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When I heard there was going to be a horror-themed book signing at The Stanley Hotel, I decided I needed to participate. My first signing experience at Behind the Mask in Nashville was staggeringly disappointing and left me resolved to never try such an event again. The main failure of that experience, as I saw it, was that I was mistakenly positioned with all romance writers with an all romance audience. I did not fit; my audience was not there. However, surely a signing staged at the infamous haunted hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining would be where I belong… right?

I would be willing to visit The Stanley Hotel any time. I first entered the famed walls when I attended The Stanley Film Festival, which was a fantastic experience. Estes Park is gorgeous (and only a short drive away). The location definitely helped convince me to go for it. Even if the signing turned out as unsuccessful as the previous, at least the trip would be easier and still amazing.

Another perk of a local(ish) venue was the availability of my entourage. When I chose to go to Nashville, the fact that I could visit the Corpsewax Dollies (my belly dance troupe) encouraged my decision. They were able to attend the signing and save me from the soul-crushing monotony and disappointment. Then I was able to go participate in a show before returning home.

In Colorado, so close to home, I was able to enlist a group of support to join me on the entire trip.

I brought Graphics Smith, the artist who drew several of my book covers and does cross promotional collaborations with me. I brought Pratique Photography, the photographer who makes all the bloody pictures with me. She also dressed up as the “twin” to my Grady sister costume. I even brought a Jack and Wendy to join in the cosplay. If ever there was a place to dress up as the cast of The Shining, this was it.

The night before the event, I hung out alone in the hotel (not The Stanley) while my entourage soaked in the hot tub. As I tried Kava for the first time (so pleasant but tastes like shit, by the way), I was overcome by a crippling wave of impostor syndrome. I do not experience impostor syndrome often, yet this flare seized me. As I slipped pictures of myself into sleeves for Pratique Photography, I kept thinking, why would anyone want to buy pictures of ME, hang me on their walls? That rapidly dissolved into, why would anyone want to buy the words I write? What am I even doing here?

Thankfully, the wave of insecurity and self-doubt was flattened by the sedative effects of the Kava, yet the thoughts lingered and teased at the edges of my brain nonetheless. It is always challenging to put myself out there with my art, something I truly care about, a tender and sensitive part of me. Any of my recent adventures ruffle the edges of that doubt. Submitting a book or a story, posting pictures from a photo shoot, belly dancing onstage, speaking about my writing in front of kids, displaying my wares on a table and asking people to invest their time and money in what came out of me.

The next morning, we gathered my massive amount of stuff and headed to the event. The Stanley was just as gorgeous and interesting as I remembered. Every step caused the film festival to echo in my memories. We set up my table early, my deadly assistant Pratique Photography working her magic on the setup. Then it was hours of milling around and waiting with the other authors, typical to these events.

I didn’t really take the time to assess the other tables or the other authors. I chatted with several but never evaluated their wares. I was focused on the upcoming customer traffic. I’m typically more engaging and social, yet after the madness of October, I kind of just wanted to be more introverted, especially in preparation for being “on” for the attendees all day.

VIP attendees entered the room first, people who had paid for the event, invested to attend early and have access before anyone else. This was truly the best opportunity to sell some books and art. Yet things, unfortunately, seemed familiar, reminiscent of the last signing. A few people recognized Pratique and I as the Grady sisters from The Shining; we took some pictures. People were friendly and approached my table.

But then they were horrified.

It seemed very strange to me. My horror and the associated art do not appear to be that hardcore of horror on the surface. The Waning, for instance, definitely goes there, but you would never guess that from just the cover. Yet no one got close enough to read the blurb on the back. Phil had drawn horror movie killers, and we made magnets with little poems I wrote. One was Jack Torrance. How was that upsetting at the fucking Stanley Hotel?

I have been in horror a long time. I never mind or judge if it’s not someone’s flavor, just as I expect people to do the same for my love (obsession) for it. Yet I expected this event and this venue to have my audience. I anticipated horror readers and horror movie lovers. And even if I did not find that group, I didn’t expect people who were unnerved or appalled by a bloody cleaver on a cover or a picture of a pig heart.

