Stanley Film Festival Promises "Slow-Burn, Smarter" Horror

COOTIES Sundance Film Still - H 2014
<p>COOTIES Sundance Film Still - H 2014</p>
The newly released program for the young horror festival opens with 'Cooties' and ends with 'The Final Girls.'

The Stanley Film Festival launched only two years ago, but the horror festival has drawn filmmakers including Eli Roth and proven its taste with selections including The Purge and The Babadook.

The name refers to the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, the building where it's held — and where Stephen King wrote most of the The Shining, based on the hotel.

The lineup for this year’s festival, released this week, includes buzzy entries The Hallow, The Boy and The Invitation and smaller and international features (read the full program). Landon Zakheim, the festival's programming director, says the selection features "heavy, slow-burn, smarter films."

"There are a lot of films this year that exercise restraint in really confident ways," says Zakheim, whose favorite horror film is The Shining. “I believe horror is in a renaissance in the indie sphere."

He says this year's festival features more films from the U.S. than previous years, though the fest is still meant to survey global horror filmmaking. International feature films include Deathgasm (New Zealand), Takashi Miike's Over Your Dead Body (Japan) and When Animals Dream (Denmark).

"We still have our total extreme, fun, crazy, gory films," Zakheim adds. “What would horror festivals be without them?”

Opening the fest on Apr. 30 will be Cooties, the horror-comedy that finds a group of elementary school teachers fending off flesh-eating students. Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion's film stars Elijah Wood, Alison Pill and Rainn Wilson, and Wood's up-and-coming horror label SpectreVision (The Boy, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night) produced.

It’s got horror pedigree in the script by Saw and Insidious co-creator Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan, who created Fox's upcoming horror-comedy TV series Scream Queens with Ryan Murphy, his Glee co-creator.

And the Stanley Fest will screen the version recut following the film's well-received Sundance screening. "We're excited to be able to help rebirth this film," Zakheim says.

The Final Girls will close the festival on May 2. Todd Strauss-Schulson's film follows a young woman forced to live through the horror movie in which her mother starred. The cast boasts Malin Akerman, The Vampire Diaries star Nina Dobrev, American Horror Story's Taissa Farmiga, Pitch Perfect's Adam DeVine and Silicon Valley's Thomas Middleditch.

"It’s kind of a perfect film for our audience," Zakheim says. “It's steeped in love for the genre. Its meta-commentary is very sincere, not cynical."

Expected to attend are Wood and his SpectreVision partners Josh Waller and Daniel Noah, Whannell and filmmakers including Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Jennifer's Body) and Rodney Ascher, who screened his Kubrick documentary Room 237 at the first Stanley Festival and returns this year with the sleep paralysis doc The Nightmare.

Stuart Gordon, whose directing credits include Re-Animator, From Beyond and Dolls, will receive the festival’s Master of Horror award.

But in addition to the feature and short screenings, the festival — produced by the Denver Film Society and presented by Chiller — will include components like the Immersive Horror Game, which uses multiple media platforms to involve participants in a horror mystery set in the Stanley Hotel, and the radio play Tales from Beyond The Pale, recorded live with hosts Larry Fessenden and Glenn McQuaid.

"A lot of our guests refer to it as a horror summer camp," Zakheim says. "What we're trying to do is create an experiential festival."