[Note: Before we begin, a confession. A combination of health issues (lingering after-effects of the stuff that put me in the hospital on Labor Day) and crowd rowdiness, I didn’t get to pay as much attention to the movies as I would have liked. In fact, while I intended to do the entire 24-hour marathon, I was forced to leave early, at around 8:30pm, after five movies and the Chiodo Bros. Q&A. So what follows don’t even really count as reviews or even capsule reviews. Particularly of Season of the Witch and Killer Klowns, they’re collections of impressions which may be accurate and may not. Full and proper viewings of many of these films will (eventually) follow, along with reviews. I also plan to catch up with the movies I missed.]
For those who aren’t familiar with the Music Box Massacre, the concept’s pretty simple. It’s a 24-hour-long horror movie marathon held at the Music Box Theatre, an old-timey venue on Southport between Irving Park and Addison on the north side of Chicago. In addition to the features, short films and trailers are also screened, and there’s special guests, auctions, stuff for stale. (The Massacre’s sister event is Terror in the Aisles, a triple-feature event that’s regularly held at the Portage Theater.)
The Music Box is the sort of theater that still has a stage, an orchestra pit, and an organ. It has a capacity of just over 1,000; if I remember my lore correctly, the Music Box’s main auditorium (the management bought out a neighboring store in the ’90s and converted it into a second, much smaller viewing room) is now the largest of any movie theater in the city. (And yet, at the time it opened in 1929, it was apparently one of Chicago’s smaller movie houses! Thanks to the rise of multiplexes, auditorium sizes have decreased significantly over the years; the theater in which I saw Let Me In a couple of weeks ago probably wouldn’t have held more than a couple hundred.) It’s a great place to see a movie, if you don’t mind the lack of stadium seating (at 5′9″, I often find myself praying that nobody over six feet tall sits in front of me).
This year’s Massacre was not my first—I went in 2008, and I have to confess I only went because May was on the schedule and Lucky McKee was supposed to be a special guest. (He never showed.) I only stayed for four films (in addition to May, I also saw Eyes Without a Face, The Midnight Meat Train, and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), but I got to shake hands with Clive Barker. I meant to go last year, but didn’t make it. Don’t remember why.
Anyway, here’s the 2010 feature schedule:
- The Phantom of the Opera (the Lon Chaney Sr. silent version, with live organ accompaniment)
- The Raven (with Bela Lugosi & Boris Karloff—not to be confused with the 1963 Corman/Matheson/AIP film that teamed Karloff up with Vincent Price & Peter Lorre)
- The Wolf Man (with Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains & Bela Lugosi)
- Season of the Witch (the George Romero movie, not Halloween III); special guest: star Jan White
- Killer Klowns from Outer Space; special guests: co-writer/director Steve Chiodo and co-writer/art director Charlie Chiodo
- Basket Case; special guest: star Kevin van Hentenryk
- Pet Sematary
- The Funhouse
- The House by the Cemetery
- Theatre of Blood
- Fright Night
If you’ve known me for any amount of time, and you’ve at least heard of the bulk of these films, you can immediately tell what my main gripe about the program was. If you look at the original release dates for our films, you’ll notice that there’s nothing on the bill more recent than 1989 (that would be Pet Sematary). (In fact, six of the thirteen features—nearly half—date from the ’80s. Goddamn ’80s!) Now, I understand this is Fright Night’s 25th anniversary year—and that the upcoming Anton Yelchin/Colin Farrell/David Tennant remake is getting a lot of attention, including a ginormous banner of a Criss Angel-ified Tennant on display outside the Vegas Hard Rock Café (I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since 1985, so this is one of the most surreal cultural developments of my life)—but it would have been nice to have some more recent stuff, too.
Anyway, here’s what I was able to watch.
The Massacre started off with a DJ spinning while clips from various movies ran on the screen. The only clip I recognized was the T-shirt cut-out murder scene from Tenebrae. Songs played include Public Image Limited’s “Albatross” (seriously), something that might have been either Throbbing Gristle or Psychic TV (singer sounded a lot like Genesis P-Orridge), and a disco remix of Goblin’s main theme from Tenebrae. This led into:
A bunch of trailers, mostly for stuff I’ve never heard of before. According to the Godzilla trailer, the film features DYNAMIC VIOLENCE! (I guess in comparison to all the static violence that was the norm in pictures back then.) Other trailers included Night of the Living Dead (or, as the narrator insists on saying it, NIGHT! Of the Living DEAD!), The Raven (the 1963 one), a pair of Michael Gough killer-animal films (Black Zoo and the delightfully stupid-looking Konga), Blood of the Vampire, Black Sunday (the Mario Bava movie, not the 1977 movie about Bruce Dern trying to blow up the Goodyear Blimp at the Super Bowl), and Curse of the Werewolf. And then, of course, there’s this:
Terror in the Haunted House just jumped up to a very high spot in my Netflix queue.
