After having health problems thoroughly kick my ass at last year’s Massacre, I was stoked at the chance to make up for it by making sure I attended the whole damn thing this year.

I lasted a lot longer this year, but still got my ass kicked.

* * *

Quick summary of the Music Box Massacre, in case you don’t already know: organized by local indie filmmaker and fan scene fixture Rusty Nails, it’s a 24-hour-long horror movie marathon, generally with 13 feature-length films, plus shorts, trailers (both modern and vintage), personal appearances and swag auctions. It’s held at the Music Box Theatre, an old-timey (opened in 1929) art-house theatre in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood.

Proceeds benefit Vital Bridges, a local charity. Here’s how Vital Bridges describes itself:

Vital Bridges’ mission is to help people throughout metropolitan Chicago impacted by HIV and AIDS to improve their health and build self-sufficiency by providing food, nutrition, housing, case management and prevention services.

This year’s feature program was:

  • Waxworks (Silent film with live organ accompaniment!)
  • Burn Witch Burn (Rarely screened ’60s classic!)
  • Hour of the Wolf (Ingmar Bergman’s nightmarish vision!)
  • The Abominable Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price!)
  • The Wizard of Gore (Herschell Gordon Lewis in person!)
  • Halloween (The original John Carpenter masterpiece!)
  • Poltergeist (’80s craziness!)
  • Pumpkinhead (The FX masterpiece!)
  • Gates of Hell (Gore galore!)
  • The Vampire Lovers (Hammer horror lovely ladies!)
  • Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (The Bob Clark classic!)
  • The Sentinel (Rare screening!)
  • From Dusk Till Dawn (Tarantino & Rodriguez insanity!)

I stayed for eleven films, missing The Sentinel and From Dusk Till Dawn. Full reviews of Burn Witch Burn, Hour of the Wolf, Poltergeist, The Vampire Lovers and The Wizard of Gore will appear over the next month or so. I’ll also get to From Dusk Till Dawn and The Sentinel sometime in the near future.

A few general observations

One early decision was to undersell the event: the Music Box’s main auditorium, where the Massacre is held, has a capacity of 800 but an announcement was made back in August that only 650 tickets would be sold. (I think the 650-ticket limit was eventually increased slightly, but I don’t remember; since I bought my ticket very early, I wasn’t really paying attention.) Ultimately I think this was a good decision: this year, the Massacre was less crowded and less rowdy than the two previous ones I attended. (I seem to remember getting very impatient with the audience’s antics during Season of the Witch last year.)

Only one of the photos I took at the Massacre came out. All the ones taken inside the auditorium came out too dark, even with the flash on. I suspect it’s because the flash is too weak to reach the back of the hall.

This year was a bit light on guest appearances: the only let’s-stop-everything-and-talk-to-a-celebrity appearance was by Herschell Gordon Lewis, director of Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs!, The Gore Gore Girls, and of course this year’s Massacre selection The Wizard of Gore.

Similarly the program was also a bit light on short films–I only saw one. There might have been a few more later. Dusk Till Dawn was scheduled to start around 9:15am, but it’s only about 100 minutes–not long enough to stretch to the Massacre’s closing time of noon. Might have been some extra stuff there. (According to Facebook, something called “Get Down Goblin” was scheduled to be screened. I know damn well I never saw it, so maybe it was run after I left.) It looks like there’s a lot of short films loaded into the upcoming Terror in the Aisles this Friday night.

Not a lot of swag in the auctions I was interested in (last year, at Terror 7, I snagged a copy of Day of the Dead signed by two of the stars). One of the items up for grabs: a Transformers 3-branded backpack. The guy doing the auction seemed genuinely surprised that nobody wanted it.

I grabbed a few flyers and here’s what they were for:

  • The Woman, the new film directed by Lucky McKee (May, The Woods, MoH: “Sick Girl”) and written by Jack Ketchum (The Girl Next Door, Offspring, The Lost). You know what a fan I am of McKee; I am going to try very damn hard to see it this week and have a review next week
  • What They Say, a short film which apparently snagged some awards at this year’s Chicago Horror Film Festival
  • Monsters in the Movies, a new book about movie monsters by John Landis

Shock Value

Quick interview with Jason Zinoman, author of Shock Value

One of the guests that was announced late was Jason Zinoman, author of the book Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror. I read it a few months ago, and it’s terrific.

However, it wasn’t until I was in line for the Massacre that I thought, “Hey, I loved Shock Value! I totally should interview that guy!” In true Forced Viewing fashion, I didn’t let my lack of preparation for an interview get in the way of my actually requesting one. We’re kinda punk rock like that.

Jason graciously consented to the interview and I spent about twenty minutes racking my brains for good questions. I came up with three, which is why at this stage I would not make a very good professional interviewer.

