Poster by Justin Miller
This post may exclude a number of our readers and I apologize, but the best time of the year is on its way and that means one thing here in the Philadelphia area; The Exhumed Films 24 Hour Horror-thon!
Yeah, you heard me. 24 hours. Noon Saturday to noon Sunday. Equal parts wild entertainment and grueling endurance test, the International House is definitely the place to be this weekend. It’s magic. Sweaty blood-splattered butt-numbing magic.
Now, the Horrorthon sells out fast. Faster every year. I do believe 2012 set a record at just six days and that was back in August. Why am I bothering to discuss the event if most of you can’t attend? If you’re attending for the first time or may attend in the future, I’m hoping to give you a general idea of what to expect. Hell, if neither of those qualifiers apply, here are a bunch of micro-reviews.
The list of films seen last year, in the order they were shown, along with the dubious hints included in the program:
Hint: Fun 1970s British film that successfully combines two specific horror and exploitation genres. Year: 1971
Jenny: Obnoxious biker teens become the living dead through ritualistic suicide. Horror elements are overwhelmed by unintentional silliness and that’s just fine. Lots of fun.
StayFrosty: This was a great choice to kick off the Horrorthon, because this movie is totally nuts. And by nuts I mean hilarious. Between asking for the secrets of the living dead while angrily eating a sandwich (where did it come from? Where????) or a graveyard makeout ending with a frog hidden in a coat pocket (you heard me), the audience was engaged and laughing pretty much throughout.
crowbait: The British films I’ve seen from this era are often so . . . bleak. Even while they are camp entertainment. The villains enjoy a reign of terror while the “heroes” are woefully ineffectual police officers, stuffy officials who are cut down by the gleeful satanists and monsters. Youth are revolutionary and evil and will not be stopped except by their own self-destruction! Yeah, sure it’s done for laughs here but with some better acting and less witchcraft, this could be A Clockwork Orange. Or not.
Hint: Giant monster movie classic. Year: 1956
StayFrosty: I’ll admit I slept through most of this. I was trying to get my sleep in early.
crowbait: The Japanese dig too greedily and too deep and awaken the winged Godzilla-alike. The impressive destruction of model cities fills the second half of the film and makes up for the ponderous narration that weighs down the first half. Par for the course really with Toho features. I remember watching these movies as a kid, filling in the boring “talking” parts with my own dinosaur toys.
Jenny: No doubt a classic of Japanese monster flicks. I was so bored though. I’m so sorry, Japan! I want to love your giant rampaging kaiju. I just don’t have the strength.
Hint: Little seen supernatural shocker that marks the horror debut of a future genre icon. Year: 1981
Jenny: The future genre icon in question here is legendery actor and reanimator, Jeffrey Combs, appearing in his first horror film role. I was thrilled to see him and the pissed-off undead horror star (in the tradition of Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi) was an amusing choice for a villain. With a plot strangely similar to Weekend at Bernie’s and a goofy gothic aethsetic, Frightmare is campy slasher fun. It’s overlong, unfortunately, and gets surprisingly dark. Dark is fine, but it’s an odd change in mood after the setup. Despite criticisms, I enjoyed it and I’m glad I had a chance to see it.
StayFrosty: This started out pretty fun, and it’s a cool idea to have a Bela Lugosi-type actor be all evil with mind powers, but it just doesn’t deliver the goods. Too many long shots of our villain touching his head and making big eyes, not enough stuff actually happening.
crowbait: Yeah. I thought with some tighter editing, this could have been one of my faves. Unfortunately, when you have 30 minutes to wait around for the villain to even start moving you have plenty of time to notice “hey, this movie isn’t as clever as it thinks it is.”
4. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Hint: Just when you thought you were having fun, along comes Movie #4 to completely depress you with its stark brutality and nihilsim. Year: 1986
StayFrosty: I’d seen Henry before – it’s an impactful, rough film. I still felt this way watching it on the big screen, and I also realized I now know where Rob Zombie got his inspiration for every character in House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects (they’re pretty much all Otis, including Sid Haig, who plays a guy named Otis). Michael Rooker does an amazing job here of showing us a dangerous, frightening man who is still trying desperately to do the right thing with the one woman he might be able to care about. Watching the scenes where she wants to be close to him and he is so desperately trying to stay away to avoid hurting her still carry weight on the second viewing. In fact, I think I appreciated those types of scenes more this time around. This isn’t an easy movie to watch, but I think it’s one that should be seen.
