Wednesday, October 31, 2007

24 Hours of Horror

If you've ever wondered what it takes to stay up for 24 straight hours watching some of the greatest horror trash ever committed to celluloid, I can officially tell you. The answer is about 80 ounces of Mountain Dew and 60 ounces of black coffee.

I feel I can say that with some authority because despite feeling like crap on Friday night that's what it took me to make it through the Exhumed Films 10th Anniversary 24 Hour Horror Marathon.

Exhumed Films, for those of you who aren't familiar with it, is a group of horror and trash film fans from the New Jersey/Philly area that have been treating filmgoers to horror and exploitation events for a decade now. When I lived in the area it was a distinct pleasure to be able to see stuff like RE-ANIMATOR, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, BURIAL GROUND and many more on the big screen. But since I moved to Baltimore a few years back I haven't been able to get back for a show.

With Exhumed planning to screen 14 horror flicks in the span of 24 hours, I couldn't resist the urge to go and see if I could endure.

Luckily, my buddy Bruce was committed to the marathon, too, and we bolted Charm City for the mean streets of Hostile City, USA on Saturday morning. A hard rain pounded the car as we made our way up 95 and returned to my old West Philly stomping grounds. (I attended Drexel University from 1984-1989 and spent way too much time at dingy bars and punk clubs in the area.) After securing parking at a nearby hotel we made our way to International House where we were pleased to see fans already lining up for the show's noontime kickoff.

Frankly, I hadn't been to I-House in probably a decade or more and I'd forgotten how uncomfortable the auditorium's folding, somewhat padded seats could be. Quite honestly, though, I'm pretty positive that my inability to find a comfortable sitting position helped me maintain alertness around 5:30 in the morning.

After running into some old familiar faces and scouring the event's program, we settled in for the long haul. In an interesting twist, the event's organizers decided not to unveil the program at any time during the day. The schedule featured start and end times along with vague clues such as "Sort-of-living-dead-but-not-exactly classic" and "Sleazy/infamous/absurdist zombie guilty pleasure", but that was it.

Though I'm sure some folks complained about this lack of info, I really dug it. It kept me glued to my seat whenever it was time for a new flick to start and it led to a fun guessing game in the halls between shows. Some folks even felt like they were sure what film would be up next and would say things like, "So, are you ready for THE EVIL DEAD?" Only for the next flick not to be THE EVIL DEAD.

As noontime rolled around and the show's minor but crucial rules were laid out (No talking over the movie, no refunds, if there's more than one person per sleeping bag be discreet) it was time to start the show. Despite some minor technical glitches the projector didn't stop for the next 24 hours. Here's what we saw...

12:15 PM – John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN. An admitted slasher classic, Carpenter's well-made genre masterpiece got things started on a high note, slowly bringing the audience in with a false sense of security. Despite its reputation, HALLOWEEN (like the equally infamous TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) hardly has any gore and depends upon the buildup and tension to deliver its thrills. Which it does in spades. A great flick and a nice way to start the day.

2:00 PM – GODZILLA VS. THE COSMIC MONSTER. I felt like I was back in front of the TV as a kid on Saturday afternoon watching Big G battle it out with monsters and villains from outer space. According to Bruce the streamlined theatrical print cut out some of the "plot" from the original Japanese version, but who needs plot when you've got a giant mechanical Godzilla, space villains in silver suits who turn out to be weird ape-like creatures, creepy Interpol agents posing as creepy journalists, characters who are never introduced, a "powerful pipe" and plenty of monster-mashing?

3:45 PM – DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. As a 70s kid who loved horror and monsters I thought I'd seen 'em all. But I was only vaguely familiar with this mid-70s Lorimar production starring Kim Darby as a housewife who moves into her grandparents' old house along with her high-powered businessman husband. What they don't realize is that the study houses a group of weird little shrunken-head faced creatures that speak in some sort of weird language and want to take Darby's character away. Creepy and sinister without the slightest hint of gore, I can see why this made-for-TV classic has such a strong following.

5:15 PM – HELLRAISER (UK Print). It had literally been two decades since I'd seen this influential and popular Clive Barker flick and I'd forgotten how good it was. Then again, that's easy to do thanks to the spate of horrible straight-to-video sequels I've suffered through. And it's always a bonus to see wet and icky non-CGI effects. Serious as a heart attack, HELLRAISER was a wake-up call after the creepy kitsch of DON'T BE AFRAID.

