Tonight at the world-famous Stanley Hotel, the Stanley Film Festival will kick off its second year with Alexandre O. Philippe's look at zombie culture, Doc of the Dead. [Disclosure: I appear in Doc of the Dead.] Sunday, the fest closes with the horror comedy What We Do in the Shadows, starring Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords. In between, more than two dozen films will show, far more than you can reasonably cram in, especially if you also make time for the audio play, the immersive horror game and the myriad other activities filling the weekend. Some of those films are from big-name horror directors -- Takashi Miike, Ti West and Nacho Vigalondo, to name a few. Some are well-loved classics. Choosing between those is a simple matter of priorities.
But with the rest, there are some hard decisions to be made -- with not much info to go on. To ease this process, we asked Landon Zakheim, the festival's programming director, for his picks for under-the-radar films for every taste, from experimental horror to horror comedy. Here, in his words, are the films to look out for -- and why you should make time for them.
"It veers very much into the experimental, by way of early Cronenberg. It's a male and female Belgian directing team [who] madeAmer
a few years back. This is even further down the rabbit hole than that. It's one of the trippiest, most oddball, visual mind-melts of the festival. It's a good one. I hope some Boulder film school kids see it and have their minds opened to some more cerebral cinema. There's a total command of directorial precision and visual panache that really makes it feel like a trip."Rigor Mortis
"This is produced by the director ofThe Grudge
films, the originals, not the American remakes. The director is new. A lot of [the plot] is really kind of a back seat to some of the most intense computer effects I've seen in some time. The digital imagery is really elegant and violent at the same time. It's just a handsomely made production. They throw everything in there in terms of traditional Eastern ghost stories. There's ghosts and demons and mysticism and evil spirits and possession and vampires. I think there's a line in the movie where somebody comes back from another room and is like, 'Bad news, the vampire's been possessed.' It's like, what is happening? How many crazy things can occur here? [Laughs] It's really intense."R100
"This is by Hitoshi Matsumoto, who's really famous in Japan, although relatively unknown here. He was this subversive, comic director who rose through the ranks and was successful over there.R100
is really out there. It's about a father who has signed up for a secret S&M club, where he'll be visited at unknown times by various dominatrixes throughout the next year. When things get out of hand, he finds he can't get out of the contract.R100
is a reference to the Japanese rating system, the idea that the film is inappropriate for anyone under 100 years old. There's some fun and bizarre twists in the movie that are best not to discuss, because a lot of the enjoyment comes from seeing how much weirder and weirder it gets as it goes."Keep reading for more film-fest picks.Nothing Bad Can Happen
"This is not at all a supernatural horror or a fun, or gory, or energetic film. It's a really psychological, grim drama that in and of itself is horrifying. It's a film from Germany that debuted at Cannes last year, a really impressive debut from a German woman named Katrin Gebbe. It's just a grim film. The terror in it just comes from it being the terror of true life. There's not a lot of theatricality to it. It's not a typical film for gorehounds or a typical horror audience. It's a more subversive choice, but it's inherently scary."Moebius
"The craziest film I've ever seen in my life, possibly, isMoebius
. It's Kim Ki-duk, who's a great South Korean auteur. His films tend to be dark, they tend to be violent and he's no stranger to controversy. This is easily the farthest he's ever crossed the line. It's made more exceptional by the fact that there's not a single line of dialogue in the entire film. It has one of the most fucked-up sequences of events that I have ever seen. I've seen people try to describe the plot based on a series of facial reactions as the film progressed, because it is one shock after another, in completely new and inventive ways. It's not one for the squeamish. It's easy to feel sickened by the film, but there's no denying there's a mastery of filmmaking on display, and that those buttons are being pushed deliberately. It's something that any cinephile with any interest in world cinema should see. It's the kind of movie that festivals are for."The Babadook
"It's an incredibly atmospheric, well-crafted horror story about an unhinged kid and a mother's inability to deal with him. Then you add these horror elements that creep into it more and more and the you become trapped inside a horror film, much like the characters themselves. It's a great command of tension and audience empathy in that film. It was incredibly well-received at Sundance, and there's a reason for that. It shows people have new ways to tell horror stories, but still have that same thrill of seeing a scary film with a narrative structure."Keep reading for more film-fest picks.Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead
"You can't really beat the fun ofDead Snow: Red vs. Dead
. We're going to have a couple of the actors there. It's a sequel to a film about Nazi zombies that had anEvil Dead
vibe to it, but you don't have to see the first one to enjoy this. It's more likeGremlins 2
, in that it's very post-modern, very much making fun of itself, very subversive. It's really playful and the energy is a lot of fun. The kills are a lot of fun. It really embraces the silliness of Nazi zombies and takes it to its epic extreme. It does some fun stuff with zombie that I haven't really seen."
Late Phases "It's the follow-up film, and the first American film, from a Mexican director Adrián García Bogliano. He had a film called Here Comes the Devil that we showed at the fest last year. That was a Mexican film through and through. This is a U.S. film. Larry Fessenden's company [Glass Eye Pix] helped put it together. It's a really solid werewolf movie with good characters that you want to spend time with. There's something of throwback element to it because most of the characters are older and it takes place in a retirement community. It has that added disadvantage that the people trying to deal with the menace are retirees. The performances really stand out in the film, especially the lead. He's a no-nonsense war vet that feels like he's coming out of a Charles Bronson movie. The director will be there as well."Starry Eyes
"This takes a different approach. It throws everything at the wall and feels like you're watching old-school horror made made by real fans working on a micro-budget level, but who have a real eye for what horror fans want. That's the story of an actress who will do anything it takes to get ahead. It brings in all kinds of elements -- creature elements, Satanic elements, just weird scary stuff. There's time where it reminds me of a giallo. There's time where it reminds me of a creature feature. The gore effects are really fun."
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The Stanley Film Festival runs today, April 24 through Sunday, April 27. Find the complete festival schedule here.