Stanley Film Fest Paranormal Programmer Scares Up His Top Picks

The third chapter of the Stanley Film Festival rolls into Estes Park this week, like a spirit-soaked fog hovering over the spooky Stanley Hotel, filling the place with the best horror films and festivities for a celebration of cinematic goosebumps. On the fright frontline is Matthew Campbell, a programmer who spends most of his time in the dark, watching hundreds of films as he hunts for gems that go into the Denver Film Festival and other niche film festivals like the Stanley, which is put on by the Denver Film Society.

We scared up a couple of questions for the cinephile and also asked him to give us his picks for five films that you dare not miss at this year’s Stanley Film Festival… or else.

Westword: What is so great about the Stanley Film Festival and why should someone make the trek up to Estes to partake?

Matthew Campbell: What makes the Stanley Film Festival so great and unique is the true sense of community. It really feels like summer camp for horror fans; by the end of the weekend you've made new friends and had "team bonding" experiences in the secluded space. Visions of tearful goodbyes and signing yearbooks come to mind.

What do you look for in a film that you program for Stanley, and how does that differ from how you select movies for the Denver Film Festival?

I think the fundamental way in which we program the Stanley and Denver are not very different. In both cases we are looking for the best films that we hope our audience will respond to. Stanley differs in the sense that we are primarily programming titles coming out of major festivals such as Sundance, SXSW and Fantastic Fest. That is also the case for Denver, however we program about five times the amount of films that we do for the Stanley. So you have a bit more freedom. The fun thing about Stanley is focusing on one specific genre and balancing all the nuances and sub-genres there within.

What’s your favorite scary movie?

My go-to answer is The Wicker Man (1973). I'm fascinated with pagan, cult and religious representation within the horror genre. Plus creepy kids and hilarious songs! It is also a great example of the dangers of sexuality, an established backbone theme within the history of horror. I also usually mention Salo (1975). I would by no means say it’s a favorite, or that I even really "like" it, but if a goal of horror is to have a physical reaction, to be so uncomfortable and disturbed by the viewing experience that you squirm and wrench in your seat, than Salo takes the cake...or a big tray of excrement.

Matthew Campbell's top five films NOT to miss at this year's Stanley Film Festival:
5) The Boy
Screens Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3

“Based on his short film Henley (which screened in the first edition of the Stanley), director Craig Macneill teamed up with the production company SpectreVision (Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller and Elijah Wood), who received our Visionary Award last year, to make a tension- ratcheting slow-burn tale of an isolated boy as he develops into a psychopath. It is masterfully constructed; the cinematography, location, production design, pacing, everything comes together perfectly. MacNeill along with SpectreVision and the young lead actor will be on hand,” says Campbell.
4) Goodnight Mommy
Screens Friday, May 1 and Saturday, May 2

“Another film featuring creepy kids! And this time it's identical twins. Being an identical twin myself, I love this film so much and appreciate it even more so because after viewing my first thought was, 'My god, twins are so creepy. Maybe my brother and I shouldn’t buy a condo and move in together.' So if it can scare me out of making a sound investment decision in Denver's cut-throat housing market, you know it;s top-notch,” muses Campbell.
3) The Nightmare
Screens Friday, May 1 and Saturday, May 2

Of this title Campbell says, “Rodney Ascher, director of Room 237, returns to the festival with what is billed as the scariest documentary ever made, and it does not disappoint! We've all had nightmares, but those living with sleep paralysis really understand the power the mind has to truly terrorize ourselves. Ascher will be on hand for what promises to be one of the most thought-provoking Q&As of the fest.”
2) Some Kind Of Hate
Screens Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3

“Very excited to have the world premiere of this film. It's ambitious for an indie film to create an iconic character in the vein of Freddy or Michael, even more so when the gender roles are reversed. But Moria Karp pulls it off in spades, a new monster for the millennials,” says Campbell.
1) Sun Choke
Screens Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3

“Another world premiere!" says Campbell. "It's my personal discovery for the fest and I just love it. The entire cast and crew will be on hand, including Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator), who has three films in the festival! I can't wait for them to share it with an audience for the first time. Whenever psychology and the battle of minds serves as the platform for suspense, the ability to freak yourself out more than what’s on screen is so satisfying.”

The Stanley Film Festival runs April 30 through May 3 at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. Redrum badges are sold out but individual tickets are still available; see the full schedule at

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Keith Garcia is a filmmaker, writer and secret agent looking for love and the perfect slice of pizza. If he looks familiar, it's probably because he introduced a film you watched in Denver sometime between 1996 and 2014.
Contact: Keith Garcia

Latest Stories