Event Report: The 2015 Mile High Horror Film FestivalHome,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
As much as New York and Los Angeles can boast about their thriving horror communities, there are few places as passionate about the genre than Denver, Colorado. Following the amazing, mic-dropping outing that was the Stanley Film Festival back in May, this writer quickly learned that Denver was a hub of fright fandom unlike any other. And when the opportunity arose to return to Colorado for the Mile High Horror Film Festival- presented by the excellent and fantastic folks at the Alamo Drafthouse- I was surprised to learn that the horror hounds I had met at Stanley were merely the tip of the iceberg.
After landing in Denver, this writer quickly got his things together and prepared for the Mile High Horror experience, a four-day immersion into horror films new and old that would send me into a schedule akin to my college days. Beyond that, with five previous years under their belt, Mile High Horror knew exactly what their hungry local horror hounds wanted, filling their roster with audience-pleasing pictures and excellent guests. But this writer was determined to get the most authentic Mile High Horror experience possible, and that meant cramming in as many films as I could into my soon-to-be-fried skull.
MHHFF 2015 started with a bang, offering an ‘In Memoriam’ screening of Wes Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET preceded by a Skype Q&A with legendary final girl Heather Langenkamp. Introduced and moderated by Mile High co-director Theresa Likarish, Langenkamp appeared as a warm presence who delightfully recapped her audition process, working with Wes and her status as the portrayer of one of Wes’ most understated creations. It was a lighthearted and respectful chat that set the tone for the film to follow, and revisiting NIGHTMARE on the big screen really makes one respect Craven’s work as a filmmaker, especially considering the ambitious shooting techniques achieved on an independent level.
Following A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, this writer made his way into the world premiere of EVEN LAMBS HAVE TEETH, Terry Miles’ rape revenge flick that plays like a mix of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and DEATH WISH with a small town twist. While the film will definitely be polarizing among horror fans at large, as are most films in the rape revenge canon, the film was well received among the Mile High audience, and a post-film Q&A revealed that the film’s bloodiest, goriest moment was still undergoing VFX work, accounting for its peculiar absence in EVEN LAMBS’ world premiere. And following the Q&A and a late night karaoke session, this writer hailed the nearest cab and returned to the hotel, hoping to get some sleep before day two of Mile High.
I awoke the next morning with an excruciating hangover yet armed with a resilient will to make the most of what would likely be my busiest day. Outside of the films I had currently planned to see, I had back-to-back hosting duties, including a pre-screening Q&A with Linnea Quigley before FANGORIA’s official presentation of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (on VHS, no less) and a 35mm screening of SILVER BULLET presented by this writer’s debut novel, THE I IN EVIL. But first on the agenda (after woefully missing Chad Archibald’s BITE, which was screening at 8:00 a.m.) was revisiting a film I had seen out of Stanley Film Festival: Dan Berk and Robert Olsen’s BODY. Upon second viewing, BODY was an even stronger film, allowing this writer to focus on how strong the dialogue and character development is before the powerfully tense material comes to light in the film’s latter half. Following that film, this writer hopped into APPLESAUCE, Onur Tukel’s latest NY-set romp which plays as the darker, bloodier alternative to the work of Todd Solondz and Woody Allen. While APPLESAUCE is not a “horror” film per se, the film is nonetheless excellent and features at least one unforgettable use of a severed body part.
After wrapping up APPLESAUCE, this writer took a moment to mingle amongst Mile High’s horror crowd, including the incredible folks at Laser Party art (who designed the amazing RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD print for the fest) as well as Mile High’s own Josh Massaro, Andy Breslow, Matthew Manning, Tim Schultz and Bri Zimmer as well as filmmakers Chad McClarnon, Pablo Absento, Shant Hamassain, Zack Beins, Richard Karpala and Andrew Wassom. Shortly after, this writer made his way to the 10th Anniversary unrated screening of THE DESCENT, which would be followed by a Q&A with director Neil Marshall. The film holds up fantastically, and judging by the reactions of some in the crowd, the audience must have been made up of several unknowing participants.
Following a short intermission for wings and beer, this writer hurried his way to catch THE FINAL GIRLS, one of the most impressive horror offerings of the years and a crowd-pleaser to boot. Having caught it at Stanley earlier this year, this writer knew better than to pass up another chance to catch the exceptional horror comedy with an audience yet again, and sure enough, the film played insanely well. And with the film currently out while this piece is posted, this writer encourages fright fans to catch THE FINAL GIRLS in theaters if possible, as the film is much more cinematic than perhaps any critic is giving it credit for.
Shortly after THE FINAL GIRLS, the time had arrived for RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, sporting a packed house and one of the nicest women you’ll ever meet in the horror genre, the one and only Linnea Quigley. Over the course of our pre-screening Q&A, we learned that none of the cast or crew really knew that RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD was a comedy, Quigley’s nervous reaction to ROTLD fans at her first convention and how she was among the last to be cast in the film, despite making it in time for rehearsals. And following the Q&A, the VHS screening of the movie went incredibly well, with fans quoting and cheering the movie in all of its gory glory.
