Movie Mania: Hollywood Has Long History With Colorado Shoots

Colorful Colorado has been the filming site for thousands of movies. More than 600 are listed on alone. Among them are some great movies like Robert Redford in Downhill Racer or John Wayne in True Grit. Remember Woody Allen in Sleeper or Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber?

But for the true Colorado, check out Robin Beeck’s 1998 classic, Grandpa’s in the Tuff Shed, celebrating Nederland’s frozen dead guy, Bredo Morstoel, on ice without skates since 1993. Like the upcoming Rocky VI or MI III, could a sequel be far behind? Beeck followed his award-winning short with the 2003 cult favorite, Grandpa’s Still in the Tuff Shed.

Not all the movies made in Colorado were of such obvious quality. Take 3 Ninjas, High Noon at Mega Mountain, filmed entirely at Elitch’s in Denver, apparently while the management and staff weren’t looking. While arguably the high point of Hulk Hogan’s acting career, this 1998 movie also starred Loni Anderson in a desperate comeback effort. OK, how bad was it? Suffice to say you’d be better off renting Gigli or Battlefield Earth.

An interesting phenomenon in early Hollywood was white actors playing ethnic roles. Taza, Son of Cochise, filmed in southwestern Colorado, must have raised some eyebrows even in 1954, starring Rock Hudson in red face with a husky west L.A. accent.

What happened to the staff? Apparently no one noticed the filming of 3 Ninjas, High Noon at Mega Mountain.

Colorado westerns dealt with eternal themes like which is faster, the railroad or the stagecoach? In the 1950 comedy, A Ticket to Tomahawk, an unscrupulous stagecoach baron tries to stop history by proving, not only that evil is its own reward, but also that his coach can get to Tomahawk, Colorado, faster than the railroad baron’s train.

Of course, Johnny-Behind-The-Deuces, played by Dan Dailey cannot let him succeed. But wait! There in the back of the coach, that dance hall girl, Clara, could it be? Yes it is, an uncredited Marilyn Monroe.

No list of Colorado movies would be complete without including the musical biography of one of Colorado’s most famous native sons, Alferd Packer. Filmed in 1996 in southern Colorado, Alferd Packer The Musical was written and directed by Trey Parker of South Park fame back when he was in college. It is clearly a movie one can sink one’s teeth into.

Another horror movie claiming a Colorado setting was the literal camp thriller, Decampitated. Why, oh why, is America’s youth so dumb as to seek shelter in a creepy old cabin when their car breaks down in the woods? Why do they never flee when the first half of their party is chainsawed into burger bits?

This movie makes absolutely no effort to answer these important questions. Instead, the characters thrash around like actors with their heads cut off, pausing only briefly to bind up horribly fatal wounds with strips of duct tape.

Teenagers! Why do they always do it? In the 1988, Curse of the Blue Lights, innocent but amorous, there they are, passionately smooching each other up in a deserted Colorado Graveyard, completely oblivious of a creepy blue light wafting up from the grave of a monster-you-really-shouldn’t-disturb. But first, because we have 93 minutes to fill, we better wake up the ghouls.

The horror, the horror! And that’s just the acting. Better brace yourselves because things are about to get worse. Sure enough, the ghouls are spreading the horrific rumor that the concession stand is out of popcorn!

An even worse horror movie was Alien Seed, shot mostly in a deserted trolley barn in Colorado Springs. First, let me hasten to assure you that no extraterrestrial aliens nor brain cells were harmed in the making of this film. Aliens impregnate a woman to produce an offspring that will one day go on to rule the world and cause its ultimate destruction.

Right now you’re probably thinking that this sounds like a documentary and the female role was played by Barbara Bush, but no. It never hurts to remember that for every bad movie made, there’s some proud mother bragging about her offspring. The one stand-up-and-cheer moment in Alien Seed comes when Erik Estrada is murdered for execrable acting.

Beware, trains! The stagecoach baron of the 1950 comedy A Ticket to Tomahawk, tries to prove that a train is no match for a stagecoach.

Colorado has also been the location for truly great horror movies. The 1980 movie, The Shining, with Jack Nicholson was mostly filmed in Colorado while the equally good 1997 TV mini-series, The Shining, with Steven Weber was completely filmed in Colorado, mainly at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. You should stop in at the Stanley some evening in the off-season. Have a drink at the bar. Stay for a few decades.

Not counted in the 600-plus movies filmed in Colorado were hundreds of short silent films produced in the early 1900s without scripts or crews, just actors and a cameraman, making it up as they went along. One of the most prolific of these actors/writers/producers/directors was Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson.

Widely regarded as the father of the “movie cowboy”, between 1906 and 1923, Anderson made just shy of 400 of these American epics, already termed “Oaters” for the oats they had to haul around for the horses. Sporting lurid titles like Red Blood and Yellow, and The Treachery of Broncho Billy’s Pal, these single-reel shorts filled theaters in the east with wide-eyed audiences hungering for manly action.

In no small sense, Colorful Colorado had its roots in the black and white cinema.

Jon de Vos, who lives near Fraser, took a one-month job at a ski lodge in Hideaway Park (now Winter Park), after graduating from Arizona State University in 1973. He intended to head for law school in the fall semester. That was 33 years ago. “Colorado saved my life,” he says.