Fittingly enough, for the first day of the 2015 Stanley Film Fest, my morning began with a scare. I awoke with sunlight streaming through my window, and instantly I knew that I had missed my early morning flight to Colorado. It wasn’t true of course – I just have little experience with sunrise – but it set an appropriate tone for the start of the horror-themed film fest. A second scare came after I boarded the airplane, took a window seat, and then noticed an attendant instruct the man on the aisle to exit the aircraft. Then she placed two signs, one on the aisle seat and one on the middle, saying “Do Not Occupy.” People stared – whether to wonder why I was so special as to get my own row or perhaps what disease I might have brought on board – and even I began to wonder why I was being quarantined. And then a sweet, older couple boarded and were given the two seats that were presumably being held for them.
The point is I made it here without real incident.
This is the Stanley Film Fest’s third year, and after missing it in 2014 I found myself excited to be back in Estes, CO on Thursday. It’s one of many annual genre film fests, a fairly young one to boot, but what makes it stand out even in its infancy is the location. The Stanley Hotel stands big and impressive against the landscape offering fantastic views in any direction, but its claim to genre fame is as the relative birthplace of Stephen King’s The Shining. It’s also where the novel’s television mini-series adaptation was filmed – and hey look there’s ABC’s The Shining director Mick Garris hanging out in the lobby of the hotel while I check in!
He’s just one of several recognizable faces and talents scheduled to grace these grounds this weekend alongside the likes of Barbara Crampton who’s here with an incredible three films – the world premiere of Sunchoke, a fantastic little slice of horror called We Are Still Here and a repertory screening of Stuart Gordon’s classic Re-Animator. Gordon himself will also be in attendance and presented this weekend with the fest’s Master of Horror award.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Day one only features one film, the opening night film, and that film is Cooties. I first saw this funny and bloody horror romp back in January of 2014, but the filmmakers had reportedly made some changes since then – small tweaking here and there along with an entirely new and somewhat substantial ending.
Tonight was the world premiere of this re-jiggered Cooties, and it’s still a damn funny film punctuated with the joy of seeing animalistic children, cootified by bad chicken nuggets, playing jump-rope with a teacher’s intestines and having their skulls caved in with high-powered baseballs. My review of the film from early last year remains mostly accurate – the ending is new and improved and not at all the cop out it originally was, and while it has its own issues it’s a far more energetic and satisfying denouement this time around.
It’s clearly a comedy first and horror film second, and some of the laughs are surprisingly broad as they near but refuse to cross the line into parody. Elijah Wood, who stars and produced the film, introduced the screening and explained how the original concept was a deadly serious take on the story, and it wasn’t until they brought screenwriter/actor Leigh Whannell onto the project that they realized it should actually be a comedy. Whannell set to work revising the script, and it should surprise no one that he gave himself the most entertaining character and dialogue. As I said back in January 2014:
The film’s most reliable character for laughs though is Whannell’s Doug the science teacher. He offers up a steady stream of one-liners, non-sequiturs and throw away comments, and in the rare instances where one of his bits bomb he gets back on his feet almost immediately. “Word.”
The film is due for theatrical release later this year, and my opinion remains the same. You wouldn’t want to catch cooties, but you should make a point of catching Cooties when it hits theaters.
Friday is the first full day of the fest, and I have plans to see four features. It’s possible that will change as the day goes on though, partly because that’s just how festivals are and partly because I’m hoping to dig deeper into the immersive horror game unfolding over the weekend. I’ve received some odd text messages and seen some strange clues around the hotel grounds, but I’m not yet sure what exactly is going on… so maybe there won’t be a day two after all.