*Personal Note: I wanted to have this series done by the end of October but life, as it often does, got in the way. However, I am determined to publish all fifteen parts, so please accept my most heart-felt apologies that this did not hit before 10/31.
I love October. The weather, the leaves changing color, the candy, the Halloween decorations…
…and the movies. Goddamn, you get to be a horror fan without anyone looking at you like you’re some bugged out dude sitting by the playground. For one month, fright fans are granted carte blanche because it’s “in the spirit of the season” (unless you’re watching the GUINEA PIG films, in which case you’re still just a “weirdo”).
In short, October is badass.
When I kept a personal blog, I used to watch a horror movie each day in October and then write about them at length, just like everyone else who isn’t the Osiris of this Horror Shit, Brian Collins of HMAD. Before that, I’d usually just jot down a list of the films I watched and on what day (fuck your judgement, I like lists). Now I bring this tradition to Very Aware, only I’ve put a bit of a spin on it.
Thirty double features in October — that’s what I’m going to bring you. The dual bills of horror, cult, sci-fi or exploitation that I’m using to ring in my favorite month. Most of these pieces will be quick (a meaty paragraph or so) while others will be full-blown reviews. It all depends on how much I love (or hate) the films.
All of this leads up to my favorite day of the year: the Exhumed Films 24-Hour Horrorthon (October 27th and 28th); an entire day where, from noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday, 35 or 16mm prints of great (or horrifyingly awful…depending on the group’s mood) genre films from the 60s, 70s and 80s are projected nonstop with trailers, shorts and other oddities in between. It’s all courtesy of the fine folks in Exhumed Films (Dan Fraga, Jesse Nelson, Harry Guerro and Joseph Gervasi), who have been putting on unbelievable double features for the past fifteen years, and the 24-Hour Thon for five.
Part Fourteen covers the group and event that inspired this column (and many, many nights of movie watching throughout my life): the Exhumed Films 24 Hour Horror-Thon Part 666!
Features #27 + #28: Exhumed Films’ 24 Hour Horror-Thon Highlights! (DRILLER KILLER , C.H.U.D. , NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS , THE HIDDEN )
When I say the Exhumed Films 24 Hour Horror-Thon is my favorite weekend of the year, I do so without need for qualification or exaggeration. To any die hard horror geek, the thought of being locked in an auditorium for a day straight while 16 or 35mm prints unspool non-stop more than likely evokes a Nirvana that most will never experience (save for grandmothers during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, whose telecast FEELS like twenty-four hours). But the beauty of groups like Exhumed is the fact that they are as much preservationists as they are exhibitors, giving fans an opportunity that they could’ve never dreamed of before: seeing some of their favorite films paired with oddities and trailers in their original formats and aspect ratios. Most times after the festival, I don’t leave exhausted; instead I’m energized to “keep the party going”, so to speak, and seek out even more hidden gems that the group has more than likely already thought of and passed on showing.
Exhumed was started by four friends (the names of which grace the intro to every article in this series) out of the Philly/South Jersey area who were tired of watching lost schlock classics on VHS and wanted to see their favorite 42nd Street nastiness projected on the big screen. Their first show (a double bill of Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE and THE GATES OF HELL) was held in 1997 at the dilapidated Harwan Theater in Mt. Ephraim, NJ. After a surprising turn-out, the group decided to continue on, making their name in the late nineties and early aughts by showing stalwart titles such as EVIL DEAD and HALLOWEEN, while mixing in genre obscurities such as the boring as all hell slasher opus, CURTAINS or the weirdo Russian horror masterpiece, THE VLY. Over the years, they’ve occupied several spaces (including run-down, ex-vaudville house, the Pitman Theater, which has since caught on fire), put on a showing of FRIDAY THE 13th PART 3D in actual 3D (meaning old school “Silver Screen”) and even had Bruce Campbell premiere a print of MAN WITH THE SCREAMING BRAIN before it was released. Along with the Horror Thon, the group also runs the yearly twelve hour Ex-Fest (whose lineup is solely made up of exploitation pictures) and even ran Ape Fest, a marathon of all five of the original PLANET OF THE APES movies last year. They’re serious die hards; the kind of film fans that are rare anymore, promoting the true communal experience that is film-going and garnering a well-deserved cult following along the way.