Jenny: They’re not kidding with that hint. This is a really severe shift in tone after the last few flicks, but it’s a classic. Horror fans willing to explore such a hopeless and violent place should see at least once. However, viewers uncomfortable with sexual violence in film should use caution or skip it entirely.
5. The Dead
No hint needed. Film announced in advance. Year: 2010
StayFrosty: Much like everything filmed in Australia, Africa is a gorgeous place to shoot a film. This movie has beautiful landscape shots and lovely natural colors. I was very much looking forward to this, and while I enjoyed it, I think it lost its footing in the last third of the film. However, there’s some excellent imagery and a few very creepy moments.
crowbait: It’s always really interesting to see a zombie movie play out in a foreign environment. The zombie has always been seen as a metaphor for disease and witnessing the destruction of Africa this way, as the white people flee, is poignant. The antidote for the Resident Evil 5 video game, which started with a similar premise and quickly lost its way.
Jenny: The only new release shown and the only title projected digitally; both very unusual for an Exhumed Films event. I was very excited to see The Dead because I’d heard lots of intriguing things. That it was dangerous to film, that the locations were both beautiful and breaking new ground… it sounded amazing. After seeing it, I do appreciate the choice of setting and its relevance to social issues, but was rather disappointed by the film itself. Just another zombie movie.
6. Trick or Treat
Hint: Totally stupid, totally awesome Satanic silliness. Year: 1986
crowbait: Yes! One of my favorites! I’d seen it before of course but I’m never going to complain about having a chance to see this rock and roll nightmare. What’s really great about this film is that you can tell real fans of shock rock were behind it. It never descends to the level of parody: Embracing it’s subject matter for laughs rather than abusing it. Even though it’s about a satanist rocker using back-masking to cast spells and resurrect himself from the dead to get some revenge, there’s never any preachy nonsense about devil music, except for a hilarious cameo by Ozzy Osbourne as an anti-smut reverend.
StayFrosty: Crow is right on all counts. I hadn’t seen this before, so it really was a great surprise. I loved it. And the facial expressions on our Satanist rocker – oh man, they are excellent.
Jenny: I’d seen this before and I was so happy to see it again. The Osbourne cameo is fantastic and the villain is hilarious. Best movie ever? Well… maybe not, but a must-watch if you don’t hate fun. Possibly my favorite film screened at the Horrorthon.
7. Night Warning
Hint: Underappreciated, over-the-top slasher/psychosexual thriller. Year: 1982
Jenny: I’m so confused about this one. I’ve seen a number of post-Horrorthon reports taut Night Warning (AKA Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker) as the pick of the event. There’s definitely some dialogue here, featuring over-the-top homophobia and incestuous professions, to shock and amuse slasher fans, but I don’t get it. I got bored and left, so I can’t give it a proper review. There’s plenty of love going around for this tale of serious family dysfunction, though, so folks into exploitation may want to check it out.
Hint: Unconventional adaptation of a literary horror classic #1. Year: 1990
StayFrosty: This was my first time seeing Frankenhooker. Very much in the vein of Re-Animator (except our mad scientist is from Jersey), it mixes humor and horror in equal measure. Probably more humor than horror, but a very funny and clever take on the Frankenstein story. The stuff with the super crack wasn’t really necessary, but what can you do.
crowbait: Once the actual monster awakens and the rampage begins, the movie’s entertainment value soars. Unfortunately, it’s a long slog to get there and it doesn’t last long. There’s some tacked on commentary on the sad state of women who fill a need that has always has been a part of society and who are abused and destroyed for doing so but that’s never allowed to get in the way of gratuitous, unattractive nudity, pimp-slapping and “super crack.”
Jenny: I have tried (Basketcase) and I have tried (Bad Biology), but I’m just not a Frank Henenlotter fan. With that said, I really enjoyed this sleazy little flick. I’m sure the party atmosphere of a tired giggling crowd contributed to the positive experience, but I do think it’s worlds better than the rest of Henenlotter’s catalogue. I’d recommend it if you’re looking for laughs and trashy fun.
9. Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde
Hint: Unconventional adaptation of a literary horror classic #2. Year: 1976
crowbait: I have to wonder about the underlying message here about how black people shouldn’t try to “be white” by becoming well-educated medical professionals and scientists. Eh, maybe I’m reading too deeply into what is obviously an excuse to see pimps and cops destroyed by a black man with a bullet-proof layer of white skin. (That’s a whole other can of symbolic worms.)