Jason, could you tell us a little bit about the book?

Sure! It’s a history book about the horror scene from the late ’60’s…’round 1968, with Night of the Living Dead, Targets, and Rosemary’s Baby, up through the end of the ’70s. And I try to root the book in reporting, so I spent about four or five years talking to all the great directors and writers who made these movies–like Alien, Halloween, and Rosemary’s Baby–that, I argue, really shifted the horror genre and changed the horror genre significantly, in a way that is still…the influence is still being felt today in a lot of ways. Most of the tropes of the modern horror film come from this period. And I believe that this is the great golden age of modern horror.

The second question was supposed to be “Why that particular era?” but he pretty much already answered that, so I hopped directly to question three:

Is there a particular favorite from that era that you have?

I’m a sucker for Texas Chain Saw Massacre! I could watch that all day, all night…that’s my favorite, I would say…Alien’s a close second.

And that was pretty much it. Thanks, Jason!

If you’re so inclined to read Shock Value, you can pick it up from Amazon as a physical book and in Kindle e-book format; it’s also available for the iOS iBook app. It’s a great read from someone who clearly adores and respects the genre, and it’s got some great accounts of Dan O’Bannon’s more erratic behavior.

Trailer Trash

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Fear No Evil, Ernest Scared Stupid

The vintage trailers this year seemed to be geared less towards “horror movies” and more towards “cult classics.” Memoirs of an Invisible Man was indicative of another trailer theme this year–let’s see if you can figure it out from later examples.

Waxworks

Waxworks (Paul Leni, 1924)

I’m not going to say I didn’t like Waxworks, but I am going to say I really didn’t consider it horror. The setup is that it’s about a writer who’s commissioned to write stories about three figures in a wax museum: Harun al-Rashid (historical caliph of Baghdad from the eighth century), Ivan the Terrible, and Jack the Ripper.

The al-Rashid episode is a comedic adventure; the Ivan episode is a straight drama with a bit of intrigue. The Jack the Ripper episode is probably where Waxworks gets its rep as a horror flick from; the statue comes to life (although I wasn’t clear whether it came to life for real or if it was a dream/nightmare sequence) and starts stalking the writer and his wife. It is, however, a very short segment–definitely no more than ten minutes long, and probably a lot shorter. (This was the 65-minute-long version, though; my understanding is that there’s an 80-minute-long restored version and the Ripper segment might be longer in that version.)

Trailers: Eyes of Laura Mars and Be That As It May

Eyes of Laura Mars: second in a series. Figure the theme out yet? (It’s not a particularly difficult one.)

Be That As It May: apparently a documentary about Chicago avant-garde jazz-metal band Yakuza. Sounds interesting. Definitely the only metal band I’ve heard of that had a full-time saxophonist. I’m not generally a metal fan, but after five or so years of listening to chillout electronica and post-punk revival bands, my tastes are going in a bit of a heavier and darker direction lately (I’ve been listening to the first King Crimson album a lot lately–probably more than is healthy), so I’ll probably check them out.

Burn Witch Burn

Burn, Witch, Burn (Sidney Hayers, 1962)

(presented under its original British release title, Night of the Eagle)

Although this was advertised as Burn, Witch, Burn, the version screened was actually the British version (entitled Night of the Eagle), not the American AIP version–it starts by displaying its BBFC “X” certificate and doesn’t feature Paul Frees’s opening voiceover. I really liked this one: it was adapted by Charles Beaumont (who wrote for The Twilight Zone and ended up creating The Waltons) and Richard Matheson from a Fritz Leiber novel, and you can definitely see Matheson working through some of his pet obsessions. Fantastic performance by Peter Wyngarde, a great actor whose career was later destroyed by scandal (hint: something George Michael might have done). The eagle effect was a bit wonky, but I didn’t mind.

Hour of the Wolf

Hour of the Wolf (Ingmar Bergman, 1968)

I’m very much into art-horror (Martyrs, Amer, Funny Games), but I have to admit this one left me a bit cold. I found it too slow (and again, remember, I love Tarkovsky and my favorite movie is 2001), too dull, too obscure and too underacted (despite a good performance by an impossibly young-seeming Max Von Sydow). I’m definitely going to do a rewatch before writing up a full review: it may just be that the Massacre format isn’t really suited for a slower, more deliberate and less “fun” movie (also see my comments below regarding The Gates of Hell/City of the Living Dead).

