Timothy Schultz has been having nightmares. A lot of them. "Last night I had four," he said over coffee one recent afternoon. "There were zombies. Someone got stabbed. There was a vampire in another one." Consider it a hazard of the job.No, the 34-year-old doesn't work in a crime lab or counsel middle-school bullies. In addition to running an entertainment production company, Schultz is the executive director of the Mile High Horror Film Festival.
The three-day gathering kicks off its second year Friday at the Starz FilmCenter on the Auraria Campus.
Schultz is not alone in divining a niche in Colorado's crowded festival field and seizing an opportunity to scare and engage fright-seekers.
The following weekend, the second Telluride Horror Show unspools in the San Juan mountain town. (Oct. 14-16). Festival director Ted Wilson hopes his fest will become as respected a destination event as the Telluride Film Festival and Mountainfilm.
Two horror film fests? In their second year? Started by two nice boys who hail from the Heartland. Schultz came from Des Moines, Iowa. Wilson headed west from Fort Wayne, Ind.
Eerie. Or is it?
Horror has become a mainstay of American film culture. For good and evil.
Horror also makes money — fairly cheaply by industry standards. And it is often tweaked for Hollywood's most sought-after demographic: young, typically male.
But the Mile High Horror and Telluride Horror fests intend to remind fans and fresh meat that horror can be transgressive. It's meant to disturb but it also can make you laugh. Both Colorado fests are programmed to engage and entertain, culling not from some straight-to-video bin but from other festival's fair.
The coincidence of two newbie horror film fests doesn't spook, or surprise, Keith Garcia, who began the genre program the Watching Hour within the Starz Denver Film Festival in 2006. Three years later, the programming manager for the Denver Film Society integrated the late-night series into the film society's year-round offerings.
"Horror is definitely a mirror to our times," Garcia said. "It's a snapshot of where we're at and what is going on."
So what's going on? "Post 9/11 there was this weird desire to realistically re-create death in a safe manner," said Garcia. "Although 'The Blair Witch Project' kicked it off, we've entered into these re-created reality films. "
Schultz also spotted this trend toward what he calls a "cinema-verite"-style horror flick. "We saw many more of those than we excepted. Everybody is doing it."
Widen the lens and this trend resonates with other pop culture offerings obsessed with "reality" or reconstructed versions presented as such — from the shores of Jersey to the living rooms of animal hoarders.
Most film festivals of note — Sundance, Toronto, South by Southwest, among them — include a dedicated program of so-called midnight movies. Then there are the established, increasingly attended events dedicated to "phantasmogoria" and then some: London's FrightFest, Montreal's Fantasia-fest and Austin's Fantastic Fest.
"I follow those fests and really watch what's playing well. Then I go after all those films," said Telluride's Wilson. "The good news is that because we're in Telluride and because of the Telluride Film Festival's reputation," he's able to secure higher quality fare, he believes.
The late, great film critic Pauline Kael might have lassoed this trend into her lament about trash art and cinema. But other, arguably younger critics — and discerning fans — might call it an expression of our postmodern condition. Not only do they relate to the moment we live in, many of the films obsessively chatter about or reference the movies that have come before.
Case in point: Each fest will screen "Chillerama." Directed by four filmmakers, the B-flick is centered on a fictional and famous drive-in that screens four rare cult films on its final night. (Mile High, Sat. 6 p.m.; Telluride, time to be determined).
Telluride's and Mile High's ambitiously programmed offerings prove that horror speaks many languages. And why not? Fear knows no borders and the genre (think post-WWII Japan and "Godzilla") has been helpful in revealing a nation's anxieties, both global and internal.
Among the festivals' international features: Kim Jee-woon's "I Saw the Devil," a troubling and beautifully wrought revenge film from South Korea. (Mile High, Sat. 4:15 p.m.)
Australia's "The Tunnel" follows a television news crew that runs smack into the lethally unknown while chasing down a story. Who's running now? (Telluride Horror Show; director Carlo Ledesma and producers Enzo Tedeschi and Julian Harvey will attend a post-screening Q&A; time to be determined ).
The slasher film "Kalevet" — "Rabies" — is being touted as the first horror film from Israel. (Mile High Horror, Fri. 4:45 p.m; Sat. 6:50 p.m.)
Both festivals have films from the vaults. Telluride Horror Show will screen a 35mm, black-and-white print of "Bride of Frankenstein." Mile High Horror digs into the late 1970s with Wes Craven's cult classic "The Hills Have Eyes."
And what would a horror fest be without some controversy. Arguably the most contentious film playing this weekend is writer-director Lucky McKee's "The Woman." (Mile High, Sat. 9:15 p.m.; Sun. 6:55 p.m.)
McKee made an impressive debut film, "May," about a young and lonesome woman trying to connect and not doing so well at it. "The Woman" follows a country lawyer whose decision to hold captive a feral woman has untold consequences for his family. The film premiered at Sundance, where the volatile question — so familiar to the genre — became: Is it degrading women or is it critiquing misogyny?
Mile High Horror gives viewers a chance to decide which and argue their point.
Mile High Horror Film Festival
telluride horror show. Three-day genre film fest The Sheridan Opera House and the Nugget Theater in TellurideOct 14-16. $60 early bird pass 970-708-3906 and telluridehorrorshow.com.