Part of the dream, fantasy-fulfillment nature of the Stanley Film Festival is the contrast of staying in a picturesque luxury hotel, and then walking outside of it and performing a blood ritual.
I dont think were on the right side of this, V/H/S and Faults producer Roxanne Benjamin said as we dipped our hands in fake blood and proceeded to follow the detailed instructions of a scroll we found inside of a child-sized coffin.
Whatever side involves blood rituals is the correct one, I replied.
Much has been made of Stanleys Immersive Horror Game and its because theres much to be done. Ive casually dipped in (blood) and out, but there are those whore spending the majority of their days drawing the Ankh, racing through the town of Estes Park to gather tarot cards in the book shop and the bakery, visiting Mark in the Archives and calling up this strange construction company D.E.D.I. Dedi, many learned, is a fictional magician of Ancient Egypt who resurrected the dead, often the decapitated dead. Another secret meeting took place, this time at 2 a.m. It involved a magic show and a missing filmmaker, whose disappearance then prompted many Stanley attendees to Scooby Doo around the hotel at three oclock in the morning.
That all barely scratches the surface of Stanleys first full day of screenings and events. We didnt even get to the Itchy-O Marching Band, a 32-piece masked chaos crew going absolutely wild inside of the hotels fog-filled MacGregor Ballroom. Friday, May 1st also saw a stellar roster of films kick off the weekend proper, including acclaimed Belgian thriller The Treatment and the fantastic Irish creature feature The Hallow. For many, the highlight was double featuring the supremely warped pair of Shrews Nest, Juanfer André & Esteban Roel absolutely stellar, and very bloody horror-melodrama; and the clinical, very unsettling Austrian nightmare Goodnight Mommy.
Friday also saw the World Premiere of Directors Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein. The experimental piece of work from director Tim Kirk, producer Rodney Ascher (Room 237, The Nightmare) and star Leon Vitali (Terror of Frankenstein) sees a fictional audio commentary play out over the real life 1977 Frankenstein adaptation. A narrative begins to emerge about a series of murders surrounding and after the production and its all such a strange, fun bit of movie magic.
The meta approach, playing out a movie-within-a-commentary and subverting a form which is typically historical document about fictional narrative is fascinating in itself. The story, which sees Clu Gulager and Zack Norman essay Terror of Frankenstein director and writer, Gavin Merill and David Falks, is a whole other world of engrossing. The two are at odds over exploiting the films value as an object of tragic fascination (the tragedy remains obscured for some of the runtime) and goes down a very funny, but very dark path. Directors Commentary is also particularly neat as a big screen experience, taking in a form typically reserved for DVD viewing.
Festival attendees followed up Directors Commentary with the much-anticipated return of Tales From Beyond the Pale Live: The Stanley Edition. Each performance of the Larry Fessenden & Glenn McQuaid-created audio drama series is something special, with the technical side of aural atmosphere and FX laid bare for the audience to see. The 2015 edition, Parlor Tricks, saw two half-hour horror dramas. McQuaid and April Snellings Cold Reading was up first, and starred Barbara Crampton, Leon Vitali and Larry Fessenden. Set at a 1925 séance, the piece got particularly brutal and truly affecting as Crampton performed an extended, show-stopper of a monologue. Backing the piece on sound design, score and foley were wizards McQuaid, Lee Nussbaum, Graham Reznick, Chris Skotchdopole and Tessa Price.
That was followed by the Fessenden-scripted No Signal. Featuring the same audio team, No Signal was a surprise sequel to McQuaids audio play, and starred Fessenden, Clay McLeod Chapman, Roxanne Benjamin and myself. For the second year, I was invited to perform in Tales From Beyond the Pale Live, simultaneously participating in a vision and being amazed by it as a viewer.
Friday at Stanley almost closed out with Dead Right Horror Trivia, the ever-popular monthly trivia night created by Shocks former editor, Ryan Turek and FANGORIAs Rebekah McKendry. Rebekah was down at Texas Frightmare hosting a satellite Dead Right, so I stepped in to co-host with Ryan and we burned through six rounds of eight questions each and doled out rad prizes courtesy of Arrow Films & Video, Blumhouse, Cavity Colors, Dark Sky, Gorgon, Scream Factory and Synapse. I also purchased a batch of original Mark of the Devil vomit bags as a bonus treat.
The rounds ranged from Portals & Gateways to Hell, to Bad Dads, to Witch Flicks, to Dick Miller, to the fictional Maine towns of Stephen King. 12 teams participated in both celebratory and frustrated manner, and many went home with things like Mark of the Devil and Ginger Snaps Blus, Faces of Death VHS, Cavity Colors tees and more.
As mentioned earlier, the real capper to Stanley Film Festival Friday was the secret late-night magic show and ensuing clue and treasure hunt. Many woke up with even more questions, more blood and the missing Shorts filmmaker. Where does the weekend go? Well I just fished a tarot card out of a pile of dead rodents, so you could say its getting gnarly.
Photos by myself and Stanley photographer James Dimagiba