This last weekend, I went up to Estes Park to see some movies at the Stanley Film Festival, a fantastic horror-themed festival taking place in and around the historic Stanley Hotel (which famously inspired Stephen King’s The Shining). So instead of watching, like, Paddington or something I wouldn’t enjoy after already spending my entire weekend seeing films, I’ve dedicated this week’s Redbox Review to reviewing a few of the exciting, new horror flicks I caught at the Stanley.
This horror-comedy about a high-school metal band who accidentally turn half their small New Zealand hometown into demons by playing a mysterious piece of music was one of the midnight screenings at Stanley. It was a perfect film for that time; it’s loud, stupid and doesn’t require you to think very hard. Gory as all-get-out and filled to the brim with crude humor, visual-effects-artist-turned-director Jason Lei Howden is obviously a fan of Peter Jackson’s ’90s gore-films (Dead Alive, Bad Taste). Deathgasm never reaches the highs of those films, but it’s a raucous and fun (if predictable) way to spend 90 minutes.
I wasn’t particularly excited for The Invitation; director Karyn Kusama’s previous films Jennifer’s Body and Aeon Flux were both absolute train-wrecks, and I was assuming the thriller about a dinner party that leads to paranoia and questions of intent from its guests would be in the same vein. Fortunately, I was dead wrong. The film is an excellent slow-burn that keeps the audience guessing until its nerve-wracking, nail-biting conclusion. Giving too much detail would be doing The Invitation injustice; I’ll just say it was the highlight of my festival experience and you absolutely must see it when it hits limited release through Drafthouse Films in the near future.
Rodney Ascher’s follow-up to Room 237, a documentary exploring many conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, has an equally interesting premise. The Nightmare, half-documentary and half-dramatic-reenactment, explores the terrifying phenomenon of sleep paralysis through the eyes of a handful of sufferers. It’s an incredibly interesting subject and some of the reenactments manage to create some suspense, but it often borders on cheese and it all gets rather repetitive at about the one-hour mark. It probably would’ve worked better as an hour-long TV documentary and the constant breaking of the fourth wall are head-scratching, but it’s still an interesting way to learn about a really spooky sleep disorder.
Director Ted Geoghegan introduced We Are Still Here by saying the film sprouted from his love of 1970s Euro-horror, and the haunted house flick definitely has the feel of one of those old classics. Starring long-time horror icons Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden, Geoghegan’s directorial debut starts out a little ho-hum, delivering dime-a-dozen ghost scares and seemingly going nowhere. But it ends up delivering an incredibly fun second half as you learn it’s not just the house our protagonists have to fear. The last half-hour delivers constant gore and fun that had the Stanley crowd having the time of their lives. Be patient with We Are Still Here, and you’re pretty much guaranteed a fun time.
Zach Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on his Twitter page, @zachandforth.