Wow, let me just take a moment here before beginning. It's refreshing to not start an article with the "31 Days of Halloween" preface. You should understand that it isn't that I didn't enjoy writing that series, it's simply that it IS an endurance run. I capped off my month long celebration of all things Halloween by attending the annual Exhumed Films 24 Hour Horrorthon. This is the fifth incarnation of the 'Thon, of which I've attended all but one (I missed the 3rd year, in 2009). As a long time Exhumed Films goer, I look forward to this event all year long. (the first show I attended was the All Night Italian horrorfest at the now defunct Hoyt's on October 20th, 2000)
The truth is that the Exhumed crew always puts on an elaborate production, from the pre-show announcements and prizes, to wallet emptying horror merchandise enticement and general feel of hanging out with friends. It's a marvelous atmosphere to feel included in. I can't make every show, but I try my hardest- even when it might not features films which I necessarily love or am intimately familiar with- because it's not 100% about what you're seeing but also how you're seeing it and whom you're seeing it with.
Before I showcase the shock and awe blasted into my brain from this weekend's Horrorthon (and with which I am still working to congeal into something more linear), I'd like to discuss that last point in a little more detail. Normally, all Horrothon films are kept an absolute secret right up until the moment that they unspool on screen before hungry eyes. This year there was a break from tradition. Exhumed Films announced that the Philadelphia premier of the new, shot in Africa, zombie film The Dead would take place during their largest event of the year. During the preshow announcements, we were informed that the distributor of the film decided not to even strike ANY 35mm prints, deciding instead to go with digital distribution only. Understandably, this was met with some displeasure amongst the crowd, as to this point, Exhumed Films has only showcased film itself.
This bitter pill put some audience members in such a tizzy that fully half the audience opted to take a longer dinner break rather than sully their film print purism with the possible taint of digital projection. Guys, I get it, you disdain digital and are hardcore print-o-files. There wasn't a print-isn't a print-might never actually be a print of The Dead. You missed a really great zombie flick in the vein of early Romero with some great visuals and even better tension. Name the last zombie film with slow walkers that contained effective, slow building scares.
Now that we're through that, if you're still with me and haven't skipped right to the comments section to explain exactly why you thought dinner at Chili's was more important than a new independent zombie film's Philadelphia premier, let's take a look at exactly what we brave few had seared into our souls. It's important to note that this year's line up consisted only of films that Exhumed has never shown before (with one technical exception). This is a monumental achievement as leading up to this, they've showcased somewhere in the neighborhood of 260 films.
And I know young people today are the visual sort, so accompanying my thoughts on each film is the trailer for it. (mostly because I love trailers so much)
1. Psychomania aka The Death Wheelers - 1973
The psychedelic chic of this odd undead tale was a fantastic way to open the horrorthon's proceedings. With a strange and potent mix of biker road film, satanic pacts, zombies who are no worse for the wear and Bond'esk British styling, Psychomania put us into a hypnotic trance- opening our brain pans, offering space to what we were about to receive.
2. Rodan - 1956
Historically the horrorthon has featured a giant monster movie in the second slot. Nearly any film would face the Sisyphean task of rolling a boulder up the hill that is The Mighty Peking Man (showcased to the delight of all at last year's horrorthon). Rodan radiates 50's giant monster gratification thoughout and is replete with excellent miniature effects - the true star of the film. Slavish devotion was poured into these effects, with stand outs including the ground collapse (in the trailer below) sequence and the volcano sequence. This was an instant time portal to the Saturday afternoons of my youth, which is exactly the time which it played.
3. Frightmare aka The Horror Star - 1983
Frightmare takes the tropes of the Hammer horror subgenre and casts a delightful dance of darkness on it's bones. The resulting floor show is a cornucopia of campy entrapment designed to shake us loose from our comfort food of decades past and casts it in a newer menacing light.
4. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer - 1986
Armed with plenty more snacks still at your disposal, you're cruising through Horrothon five without a care in the world. You're high on life, for truly the greatness of all creation can be extrapolated through the medium of film and many are unspooling before your very eyes. And then...yes and then a random, senseless act of remorseless violence is cast unflinchingly across the silver screen. It locks your attention and brings you back to full focus, crashing repeatedly into your sensibilities like a sledge hammer. Maybe you chuckle during the home invasion scene, but it's an unconscious defense mechanism rather than amusement. That's Henry. Here's his trailer.
5. The Dead - 2010
As an enormous zombie fan, I've done the genre six ways from Sunday by this point. Still, gems such as this one have the ability to surprise and delight. The amazing visuals of the wilds of African mid day juxtaposed with ever present encroaching zombie horde creates a deadly beauty. The gun kills can only be described as kinetic in nature, likely a way to cope with budgetary constraints but perhaps a design choice. The Dead is smartly written enough not to have to rely on characters making stupid mistakes to be over come, which is an amazing consideration given the field of zombie material out there. This independent film is rough around the edges but there is so much to like in the bubbling cauldron that even those with a limited interest in the rotting reanimated subgenre book a vacation to Africa.