And yet.

The hours passed (slowly). I talked with people, took a lot more pictures with strangers, made some author friends. I passed out a lot of bookmarks; most people cringed when they looked at the images on them. In the end, it was much more successful than my previous signing. I have no complaints about how much art or how many books I was able to sell. One always wants to sell out, but any sale is awesome. And, like I said, more sales than last time.

Instead, I was nagged by the reaction to my offerings, by still not being able to locate my audience. Maybe they don’t attend book signing events, even at The Stanley Hotel. Or maybe people just do not want the art I collaboratively create and the books I write. But I honestly just feel like my audience was not there, and that was disappointing. My minions later reported that the majority of the other books were of the paranormal romance or fantasy persuasion. If that was the desired genre, I was equally misplaced here as I was with all romance readers.

All in all, the trip was awesome. I had a great time with my entourage and relished their support. The book signing event was fun and productive, even if I deeply felt the absence of my audience. The time in Estes and at The Stanley Hotel was well spent.

Before and after the signing, we took our costumes around to take pictures in the hedge maze, in front of the hotel, on the staircases, in the hallways. It will always be fun to terrify people, especially by simply walking quietly in a blue dress.

I have no regrets about attending the event. However, once again, I don’t think I’ll do a book signing event again. My people, the audience I am searching for, are not there. I just need to get more creative in finding them outside my personal life and beyond the internet.

 

Christina Bergling

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For the past three years, October has meant the Telluride Horror Show for me. It became our tradition when the Stanley Film Festival left Estes Park to become the Overlook Film Festival. Our tradition has now grown to include more people in our condo each year.

I could spout the same euphoric babbling I do every year. How I love the autumn drive across Colorado. How beautiful the mountain town of Telluride is. How the small festival has a fantastic community feel and atmosphere. How the films rarely disappoint. How fun it is to interact with filmmakers. BUT all of that has been true since Telluride Horror Show #8 (and remained true this year). Though I was disappointed to see no snow.

This year, in particular, the movies were particularly strong. Most years, there are some weak selections or ones that are not quite my flavor, but I was not disappointed. I did not enjoy one film, but I knew that going in from the synopsis in the programming guide.

Here is what I watched this year:

Making Monsters: A fantastic little film that felt like Hostel for the more digital age. The plot and the acting are on point. Great watch.

The creature shorts: A solid selection of short creature horror films. While one or two fall flat, none are bad. My favorites include Pathosis and It Came in Through the Window.

Mutant Blast: Stupid, stupid ridiculous movie, but it’s Troma so obviously. The main two characters are strong and engaging, but I could not get past the bullshit. Others in my party thoroughly loved it though.

Z: See my full review on Daily Dead.

1BR: THE FAVORITE! See my full review on Daily Dead.

Daniel Isn’t Real: Another movie about an imaginary friend (following Z) with a very Fight Club vibe. I love the character dynamics, but the ending wanders off a bit too far. A weak end but still a decent flick.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil: Still just as funny 10 years later!

VFW: The mindless splatterfest I needed after a cerebral day. The characters are good enough for you to care about, and the gore is strong enough to keep your attention. Entertaining as hell.

The Deeper You Dig: A solid supernatural slowburn. Though I nodded off in a couple scenes, I was quite tired. Needs to be viewed on the right mood.

Extra Ordinary: Hil Arious. My friend nearly pissed herself laughing in the screening. The lovable character are so funny, and I can’t wait to watch it again.

We didn’t really get to participate in much beyond the movies. I was too jealous to listen to other authors read their works by the fireside. We ran out of time to walk down to the pig roast. However, we absolutely did make time for trivia.

…and we won it!

Congratulations are not entirely in order though. We hovered solidly in the middle of the pack until the final Jeopardy round. One of us was the only person who knew the lost footage from Event Horizon was found in a Transylvanian salt mine, so we were the only team to gain points while every other team lost. And that launched us to #1.

I’ll take the win however it comes. Trivia has never been my strength.

