The Timberline Lodge shouldn’t be scary. Constructed during the Great Depression as a WPA project, it’s a lovely ski lodge on the south slope of Oregon’s Mt. Hood whose darkest chapter — at least on public record — came in 1955 when it fell into disrepair and became a hangout for bad characters. It recovered pretty quickly under new ownership, however, and apart from the occasional bizarre accident and the usual ghost stories attached every old hotel , there’s nothing all that spooky about it.
Or at least there wouldn’t be if it weren’t for Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining, which immortalized the Timberline by using its exteriors to stand-in for that film’s Overlook Hotel, where Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance loses his mind and turns murderous over the course of one snowy winter. Kubrick never set foot on the grounds of the Timberline, choosing to shoot as much as possible on elaborate sets constructed in Elstree Studios in England. But he needed a model for the Overlook and a few shots impossible to create on a set. Enter the Timberline. And though the hotel itself is onscreen only briefly in the film, it’s long enough to make a lasting impression.
So what better place to hold a horror movie festival? That’s the thinking behind the first annual Overlook Film Festival, organized by co-directors Landon Zakheim and Michael Lerman. This isn’t their first time attempting a similar project. Between 2013 and 2015, the pair programmed the Stanley Film Festival in Estes Park, Colorado. It’s spending time at the Stanley Hotel that first inspired Kubrick but it’s hard to imagine that festival having quite the same atmosphere as one shot on such famous ground. Walking up to the front door of the Timberline, I kept expecting Wendy Carlos’ score to start thrumming on the soundtrack. There may not be any ghosts at the Timberline apart from those visitors bring with them, but thanks to Kubrick, it’s hard not to arrive with a lot of ghosts.
“The whole idea,” Zakheim told The Portland Mercury “is to create a genre summer camp.” Factoring out the not always pleasant relationship between horror films and summer camps, that’s the pervasive atmosphere of the fest, which is filled with genre fans and filmmakers here to check out what’s happening in horror filmmaking, but also an ongoing immersive game, a variety of live performances, panels, a virtual reality piece, and some innovative pieces of interactive theater, some of which involve one-on-one performances and involve signing waivers. I’ve heard the lattermost are especially amazing but, as a committed wuss, I opted out of them. And for all the other goings on, film remains very much the focus, with audiences packing into a pair of makeshift theaters where enthusiasm and the thrill of discovery more than makes up for some uncomfortable chairs and the occasionally iffy sightlines.