The Stanley Film Festival is a macabre horror festival taking place from April 30th to May 3rd. Over the coming days I will be providing short reviews, looks at oddities, and daily write-ups for this event.
The long winding road up to Estes Park seems treacherous at twilight. Spring rain pelted my car as I made my way up Highway 34. Steam rose from the road when the rain ceased, and in the blue-black evening I sped toward my first film festival.
When you round the first turn into Estes Park the landscape goes from sheer granite walls into a massive valley. In the distance, a red building stands against the black hills. The Stanley Hotel is legendary in the horror community for having inspired Stephen King’s The Shining. Built in the Colonial Revival style, it has enough character to be elegant and enough history to be creepy.
I can think of fewer places better to have a horror festival than a supposedly haunted hotel. Old ballrooms and renovated concert halls will show the bulk of the films, along with some local theaters for overflow.
The festival was kicked off with Jonathan Millot’s Cooties. This is a fantastic entrant into the horror-comedy genre and I expect when it hits a wider audience it will explode. Elijah Wood plays a writer and substitute teacher coming home from a stagnant writing career in New York. While substituting for his old elementary school he finds an old crush (Allison Pill), a washed up gym teacher (Rainn Wilson), and a whole host of children that are loud-mouthed savages.
While it is at its base a zombie movie, it is authentically hilarious. On several occasions the entire theater erupted into laughter. The laughs might be somewhat attributed to a custom tailored audience (this was the press screening), but I think the average film viewer could enjoy it immensely. Wilson and Wood have an adversarial relationship and play off of each other well. Allison Pill brings a very truthful performance to the bubbly teacher who is a few spitballs away from snapping.
Perhaps the funniest part of this movie was Leigh Whannell, an anti-social teacher who manages to out awkward Elijah Wood at every turn. His deadpan and literal delivery was a perfect contrast to the chaos happening all around.
I cannot wait for this movie to find a larger audience and I feel privileged to have been there for it last night. Be sure to keep an eye out for Cooties.
The Opening Night Party
When I returned to the Stanley, I was greeted to a party with live music from Snake Rattle Rattle Snake. It wasn’t exactly a dancing affair but the vodka was good and the energy was high. The sheer volume of thick rimmed glasses and scally caps rivaled the famed hipster neighborhood of Williamsburg.
I wandered the crowd, playing introvert until I forced myself onto some Australian ghost hunters. They had a lot to say about the hotel and had meters for showing changes in electromagnetism. They even showed me how the room might have spirits because of changes happening on the meter. I didn’t burst their bubble by saying we were standing next to a table full of sound equipment, computers and electronics, that didn’t seem in keeping with the mood.
The metal and experimental style of the music contrasted with the ballroom, as did the chicken nugget eating contest. I have some video on this, but not enough time to properly edit it for today. No one wants to see the guys over at Spectrevision stuff their faces for a full four minutes, but a highlight reel might work.
Alas, when it started I was too late to sign up for the chicken nugget contest.
By the time midnight rolled around, carts of milk and cookies were brought to the weary (buzzed and some high) travelers.
This festival couldn’t have started on a better note. I’d like to thank the good people at The Stanley Film Festival for the press pass. I’m heading back up the mountain. I’ll see all of you on twitter.
Tony Southcotte hails from the Rocky Mountains somewhere around the state of Colorado. Possibly raised by grizzly bears, this gritty denizen of the arena now spends most of his time grappling with Java updates and dysfunctional RAM. With not much fiction under his belt, it might seem tempting to bet against Mister Southcotte, but an impressive knowledge of everything from PVC pipe to psychedelic drugs makes Tony a storehouse of fiction waiting to hit the paper. Plus, you know, there’s the possibility of him ripping you apart like a grizzly bear.