7:45 PM – PHANTASM. Though I'd just watched this Don Coscarelli dream vs. reality classic a few months ago, this may have been the first time I'd seen it on the big screen. What surprised me the most, though, was how well the flick played with a crowd. I wasn't sure how all of the oddball twists and turns with characters appearing to be dead then turning up, more than once, would play to today's horror fans. While I already loved the film, seeing it with a crowd that laughed, cheered, gasped and screamed at all the right places made me appreciate it even more.

9:30 – PIECES. In the days leading up to the event Bruce and I had been chatting about our wish list of stuff we hoped would be screened. This outrageous giallo/slasher classic was high on both our lists and I'm proud to say it didn't disappoint. Every over-the-top splatter scene still blows away audiences and it's hard not to love a movie with the great Jack Taylor as an effete anatomy professor who – while standing next to a dismembered body and a bloody chainsaw – that "any layman can see that that was done with that." Bonus points for grizzled Christopher George, hot Linda Day as an undercover cop/tennis pro (?!), the worst tennis footage ever, buckets of blood, crazy Paul Smith as leering gardener/suspect Willard, gratuitous kung-fu and more. Possibly the biggest crowd-pleaser of the entire event.

11:15 PM – AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Frankly, I pitied any film that had to follow in PIECES' wake and WEREWOLF just wasn't up to the task. I've never been a huge fan of the Landis flick, always preferring the same era's THE HOWLING, and this screening simply reinforced the fact that while the flick has an awesome first hour – love those stormtrooper werewolf monsters – it falls apart once David takes on the werewolf form.

12:45 AM – BLACULA. With twelve hours already in the bag the event needed something to return the energy to the neighborhood of PIECES. The 70s soul of BLACULA came close, but I always find blaxploitation flicks like this are always better on paper than they are on screen. The flick has some amazing moments including a great pre-credit sequence, fabulous costumes, that outrageous band at the club where Blacula hangs out, and dialogue that could only have been uttered in the un-PC 70s. But, like WEREWOLF, it's a great idea that runs out of steam about 2/3 of the way through. Luckily, my fourth Dew of the day was kicking in and I was riveted, especially given the clue that the next flick was a "absurdist zombie guilty pleasure."

2:30 AM – BURIAL GROUND. When you say "absurdist zombie guilty pleasure" to me there are only a couple flicks that fit the bill. ZOMBIE. HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD. DAY OF THE DEAD. And, yeah, BURIAL GROUND. I've actually become a renewed fan of this grisly flick thanks to a recent DVD rediscovery. I'd seen it a couple times in theaters over the years but the setting was just right for this night's screening... 2:30 in the morning, people hopped up on whatever they needed to get them through the night, a slight grogginess thanks to WEREWOLF and BLACULA. Well, whatever cobwebs we might have had were immediately shook loose by BURIAL GROUND's over-the-top mix of 20 minutes of sex and titillation followed by 70 minutes of gruesome zombie makeup, paint-the-screen-red zombie attacks, and that weird man-child played by Peter Bark.

4:00 AM – TEENAGE MOTHER. With the price-of-admission titty-chomp of BURIAL GROUND behind us, I could only imagine what "horrors" this tame-looking cautionary tale would provide. Let's just say that this Jerry Gross production on the evils of teen sex delivered the goods in more ways than one. Sure, the live birth footage spliced in at the end had men and women of all ages shrieking in pure terror, but it was the performance of Frederick Riccio as high school hood, porn-peddler, drug dealer and, um, "dancer" Duke that truly brought the house down. There's a sequence in the middle of the film where Duke dances. And dances. And dances that first caused a few giggles, then some chuckles, chortles and guffaws. Roughly ten minutes later the entire crowd was in full-blown hyperventilation mode as Duke continued his epileptic "moves" for all to see. Truly amazing. Bonus points for Julie Ange as big breasted sex ed teacher Miss Petersen and a young Fred Willard as the school's baseball coach.

5:15 AM – DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN. Hey, they can't all be winners. As much as I may have been disappointed with the selection of WEREWOLF and BLACULA (I would have preferred, say, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and FRIGHTNIGHT), the flicks served a purpose. They acted as a palette cleanser if you will, a way for the heart and brain to return to normal after PIECES and before BURIAL GROUND. I'm not sure what purpose the universally loathed DRAC VS. FRANK served, but it put me on notice never to include an Al Adamson flick in any 24 hour horrorthon that I program.

