Colorado History

Five More Underappreciated Films Made in Colorado

Colorado's movie industry has taken off in fits and starts over the last 120 years, but while boosters are always hoping that more films will be made here, some of the movies already made in this state deserve far more attention than they've received. Our survey continues (see the first Five Underappreciated Films Made in Colorado here) with a look at the '70s and '80s, after the John Denver Phenomenon took hold and Colorado suddenly became a go-to destination for filmmakers, especially those who liked skiing. And then came a surprise in the '90s...

10) Vanishing Point (1971)

Finally! A drug-fueled, countercultural, existential car-chase movie! Dick’s Sarafian’s tale of speed and alienation features a stoic Everyman, played by Barry Newman, who bets he can drive a Dodge Challenger R/T 400 Magnum from Denver to San Francisco in record time. Of course, The Man has to bring him down, but not before an odyssey through Amerika, the hero guided all the while by a psychic, blind radio DJ played by Cleavon Little. A glimpse of old Denver is here, as is long-time local TV news icon Bob Palmer in a cameo. The first big car chase of the film is set in Glenwood Canyon, before the Interstate went through. With giant rattlesnakes, Delaney & Bonnie (& Friends), and a naked hippie lady on a motorcycle. That’s entertainment.

9) Scarecrow (1973)
In the best movie on this list, Al Pacino and Gene Hackman play mismatched hobo buddies who cross the country together. A substantial part of the story takes place in Denver, in the east side of the Sunnyside neighborhood when scrapyards and abandoned cars predominated; at the Terminal Bar at 17th and Wazee streets — also mentioned in Tom Waits’ “Nighthawk Postcards (from Easy Street)"; and at Turk's up on West 43rd Avenue. There’s a brief scene in the Canon City prison, too, where Pacino is assaulted by stellar film baddie Richard Lynch.

8) Over the Edge (1979)

It’s Matt Dillon’s first film, and he didn’t want to be in it – he just auditioned so that he could skip school. But Over the Edge wound up becoming an influential cult coming-of-age film that deeply influenced Kurt Cobain, as well as Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. It was filmed in Aurora and Greeley, in the new, grim, treeless dirt-lot subdivisions of the era. Based on a 1973 California incident, this teen-rebellion saga quite accurately places blame on a suburban society of strangers that has nothing to offer anyone over the age of twelve: nothing to do, nowhere to go and no one to count on. Killer soundtrack!

7) Dark Circle (1983)
This movie was overshadowed by the success of the similarly-themed The Atomic Café that came out at the same time, but it won the Grand Prize for a documentary at Sundance, as well as a national Emmy. Its subject is the still-inadequately discussed faced subject of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production plant sixteen miles northwest (and upstream, and upwind) of Denver. Its clear-eyed examination of contamination-related illnesses and deaths has never been equaled on film. Now subdivisions grow near where waste used to be stored, and the film is more timely than ever.

6) Cannibal! The Musical (1993)
It all started when CU-Boulder student Trey Parker found his fiancée in bed with someone else. This turned into a brief in-joke reel for the film department ...and then fellow student Matt Stone joined in, as did many others in Boulder and beyond. The project morphed into a full-scale, all-singing, madcap tribute to America’s only convicted cannibal, Colorado’s Alferd Packer. Filmed across the state on weekends over the course of months on a minimal budget (the trial is set in the Lake City courthouse where Packer was tried), the result is one of the funniest movies you’ll ever see. It’s like Rodgers and Hammerstein had a baby with Dario Argento. Its boisterous transgressiveness foreshadows the kind of wit that Parker and Stone had in store for us with South Park and The Book of Mormon. Oh, and featuring avant-garde legend Stan Brakhage in his only acting role in someone else's film, as well as Sushi Zanmai owner Masako Maki as an . . . Indian chief?

Now read our first installment of Five Underappreciated Films Made in Colorado.