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October Screening 22: Planet Terror (2007)

Haven’t really seen this one since theaters. Turns out it’s a really good movie to have on while you do other things, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. Now that I think about it, my rewatch of Death Proof definitely involved putting away laundry, so I think Rodriguez & Tarantino really did succeed in making a fitting Grind House double feature, given that a large chunk of any Grind House audience is not primarily there for the films, specifically, and tends to be louder. Being forced to sit in silence at my old movie theater in Madison, Wisconsin and diligently observe all 191 minutes may have led to my initial distaste for both.

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October Screening 31: Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

This gem kicked off my annual HORRARTHON, in which I subject anybody in my house to watching 24 solid hours of horror films, and I was so thrilled that it was as great as I’d read. Brian DePalma mashed up Phantom of the Opera & Faust into a gleefully weird-ass rock opera with jaw-dropping production design (it’s the kind of movie where you’ll blurt out sentences like “that fucking TABLE!” and it won’t be weird). I’m glad I watched it before that special brand of movie-marathon-delirium kicked in, it got me really hyped up to watch 13 more movies right away.

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October Screening 39: V/H/S/2 (2013)

HORRARTHON2K13’S MIDNIGHT MOVIE!! The second collection of spooky tapes is a huge improvement over the first, though they can’t all be winners. Each found-footage short is fun in its own way, but I think the bar graph of quality starts middling & dips low before finishing strong. Clinical Trials starts with a fun idea that runs its course too early & fizzles out without amounting to much. A Ride in the Park puts a GoPro on a zombie and expects just that to be interesting enough. It’s the kind of idea that initially sounds like a lot of fun, but when it’s stretched across 20 minutes the lack of story was really making me antsy. 

The final two stories, Safe Haven (from The Raid’s Gareth Evans!!) and Slumber Party Alien Abduction (from Jason Eisener, who I’ll always remember for Treevenge), are worth the price of admission. Both stories understand the importance of pacing at the tail-end of an anthology movie, starting with a simmer that boils over into complete mayhem & doesn’t let up. Safe Haven's a total blast, with an apparent willingness to just throw whatever crazy shit it can think of on-screen & see what sticks. Slumber Party Alien Abduction feels like the most deliberate of the four, and the most likely to make you scream “AHHHH GETOUTTATHERE” at the screen. Aliens have never been particularly scary to me, but the ghoulish weirdos in this thing had my heart racing (though the inclusion of a dog as primary cameraman probably had a lot to do with this - I’m one of those people who’d rather see fifty humans die horribly than one dog scrape its knee).

The obligatory framing narrative isn’t much to write home about, though I’ll admit that its private investigator characters were a lot more interesting than the white trash thugs of the first film. I may be hard on the stories that fall short, but the whole package is really a great ride to scream at with a room full of friends.

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October Screening 35: Toy Story of Terror! (2013)

HORRARTHON2K13MOVIE5!! At last, Mr. Pricklepants gets the screentime he deserves. Thanks, Pixar, for resurrecting the Halloween Special & delivering a better story in 22 minutes than Planet of the Vampires could in 86.

…Okay, in fairness, I don’t think Planet of the Vampires could’ve ever imagined it’d be showing before Toy Story of Terror in a Horrarthon at my place someday, but nothing rinses the taste of a bad movie out of your mouth like Combat Carl Weathers trying to talk Jesse through overcoming claustrophobia. This short put me right back into the Horrarthon spirit.

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October Screening 05: Escape From Tomorrow (2013)

I have the feeling anybody with no nostalgic connection to Disney would have trouble finding this thing interesting (the novelty of a trippy horror movie shot undercover in DisneyLand/World kind of trumps the film itself) but, hey, I do, so I thought it was NUTSO-FUN! Admittedly it could’ve been a little more nuts, tho, and in a more consistent way. In a David Lynch movie I’m confident the weirdness all adds up to something, but here I wasn’t convinced all the weird subplot-threads had anything to do with each other. It essentially boils down to a the best possible version of a long “wouldn’t it be crazy if…” list of things that might happen, which does get tiresome.

Again, the novelty is more than enough to afford this thing interest, though. If you have any interest in it at all, you’ll probably enjoy.

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October Screening 41: Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Now this is a surprisingly appropriate movie for when you’re so tired you can’t even be bothered to ask wwwhhyyyyy. People start mysteriously dying at a filthy summer camp filled with a lot of mean-spirited horny kids and also one shy girl, basically. I really meant “filthy,” though; Sleepaway Camp feels flat-out dirty to watch, like you ought to check yourself for open wounds first & try not to get any of it in your mouth. The kills are harsh & disgusting (my god, that poor attempted rapist who gets drenched in boiling water) and nobody is safe, to the point that you almost want it to stop and please show a little restraint. But it has none. It just keeps locking eyes with you and shouting “Call the cops! I DON’T GIVE A FUCK.” It pushes the envelope until the big-reveal climax, then starts wiping its hairy ass with it.