6. Trick or Treat - 1986
How does one conceptualize this film, when it contains neither tricking nor treating? It's soul has no real basis in Samahin. Instead this is rock metal voyage helmed by copious amounts of denim and Aqua Net, dragging behind its chains and wielding it's devil horns as a warning to all at map's edge: there be entertainment here. Skewing anti-metal culture and metal culture simultaneously, Trick or Treat spins the plates effortlessly and was perfectly placed to kick the tempo back up after the viciousness of Henry and the stark hopelessness of The Dead.
7. Night Warning aka Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker - 1983
I'm just going to refer to this as Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker since that is by far the superior title. What could you want in a film that this does not have? Crazy lumber beheading car crash? Check. Insane incestuous aunt face licking action? Check. Homophobic cop who invents fictitious gay love triangles on to which he can vent his hatred? Check. Pickled head in a jar? Check. My interest piqued? Check.
8. Frankenhooker - 1990
What would be your course of action if an invention of yours (radio controlled lawn mower) mulched your chubby, pretzel hungry finance into a pile of chipped beef and a head? If the film in which you star is titled Frankenhooker the obvious progression is to feed New York hookers super crack causing them to explode into a rain of diseased limbs from which you constitute a new body for your beloved. Clearly. This fantastic freakshow shares it's sense of humor with the revered Dead Alive and has more tits than you can shake your prick at.
9. Dr.Black and Mr.Hyde aka Decision for Doom - 1976
Stan Winston's transformation effects for the yin-yang flip-flop from black doctor to white murderer are nothing short of astounding. It's astounding that they honestly thought that heavily coating a black man in talcum powder and inserting contacts in his eyes would magically make him appear Caucasian. This trip through blaxploitation land is about par for the course and a welcome part of the horrorthon.
10. Legend of the Wolf Woman aka Naked Werewolf Woman - 1976
Can several erotic flashback sequences bulging with buxom nudity carry a film? They can if the film you're thinking of is Legend of the Wolf Woman, whose lead actress is compelling to look at, which is paramount, since she'll do just about anything to strip down and take fun sized bites out of dudes, almost at random. It's a confusing ride, which never delivers with an actual werewolf, except in the past- where she comes equipped with hairy big toe sized nipples. At this stage in the game, anything to get the blood flowing again is welcome, even if it's bundled with the strings of chest hair attached.
11. Blood Diner - 1987 (released 1990)
This mad cap, silly story of two brothers dedicated to reincarnating the heinous goddess Sheetar with the guidance of their disembodied uncle, who's just a brain and eyes in viscous goop yet retains the power of speech, is oft overlooked for it's silly nature. Truly you would be wasting you time trying to rationalize the finer points of Blood Diner, just trap in and enjoy the blood feast.
12. The Burning - 1981
Did you know Jason Alexander once had a full head of luscious hair? It's true; he wasn't born bald and he played the cool guy. There's lots to love in this fantastic slasher and it was excellently placed to bring back the focus of those attendees who'd gone all sleepy eyed and weak necked. This is arguably Tom Savini's best work and Cropsey is still believably hideous to look upon. I always loved the twist on the well established "last girl" trope becoming "last boy".
13. Maximum Overdrive - 1986
Trust me when I tell you: Once you've been awake for 30 plus hours, you start to see things at the edge of your vision. Things which aren't quite there and on which you can't quite focus. Dodging and leaping from sight the instant you glance at them, you know they're there. Those bastards. If you didn't doze, you're reaching a critical point and pretty much no act of god is going to help you in your quest to remain in the land of the conscious. Nothing that is, but a heaping dose of Emilio Estevez. He's like entertainment crack for your sleep deprived brainstem. Sprinkle him on your spleen. Is Maximum Overdrive a good film? Who cares? It's a shit load of fun.
14. Meet the Feebles - 1989
Power to stay awake fading...Braindrive overload...[Rebooting]...defrag complete. Loading [film recognition software]...reading input "Wingnut films"...processing...
Wait, Wingnut. Isn't that Peter Jackson? Yeah it is. Is this Bad Taste? No, they showed that already. What about Dead/Alive? No, was shown as part of a double feature with Bad Taste. So what could thi...OH MY GOD IT'S MEET THE FEEBLES!
My apologies. I couldn't help but relay exactly what went through my head at roughly 10:30am as the last film of the marathon began to hit my retinas. The way my brain went about working with low cognitive power is a recollection I won't soon forget. What a great, upbeat way to conclude the festivities. If you call muppets on drugs, fucking like bunnies (and in some cases actually fucking bunnies), singing about sodomy and killing each other upbeat. This is a film I never believed I'd see on film. Thank you Exhumed Films.
A few observances:
-This seemed to be the most consistent line up of any Horrorthon- there were no super highs but conversely there were no staggering lows in the film selection either, rather they were all good/great throughout.
-The Cafe in the lobby of the IHouse continues to rule. Biz makes sandwiches that must be some modern day, watered down form of elvish magic, but with meat in them.
-Some of you seriously aren't taking your hygiene concerns seriously. I shouldn't catch a wiff of you strong enough to nearly take me from my feet just from walking by on a trip to the bathroom. Perhaps you're adjusted to the odoriferousness. We aren't, be kind to our noses.
-I'd love to see 7 Exhumed Films 'Greatest hits' and 7 films which have never been shown before. Though I shouldn't say anything since I've loved every line up so far. So I'll just say this: Give me more of whatever you want, EF. You haven't steered me wrong yet.