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (Robert Fuest, 1971)

I missed a lot of this, because I figured if I had to miss any film to try to get an interview with Herschell Gordon Lewis, this would be the one, because I’ve seen it something like eleventy billion times. However, I kept getting engrossed in the movie; it looks great on a big screen, and significantly less cheesy to boot. For example, the wire holding up the fake bat that I made so much of in my review isn’t visible. (Maybe I need to adjust my expectations when watching older films in “restored” or higher-definition versions?) So every 30 minutes I’d go out to the lobby, and see Lewis either talking to a throng of people or walking out of the building, and then figure, “Oh well, time to go watch some more Phibes!”

Trailers: They Live and Scanners (red band)

That’s right, the theme is “John Carpenter movies.” (Eyes of Laura Mars was directed by Irvin Kerschner–famed filmmaking professor and director of The Empire Strikes Back–from one of Carpenter’s spec scripts.) But the real treat was the Scanners red band trailer, which pretty much consists of the entire opening scene ending with the exploding head. God, I love Scanners.

The Wizard of Gore

The Wizard of Gore (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1970)

Introduction of Herschell Gordon Lewis

The man of the hour! Lewis made a brief introductory appearance, performing “The South is Gonna Rise Again,” the theme from Two Thousand Maniacs!, with a two-piece band apparently named the Dixie Cups. The audience was instructed to join in on the rebel yell, which we did enthusastically.

The Film

This definitely belongs in the “more fun than good” category. It illustrates the strength of the Massacre: if I’d watched it on my own I probably would have hated it. The acting is uneven, there are several obvious and hilarious continuity errors (or, more accurately, instances of what’s on the screen not matching what’s in the dialogue), and the symbolism is a bit heavy-handed. But in a theater full of fans who aren’t above engaging in a bit of “audience participation,” it transforms into a communal experience not entirely unlike Rocky Horror (but considerably less obnoxious). When Ray Sager breaks the fourth wall, it really feels like he’s addressing the audience (and we applauded at the conclusion of every “illusion”).

Herschell Gordon Lewis Q&A

A lot of A and very little Q. Lewis did some more singing, giving a demonstration of the vocal technique of eefing (and treating the audience to a rendition of the apparently-classic “Little Eeefin’ Annie”). He also talked about how Sager got the role of Montag and the ins and outs of shooting movies in Chicago.

Sadly, my little hand-held digital recorder caught none of this.

Trailer: An American Werewolf in London

This probably didn’t have anything to do with Terror in the Aisles 9 on Friday, did it?

Halloween

Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)

This seems to have been the night’s real centerpiece. I’m probably not going to do a full writeup–I’m not sure I can think of anything original to say about it, and at any rate, the idea of reviewing the entire series fills me with a form of existential dread. Suffice it to say, I’m always marveled by Carpenter’s structure and technique, and it was really ballsy of him to give Donald Pleasance top billing, yet give Loomis almost nothing to do (he gets the key early exposition scenes, but otherwise Loomis isn’t a very important character).

Interesting factoid: the idea that slasher films need to follow up nude or sex scenes with killings generally comes from Halloween. However, that wasn’t Carpenter’s intention: “The one girl who is the most sexually uptight just keeps stabbing this guy with a long knife. She’s the most sexually frustrated. She’s the one that’s killed him. Not because she’s a virgin but because all that sexually repressed energy starts coming out.” So 😛

Trailers: Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Horror of the Blood Monsters

Yes, Virginia, there really was a GP rating!

Poltergeist

Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, 1982)

An annoying autographical pause: I trace my interest in horror fiction and horror movies from two pivotal things I saw when I was 7 or 8. The first was the Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” specifically the scene where Shatner pulls back the curtain and the Gremlin’s shoving its face into the window. I can’t even look at Lego depictions of that without getting creeped out. The second is Poltergeist, and the pivotal scene in that wasn’t the tree or the clown or the furniture, but rather the scene where Marty hallucinates ripping his own face off. That scene would have given me screaming nightmares…if I’d been able to sleep afterwards.

Over the past thirty or so years, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to watch Poltergeist again, and I have watched the last thirty or so minutes several times, but never the whole thing from beginning to end. So I was really stoked, and also nervous, about this one. I have to say–the effects in the Marty scene didn’t quite hold up, but it still gave me that frisson. Every so often I have to be reminded why I watch these things; Poltergeist was a particularly potent reminder.

One last thing to people who think Spielberg, not Hooper, really directed this: watch Heather O’Rourke in this. Then watch Drew Barrymore in E.T. Yeah, I thought so.

Trailer: Smokey and the Bandit II

No comment.

Pumpkinhead

Pumpkinhead (Stan Winston, 1988)

To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of this one. I mean, it’s enjoyable enough, but I’ve always felt it to be a tad overrated. As good as Lance Henriksen is before Billy dies, he has a tendency to slip into “Torquemada overacting mode” afterwards. And I’m as big an apologist for The Pit and the Pendulum as you’ll ever meet; but while I think the overacting works there, it doesn’t work here. (The horrific dialogue doesn’t help; for example, note the second or third visit to Haggis’s cottage, where almost every line of dialogue is spoken twice–“God damn you! God damn you!” “He already has! He already has!” doesn’t help.)