That, uh, “big reveal” of the murderer is a real shocker, by the way - I actually had this movie spoiled for me years ago & I still let out a “holy shit" at the ending. Again, this movie really doesn’t give a fuck, it does whatever it wants, but that kind of gross relentlessness is a little refreshing given the amount of forgettable PG-13 single-serving slasher movies that have been wheeled through theaters in the past couple decades. I’m definitely not going to forget about Sleepaway Camp anytime soon.

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October Screening 24: Scooby-Doo (2002)

Man, this was a tough watch. I remembered one of the live-action Scooby Doo flicks being better than it had the right to be, but I must have been thinking of Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. A couple chuckles manage to sneak into this cookie-cutter movie (I’m pretty sure writer James Gunn can be thanked for those) but for the most part this thing’s way too processed. There’s just so little to say about it. I mean, even if I did think it was pretty good, would anybody believe me?

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October Screening 01: Scream (1996)

Here we go again. Last year I got in 55 horror movies/screenings (i guess I’m counting tv episodes, I don’t know, man) during the month of October. I CAN DO BETTER. Apologies in advance, life, but me & October got a score to settle.

I kicked things off with a VHS screening of Scream (with some awesome trailers), which remains a lively teen death-romp in spite of years of watered down imitators & dull-as-fuck sequels. The melodrama of it cracks me up every time - I love how every last person in this small town can’t stop talking about Neve Campbell’s past, whether or not she’s even been around them in days. Also some classic overhearing-people-talking-about-you-in-the-bathroom action - it’s like Dawson’s Creek, but if most of the kids got murdered. I love it!

(I’m aware Dawson’s Creek was created by the writer of this movie, who apparently has no range other than “do they die in this or just go to college.”)

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October Screening 42: The Exorcist III (1990)

Just as HORRARTHON2k13’s twelfth movie since 1pm started rolling, the morning light began to creep in, so I spent a chunk of The Exorcist III only half-attentive as I frantically began taping black garbage bags over the windows. Its deliberately slow pace was kind of brutal at that point in the night/morning, though, so I could only give it so much anyway. I do recall a serious lack of exorcising, the story being more of a howdunit police procedural. It was all nicely done on a technical level, but it’s kind of hard to follow a mystery with much interest when you already know the answer is “demonic possession.” If it were called anything but The Exorcist III, it probably wouldn’t have the deck stacked against it like that, but once that title card pops up you’re really just waiting for somebody to get exorcised already. For an exorcism movie, I was underwhelmed.

It does contain some unexpectedly bugfuck-crazy sequences, including a dream-sequence trip to heaven to question some murder victims and at least one fantastic jump-scare. It also reinforced my theory that George C. Scott is great in scary movies (The Changeling like a mofuckaaaa) and that Brad Dourif is great in everything (okay, so’s George C. Scott, but he’s got an oscar already). If you have the time & patience for an interesting movie, if not an entirely successful one, you could do a lot worse than The Exorcist III, but I found it pretty frustrating at 5am.

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October Screening 38: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

HORRARTHON2K13 MOVIE 8 HEADLINER 2!!! A goddamn near perfect horror-comedy, there’s a grim certainty belied by the fun of this movie that gives it a spooky edge. A couple amusing (if cocky) American kids are fucked up bad by the old world in foggy Londontown, turning one into a rapidly deteriorating ghost & the other into a werewolf timebomb. Easily the scariest & most interesting cinematic presentation of this particular monster, with elements like the undead victims coming back to beg our poor werewolf’s human counterpart to commit suicide the next day. This movie invented the Academy Award for makeup effects & its werewolf remains way more convincing than any cgi bullshit Taylor Lautner went through.

The way it deftly juggles screams and laughs while admirably taking its characters seriously is a testament to how much horror and comedy have in common, and either genre just becomes a trivial label by the time the lead character is calling his family back home to tell them he loves them without being able to explain his looming demise. I love this movie.

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October Screening 34: Planet of the Vampires (1965)

I have so little to say about this movie. Fourth movie of the HORRARTHON & its first (and only, I think) total dud. I’d gotten into Mario Bava this month and was curious to dig this sci-fi drive-in picture up, so I snagged the last used DVD of it from Amoeba & unwittingly did anybody else who might have been looking for it a favor. There weren’t even any vampires in it, just ghosts possessing a bunch of interchangeable people dressed like Leather Wolverine & running around the same sets for 86 minutes. I was so bored I got up and started cleaning the house until it ended. Maybe there’s a mood I could be in to enjoy this movie, but I doubt it’s possible to be in that mood at any time during a 24-hour movie marathon. Watching it fourth was like getting a flat tire on a road trip soon enough that you consider just turning back for home.

