TELLURIDE -With two guest directors who are legendary in film circles, a sneak preview from a major Hollywood studio and the triumphant return of onetime Telluride resident Kelly Wagner, now at the helm of Hollywood’s Revolver Picture Co., the Telluride Horror Show is going great-guns.
“I’m excited about everything,” says Ted Wilson, promoter of the mid-October film festival. Of guest director Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case, the 1982 cult classic, the 30-something Wilson says, “That speaks a lot to my generation, because it was a movie we all watched on VHS numerous times. To see it on the big screen, and have the director here in person, that’s a total geek-out, for sure.”
He’s similarly effusive about the long-anticipated debut of the anticipated stop-motion-animation horror short by visual-effects master Phil Tippett, whose Hollywood career has included such blockbusters as the original Star Wars Trilogy, Jurassic Park and Starship Troopers. As a young man, Wilson says, Tippett “became fascinated with the magic of stop-motion animation,” an art form used in such film classics King Kong and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, which like Claymation uses figures, but puppets and dolls, as opposed to figures made from clay.
He “embarked on Mad God, an ambitious personal project, fabricating and animating a darkly surreal world in which the creatures and nightmares of his imagination could roam free,” according to the THS program, but that project took a back seat as the skyrocketing success of Tippett Studio forced him to set it aside. Eventually, “a group of animators at the studio came upon boxes of shelved props and puppets,” and began volunteering on Tippett’s Mad God project. “Before long, it had snowballed into a crew of more than 60 artists,” and “the first chapter of Mad God will be unleashed on the world this year.”
After screening the 11-minute Mad God: Part I, Tippett will show Mutantland, his three-minute phantasmagoric short THS screened in 2010.
“It’s incredible to have these legends” coming to town, says Wilson, who is also “excited that we have so many new low-budget indies from up-and-coming directors.”
Feature films range from Willow Creek, a “found-footage” Bigfoot movie from writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait, to Pinup Dolls on Ice, where stranded strippers “find themselves being stalked by a homicidal maniac with a sick obsession with ice.” Shorts range from The Last Video Store, in which a video owner fights “to defend his collection when an unexpected package from digital rivals unleashes an analog-eating terror in the shop,” to Hell No, exploring “what would happen in horror movies if smart characters made good decisions.”
This year’s studio sneak – Hellbenders, from Lions Gate – is horror with a comedic bent. “It’s a horror comedy about a group of Catholic priests who perform exorcisms,” says Wilson. The catch? “In order to attract the demons so they can perform the exorcisms, these priests have to sin like crazy. So, as you can imagine, this film is pretty over the top.”
Wilson plans to screen Hellbenders twice over the three-day festival weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, “So that everyone can get a chance to catch it.”
He’s also excited about Sunday’s closing-night film, Beneath. Kelly Wagner, of Revolver Pictures, and one of its two producers, “used to live and work in Telluride,” he says, “so Telluride has a very special place in her heart.” Wagner and Nick Phillips, her fellow producer, and the film’s lead actress, will be in attendance Sunday, with the film, which tells the tale of “a group of miners that get stuck in a mine after an accident.
“It’s about their fight for survival,” Wilson says. “And, as you can imagine, it doesn’t go well.”
Wilson is philosophical about the evolution of the four-year-old festival, which this year has sold 350 passes (each granting access to 11 shows and a pig roast, a bargain at $84). “We’re definitely keeping it affordable,” he says, “because really, we’re concerned about building a dedicated base, and I’m happy to report that’s happening.”
The festival has grown geographically, as well, from mostly regional attendees to a largely Colorado audience to today’s reach of visitors from Colorado’s fellow Four Corners states of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico (and even, Wilson reports, from California and the Midwest.
So is the fan base for horror film growing? Wilson says its success is in large part economic. “Horror today continues to do incredibly well at the box office,” he says, but most horror films are shot “on a very low budget, compared to movies like Gravity and other big-budget blockbusters,” and many “do insanely well with the general public.
“I think horror is as strong as it has ever been, if not stronger.” As to why horror films remain popular, Wilson paraphrases filmmaker Mel Brooks’ comment on comedy: “‘Tragedy is when I cut my finger; comedy is when you fall down an open sewer and die.’
“I think it’s the same with horror,” Wilson says. “It’s a lot of fun because it’s happening to somebody else.”