Once THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD came to a close, this writer jumped over to SILVER BULLET for the final screening of the night at 11:50 p.m., offering a brief, humorous introduction about werewolf behavior as pertinent to the film at hand. The film then played, and even through the somewhat vinegar syndrome-afflicted last reels, SILVER BULLET offered Mile High fans the perfect midnight movie experience. Practical FX, Stephen King tropes and an ensemble of excellent character actors reminded the audience just how fun and underrated SILVER BULLET is, and was the perfect way to cap off an eventful second day at MHHFF 2015.
Day three of Mile High Horror started off with a bang for this writer, as I woke up bright and early to give away gifts at the first ever live edition of FANGORIA’s WE’LL SEE YOU IN HELL podcast. Riffing on MANIAC COP 2, the live commentary was hilarious, fun and different than anything else offered at the festival. And for those who couldn’t quite make it to the screening, the live from Mile High Horror episode of Joe DeRosa & Patrick Walsh’s WE’LL SEE YOU IN HELL is now available for download HERE.
Following WE’LL SEE YOU IN HELL, this writer made his way towards Mile High’s rare unrated 35mm screening of Adam Green’s HATCHET, complete with a post-screening Q&A with Green and star Kane Hodder. The print of the film, which had reportedly only been screened two times beforehand, was absolutely gorgeous, and the film was embraced by both ardent fans and newcomers alike. And after the film, Hodder & Green’s Q&A was funny as it was heartfelt, with the pair talking about Hodder overcoming his past experiences to embrace a role like Victor Crowley.
After HATCHET, this writer got to catch some of the many impressive shorts playing at Mile High Horror 2015, including a select few from the filmmakers I had met earlier. Out of the shorts I had seen, almost all of them were great in one-way or another, and jumped from tone and material organically from one film to the other. SELF-ASSEMBLY and WELCOME TO WILLITS had some stellar effects work on display, especially when each short went practical, while THE BARBER’S CUT and IT’S COLD AND IT’S DARK drew some much-needed laughter from the audience. IRIS sported some excellent cinematography and natural landscapes, while DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL is short and sweet with a twisted payoff. However, the three most effective shorts played back-to-back in this block: BAD GUY #2 married outrageous gore and hilarious humor, THINK DEEP offered an excellent exercise in misdirection and AND THEY WATCHED was heavy-handed and yet still effortlessly creepy. Special marks also have to go to Absento’s SHI, a moody and expertly crafted short that holds plenty of potential for Absento as a filmmaker who knows how to make restrained yet visceral scares.
Then came time for one of the hottest tickets at Mile High Horror 2015: TALES OF HALLOWEEN with Neil Marshall partaking in a live Q&A moderated by Adam Green (who appears in the film). In an absolutely packed house, TALES OF HALLOWEEN played in a big, bad way, with audiences laughing, cringing and cheering throughout. Out of all the segments, the final three seemed to land hardest on the audience, with Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin and Neil Marshall’s tales offering bloody mischief by the handful. And considering the fan response to TALES OF HALLOWEEN, fans seem to be already game should a second collection of chilling stories be in the works.
Following TALES OF HALLOWEEN was a film I had unfortunately missed at Stanley and had been dying to see for myself: Karyn Kusama’s THE INVITATION. While the film may still be a bit away from general audiences, there’s little denying that THE INVITATION is a powerful, unsettling film. Expertly shot and crafted, THE INVITATION is the kind of psychological horror film that feels original and terrifying, playing to the audience’s relationship with a dark inevitability regarding the subject matter that elevates the material from its genre confines.
Day three ended with the midnight screening of Julien Seri’s NIGHT FARE, a rather crazy and carnage-filled horror film with one of the most outlandish twist endings in recent memory; you can check out our full review for that film HERE. Getting back to the hotel a little before 3 a.m., I knew catching THE CORPSE OF ANNA FRITZ at 8:15 a.m. would be near impossible, and in my exhausted state, I barely made the informative yet compelling Distributor’s Panel at 11 a.m.
I rounded out my four day Mile High Horror experience with a film I had not watched in nearly a decade: Rob Zombie’s HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES. The film actually played much better than what this writer remembered, and the chaotic visual style feels long-missing from the hand-held, overtly graphic entries in Zombie’s oeuvre.
While this writer wishes he could have stayed to catch even more from Mile High, including PATH (a/k/a SENDERO) and HE NEVER DIED, alas, it was not meant to be. I soon found myself on a flight back to the East Coast, yet not without making a few friends, seeing more than a few great movies and having one hell of a time. You can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be back next year, and if you’re a self-respecting horror hound in the Denver area, you will want to be there too.