of my horror writing. On the scenic drive up through the mountains, I sat in the passenger seat, typing away on my third book.

More importantly, I left a couple copies of my book, Savages, around the Stanley Hotel for other festival attendees, patrons, hotel staff, or ghosts to enjoy. I was not there to pimp myself, but I could not help but leave a part of my own horror behind.

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I was also recognized for the first time, which was another surreal experience. The first in my author career. I appreciate that he managed to pull it off in an appropriately creepy and awesome way.

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My weekend at the Stanley Film Festival was amazing. While I was tired and hungry at times and disappointed in the limitations of the scheduling at others, it sated my ravenous horror appetite for the time being and stimulated so many parts of my dark little mind.

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