Colorado is home to a plethora of film festivals—from the very small and local to the very large and international—but the Stanley Film Festival (SFF), playing April 30–May 3, is a rare one. Existing left of center, SFF embraces all that is wonderful and demented about horror movies.

Located in the haunted historic halls of the Stanley Hotel, SFF brings together classic and contemporary horror cinema and offers a slate of movies that range from high camp to deadly serious.

Much like romance and comedy, horror movies use very specific moments and tropes to elicit emotional reactions. These moments are extremely subjective, working wonders on others while barely raising the eyebrow of another. They can take many forms, ranging anywhere from the minimalistic to the violently graphic, personal to overtly political and humorous to tragic, but in all cases, they force audiences to face their fears and confront the demons that lurk beneath the surface.

Therein lies the beauty of a four-day horror movie boot camp. With a slate of 21 features, 19 shorts, 6 retrospectives, and 8 student films—competing for the coveted “Stanley Dean’s Cup”—there is something for everyone.

For those seeking a little levity with their fright, the opening night film, Cooties (April 30) is set in an elementary school where the cafeteria food has turned the children into killer savages. The star and co-producer of Cooties was also the recipient of SFF’s 2014 Visionary Award, Elijah Wood.

Wood also returns to SFF with, The Boy (May 2 & 3), a somber story about a young boy’s growing fascination with death. Wood co-produced The Boy with his fellow award recipients, Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller. Last year, the team teased SFF audiences with clips from both Cooties and The Boy. This year, they present the finished products.

Other standouts to look forward to are Karyn Kusama’s slow burning dinner party from hell, The Invitation (May 1 & 2), Rodney Ascher’s documentary on the horrors of sleep paralysis, The Nightmare (May 1 & 2) and Takashi Miike’s ghost story, Over Your Dead Body (May 2 & 3).

Of course, no festival is complete without a few retrospectives, and this year boasts the cult classic, Re-Animator (May 2), which is celebrating its 30th Anniversary. Re-Animator on its own is not something to miss, but considering that director Stuart Gordon will receive the Master of Horror award and be joined on stage for a conversation with fellow “Trailers From Hell” guru, Mick Garris, it’s a must.

One of the true pleasures of a film festival is walking into a screening without any knowledge of what you’re getting into. You commit to the seat and surrender to the image with one hope and goal, to be surprised. This is doubly true when it comes to horror movies, and the Stanley Film Festival offers plenty of chances for that surprise. Estes Park is just a short and scenic 50-minute drive from downtown Boulder, so come play with us. …for ever, and ever, and ever.

Screening times, directions and tickets at