Our group also decided to increase our festive participation. We dressed up as the cast from The Shining—Jack, Wendy, Danny, and the Grady sisters. I never really miss an opportunity to go all in on a theme and dress up, but this was an exceptionally good environment in which to dress up as iconic horror characters.

Having someone who can pass as my twin only made it better.

It was endlessly entertaining to creep people out, speak and move in unison, and take pictures with a whole bunch of strangers. A good costume is always an awesome icebreaker to make new friends, not that that is hard to accomplish at a fest. We dressed up during the day on Saturday then again for the Last Call party on Sunday night. The Grady sisters are much more fun intoxicated, in my opinion.

Then it was over. The weekend flew by faster than usual. It was a blur of movies; then we were packing the cars back up to drive home. We even quickly overcame car issues to get on the road. I spent the long commute reading over my new WIP novel for the first time. Since I didn’t hate my work as much as I anticipated, it helped to ease the hard drop back into regular life.

If only we could always live at the Horror Show. If only it could always be October.

 

Christina Bergling

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Wait, wait… Hold on… It’s July?? How did that happen? I swear it was just May. Where have I been?

You’re right. Where the hell have I been lately?

May and June passed in a blur of me riding on airplanes, commuting in cars, summoning Ubers, and bouncing around the country. Mostly, it was for the day job, but some personal travel converged in there. My schedule these past two months completely embodied the saying, “when it rains, it pours.”

Join me on a tour of my sprint into summer.

It all started with a Mother’s Day trip to Breckenridge. It was supposed to be an easy and relaxing family weekend but instead included mostly strep throat for me and ear infections for my babies. Not the strongest start to a whirlwind. I began my marathon already weakened and limping along.

Later in May, I was supposed to go to Washington DC for project meetings. Instead, over Memorial Day weekend, I rushed to Minnesota. My aunt passed rather unexpectedly, and I needed to be with my family. The trip was necessary but very emotionally intense. As it should have been. The weekend shook me, deeply, and put me very much off balance. Again, as it should have.

After Minnesota, it was back to life and back to work. This meant traveling across the country to San Diego.

The trip was somewhat intimidating for me, a step I needed to succeed at to prove myself in this role. While leading my first solo analysis workshop for the day job, I stayed near the beach and ran to it every day. My body and my hip might not have been ready for six straight days of running, but my mind relished it. The company I worked with was a pleasure, and my time outside of the office was euphoric. Even under June gloom. I never liked the sun anyway.

From the West Coast, I skimmed through home then over to the East Coast, to Boston for LiveWorx.

Conferences are a different beast than customer and project meetings. While customer sites are more demanding individually, conferences are overstimulating. It’s a blur of events and social events. I attended sessions at the conference and hung out at the company kiosk. Several of the sessions I attended were very interesting, including augmented reality training from a neuroscience perspective and the future of mobility as a service.

I love visiting Boston. I fell in love with it when my younger sister lived there and we would visit her. Despite the long hours at the conference and sneaking work in before/during/after, I wore myself down running early and drinking late (especially the night of the Stanley Cup). I woke insanely early to run to/from a barre class. I walked miles to one of my favorite Ethiopian restaurants and along the water. It was all worth it, but my body was pretty depleted from the preceding weeks.

I left Boston a shell of a person, physically and mentally wasted. Thankfully, I had a couple days back in mountain time before flying back out to Washington DC. I needed my family, time with babies to reset. I needed to do laundry and sleep in my own bed. Then it was out to the capital.

The project meetings may have been painful in DC, but I had good company (who I would happily hangout with at any time) and was able to squeeze in some quick sight seeing. Sometimes, working in the A&D contracting world can be a bit soul crushing. It was necessary to balance that out with some non-work time. Plus, it seems like a crime to visit DC without ever seeing any of the many sights there.

We also had a social event at Artechouse. I love art. I worked at an art gallery for work study through college, with a boss who was particularly influential in my life prior to his suicide. And I live in tech. Usually, in my life, these two things are at odds, segregated in my day. I found the combination quite fascinating and very entertaining. I lay on a marshmallow-like pillow, watching visual data flow over the walls. I drank a cocktail with an augmented reality coaster. I almost walked into the mirrored walls of the data tunnel. I would have gone, even if it wasn’t work-related.

