“The simplest way of putting it is that as a child, I loved staying up late and having friends over and watching creature features from a pillow fort. There’s something magical about it.”
That’s how Pablo Kjolseth sums up his love for sci-fi and horror movies. As the director of the International Film Series and co-director of the Haunted Carnival, he’s in a unique position to re-live his childhood and invite the whole community to his “fort.”
Tonight marks the start of the second annual Haunted Carnival, a month-long festival of science fiction, horror, and fantasy movies. The highlight will be later this month when science fiction author Ray Bradbury comes to Boulder.
Kjolseth had been toying with the idea of a sci-fi/horror film festival in the fall to coincide with the Denver International Film Festival. But for years, the Boulder Public Library series had been showing sci-fi and horror movies in the summer, so Kjolseth looked into joining them for a two-venue film festival. When it looked like the pairing would work, he contacted the other assorted film series in town, along with Boulder filmmaker Brock McDaniel, about starting a summer film festival.
McDaniel is a huge fan of creature-feature animator Ray Harryhausen and suggested that bringing special guests (Harryhausen, for instance) would really make the festival take off. When Harryhausen agreed to make the trip from England for the first Haunted Carnival, he helped lay the foundation for a new Boulder tradition.
The new film festival needed a name. Kjolseth explains: “When we were thinking of the name we wanted to come up with, nothing was just right. But an early title for Something Wicked This Way Comes was Dark Carnival. Brock and I were influenced by the likes of Bradbury and that fantastic sci-fi genre with a tinge of the supernatural.”
“The other thing to associate it with is roller coasters and haunted house rides. I like to get scared and I like to be frightened. It takes away from the horrors of CNN.”
Distilling all those concepts into a name resulted in “Haunted Carnival.” But Kjolseth says it makes sense on another level, too. “You have to think of all the venues as different tents.”
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Boulder actually has five independent film series, but it does. The IFS is affiliated with the university and shows foreign and American independent films, along with some classics. The Boulder Public Library shows older classics, many of which can’t be seen anywhere else, even on video. The Boulder Theater usually shows second-run indie hits.
Two of the series only run in the summer. The Outdoor Cinema shows pop icon movies and cult classics in the parking lot behind the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. (Bring your own pillow fort or other seating.)
The Chautauqua Silent Film Series features live accompaniment with the movies, which makes the experience interactive. Audiences often cheer the hero and boo the villain at Chautauqua movies. On breezy summer nights, the rustic airy auditorium is the perfect complement to these early silent films.
Each venue keeps its own character during Haunted Carnival. For example, The Chautauqua Silent Film series will show The Lost World from 1925; the Outdoor Cinema will show Jaws and Blade Runner from the ’70s and ’80s; and the Boulder Theater will show Ravenous, which was just released this spring.
Kjolseth says five film festivals cooperating like this is unprecedented. “I’ve never heard of all these different entities coming together. It’s hard, because we’re trying to pool our resources, but we’re trying not to usurp each others’ identity. A lot of times a festival will use someone else’s theater, but this is different. It’s the big tent that puts everything together.”
Last year’s highlight was the visit from Ray Harryhausen. If his name doesn’t ring a bell, his work surely will. He is known for his stop-motion animation of monsters and creatures. He worked with Willis O’Brien, who animated the original King Kong, then went on to forge his own career in movies such as Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans, and It Came from Beneath the Sea.
Harryhausen attended several screenings and spoke to audiences about his work. For one special show, he brought a demo reel of rare and “unpublished” work, along with some of the models he animated throughout his career. As part of the fun, Harryhausen was presented with the “1998 Haunted Carnival Funhouse Award for Lifetime Achievement.”
Also last year, producer/inventor Dayton Taylor returned to CU, where he got his engineering degree. Taylor invented the TimeTrack camera, the first camera to freeze time while the camera appears to move around the action. Between using his invention to make commercials, he produced the vampire film Habit, which had its Colorado premiere at last year’s Haunted Carnival.
This year four special guests are coming to Boulder. At the top of the list is Ray Harryhausen’s good friend Ray Bradbury. Bradbury has written many books, including Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, and The Illustrated Man.
McDaniel arranged to bring Bradbury to Boulder, and it won’t be the first time they’ve met. “A couple years ago Pablo and I went to Denver to see Bradbury speak. It was wonderful. A few years before that I had made a documentary about my home town that was inspired by Dandelion Wine.”
At the time, McDaniel introduced himself and gave the author a copy of his movie. “A few weeks later he wrote back later telling me he’d enjoyed the tape and that he thought it was a nice tribute to my small town. He’s always been one of my heroes.”
Many films have been made from Bradbury’s stories, including Something Wicked This Way Comes, which will show at IFS on Sunday, June 20; and Fahrenheit 451, which will show at the library on Monday, June 21. Bradbury will appear in person on Tuesday, June 22 at Chautauqua.
Guest number two is Ed Neal, the actor who portrayed the wired hitchhiker in cult horror classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Neal will appear at IFS for the showing of that movie on Saturday, June 12.
Pablo Ferro is known for creating trailers and title sequences for such directors as Gus Van Sant, Sam Raimi, and Stanley Kubrick. Ferro will appear at the library on Friday, June 11th for “Trailerfest and Tribute to Kubrick.” He’s scheduled to bring trailers from A Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove, as well as a rare, never-released trailer for Harold & Maude.
Last but not least is Nile Southern. Southern is the son of Terry Southern, the screenwriter behind Dr. Strangelove, Barbarella, and Easy Rider. Southern will appear on Thursday June 10 at the library for the showing of Dr. Strangelove.
In addition to the movies and guests, this year there will be a masquerade party. The Boulder Theater will host a kick-off event for the Haunted Carnival tonight, June 4th. Bring your masks and dance to the music of Jerry C. and the Zydeco Playboys (formerly the Zukes of Zydeco).
What does a masquerade party have to do with film? Not much. But it does seem to fit the atmosphere of Haunted Carnival, which seems to emphasize the “festival” as much as the “film.”
“We have some [films] that are campy fun. But there are others that should be taken seriously. I’ve come to study the genre and I could launch into all sorts of egghead arguments. but ultimately it’s because I grew up with it — because it’s fun.”
The Haunted Carnival is a lot bigger than a monster-movie sleepover with a few friends. But Kjolseth hopes some of that same feeling of friends and fun is preserved.