I have just returned from a long weekend in Telluride, Colorado as a guest of the Telluride Horror Show, the state's oldest horror film festival (they have at least three that I know of; I'm not sure what it is about Colorado and horror films). I'll be honest: the fest was off my radar until this year, but that's over. I'm a devoted fan of what they're doing up there, and I think you should be too. Here are my five best reasons for you to book your travel to next year's Telluride Horror Show right now.
1) The programming is tight. The Horror Show doesn't get the kinds of world premieres that Fantastic Fest or Midnight Madness get, but they do occupy a great spot in the genre festival ecosystem - they get to pick and choose many of the best films on the circuit. This year's programming was an exciting cross-section of the genre movies that have been getting plenty of buzz in the last few months, from Mickey Keating's arthorror Darling to the crowd-pleasing heavy metal Satanism of The Devil's Candy to the hard-edged, squirm-inducing German Angst to the tight psychological terror of The Invitation. There's something for all tastes at The Horror Show, and their program contains exclusively interesting movies - even the films I didn't like personally are films that are worth seeing. That's rare at a fest, when you can pick any film in any slot and be rewarded.
2) Telluride is amazing, and empty at this time of year. You may have gone to the Telluride Film Festival, but that doesn't mean you've been to Telluride. That fest sees almost 4000 people descend upon a mountain town that is about five blocks long, and while that crowd is smaller than Sundance it still packs the town to the seams. The Horror Show is right in the middle of off season - all the summer tourists are gone and the skiers haven't arrived yet. The town was empty this weekend - like, I could walk down the main street at high noon and not see another human being. All of the stores had off season sales going on, and getting a table at every restaurant was easy as hell (I recommend Brown Dog Pizza, by the way. Some of the best pizza I have ever had, and that's coming from a New Yorker).
Telluride itself is an astonishing town. This festival is, in my eyes, a destination festival first and foremost. Tucked away in the mountains at nine thousand feet, Telluride is an hour and a half from the nearest commercial airport and has a tiny town wonder that is overwhelming. A mining town, Telluride used to be the real deal Old West - Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank there! The feel remains, and just a mile down the road from town center is a glorious old cemetery filled with tombstones for men who died in mining accidents and one guy who was, I quote, "Murdered By An Indian."
Enormous mountains circle the town, mountains so beautiful they don't look real. They look like huge matte paintings because you can see so far and with such clarity in the crisp mountain air. Standing in the middle of the street and looking up at enormous snowy peaks was like a religious experience. It's actually hard to motivate to go into a movie when everything around you looks like this. Again, you may have seen Telluride at the big festival, but when it's empty it's a whole other experience.
3) The festival is chill, and small. If you go to the Telluride Horror Show next year you'll be getting in at the exact right moment to later complain that the fest isn't as good as it was in the old days. These are 100% the 'old days' for this fest, a moment in time when everything is small and manageable and everybody is totally chill. I went to the Show to host Q&As with Henry Selick, director of Nightmare Before Christmas, and actor John Carroll Lynch (The Invitation, Zodiac, Fargo) and fans found that both of these guys were incredibly available and cool to hang out with. Selick stayed for the whole fest and went out to some local saloons at night, happily chatting with fans. That's sort of the ideal film festival vibe, a laidback atmosphere where filmmakers and film lovers mingle and there's no arbitrary VIP divide. Some day, when the Horror Show catches on in a big way, that vibe will by necessity disappear, but right now the Telluride Horror Show is a relaxing weekend away with some very cool people.
4) They have the best art. I love the poster/t-shirt art for this fest, which play on a wonderful EC Comics level. Once you've been to Telluride you'll recognize that all of these images are playing off elements of the town itself - there really is a puppy parking spot, there really is a Free Box, there really is a cool fucking gondola that's free to ride.
5) It's cheap. A three day pass this year set people back $94 and included all screenings as well as an ice cream social and a pig roast. The fest has deals with local hotels that can score you rooms for less than a hundred bucks a night - a steal, if you ask me. Getting to Telluride is a trek, but at these prices it's totally worth it. What's more, because the town was closing for the off season one bar was serving ALL DRAFT BEERS FOR $1. All of them. Just so they could empty the keg before closing down.
I'm hoping to get back to the Telluride Horror Show next year, and if I can make it I hope to see a lot of you up in the mountains. This year was cool, but at the closing night party the festival honchos were telling me their plans for the future and... well, let me just point you back to reason #3. This festival is going to explode in the next few years - get in on it while you can.