I made it home from DC long enough to pack a bag and load up the car to go camping with the commune. I don’t think I even unzipped my suitcase from DC. I kissed my babies before they went to their grandmother’s. The mountains were calling, and I had to go. The air may have been extra thin, and caterpillars may have assaulted us from the pine branches all weekend, but altitude is just what I needed to come back home.

I was supposed to be home over the holiday and to celebrate a couple family birthdays before jumping on a plane to Austin for another big project meeting. BUT today that travel got cancelled. The timing could not have been more perfect. Personally, I need some time to catch up; I need some time with my family. Professionally, I also need some time to catch up, since working on the road just means only working 24/7.

I love my day job. I am finally coming into the full role and enjoy how it challenges me. It makes me work to prove that I can handle it (some days, I question if I can). I also like the travel. In moderation. One or two trips a month strikes the perfect balance between being a work-from-home mom and being a real professional. This run, however, definitely tested my threshold. Too many project timelines aligned, and personal drama layered on top of it.

Now, the real question: “Have you been writing?

…um

…well,

nope.

Things have been so crazy, personally and professionally, that I haven’t had the time or the mental capacity to do it. All things (novel, short stories, this blog) have sat idly by as I napped or wrote statements of work on the plane. I have finally discovered the line where I just can’t, where I actually need a mental break. That is new territory for me.

I don’t know how much I like it.

No routine and no writing means no balance for me, and it is wearing on me. However, now I have a week back to regain my composure and return to my novel. It has been a rollercoaster, fun and exhausting. Now, a little normalcy will be good.

Where am I now? Home, on a keyboard, writing.

 

Christina Bergling

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This is some kind of white girl in a horror movie shit, I thought to myself as I crunched down the dark path through the woods, marching toward our cabin to fetch my daughter a blanket.

The waves of girlish screams of the Girl Scout bonfire faded behind me as the trees seemed to embrace me in solitude. The sounds of the camp dissipated at my back, and the swish of my jeans and crunch of my sneakers became the only sound in the darkness.

I pointed the penlight flashlight ahead of me, chasing its halo over the gravel. A vague anxiety scratched over the length of my skin, a physical echo of the bad idea I was currently consummating.

This is how dumb bitches like you die, the rational voice in my head echoed again, sending the anxious tickles on my hair follicles on harder edge.

Look, crazy, the other half of my brain chimed in, there is no random hobo living under the cabin. This camp is so high traffic and loud there is no way wildlife is hanging out here. Did you hear those girls screaming? You are fine. You watch too much fucking horror. Stop being crazy.

I breathed out deliberately, forcing the weight of my exhalation down to suppress my heart rate as it climbed foolishly in my chest. I reminded myself I was a horror writer. I evidenced to myself all the horrendous things I voluntarily watched. And read. And wrote. And told myself it was not foreshadowing of how I was going to die but rather healthy desensitization to not freak out in mundane situations like walking alone in the dark in the woods.

Yet my heart punched against my rib cage nonetheless.

Don’t be stupid, rational me began again. You can walk to a cabin in the dark at Girl Scout camp. You will be fine.

I continued scraping down the road, swinging the beam of my flashlight across the length of the road. I listened acutely to the how loud my denim pants had become in the void of the night. I articulated the twisted branches and fluttering leaves against the light of the moon. Suddenly, the brief hike seemed so long and wide.

Between the dark trees, I was finally able to make out the circle of lights from our cabins. I ambled down the small hill to make the turn and ascend into our campsite. Then I saw the large, shifting black shape.

That is not a bear, rational me said. You can’t see for shit far away. You’re just being crazy. Go get this damn blanket.

My muscles quivered half-tensed below my skin, but I pressed my own breath down on myself again and kept walking. What horror writer didn’t have an overactive imagination? Wasn’t I just thinking about all the ways I could die tonight? Wasn’t I just talking about all the horrible life decisions that should have killed me over dinner?