Short Film: Phobia 2 (Matt Storc, 2010)
The story’s a bit obvious and the acting’s really, really bad, but it’s got a couple of nice images, and it gets the point across well enough.
The Phantom of the Opera (Rupert Julian, 1925)
Generally speaking I’ve avoided reviewing silent films for Forced Viewing, on the grounds that I’m not overly familiar with the conventions and am not sure how to approach a review. (I had an opportunity to review Murnau’s Nosferatu a few months ago but ultimately decided not to. I do, on the other hand, plan to eventually get to Herzog’s 1979 remake.) I think I would have an easier time writing a review of Phantom than some other silents. Visually speaking, it’s amazing…obviously Lon Chaney Sr.’s makeup has gotten the most attention, but there’s also the rather interesting design of the Phantom mask…instead of the blank model popularized by Lloyd-Webber’s musical, Chaney’s mask emulates human features, albeit in a bit of an eccentric way (it’s a bit reminiscent of Devo’s Booji Boy). Human movement is a treat as well, especially the way the dancers are always choreographed, even when they’re not on stage. Acting is a bit broad, but because the actors don’t have their voices to work with, this is to be expected—and also keep in mind that film acting, at this point, was still heavily dependent on stage acting techniques. Very worth it, if you’ve got the patience. (IMDB)
Short Film: The Wind Follows (Kurt Long, date unknown)
Whereas Phobia 2 is a bit plot-heavy, The Wind Follows barely has any, which suits it just fine. Some nice shots here, and the sound design is absolutely wonderful.
The Raven (Lew Landers, 1935)
The problem with this one—other than a laughable makeup job on Boris Karloff (I try to look past effects, but this one is just too hard to ignore)—is that it simply doesn’t fully engage. Bela Lugosi has two obstacles—a not particularly interesting one-note character and that damn accent which makes much of his exposition hard to understand. (This may seem a churlish criticism, but I’m not always very good at processing audio input, which is why a decent mix is a must and I always watch DVDs with the subs on, even if the film’s in English.) Most of the other characters are a bit two-dimensional as well, and there’s precious little sense of threat, which really kills. (Especially since it’s based around deathtraps—probably not the best movie to watch so soon after revisiting Saw.) Still, there’s a few things to enjoy, including a couple of physical devices and Karloff’s performance.
The Wolf Man (George Waggner, 1941)
This one hasn’t aged particularly well. Not in terms of the effects—other than the werewolf makeup, which is particularly striking even today, there aren’t much in the way of effects—but in terms of how the culture has changed. The sort of things Lon Chaney Jr. does to try to woo Evelyn Ankers would get him smacked down with a restraining order today. Another good example is this particular dialogue:
Claude Rains: You can’t just run away!
Chaney: That’s what she said!
Now, the “she” in that sentence is an old Gypsy woman who did indeed tell him that he can’t just run away. Nevertheless, you can probably guess what the audience’s reaction to that little exchange was. (Even I thought, “Okay, Chaney, that’s your one”—Jori, Amber and John know what I’m talking about.) There’s also the fact that, despite apparently taking place in England, most of the locals speak with American accents. And any film that asks you to accept Rains as Chaney’s father is just begging for trouble. (That’s not to say that Rains isn’t his usual awesome self.) That being said, when it works, it really, really works. (IMDB)
Trailer: The Weird World of LSD
Well, that was, uh, interesting.