I have attended every Thon since the group originally came up with the idea six years ago, and have been a regular at Exhumed’s semi-monthly double and triple features since 2003 (my first was a twofer of PROM NIGHT and TOOLBOX MURDERS at the Broadway). Without these generous gifts to fans (and make no mistake, these marathons are very much “gifts” for a mere $25), I would have probably never experienced such bugfuck insane pictures as NIGHT WARNING, RAW FORCE, BOARDINGHOUSE, or LADY TERMINATOR in the formats they originally meant to be enjoyed on. Whenever I hear fellow Philly film fans lament not having a New Beverly or Alamo Drafthouse on the East Coast, I feel compelled to remind them of the four wondrous nut jobs who have been gracing us with schlock for the last fifteen years.
One of the coolest aspects of all of their marathons (save for Ape Fest, of course) is that the movies are all kept a secret up until they begin to play for the audience. Before the show, the group gives out fliers that contain very vague hints (example: “Euro-Horror Classic” ) and part of the fun is guessing what bit of insanity you’re about to experience. This year, I picked my four favorites from the Thon*, which I’m going to share with you here:
Hint: “Sleazy ’70s psychotic/sorta-slasher cinema”.
THE DRILLER KILLER (1979)
THE DRILLER KILLER is Abel Ferrara at his hedonistic worst (or best, considering how you viewed his low budget, grimy exploitation from the late ’70s and early ’80s). Starring the famed filth trader under the screen name Jimmy Laine, the film is so grungy and sleazy that you feel like you need to take a bath in grain alcohol after its finished to get all of its diseased ideas off of you. Ferrara (excuse me…Laine’s) portrayal of gaunt, sweaty painter, Reno, is full of amateurish tics and garish overacting, but that adds a weird sort of authenticity to the psychotic artist, as every one of the filmmaker’s exaggerated motions scream “I am transcending exploitation here!”. Reno is the stereotypical starving artist, collecting so little from his paintings of postmodern buffalo that one of his two live-in girlfriend’s actually suggests that he let the sleazy art dealer (Harry Schultz) he sells to “fuck you up the ass. Just use some KY jelly, it won’t hurt”. Between bitching about phone bills and staring at the beast’s portrait he’s created, Reno also becomes besieged by psychotic visions of himself murdering and bathing in his victims’ blood. And the more practice sessions that a local punk band (Tony Coca-cola and the Roosters) keep atonally holding in the loft below, the more he wants to find a skinned animal carcass and stab it in the head repeatedly with a butcher’s knife.
DRILLER KILLER really is more of a document of a time and place and style of guerilla filmmaking than it is an effective horror movie. While the explosions of violence that finally occur as Reno sails over the edge and picks up the titular weapon of choice are effective in the most ‘grindhouse’ way possible, the joy in watching DRILLER KILLER is that it feels almost like a documentary at times. You can tell that this was very much how Abel Ferrara lived his life and that street level feel steeps you in the scum of New York in the ’70s. But it’s also because of this “lived in” ambiance that you have to wonder how much of DRILLER KILLER is the director’s true, demented psyche being poured out onto the screen, for there’s an anger inside the movie once Reno begins penetrating the homeless and showering himself in their plasma that feels just as truthful as the handheld camera work.
This was Ferrara’s breakout non-pornographic film (NINE LIVES OF WET PUSSY was his only previous “feature” directing experience), but that doesn’t prevent DRILLER KILLER from being every bit as smutty. This movie is for a very niche audience, as even those interested in seeing the true, seamy side of the late ’70s NY punk scene might find it a bit too off-putting for their liking. But still, DRILLER KILLER is a nasty little piece of exploitation that helped sharpen Ferrara’s filmmaking chops so that he could deliver his true, sleaze masterpiece: the multiple rape and revenge flick, MS. 45, a mere two years later.
Hint: “Cannibal movie, though not necessarily the type you might expect”.