Jenny: It’s getting late at this point and the audience is tiring. I suspect some of the weaker less engaging selections are placed in this slot where folks inevitably start zoning out. So many of these blaxploitation twists on classic monsters start out with promise, but turn out to be slow-paced disappointments that drag on and wear out their welcome before long. Especially hard to get into after the rude guilty pleasures of Frankenhooker, I was very bored.
10. The Legend of the Wolf Woman
Hint: Infamous, sleezy, and bizarre Euro-horror/sexploitation movie. Year: 1976
Jenny: Basically an Italian rape-revenge movie with gratuitous full-frontal and delusions of lycanthropy. I’d seen Wolf Woman before; found in one of those cheap and glorious 50-packs Mill Creek churns out constantly. I sort of half-watched it then and I fear that’s the best way to do it. Once again, it’s amazing how some of these films with bad dubbing, hilarious dialogue and silly effects can get boring so quickly if the pace is slow and the scenes are repetitive. Even viewers attracted to the female form will tire of seeing this lady dance naked in a circle of torches for eternity. Adding goofy werewolf prosthetics to the naked dancing can only help for so long. It might be fun to throw it on during a party, but it doesn’t deserve your full attention. I fought sleep so hard during this film and I’m certain I lost.
11. Blood Diner
Hint: This is a goofy gore/sleaze-fest that will probably make your brain hurt with its sheer stupidity. It’s 5:30 in the morning, what did you expect? Year: 1987
Jenny: I’m afraid this isn’t a review at all. This is the inevitable movie I slept through. I didn’t want to. I’m so ashamed. Every time I woke up for a minute, something tacky and horrible was happening onscreen and then I was out again. I’ve been told by more than one source that what I’m describing is the best way to enjoy Blood Diner, so I’m fighting my desire to seek it out and rewatch while awake. Dare I ruin my delirious 5:30 in the morning memories? Uh… highly recommended as a movie to sleep to.
12. The Burning
Hint: Star-studded” slasher semi-classic. Year: 1981
Jenny: After a nice breakfast break, I’d recovered from my Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde and Wolf Woman woes. The Burning, definitely a classic, was a great way to start a new day of film overload.
Regarding the hint, both Holly Hunter and Seinfield‘s Jason Alexander made their film debut in this campgrounds slasher. Based on the old “Cropsey” urban legend, a summer camp caretaker is horribly burned and disfigured by a group of campers when a prank goes terribly wrong. Years later, Cropsey returns to the camp for brutal revenge. Slasher fans should check out The Burning for creepy kills (many featuring that terrifying pair of shears), successful shocks, and a rare Final Boy.
13. Maximum Overdrive
Hint: Usually, this is the spot where we show an “animals attack” movie. Well, there are no animals here, but people definitely get attacked in this silly sci-fi/action/horror amalgam. Year: 1986
crowbait: Ugh. I guess it’s a good thing this was made when Stephen King was frequently face down in a bucket of cocaine because then he at least has some excuse. Nonsensical plot inconsistencies, schizo characters, ill fitting music and overlong scenes.
Jenny: I am generally a fan of King, but I couldn’t do it. Just couldn’t. The man shouldn’t direct. I left.
14. Meet the Feebles
Hint: For the first time ever, the Horror-thon does not end with a zombie film. In fact, it technically doesn’t even end with a horror movie. Instead, we close with this jaw-droppingly ridiculous/offensive/just-plain-wrong cult film favorite. Year: 1989
Jenny: Meet the Feebles. Where do I begin? It’s The Muppets gone horribly horribly wrong presented by madman Peter Jackson. A relic of his wonderful and disgusting pre-Hobbit years.
This was an amazing conclusion to over 20 hours of movie madness. In a sick twist on the Henson characters we all know and love, puppets running a variety show succumb to their many vices—greed, drugs, sex, violence—and circle the drain as we cringe and follow along. It’s childhood corrupted. It’s both awful and hilarious. Peter Jackson, what have you done?
And that’s the last movie!
Despite the occasional misses, the Horror-thon is a great time. There’s something special about not knowing what comes next and sharing the bewildered experience with an enthusiastic crowd of fellow genre nerds. With our senses and backs throughly assaulted, we are victorious, and go blinking into the sunlight. The end.