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October Screening 28: House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

I’d never sat down & watched the final cut of this movie. I downloaded a leaked workprint of it way back when it was struggling to find release, but I was about twelve years old at the time & couldn’t have really given the movie much thought, anyway, so I was curious to watch it again. I guess I’m glad I did, but, huh, I kinda feel twelve again and don’t really know what to say. It’s not a good movie, really, and knowing it’s a famous musician’s first film makes it hard not to think there’s an alternate universe where this movie is just a fifteen-minute long student film made during Rob Zombie’s senior year, and that version of him is probably better off learning the ropes of filmmaking less publicly. It just seems like he threw a bunch of shit together and called it a movie (I’m morbidly curious how much 16mm footage of his wife tonguing a skeleton he had laying around before he even decided to make a feature).

I have this weird relationship with Rob Zombie’s movies in which I think he’s pretty talented but just don’t like much of his work for some reason. I’m racking my brain, but The Devil’s Rejects is the only film of his I think I really like. I’m reminded of this quote from Richard Roeper’s review of Spring Breakers:

"…When you’re a filmmaker and you’ve got James Franco as a metal-grilled rapper-gangster singing a tender version of Britney Spears’ ‘Everytime,’ accompanied on vocals by three nubile, mask-wearing nymphets on the verge of a crime spree, you’ve got something original swirling in your brain and you’ve effectively put it on the big screen.”

That’s kind of how I feel about Rob Zombie turning Rainn Wilson into a merman & putting a pre-weight-loss Chris Hardwick in a bunny costume to run around a dark spooky tunnel-maze & be lobotomized by some kind of mecha-mad-scientist. There’s certainly something original swirling in Rob Zombie’s brain, I just wasn’t on-board with it here.

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October Screening 04: Are You Afraid of the Dark? Episode 208 - “The Tale of the Frozen Ghost

Ain’t even trynna hate, but watching this again made me glad Melissa Joan Hart’s kickstarter didn’t go. This little ghost used to scare the shit out of me as a kid - something about laying in bed & having a ghost call you over to the window. Why is that scarier than if the ghost had just shown up in your room? Kinda lazy of that ghost, when I think about it.

Also one of those episodes where solving the ghost’s origin leads to a bunch of long-forgotten hidden treasure, and all i could think about was how much of that would be taxed (brain, you’re no fun anymore).

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October Screening 49: Pop Skull (2007)

I traced mumblegore further back to this early gem from Adam Wingard (again, You’re Next is so fucking good) about a heartbroken Alabama pill addict who lives in his parents’ possibly-haunted basement. There’s an epilepsy warning right off-top, assuring us we’re strapping in for a very disorienting experience. If you find the first seizurrific trip-out sequence at all annoying, just turn the movie off, because it only cranks things up from there. It’s been labeled as “acid horror” and that’s spot-on, so you can either get irritated or just go with it. I went with it gladly.

It was made for about $2,000 total, clearly one of those movies made by somebody who was going to make a goddamn movie, no matter what, and I love that about it. Its resourcefulness is evident in every frame. I didn’t mind the early digital look of it at all - if anything, it helped me feel more like a fly on the wall for this poor kid’s trip through hell. There’s a lo-fi intimacy to it that lulled me into a kind of comfortable familiarity, like I was hanging out in a high school friend’s basement, which made the movie the movie that much scarier for me once it started spiraling into spooksville.

Pop Skull is a unique, chilling & surprisingly personal movie that couldn’t help but get its director more work. If you have the tolerance for experimental cinema, I heartily recommend. (watch the trailer!)

And holy shit, that’s a wrap on October! Only took me another month to catch up on writing about it…

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October Screening 37: Suspiria (1977)

HORRARTHON2K13’S FIRST HEADLINER!! I put Suspiria in a primo time slot as I’ve really grown to love it since I first saw it a couple years ago. It’s a cinematic nightmare that only obeys the cartoonish rules of dream-logic, as an undercover coven of witches at a remote German dance academy picks off the new students (and some bystanders just cuz) in all sortsa gruesome ways. It’s especially fucked up to read about how director Dario Argento originally wanted to make the thing with children, but nobody’d let him do it with the amount of gore he wanted. There are still a bunch of clues to this effect - doorknobs on-set were built high up, for example, so the actresses have to reach for them like little kids (before they get ripped to pieces under the candy-colored lights).