While Q: THE WINGED SERPENT would be the only true Larry Cohen movie to play during Part 666, my favorite “Larry Cohen movie that Larry Cohen never actually directed”, C.H.U.D., lit up the eleven o’clock spot. A creature feature that is actually still sort of creepy twenty-five years after its original theatrical release, C.H.U.D. would complete the day’s triology of “New York Horror” (along with Q and DRILLER KILLER). Tossing some now familiar faces (John Heard and Daniel Stern both make memorable characters here) onto the grimy streets, C.H.U.D. was a familiar staple of Saturday public television for me growing up and one of the gateways to how New York was depicted in ’80s horror. A mixture of tough guy cop movie and full-blown monster flick, the movie is simultaneously cheeky and shocking as Captain Bosch (long-time bit character actor, Christopher Curry) searches for his missing wife after we see her get taken down into the sewer by…something. Once he runs into an ex-con homeless advocate (Daniel Stern, looking like he’s never actually seen a bar of soap before) and a schlubby photographer (Heard, reminding you why he was once great) who both believe there’s something lurking in the sewers below, the film’s dank, subterannean journey fills the audience with an odd sense of dread. Yeah, the rubbery Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers are goofy looking once they’re brought out into the light, but there’s a charm to the latex laden beasties that make them just work.
Larry Cohen was the master of bringing the quirky character first and introducing the monster second. Director Douglas Cheek and screenwriters Parnell Hall and Shepard Abbott replicate this formula by presenting you with a legion of characters you actually care about and enjoy listening to as they banter with one another. Stern gets to absolutely chew scenery as The Reverend, and a scene where he and Bosch go to city hall and find the very literally toxic secret New York has been hiding is absolutely hilarious, as Stern goes so manic that you can’t help but chuckle the entire time. Much like Michael Moriarity’s Jimmy Quinn in Cohen’s Q, it’s a perfect match of performer and material that transforms into a classic, B-Movie horror protagonist. And while C.H.U.D. doesn’t quite get as subversive as some of Cohen’s best, C.H.U.D. is one of the most perfectly entertaining films to ring in the midnight hour with.
“Bizarro horror/exploitation rarity directed by an infamous foreign filmmaker; screened here in an extended cut never before seen on video or DVD”.
NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS (1972)
During each Thon, there’s one movie that is so utterly batshit and ridiculous that is has to be seen to be believed. Most times, while Dan Fraga delivers the utterly animated announcements before the program begins, he’ll highlight some of the choices we shouold be looking forward to (a ritual he bypassed this year for, I’m guessing, lack of time). Movies like BOARDINGHOUSE and NIGHT WARNING are usually what occupy those slots; obscurities that most in the audience have never even heard of, let alone are able to guess based on the hints. These films are the ones that make the Thon the unmissable film event of the year for me, as they add another notch to your psychtronic belt that most will never have.
NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS was undoubtedly that movie for me during the sixth Thon. An utterly oddball odyssey from Mexican director Rene Cardona Jr. (son of Rene Carndona Sr., who is one of Mexico’s most heralded filmmakers), it’s a cinematic journey that makes you dizzy come one in the morning. NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS very much feels like an Italian piece of trash (and even has Hugo Stiglitz, who starred in Umberto Lenzi’s NIGHTMARE CITY, as its lead) that flows out like some sort of hallucinatory trance symphony. What starts off as a strange batch of playboy pickups as Stiglitz flies around in his helicopter and picks up bored housewives (I couldn’t make this up if I tried), turns into a weird bit of gothic horror as we find that, after the dates are done with dinner, he decapitates them and feeds their bodies to a pen of starving felines.
Seriously, that reveal at one in the morning, following no sleep and seven straight horror movies is enough to melt the brains of most. Luckily, the bugnuts quality doesn’t stop there, as Stiglitz continues to cruise about and pick up more women in the most hilarious way possible and then play chess with his Mexican Igor like assistant, Dorgo. It’s the combination of the absurd and the baroque here that make NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS so endlessly fascinating, as some of Cardona’s shots are beautifully composed. I hesitate to call the movie a work of “great cinema” (as “good” might even be too stong an applicable descriptor here), but the film is defintely a work of “cinema”. Many of the outdoor “cruising” shots where Stiglitz is taking his ladies out on boats and to beaches are beautifully photographed and wordless, showing that Cardona at least understood what the medium is all about. It’s just that the silly exploitave elements seep in and overtake all else for almost the entirety of the picture’s running time, making NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS a delirium inducing bit of cinematic treachery.
