Report & Photos: Stanley Film Festival Days 3 & 4

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“You could say it’s getting gnarly.” When I wrote that this past Saturday with a hand stained by fake blood, I didn’t understand how right I was.

Day Three of Stanley Film Festival rolled along as excitedly planned. An unofficial industry day in the hotel, Saturday at Stanley brought together some great thinkers on the creative and business sides of horror filmmaking in a lineup of stellar panels on selling horror, distribution, creativity in the studio system and finally looking ahead at more transmedia storytelling like the much-discussed Immersive Horror Game and the very popular virtual reality piece, Catatonic.

I was fortunate enough to host the third panel of the day, moderating a discussion with directors Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body, this year’s highly anticipated The Invitation) and Leigh Whannell (Saw, Insidious, Cooties). The pair were perfect, displaying incredible chemistry that kept the hour-long talk lively, funny and truly insightful. We had something of a wide subject: exploring how to remain creative and forward thinking while working within studio confines. Both filmmakers have had rich experience on the independent and studio sides of filmmaking, with both also having alternately disastrous and strong encounters with the latter.

Both (in films like Aeon Flux and Dead Silence) were brought up candidly, but with the intent of discovering the lesson and wisdom within, not talking shit. It was a balanced talk, with both filmmakers falling hard on standing your ground, while also understanding what type of film you’re making and where it’s best suited. Kusama, for instance, knew instinctively The Invitation is a film with independent ambition and scope. The two spoke to studio luxury and conflict, as well as technical restriction that comes with creative freedom on low budget affairs. The talk wasn’t one of solutions, as it wasn’t presenting a war, and so it simply wrapped with the filmmakers embracing of new distribution models, all manner of production and mostly being assured and understanding of what you’re trying to craft.

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Following the panel, I rushed on down to Estes Park’s Historic Park Theatre, a classical auditorium for filmgoing. There, Mick Garris was presenting Stuart Gordon with a Master of Horror award, before screening a 35MM print of Gordon’s immortal Re-Animator. Garris took the stage, and surprisingly announced a new, adventurous film, Yo Soy El Miedo, which he’ll direct in Mexico this July. Then, Gordon’s close collaborator and huge fest presence Barbara Crampton (whose elliptical psychological horror film Sun Choke world premiered that day) brought the director on stage, sharing lovely words of gratitude for their years of exciting horror cinema.

Then, the film. Re-Animator unspooled and it was a gift to see it in a packed house, balanced between die-hards and first-timers (my girlfriend being of the latter camp). It was a joy to hear the various laughs, the familiar and excited chuckles of old friends and surprise thrills for new fans. Re-Animator remains a stunner, the expertly staged FX gags and Jeffrey Combs’ incomporable line delivery making magic.

The Historic Park Theatre next played host to something far more ominous in atmosphere: Kusama’s aforementioned The Invitation. The acclaimed thriller, which I had already seen, played like new. It evoked buzzing atmosphere unlike anything I’ve seen in a theater in quite some time. The Historic Park’s creaky age only adding to the experience, the vocal wood of each seat signifying the audience’s discomfort and visceral tension. The Invitation, about a deceptive reunion of friends is undoubtedly one of the best thrillers of the year, and I urge you to see it on a big screen when it hits from Drafthouse Films later this year.

Saturday planned to wrap Stanley unofficially with the very sweet and very funny meta-slasher The Final Girls, as well as a Closing Night Party and an outside climax to the weekend’s ongoing Immersive Horror Game. The latter proved a strange experience, with the fictional construction company, D.E.D.I. covering a sort of portal meant to resurrect Ancient Egyptian magician, Dedi. Tarot Card Puzzles, robed cult members, smoke, flying water and blood, as well as a seeming pagan deity high atop the boulders of the landscape made the finish a bit perplexing and nutty, if not just as fun as the chase.

Sunday saw Stanley truly wrap with the annual Horror Brunch. Radius’ Tom Quinn was honored with the Visionary Award for his work in pioneering distribution model and bringing exciting contemporary genre to screens. His legacy includes films like Let the Right One In and The Host, and most recently Blue Ruin and It Follows. Up-and-coming, and very talented, filmmaker Ryan Spindell, meanwhile, took home multiple honors for his short premiere, The Babysitter Murders. The hotel’s MacGregor Ballroom again was decked in horror décor, each table aligned with specific themes. Mine saw Squirm placemats and a display of soil and live worms as a centerpiece. See the gallery below for a whole lot more. 

I personally closed the festival with a 2 p.m. showing of supernatural slasher premiere, Some Kind of Hate. The very neat American indie proves a refreshing entry in the subgenre, calling on contemporary issue to craft a great-looking film, as well as a totally rad new killer: Moira Karp. The troubled young girl is summoned by a bullied boy and proceeds to do his bidding, murdering others by inflicting harm on herself. It’s a visceral, bloody little movie that along with Cub, proves there might be life yet in the often boring neo-slasher lineup.

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The Epilogue

In 2014, I left Stanley the Sunday morning, with a full day of events and schedules left to miss out on. This year, I had easily decided not to make the same mistake. I planned to let the exhaustion from the weekend wash away midst the beautiful landscape and a low-key evening with festival staff, peers and friends. A strong group remained through Sunday and following dinner, we opted to perform a séance in the notoriously paranormal-friendly hotel.

While I can’t exactly attest to what we experienced as genuine, the inclination to believe it as such is. Stanley’s head programmers Michael Lerman and Landon Zakheim, The Daily Beast’s Jen Yamato, producer Roxanne Benjamin, Hobo With a Shotgun director Jason Eisener and SpectreVision’s Daniel Noah and Elijah Wood and I all sat together with a newly purchased spirit board, sincere in our hope to contact something.

Again, we believe we did. On the second floor of the Stanley Hotel, it seems a young girl spoke with us. After false starts, the planchette began to move effortlessly. It glided and spun, as she told us of her drowning (she repeated “swim” and “lake” endlessly), asked us to hide (we believe as a game) and pointed us toward Room 324, which we came to find out is one of the more infamous locales of haunted activity in the estate. All the stranger, when a group ventured upstairs to simply observe the room, a couple was already out in the hallway in some form of shock, claiming they had just come in contact with a presence in the corridor. It was the eeriest coincidence possible, and needless to say, made the final night at the Stanley Film Festival a truly spooky, unforgettable one.

Here’s to next year. 

Photos by myself and Stanley photographer James Dimagiba 

Read Shock’s reports on Days One & Two