A film this crazy is easy to laugh at, if you wanna be a dick, but get into the style & rhythm of it (Goblin’s legendary soundtrack helps) & you’ll find there’s no better horror feverdream out there.

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October Screening 36: Psycho II (1983)

Psycho II is a great 80 minute movie drowning in 40 extra minutes,” my roommate muttered, which I guess explains why I was so into it considering I was still running around getting some things done & letting other people into my house for the HORRARTHON!! I caught most of the story, though, and I loved how the film appeared to have no interest in aping Hitchcock stylistically (save for a crane shot or two that looked pretty familiar), instead just going for a colorful 80’s slasher update on the life and times of Norman Bates. 

It’s also pretty fucking funny how many people trust that ol’ murder guy with deadly weapons, even though he still appears to be crazier’n a sack of cats. You really start to feel for the guy who killed everybody in the last movie, and genuinely hope it’s not him killing everybody again this time around. And I didn’t see the ending coming, so, touché, Psycho II, well played. 

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October Screening 30: Nosferatu (1922)

Got to catch a new DCP of this at my beloved Cinefamily, with live organ accompaniment. It’s still totally spooky, and it was fun to see everybody giggle at the silent-movie-acting only to be silenced by the vampire’s creepy stiffness every time he hit the screen. I forgot about one scare below deck on the boat that made me audibly gasp, which hasn’t happened to me in a theater for a while.

Now I really want to go watch Shadow of the Vampire again.

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October Screening 21: I Married A Witch (1942)

Criterion just put this thing out, and I tend to trust them with old screwball comedies, so I had to give it a look. It’s silly as all hell. When the witch and her sorcerer father arrive in the 40s they’re just plumes of smoke. At one point they hide in beer bottles, and have a whole conversation that is completely covered with a wide & two over the shoulder shots. Of bottles. Talking to each other. And then they ride a broomstick, as smoke. They are smoke why would they need t-nevermind all that, it’s a really fun movie. The goofiness is infectious & I was grinning like an idiot the whole time. There’s an endearing good-naturedness to it that seems missing from a lot of today’s movies (I’m sure it’s more likeable than Will Ferrell’s Bewitched remake, anyway).

Also, totally into the way this movie will just fucking bail on some scenes in the middle of an actor’s lines. Never the leads, but a lot of supporting characters will get a few words in at the tail end of a scene, only to have the sound drop out and the image begin to dissolve while they’re clearly still talking. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall for those editing sessions (“it’s not working, I guess they’ll just find out how much we cut at the premiere”).

Anyway, delightful. Watch it with your parents!

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October Screening 19: Abby (1974)

My first Cinefamily midnight of the month! I found “The Blax-orcist” pretty difficult to resist. Via their site

Baby, it’s the Blax-orcist, and it’s gonna turn your brain to pea soup! Before he moved onto classy Hollywood fare like Day of the Animals (featuring a shirtless Leslie Nielsen in hand-to-hand combat with a grizzly bear), Kentucky trash auteur William Girdler reached the peak of his regional success with Abby, a shameless Exorcist rip-off that cuts to the chase by significantly amping up the both the bootylicious and ridiculous quotients. Blacula’s William Marshall plays a heavy-duty minister whose archeological work in Africa unleashes a Pazuzu-like sex demon — one who inhabits the body of the minister’s upstanding daughter-in-law (The Mack’s Carol Speed.) In a supremely nutty turn, Speed morphs from a prim ‘n proper churchgoer into a sex-crazed freakazoid, bonking everything in sight until Marshall steps in to rip her possessed soul a new asshole. Girdler hit the drive-in jackpot with this one, racking up millions in box office until Warner Brothers brought the legal hammer down and exorcised it off the screen, due to its heavy similarities with the Freidkin-helmed classic. Rarer than hell, Abby comes to us from one of the last known 16mm prints in the world!

Seeing an original 16mm print (projection breaks & all) was ideal. The Cinefamily tends to provide an enthused atmosphere that can actually improve a movie (especially the October midnights - last year’s Video Nasties series was wondrous), so I was able to forgive the sleepiness of the film’s first 20 minutes or so. Even the amusement of William Marshall excavating burial grounds in a pith helmet couldn’t fix my MTV-addled attention span - I can see this movie being such a drive-in success, given that there’s plenty to talk over. Once Abby actually gets possessed and starts fucking people to death (one guy explodes into smoke!), though, things get way more fun, and there’s plenty of helpful exposition along the way in case you weren’t paying attention (at one point in the back half, the film’s entire plot is related in a sentence to a character who’s been gone most of the time, eliciting the biggest laugh of the night). I’m happy to have finally seen a disco ball explode during an exorcism in a 70s dance club.

Hoping I can make it to way more of these midnights. If you’re in LA, I recommend.

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