As I approached the farthest, lower edge of the cabin circle, the smell filled my nostrils. The odor was thick, wet, feral. It was not unlike the aroma of a cage at the zoo. Yet the pungency assaulted me in a wave. Then I heard the shape moving, foilage bending to its shape. From the symphony of bending branches, I could tell it was large. Its movements echoed around me, riding its smell into my twitching brain.

Then I saw the shape again, clear even in my hazed near-sightedness. It was a bear, low and wide. The culmination of the sight, sound, and smell lobbied a convincing case to my skeptical denial.

Fuck, it’s a bear, both sides of me decided in unison.

I stopped moving and froze in my last footsteps. I stiffened to silence my heavy steps and scratching jeans. I clicked off my flashlight as if the darkness could obscure me from the animal. My feet twitched forward toward the structure of the cabins then back toward the grouping of humans abandoned behind me.

It ran off, one side of me said. Go to the cabin and get the fucking blanket. You’ll be safe in the walls.

You don’t walk toward a bear, the other side countered. It was a fucking bear. Don’t be the dumb girl in the horror movie. Go back. Go back!

I hesitated and stuttered on the gravel another stupid minute before turning hard and walking fast back up the trail. I did not hear the trees creak behind me. I did not hear the audible angry breath of an animal at my neck. Yet my steps slammed quickened against the dirt, until I could hear the happy giggles of Girl Scouts in the swirling smoke of an fledgling campfire.

 

Christina Bergling

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I have been so busy posting reviews for the Telluride Horror Show, that I haven’t yet had time to talk about my actual experience of it!

This year was my first attendance of the Telluride Horror Show. Previously, I have only made it to the Stanley Film Festival (back when there was such a delightful thing) once. I haven’t even been to Telluride since I was a child.

The Telluride Horror Show is in its 8th year so is relatively established, and that much shows. The festival is well organized and smooth running, and the town seems very acclimated to the invasion by hundred of horror lovers.

Plus, Telluride is just GORGEOUS! I’m a Colorado mountain girl, so a town like this will always speak my native tongue. I loved that everything for the festival was in walking distance. The venues might be a half mile apart at the farthest, and our lodging was situation blocks away between them. We were able to just walk everywhere and enjoy the mountain air (or a creepy dark path with a bear sighting).

We arrived midday on Friday (after having to deal with our son shoving cinnamon playdough up his nose and needing to go to the doctor for extraction from hours away). Since it was Friday the 13th, en route we watched Friday the 13th and Friday the 14th Part 2. It helped to set the appropriate mood for the weekend.

We threw down our bags, mixed a drink, and headed to pick up passes. The venue for pass pickup was a little congested with lines for the ice cream social, passes, the bar, and swag all intersecting. However, things moved so quickly and the swag was so awesome that it was easy to forgive. I am still living in my lightweight hoodie and hat I bought there. I was even able to find horror figurines to match my children’s upcoming Halloween costumes.

Then we raced over to our first screening, Tragedy Girls. Witty, funny, and socially on point, Tragedy Girls is a fantastic choice to set the mood for our festival experience. (Read my full review here)

Following Tragedy Girls, we headed over to Creepy Campfire Tales. When we attended the Stanley Film Festival, we devoted our entire trip to watching movies. We did not indulge in any of the other activities. This time, we were determined to take in some social and non-screen activities.

Envious as I was as another horror author listening to someone read their work by the flickering firelight in the crisp mountain air, it was a very enjoyable experience. Then it was a quick sprint to resupply on food and drinks before hurrying to another showing.

Being that it was Friday the 13th in October at a horror film festival, we absolutely had to go see Never Hike Alone. It is a wonderfully executed and painstakingly local fan film of Friday the 13th. (Read my full review here)

By the end of the movie, I had imbibed my fair share and was enjoying the added effect of a few more thousand feet in altitude. However, said enhancement turned on me in the morning. I suffered a very brief but crippling hangover. I had to sleep it off while the rest of my party attended the horror comedy block of shorts. I managed to pull myself together for round 2.