Season of the Witch (George A. Romero, 1973)
This film is Romero’s third feature and it’s one of the more obscure ones. (Not as obscure as his second film, There’s Always Vanilla. For the longest time, Vanilla was only known from clips on one of the more common DVD releases of Night of the Living Dead. It’s now available as a bonus feature on the Season DVD, but not standalone. From what I’ve heard, we’re not missing anything.) The print, which the Massacre host stated was quite possibly the only film print in existence, is very poor quality (color is horrifyingly washed out) and bears one of the alternate titles, Hungry Wives. (It was also apparently released under the title Jack’s Wife. I’m not sure how obscure these titles are, but since someone was apparently brought to my review of The Crazies by Googling the phrase code name trixie, I’m not discounting anything.) As for the content (it’s about a bored middle-aged housewife who wakes up one morning and decides the best way to combat her ennui is to turn herself into Antoinette LaVey), it’s dull as dishwater. Apart from a few scattered nightmare sequences, it barely seems to be a horror movie. The focus is definitely on the early ’70s “let’s sit back, smoke a joint and debate how American culture has changed” social commentary, with a liberal helping of Bored Housewife themes for good measure. And of course, Romero’s favorite narrative device, which is people bickering endlessly until you want to slap them. (See also: The Crazies, Day/Diary/Survival of the Dead.) Even the witchcraft seems like an unnecessary bolt-on. Combine with a shitty print and an excruciating late-’60s/early-’70s look and you can definitely tell how the audience might have had a hard time taking it seriously. The twentysomethings sitting behind me were giggling the entire time. (IMDB)
Q&A with Season star Jan White
I went out to grab a sandwich during the Q&A and missed most of it. (The Q&A, that is, not the sandwich.) Ms. White did, however, reveal that the guy in the mask in the nightmare sequences is Bill Hinzman, an early Latent Image mainstay who worked on Romero’s first four feature films (Night of the Living Dead through The Crazies), plus Romero’s 1974 TV movie Juice on the Loose; he also acted in most of them as well, and is perhaps best known as the “cemetery zombie” (the zombie that attacks Barbra and Johnny) in Night.
Vincent (Tim Burton, 1982)
I’ve always felt a certain amount of ambivalence towards Burton’s work, but I really got a kick out of this one, from both the animation style (which presaged the visual aesthetic of The Nightmare Before Christmas) and the language, which has a bit of a Seussian feel to it. And, of course, Vincent Price’s narration is fantastic. (IMDB)
Trailer: Blood Freak
Ho. Ly. Shit. This can’t possibly be a real movie, can it? This has got to be a rejected fake Grindhouse trailer or something like that, right? Hold on…let me check…well, look at that. I guess it is a real movie after all. Well, I guess I’m going to have to track it down and watch it. Looks hilarious.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space (Stephen Chiodo, 1988)
This is how you make a low-budget monster/alien invasion movie! (And has anyone ever noticed how much Mars Attacks’s structure resembles that of Killer Klowns?) While not without its flaws—the sound mix is particularly risible, and the pacing in the beginning is a bit off (and the Chiodo Bros. will readily admit to both of these)—Killer Klowns takes a real concentrated effort to not enjoy. The Chiodos put real work into constructing the film’s aesthetic, and there’s a moment of greatness every five minutes or so (the scenes in the drugstore, the nightclub scene, the ventriloquist’s dummy, and, lest we forget, the shadow puppet). The Klowns themselves are some of the most brilliant pieces of design the genre’s produced over the last 30 years, and the craftsmanship in the effects is impeccable. The characters may be stock, but there’s enough going on around the edges to make Crescent Cove almost feel like a real place. It’s also obvious that everyone had a blast making this, and that always helps. I’ll stop gushing now. (IMDB)
Q&A with Killer Klowns co-creators Steve and Charlie Chiodo
I missed quite a bit of this as well. (I rarely watch behind-the-scenes featurettes or listen to commentary tracks. It’s just the way I’m wired, I guess.) From what I did catch, though, I got an amazing sense of love of the genre, and specifically the monster movie genre (one of the brothers—I think Steve—specifically stated that he prefers monster movies to slasher movies, making him a man after my own heart). They’re very dynamic speakers possessed of an infectious enthusiasm. As much fun to watch as their movie.
At that point I was definitely feeling like crap. (I’d started feeling like crap about halfway through Season.) Not having a schedule handy, I wasn’t sure what was coming up—I knew Rabid would be playing early-ish, but with Kevin van Hentenryk on hand I was hoping that the next movie would be Basket Case. So I figured if the next movie was Basket Case, I’d stay, and if it was Rabid, I’d take off, partially because Rabid is hardly my favorite Cronenberg and partially because I own it. (Staying for more than one movie was out of the question, mostly because of my condition, but also because I’d taken the train in and trains to the ’burbs stop between midnight and 1 on Saturdays.)
So when the host asked us if we were all ready to watch Rabid, that was my cue. Five features and a bunch of other things in eight-and-a-half hours wasn’t so bad. And there’s always next year…