Recap & Photos: The Stanley Film Festival, Day One

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When I call the Stanley Film Festival ‘Horror Camp,’ or a ‘Horror Retreat,’ it’s almost surely because of the journey itself.

A flight from New York City to Denver is standard business, but the drive then from Denver up to Estes Park is one of beautiful seclusion. Amounting to only about 90 minutes, the ride is itself consists of winding mountain roads and beautiful Colorado landscape (I’m including the Lyons Classic Pinball and Video here). Another parallel to The Shining—its isolating, ominous title sequence—is clear and an eerily exciting atmosphere creeps up.

Perhaps aware of the journey and its length, the Stanley Film Festival’s Day 1 is essentially just Opening Night, officially kicking off with a single screening in the evening. This allowed some time for a visit to the infamous You Need Pie! in the town of Estes Park, which legit serves up some of the best sweet and savory pies I’ve ever had. This also allowed time to observe and take part in rehearsal for Glass Eye Pix’s Tales From Beyond the Pale Live. The live audio drama is truly built from the ground up, with voice performers new to the script and the incredible sound team crafting aura throughout first reads.

The 2015 edition of Stanley then opened with Cooties, the pop-art horror-comedy from directors Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion and SpectreVision (producers Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller & Elijah Wood). Milott & Murnion, SpectreVision, and stars Wood, Alison Pill and Leigh Whannell were all on hand for the premiere. Wood gave a rousing, energetic intro that ended with the apt description that Cooties is from the makers of Saw and Glee.

And it feels as such! There’s a full review to come, but Cooties is a crowdpleaser. Gory and neon, with a truly, truly funny script from Whannell and Glee co-creator Ian Brennan, and no shortage of kid annihilation. Its screening was doubly interesting as it proved something of a re-World Premiere, presenting a new cut of Cooties after re-shoots, following its 2014 Sundance premiere and Lionsgate acquisition.

Following the screening, the Stanley Hotel hosted its annual Opening Night Reception. It was, appropriately, Cooties-themed. The MacGregor Ballroom featured school lunch trays, school lunch chicken nuggets (it’s an infected nugget which incites Cooties’ chaos) and even those cute cartons of milk. The night culminated in a chicken nugget eating contest, for which participants signed up on a massive chalkboard.

I won.

I truly assumed my editorial position at Shock Till You Drop by defeating both Cooties producer Waller and your former fearless editor Ryan Turek in this competitive eating landmark. You can see a photo of the glory, below.

The night threatened to close out, but an ominous email arrived from the Stanley’s archivist Mark. Clearly part of the mysterious immersive horror game, a hush-hush midnight meeting then took place in the cavern below the estate. The message: stay observant, ask questions and trust no one. This year’s game has something to do with the uncovering of an Ankh on the hotel grounds and vehement opposition to construction renovations. Surely, more to come…

Find some personal photos (including one from the IG of Monika Scott) from Stanley’s first night, below. The gallery will be updated with official festival snapshots, soon.