I also don’t care for the Pumpkinhead design. Or, rather, I think when Winston shows it in close-up it’s fantastic. Problem is, whenever it’s shot in silhouette it looks too much like the Alien (no surprise there, since Winston, Gillis and Woodruff all worked on Aliens)…and Winston shoots it that way about 50% of the time.

And the score stinks.

Short film: T is for Testosterone Replacement Therapy

The only short of the night, at least that I saw. It’s up for a spot in a series called “The ABCs of Death,” presented by the distribution arm of the legendary Texan cinema chain Alamo Drafthouse. (You can vote for the movie itself here.) Pretty goddamn hilarious–just what you need to perk you up at two in the morning–but very much not safe for work. Director Darryl Shaw came in from Toronto to introduce the film.

City of the Living Dead

City of the Living Dead (Lucio Fulci, 1980)

(presented under its original American release title, The Gates of Hell)

I like this more than I like most Fulci (I’m not really into pure gore films for reasons I think I’ve gone into elsewhere), but I gotta say: when I originally watched it, I found the final half-hour to be a bit dull. Watching it in a movie theater between 2:30 and 4 in the morning and after having been up for almost 24 hours without sleep I found it to be almost intolerably tedious. Don’t get me wrong–I still enjoy the movie, particularly the beginning. But if the film had snapped after Bob got killed, I don’t think I would have been disappointed.

Also: I was the one who started the round of applause at Fulci’s cameo. Seriously, I thought bigger Fulci fans than me would have started that.

The Vampire Lovers

The Vampire Lovers (Roy Ward Baker, 1970)

I really enjoyed this one–it was the perfect pick-me-up after the previous feature. But then again, I’m inclined to like anything that is British and can be found by Googling the phrase “hammer vampires historical ingrid pitt lesbians.” I’ll readily admit that a lot of this movie works on the level of base titillation, but even with all the nudity and titillation removed I think it would work. The key (as it always was with Hammer) was the acting. I doubt anyone would look at Kate O’Mara as being one of the great British character actresses, but I was very impressed with how she played her character’s final scene. Also, Madeline Smith. Hubba hubba.

Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things

Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (Bob Clark, 1973)

The key to understanding Dead Things is is realizing it isn’t structured like your classic zombie movie. Like all good zombie movies, it’s more about the character dynamics (here, the chief power conflict between Alan and Val) than about the zombies. But it takes a lot longer for the zombies to make their appearance. Imagine what Night of the Living Dead would have been like if the arguments between Ben and Mr. Cooper had occurred before the zombies even showed up, and you’ve got a rough blueprint for Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things.

So I like this one a lot, but maybe it isn’t the best one for six in the morning when I’m on the brink of falling asleep. In that particular context, it’s too slow and too talky, and I really got irritated with Jeff during the scene where they dig up Orville–I wanted to shout “Did you pee your pants, Jeff? I’m not clear on that point!” Still, when it got going I finally woke up again.

One final thought about this: today, we may think it odd that Tobe Hooper seriously expected The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to score a PG rating. This is a lot less odd when you consider that Dead Things, released two years earlier, actually did score a PG rating. (There isn’t really any gore per se, but there’s a lot of blood, the makeup’s arguably better makeup than Night of the Living Dead’s, and it’s in color. Plus there’s the thematic elements–out-and-out Satanic magic–and despite the lack of gore there’s never any doubt that the zombies are eating people. I dunno, maybe the MPAA thought it was a cartoon based on Alan Ormsby’s pants. If it were re-rated today as is, I don’t see any way it could avoid an R.)

* * *

This was the point where I gave up. I own The Sentinel, and while I have certain amount of affection for it, I didn’t feel I needed to see it on a big screen. And From Dusk Till Dawn? The thought of a Rodriguez/Tarantino team-up did not, to be honest, fill me with excitement. (Yeah, I know I’m in the minority on that one.)

Plus, considering the train schedule coming back from the city, if I’d stayed ’til the very end I wouldn’t have gotten home until almost 4pm. I was very beat and at the point of feeling physically ill. Time to pack it in. I’m not as young as I used to be.

Probably next year I’ll only do the “prime time” and leave at about 11:30 (that should allow me to catch the last train home for the night). Or maybe I’ll just suck it up and drive (and stay ’til 2).

Anyway, good times. See you at Terror in the Aisles 9 on Friday!

One thought on “Music Box Massacre 7

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