7:15 AM – DEMONS. With the badness of the previous flick behind us it was ready for Exhumed to bring out the big guns. And they didn't let me down. It would be a major understatement for me to say that I love DEMONS. I first caught it on its opening night at the Budco Millside in Delran, NJ and I saw it several times more during its weeklong run. Since then I've enjoyed its charms on both tape and DVD, but there's nothing like watching the greatness of Bobby Rhodes on the big screen. Truly one of the great flicks of the 1980s.

8:45 AM – ALLIGATOR. You want a nature run amok monster classic? You got it. Though the schedule refers to this flick as "campy" I tend to disagree. With a script by John Sayles, ALLIGATOR may be one of the wittiest, best monster-on-the-loose classics from the post-JAWS era. A fantastic performance by Robert Forster, an anyone can die at anytime attitude, Robin Riker at her most babe-alicious as reptile expert Marissa Kendall, and well, a giant alligator on the loose in a big city sewer system and ALLIGATOR has got it all.

10:15 AM – GATES OF HELL. If you're going to bring a 24 hour monster mash to a close, who better to close it out than the Godfather of Italian Splatter, Lucio Fulci. Though it still ranks behind THE BEYOND for me, GATES plays out like a "best of" reel of outrageous 80s splatter moments. Christopher George returns for his second marathon appearance, this time as a grizzled reporter who gets roped into stopping the armies of the dead from taking over the earth. Featuring some of Fulci's most notorious moments – the cemetery rescue, the drill to the head, vomited-up intestinal tracts, bleeding eyes, dead priests – GATES never disappoints and proved to be a rousing end to a great event.

Bravo Exhumed! A great time was had by all and I would guess about 20% of the attendees hung in there for all 24 hours. I can't say how many were actually awake for all 24 hours, but I'm proud to say that both Bruce and I persevered.

Oh yeah, here's a list of some of the trailers that were shown in between flicks:
FRIGHTNIGHT
YOR, HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE
CREEPSHOW
ARMY OF DARKNESS
EQUINOX
OMEGA MAN
CAT O'NINE TAILS
JAWS
THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED
DEVIL'S RAIN
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
SON OF DRACULA (Harry Nillson)
DRACULA (70s)
DEATH SHIP
MY BLOODY VALENTINE
THE BEAST WITHIN
FRIDAY THE 13TH
DEADLY BLESSING
PROM NIGHT
HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (70s)
ROSEMARY'S BABY/THE ODD COUPLE Double Feature!
WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS
DEATH RACE 2000
INFRA-MAN
MESSAGE FROM SPACE
DRACULA'S DOG
ISLAND OF THE DAMNED
THEY CAME FROM WITHIN
SCHIZOID (retitled LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN)
LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT
TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE
VAMPIRE CIRCUS/COUNTESS DRACULA Double Feature
DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT
THE BAT PEOPLE
HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES
THE MUTATIONS
CARNIVAL OF BLOOD
CURSE OF THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN
TWINS OF EVIL
HANDS OF THE RIPPER
TOWER OF EVIL
SCARS OF DRACULA
HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN
CREEPING FLESH
HELLRAISER
DAWN OF THE DEAD (70s)
LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE
NEXT (aka NEXT VICTIM)
TALES FROM THE CRYPT

2 comments:

Bryan said...

Words cannot possibly express how badly I have wanted to attend an Exhumed show. I've made plans in the past to make the drive down, catch the movie and then come back but something always comes up. Nowadays, it's just not possible. Those guys know how to do it.

For years I've been talking about trying book midnight movies local to me so that at least someone is showing them and at one time, it almost happened but the great old theater I was petitioning nearly successfully changed ownership mid-talks and the people who bought it were not only not into my ideas but were openly hostile to horror movies instead turning the place into a sometimes rock club and letting the whole place go to shit.

I have one more option, though, but no in-road to get my foot in the door.

Dan said...

Bryan: I can't encourage you to try and make an Exhumed show strongly enough. Like I said, I used to go all the time when I lived in the area and went from their early venues to the giant multiplex with stadium seating (a real treat) to the run down hole with the lack of AC and the upstairs smoking lounge. The new venue in Philly is good and they're putting in new seating next spring. Hey, make a weekend out of it with the family! There's a hotel right down the street.

As for doing your own shows, I know the feeling. I've considered doing it down here in Baltimore but it's a big risk to take. Good luck with it if you end up doing it!