Trailers from Hell, a collection of 35MM horror movie trailers. The trailers span multiple decades, but they are absolutely ridiculous. It was just the sort of simple, mindless entertainment I needed to ease me back into my day.

Following the silly, we embarked into the more cerebral with the Lovecraftian mind-bender The Endless. I loved the realism in the fraternal relationship of the main characters and the raw and creepy filmmaking. (Read my full review here)

After The Endless, we walked down to the pig roast. I appreciated that the festival included a free meal. It is nice to splice in experiences when you can interact with all the three dimensional people you are sitting next to in the dark for hours. The food was basic but also filling and delicious, fueled us up for a night of solid screenings.

We went to Jungle next, a real-life account of a hiker lost in the Amazon jungle. It is raw and intense and terrifying. Though I would not normally classify such a movie as horror, it is so gripping I was wiling to embrace the deviation. (Read my full review here)

We exited the theater after viewing Jungle simply to line up in the cold outside it again for Creep 2. Knowing Creep 2 was on the roster in advance, we had watched Creep right before coming to Telluride. The franchise is an interesting approach to found footage, completely carried by the main actor. (Read my full review here)

By this point, my brain was becoming a bit overstimulated by so many horror movies, typical for this point in the movie festival. The final morning, we took in back to back horror short blocks. First suspenseful, which started strong for two then went off the rails. Then zombies, which were super fun.

The final showing came up, and I struggled with my commitment. Part of me just wanted to relax and do anything but watch another movie. However, I am so glad we powered through. Well, half our party.

For our last movie, we watched Trench 11, a horror movie set in World War I trenches. I loved the history, the characters, the filmmaking. Genuinely, I just enjoyed it as it brought a perfect close to our set. (Read my full review here)

Before we departed, we took in one more social horror event, mostly so we could hang out with friends we had made at the Stanley Film Festival. We participated in horror trivia. Although our entire team was just terrible at horror trivia, we managed to finish somewhere in the middle and had a fantastic time doing it.

Then there was the lovely 6 hour drive home in the dark. Small, winding mountain roads slicing through the night. My GPS leading us on the opening arc of a Wrong Turn movie on some desolate dirt road. Yet, somehow, we still made it home.

My overall first impressions of Telluride Horror Show are entirely positive. Truthfully, I can only directly compare it to my one attendance to Stanley Film Festival. In that competition, Telluride wins on films but falls shorter on venue. While Stanley Film Festival had fantastic movies, there were some I did not enjoy and some that unnerved me to the point of discomfort. Whereas with Telluride, I only took issue with some of the suspenseful shorts. The ending ratio was much more enjoyable.

However, you cannot argue with The Stanley Hotel as a venue. Telluride is small and very convenient in that we could walk absolutely everywhere very quickly, yet the social events were crammed into small spaces like the Sheridan’s bar. The ballrooms in The Stanley were much more open and conducive to socializing. There was also The Chiller Lounge, which was necessary to recover from movies like The Treatment.

Culture-wise, the two festivals had a similar feel. People were more engaging and friendly in person at the Stanley Film Festival; however, there was much more online networking after Telluride Horror Show. The proprietors, in particular, are very responsive on social media, which always makes a fan and attendee feel appreciated. After the show, I was contacted over Twitter by multiple directors to review their movies.

And the social experience is a large part of what a festival is about for me. I can watch horror movies anywhere and with anyone. It is something different and decidedly more special to do it with people who share the same passion, with people who contributed directly to what you are watching. I adore cast and director Q&A. I love being able to randomly talk to a filmmaker in line for their movie. It is what going to a horror film festival is all about for me.

Telluride Horror Show was a fantastic experience for everyone in our group. We have already begun planning and plotting for next year and enlisting other victims to join us.

**BONUS**

After the Telluride Horror Show, my viewing was able to continue. I was privileged enough to screen Frazier Park Recut from the comfort of my own couch. The multiple perspective found footage film is both a throwback and something divergent in the subgenre. I would have loved to have gotten it into our viewing schedule while we were there! (Read my full review here)

 

Christina Bergling

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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.