Outside the Patio Theatre, October 12, 2013.

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that in the Chicagoland horror fandom community, the Halloween social calendar revolves around Movieside’s annual Massacre movie marathon, but I can tell you mine certainly does. 2013’s Massacre, held over October 12-13, was the fifth I’ve attended. (I started back in 2008, when it was still the Music Box Massacre. May and The Midnight Meat Train were on the program. Lucky McKee was supposed to be there, but he ended up having to cancel. I did, however, get to shake hands with Clive Barker.)

It’s also the fourth Massacre I’ve covered for Forced Viewing, so you should be familiar with the format by now, but in case you aren’t: it’s 24 hours of feature-length horror movies from every point along the genre spectrum, short films, vintage trailers, trailers for upcoming “backyard” or “microbudget” releases, special guests, a “fake trailer” contest, vendor tables, and probably some stuff I’m forgetting. Originally held at the Music Box, it moved to the Portage last year; this year, it was held at the Patio Theater, thanks to the antics of the Portage’s new owner resulting in the theater’s closure.

Proceeds benefit Vital Bridges, a Chicago-based charity that describes its mission as “…to help people throughout metropolitan Chicago impacted by HIV and AIDS to improve their health and build self-sufficiency by providing food, nutrition counseling, housing, care coordination and prevention services.”

This year, the feature lineup was: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, The Tomb of Ligeia, Martin, Dead and Buried, April Fool’s Day, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, The Gate, Hellbound: Hellraiser 2, Deep Red, Wild Zero, Slither, and Army of Darkness. Notable shorts on the program includes the Edison Company’s 1910 silent-film version of Frankenstein and Guy Maddin’s The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Towards Infinity.

As ever, I went with the intention of staying for the whole thing…and as ever, I ended up bailing around six-thirty on Sunday morning. I guess I ain’t as young as I used to be.

* * *

A scene from FRANKENSTEIN.

As is traditional, the Massacre began with a silent film; this year, it was the Edison Company’s version of Frankenstein (dir. J. Searle Dawley, 1910). I seem to remember that I was a bit hard on it when we discussed it on the podcast back in January. This time around, I really enjoyed it (which will be a recurring theme for this year)–for all its flaws, I really dug the “creation” sequence (and responded to its more alchemical, less scientific take on the scene), the design of the monster, and the bizarre ending. (pro)

* * *

A scene from FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN.

The first feature of the evening was Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (dir. Roy William Neill, 1943). I found it hard to not be disappointed in the story, which too often alternates between contrivance and cliché, features too many plot elements which develop too quickly, and is hamstrung with a lot of horrific dialogue. Still, the film looks fantastic (even the dodgy model work at the end is endearing), Lon Chaney Jr. puts in a fantastic performance, and Bela Lugosi is surprisingly effective as the Monster, so there’s no lack of enjoyment. (mixed)

* * *

Next up was a short film, The Cask of Amontillado (dir. Mark Leja, 2012). This adaptation is a bit orthodox, set in the modern day, and recasting Montresor and Fortunato as brothers and rival vintners. The adaptation of the story works very well (with one clunky reference to a group of characters named “Annabel, Lee, Ligeia and the lovely Lenore”), the production benefits from a strikingly lavish design, and Pete Navis and Jay Disney are terrific as brothers Lance (analogous to Montresor) and Clark (Fortunato). (pro)

* * *

A scene from TOMB OF LIGEIA.

Of all the films on the program that I hadn’t seen before, The Tomb of Ligeia (dir. Roger Corman, 1964) was probably the one I was the most stoked for, and I wasn’t disappointed. I don’t think I’d say this is either the best or my favorite of (to borrow Stephen King’s phrase) the “Poepictures”–I’d say advantage still goes to The Masque of the Red Death–but it’s a very strong effort, with a great story (courtesy of future Chinatown scribe Robert Towne) and a uniformly strong cast: Vincent Price, of course, in the lead, but also the charming and beautiful Elizabeth Shepherd in dual roles as Price’s two wives, plus John Westbrook, Derek Francis and the great Richard Vernon. If there’s a downside, it’s that the while the design looks as lovely as it always does, it somehow feels cheaper than usual…I’m not sure I’m getting this across right, but check out the scene where Christopher (Westbrook’s character) hefts the Egyptian bust, and maybe you’ll see what I mean. Or maybe it’s the wobbly sets. That aside, it definitely deserves its status as a classic. (pro)

* * *

Rusty seems to be on a Maddin kick lately. The Heart of the World was on Spectacular 7’s program earlier this year; at the Massacre, we got The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Towards Infinity (dir. Guy Maddin, 1995). Made in Maddin’s distinctive retro style (“retro” in this case meaning “circa 1915”), it has a delightful aesthetic sense and a darkly charming atmosphere, although its story can be a bit difficult to suss out at times. (pro)

* * *

A scene from MARTIN.

What can I say about Martin (dir. George Romero, 1976) that I haven’t already said, particularly in my review earlier this year? Not a whole heck of a lot, that’s what. My appreciation for it still grows every time I watch it. Over the years, I’ve come to the realization that it’s barely a horror, or even a vampire, movie at all; rather, it’s a dysfunctional family drama-slash-character study in which some of the family members believes the protagonist is a monster. Whether or not he actually is isn’t very important, in the sense that what the film means wouldn’t change much if he were definitely one or the other. (pro; I wrote a full review in January 2013)

* * *

A scene from DEAD AND BURIED.

I reviewed Dead and Buried (dir. Gary Sherman, 1981) a couple of years ago, and wasn’t particularly impressed. In retrospect, I think I really failed to get the point. I’m still not sure that it’s all that good of a film, but many of the plot flaws I originally cited seem less important (or occasionally nonexistent) upon rewatch, knowing how things are going to play out. And I saw a bit of kinship with The Stepford Wives this time around, maybe giving the film a bit of satirical bite. The overacting (I was wrong about that–it’s not just Albertson who overacts, but everyone) is sure fun to watch. That being said…the poster still promises more than the film delivers. (pro; I wrote a full review in October 2011)

* * *

Dead and Buried director Gary Sherman did his Q&A after the screening, and at this point I went to check out the vendor tables, something I’d not yet had a chance to do.

After the Q&A, a short film block kicked off with Overtime (dir. Bret Fowler). I honestly wasn’t too impressed with this one–it didn’t build up enough atmosphere, and the CGI was awful. (con)

* * *

Next was Bill of Sale (dir. Ryan Jackson, 2013), a brilliant work of dark comedic genius. It’s the story of a hapless laundromat customer who runs afoul of a deranged sock salesman, but even that quick summary can’t sum up how gleefully deranged the production is, or explain why I pretty much laughed non-stop during the screening. A real gem. (pro)

* * *

The final short of the block was Night of the 1% (dir. David Bradburn, 2012), which…nope, I still don’t get it. Sorry. (con; I wrote a capsule review in October 2013 as part of my CHFF 2013 coverage)

* * *

Then there were trailers for three upcoming features made by local filmmakers: Chicago Rot, directed by Dorian Weinzimmer; Restoration, directed by Ryan Oliver (Air Conditions); and Still, directed by Jason Coffman (Tape, The Secret Cinema). All three trailers were damn impressive and I’m looking forward to them all; in fact, on Thursday, we’ll run a Support Indie Horror feature for Still.

* * *

One of the highlights of Spectacular 7 was the Roger Corman ’50s Trailer Contest, producing such gems as Attack of the Cosmic Frank-Einstein from Haunted Space and the Moon, The Day the Earth Spun, and A Toss of the Dice. This time around, the entries were:

  • Crawling Thing from Planet 13 (dir. Rob Craig)
  • It Came from the Infinite (dir. Nicholas James Reardon)
  • Bowels of Death (dir. Anthony Cooney)
  • Night of the Martian Girlfriends
  • Mungus! Spawn of the Earth (dir. Douglas McKeown)
  • Plan 9 from Outer Space: Return of the Solanites (dir. Gene Stevens)
  • The Scarecrow (dir. Molly Brown)
  • Schrödinger’s Mummy (dir. Zoran Gvojic)
  • The Man Without a Face (dir. Anna Cali & Sammi Stevens)
  • Space Maniacs (dir. Red Clark)
  • Galactic Intruders from a Place Far Beyond the Fornax Nebula (dir. Von Bilka)

This year’s slate of entries wasn’t as strong as the previous one: many of them failed to make much of an impact, Return of the Solanites consists almost entirely of repurposed footage from the original Plan 9, Bowels of Death is one long fart joke, and Space Maniacs misses the point entirely by being the trailer for a fake late-’70s/early-’80s B-movie (a fact that does not diminish its entertainment value, but still. I’m a stickler for these kinds of things).

Schrödinger’s Mummy won, of course. It would have won if entered in the April contest–it’s simply that good, one of the best things I’ve ever seen by Gvojic, and that’s no small feat when put up against stuff like Evil Talking Balloon and Cosmic Frank-Einstein. Other highlights included Crawling Thing from Planet 13, Fornax Nebula (the second-most popular), and (it must be said) Space Maniacs.

* * *

I had to duck out for a couple of hours at this point, skipping the next two films (April Fool’s Day and A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge), to attend a party. When I got back to the Massacre, Mark Patton–who played Jesse Walsh in Elm Street 2, was doing his Q&A. I wasn’t able to make out a lot of what he said (the acoustics seem to be less than ideal at the Patio), but he did confirm that the homoerotic undertones in Elm Street 2 were in fact deliberate (despite years of denials by screenwriter David Chaskin). He also discussed his work with the Trevor Project, a charity that focuses on suicide prevention amongst LGBT youth, criticized Wes Craven for ignoring Elm Street 2 when putting together Elm Street 3, and screamed like a girl.

At this point I realized that Zoran Gvojic was sitting in the row behind me; in an uncharacteristic fit of sociability (I’m usually painfully shy), I went over and introduced myself. I’ve been a fan of his work ever since Sawnimmon Toast ran at Terror 7, so this was a real treat.

* * *

Programming resumed with a trailer for an upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s short story Grey Matter. The trailer looks interesting, and I’ve always enjoyed the source material, so I’ll try to keep an eye out for it.

* * *

A scene from THE GATE.

Several times over the years I’ve cited The Gate (dir. Tibor Takács, 1987) as the epitome of the kind of movie I would have loved if I’d seen it when originally released in the ’80s, but which I didn’t see until much later in life (I think I would have been 28 or 29 when I eventually saw it) and didn’t much care for. The second time around…maybe I was just in a really good mood and would have enjoyed anything put in front of me at this point, but I really had a blast. It’s imaginative as all get out and I really dug the effects work, even when it made me giggle or guffaw, which it often did. The performances were spot-on, definitely better than you normally get from child actors this age. Plus, Christa Denton, whom I totally would have crushed on had I seen the movie in ’87. My major problem these days is the dénoument–I’m not surprised the film ends with such an obvious cop-out, considering the intended audience, but I’m disappointed nonetheless–it robs the film of what little sense of true danger it had. And once again, the poster is much better. (pro)

* * *

The next film on the docket was supposed to be Hellbound: Hellraiser 2…but it initially seemed to be a cut of the film I wasn’t aware of, because I didn’t ever remember it beginning with an opening crawl. Or a prologue set in the Middle Ages. Soon enough, the opening titles announced the film as being not Hellraiser 2 but Hellbound (dir. Aaron Norris, 1994), an obscure mid-’90s Chuck Norris vehicle. At this point, event organizer Rusty Nails stopped the film, apologized profusely to the audience, and bumped Deep Red up on the schedule, promising Hellraiser 2 afterward. (incomplete)

Over the duration of the event, Rusty would go on to state several times–perhaps jokingly, perhaps not–that he was going to extend the Massacre and screen the Norris movie after Army of Darkness. From what I can tell, he never actually did. It turns out Hellbound is actually a horror movie according to IMDB, so look for a review of it in the coming weeks.

* * *

A scene from DEEP RED.

Longtime readers of my reviews will be aware of my mixed feelings towards giallo in general and the work of Argento in particular. (Quick summary: gialli are things that, when described, seem like they should be right up my alley, but I almost always feel let down when I actually watch them.) That being said, of all of Argento’s features, Deep Red (dir. Dario Argento, 1975, screened under its alternate American release title The Hatchet Murders) is probably my favorite. The style is bold but not overwhelming, the acting is largely strong, and it’s easier to ignore the plot flaws than it usually is. The stylistic boldness and the amazing Goblin/Giorgio Gaslini score (arguably Simonetti and company’s finest)–not to mention the fact that Argento is cocky enough to give the audience a clear, unobscured if brief view of the killer early on in the film–are what keep me coming back despite having a couple of problems with it. (pro; I wrote a full review in January 2012)

* * *

A scene from HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II.

I’m assuming that Rusty bumped Deep Red up to buy the organizers time to get their hands on a DVD or Blu-Ray copy of Hellbound: Hellraiser II (dir. Tony Randel, 1988). As always, I’m astonished by how Randel and his excellent cast (Ashley Laurence and Doug Bradley, of course, but also Kenneth Cranham, Clare Higgins and William Hope) salvage a script full of logical inconsistencies and bad ideas (once again, I’m appalled at how horrible Channard’s post-conversion dialogue is). Uneven it may be, but it’s still one of the strongest entries  (pro; I wrote a full review in July 2012)

* * *

My final film of the night was Wild Zero (dir. Tetsuro Takeuchi, 1999), a film I’d heard good things about; I was looking forward to it, but also somewhat cautiously, as what I’d heard made it sound like it might not exactly be my thing. Turns out I was right–if anything on this year’s program was analogous to last year’s hyperactive, bizarro Hausu, this is it. It’s the tale of a series of characters who get caught up in some sort of zombie attack. Heavily stylized with characterization which becomes increasingly cartoonish (the protagonist, a punk rocker with a ’50s pompadour, combs his hair about every two to three minutes), this one grated on my nerves and I ended up taking off about 40 minutes in. I’ll make another attempt in a couple of weeks. (incomplete)

* * *

And that wraps it up for this year’s Massacre! I’m not aware of any Movieside events that are definitely on the calendar yet, although Rusty did announce that the next Sci-Fi Spectacular would also be held at the Patio. (If tradition holds, we’re looking at next spring for that.) Whatever it is, I’ll do my best to be there.

Seeya later!

A GIF from THE GATE.

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