April 30, 2013 at 8:15 AM ET
Travelers who take a shine to the spookier side of life may want to put Estes Park, Colo., on their weekend itinerary. Running May 2–5, the inaugural Stanley Film Festival promises four days of hauntingly good entertainment at the very hotel where Stephen King dreamed up “The Shining.”
“Putting a horror film festival together at the Stanley Hotel is a dream come true,” festival director Jenny Bloom told NBC News. (Disclosure: The Stanley Film Festival is sponsored by Chiller, the horror/suspense cable channel owned by NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News) “It’s the perfect backdrop for watching films because of the actual paranormal experiences people have while they’re there.”
Those unexplained experiences have been a part of the hotel’s history almost since the day it opened in 1909. It was just two years later that chief housekeeper Elizabeth Wilson was injured in an explosion while she was lighting acetylene lanterns in room 217. She survived but guests have reported sensing her presence in the room ever since.
Other guests have reported lights flicking on and off, doors opening and closing and laughter and footsteps when no one else is around in other rooms and facilities throughout the hotel.
“I tell people that they’re former guests and employees who have since passed and come back to share with us again,” said General Manager Rick Benton. “They’re not mean, they just want some attention.”
In fact, it was just that sort of attention-seeking that reportedly gave King the idea to write “The Shining.” As the story goes, he and his wife were staying at the hotel in the fall of 1974 just as it was being closed down for the winter. As the only guests on site, they ate in the grand dining room alone, walked the empty corridors alone and retired to their room — 217, of course — alone.
Except, that is, for the young child they reportedly encountered even though there were no children visiting at the time. Given King’s fervent imagination, it was only a matter of time before phrases like “REDRUM” and “He-e-e-r-r-r-e’s Johnny” entered the lexicon.
For film fans, the upcoming festival promises to continue that legacy with nearly two dozen feature films and a selection of shorts and student movies. With names like “100 Bloody Acres,” “Maniac” and “The Purge,” the films promise plenty of screams and slashes.
“With horror, there are so many different subsets,” said Landon Zakheim, the festival’s program director. “You have thrillers, gore, psychological terror — it’s fun to see the different takes on them.”
Other festival events include a horror brunch (with bottomless Bloody Marys), a whiskey tasting (drinks served up by Lloyd the bartender, perhaps?) and a zombie crawl through the streets of Estes Park. Attendees can also sit in on panel discussions, including one that explores what Zakheim refers to as “the secrets of ‘The Shining’.”
“Horror films in general represent a strange combination of high art and low art,” he told NBC News. “The Shining” is a classic example; it’s a horror film that’s broken out into the pantheon of great films.”
Between the slate of frightening films and the setting’s reputation for paranormal phenomena, festival attendees should be prepared for experiences that incorporate everything from the twisted imaginations of Hollywood to the unexplained occurrences of the hereafter.
No doubt, they’ll be in good in company: “Attendees should prepare to have a blast,” said Benton. “The former guests and employees who have passed through are going to be excited as well.”
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.