Horror film is having a moment.
Though if you ask Mike Lerman and Landon Zakheim, co-producers of the Overlook Film Festival, horror's been having a moment for a lot longer than that.
"It's more about the critical attention," says Lerman. "There's always a couple films every year that are really good, and we think that there's more than a couple, or we wouldn't be able to put a program together at the festival. But there's always a couple like Raw or Get Out that really check every critic box."
Tomorrow, Mount Hood's Timberline Lodge transforms into the Overlook Hotel, as it did back when Stanley Kubrick used it for exterior shots in his 1980 adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining. Until Sunday night, Timberline will serve as the staging ground for the inaugural Overlook Film Festival, which, alongside 20 features and 17 shorts, will offer storytelling sessions, radio plays and an exclusive iteration of the infamous, extreme haunted-house experience, Blackout, the first time it has been to Oregon.
"Very simply, Overlook is a four-day celebration of horror through film, live events and interactive events. It's not a convention, it's not just here to promote things," says Lerman.
Though, it is certainly a film festival. A very good one for an inaugural effort.
Hardcore horror aficionados will recognize many names. Blumhouse Productions, the prolific studio behind such low-budget, high-return franchises as Paranormal Activity and The Purge (also Get Out), kicks off the festival Thursday at 8 pm with the world premiere of Akiva Goldsman's Stephanie, about a young girl in an isolated house haunted by a malevolent force. Cult director Joe Lynch will debut Mayhem, set inside a corporate law office infected with a virus that causes its hosts to lose control of their inhibitions. The Syfy Channel is screening the first two episodes of its new grindhouse-inspired series Blood Drive, about a cross-country death race of cars that run on blood, naturally.
However, Overlook isn't just wall-to-wall genre—as devotees of horror film prefer to call it—mayhem. Lerman and Zakheim snagged mainstream film festival darlings that include William Oldroyd's Lady Macbeth, a thriller set in 19th-century England about an isolated woman who conspires with her lover to kill her brutal husband, which was an official selection at this year's Sundance. They also got Ana Lily Amirpour's The Bad Batch—the follow-up to her critically acclaimed Persian vampire movie A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night—a Venice Film Festival competitor set in a den of buff cannibals in post-apocalyptic Texas.
"This isn't just for hardcore horror fans," says Zakheim. "There are a number of exceptional films that will appeal to a wider audience. We're trying to create a horror summer camp."
Though what may ultimately be the hit of Overlook is the "immersive horror game" hosted by Portland's Bottleneck Immersive, a weekend-long event that organizers are keeping tightly under wraps.
"We keep the theme and what exactly the storyline is secret until it is happening," explains Dylan Reiff, designer of the game at Bottleneck. "Part of the fun of it is finding out what it is. So, you sign up [on Overlook's website] and immediately start engaging in the story world. As soon as you make it to the mountain, the uniqueness of the game is that you just don't know who is or isn't a part of the game. You get to let your mind run wild, and it brings out a heightened undercurrent of intrigue to every interaction you'll have.
"We want people to play at their comfort level, and we know that some people are all-in," Reiff continues. "So if people want to give us their room keys and let the game seep into their experience at the festival in really invasive ways, that's an option. And if people just want to receive emails to keep up with the story, that's an option."
The festival has generated enough buzz that rooms at Timberline are all but sold out, but the short trip from Portland makes traveling up for individual films a small inconvenience. And for a film festival as fully realized as this straight out of the gate, it's well worth the trip.
"Portland's such a great match for this because of the vibrant horror scene, theater scene and film scene," says Lerman. "At the end of the day, this is built around the Portland scene and us wanting to share this amazing idea and location with Portland."
SEE IT: The Overlook Film Festival is at Timberline Lodge, 27500 W Leg Road. April 27-30. See overlookfilmfest.com for a full schedule, tickets and passes.