“Fun underrated sci-fi/action movie”.
THE HIDDEN (1987)
If I have one regret about this column, it’s that I didn’t write about enough sci-fi or “fun” movies. And while there were a few silly cuts mixed in (I’m looking at you, FRANKENHOOKER and WAXWORK), my commitment to “diversity” led me down some seriously dark and fucked up paths (none more horrible than CHICKENHAWK). If you were looking it at the films like they were tracks on an album, I’d be making something more akin to a psych rock opus, as opposed to bubblegum pop. THE HIDDEN, however, is pure, sugary bliss; a buddy cop action flick with enough weirdness to categorize it just this side of horror.
I still find it hilarious that, during the mid eighties, Kyle MacLachlan was something of an indie icon. From working with David Lynch on one of his absolute best (BLUE VELVET) and absolute worst (DUNE, which is actually his first screen credit), to starring in such weirdo gems as THE HIDDEN and later appearing in SHOWGIRLS, it’s easy to forget how awesome his taste in projects was. MacLachlan wasn’t always appearing in middle-brow TV dreck aimed at depressed housewives, but was helping to create some seriously groundbreaking art (no one can argue that his turn as Special Agent Dale Cooper in TWIN PEAKS is anything less than iconic). Now, THE HIDDEN isn’t “groundbreaking” (nor is it “art”, really), but it is a rather unusual bit of nonsense that came from the heyday of New Line Cinema. Follwing a body hopping extraterrestrial tearing through the neon lit streets of LA with an alien FBI agent and an LAPD Detective (Michael Nouri) hot on its tail, THE HIDDEN is equal parts ’80s action cheese and rubbery, nerd boy fantasy. Played cheap and fast for the matinee crowd (though this matinee was happening at three in the morning), THE HIDDEN was the perfect choice to wake the audience up and get them cheering along as the two detectives traded quips and MacLachlan gets to do his best “fish out of water”. There isn’t a whole lot of depth here, but that’s OK. The fast pace and non-stop chases move along at a quip that will keep any fan of the VHS era giddy.
*For those interested in the full lineup (plus the clues that were given), here it is. If you ever find yourself in Philly during Halloween, I highly suggest you check Exhumed Films out.
Hint#1: “An appropriately demonic movie to kick off Horror-Thon Part 666″ (THE GATE)
Hint #2: “Giant monster movie, though not necessarily the type you’d expect” (Q: THE WINGED SERPENT)
Hint #3: “Sleazy ’70s, psychotic/sorta-slasher cinema” (THE DRILLER KILLER)
Hint #4: “Well regarded, nasty little horror/sci-fi oddity” (XTRO)
Hint #5: “One of the most divisive horror films of all time – wait for the title screen, then sit back and enjoy or take the opportunity to catch some dinner” (HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH)
Hint #6: “Euro-Horror classic” (SUSPIRIA)
Hint #7: “Cannibal movie, though not necessarily the type you might expect” (C.H.U.D.)
Hint #8: “Bizarro horror/exploitation rarity directed by an infamous foreign filmmaker; screened here in an extended cut never before seen on video or DVD” (NIGHT OF 1000 CATS)
Hint #9: “Sexy vampires having sexy sex” (VAMPIRE NIGHT ORGY)
Hint #10: “Fun underrated sci-fi/action movie” (THE HIDDEN)
Hint #11: “A wonderful movie for children, provided that the children are all fucked up on LSD” (LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD AND TOM THUMB BATTLE THE MONSTERS)
Hint #12: “Loopy, surreal sequel to a bina fide horror classic” (SON OF BLOB)
Hint #13: “Schlocky Special Effectsploitation film that is really just an update of the 1950s style monster movie” (THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN)
Hint #14: “Slasher movie that was a staple of late night HBO programming in the early 80s” (HUMONGOUS)
Hint #15: “Zombie movie that is ridiculously stupid, shamelessly derivative, and totally trashy . . . which is why we love it so much” (DR. BUTCHER, M.D. a/k/a ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST)