The Massacre, Chicagoland’s original 24-hour horror movie marathon, made a triumphant return to the Portage Theater on October 18, 2014.
This is the sixth Massacre I’ve attended, fifth I’ve written up (previous write-ups, all published at Forced Viewing: 2010 and 2011 at the Music Box, 2012 at the Portage, 2013 at the Patio), but my first for the Nightmare Gallery, so some explanations are in order. “24-hour horror movie marathon” covers most of it, but there are also vintage and contemporary trailers, short films, a “Roger Corman ’50s Fake Trailer Contest,” swag auctions benefitting Vital Bridges, special guests and vendor tables.
This year’s schedule was:
- The Unknown (’20s silent film with live organ accompaniment)
- The Haunted Palace (this year’s Vincent Price movie)
- Targets (this year’s Boris Karloff movie)
- Trilogy of Terror (you know, the one with the Zuni fetish doll)
- Chopping Mall (with director Jim Wynorski in person)
- The Deadly Spawn (with director Douglas McKeown in person)
- Black Christmas (the original)
- Trick ‘r Treat (if I recall correctly, the first film produced in the 21st century to play the Massacre since Pontypool and the Masters of Horror episode “The Black Cat” played in 2009)
- Cemetery Man (or Dellamorte Dellamore to you pedants)
- Tenebrae (this year’s Dario Argento movie)
- Eaten Alive (Tobe Hooper’s follow-up to Texas Chain Saw)
- Twins of Evil (this year’s Hammer movie)
- The Town that Dreaded Sundown (the original)
- Day of the Dead (the Romero original)
* * *
Short films (screened throughout the night)
I missed the bulk of the main short film program when I went to get dinner, but I still caught a couple of shorts. The Fake Trailer contest is given its own entry between Trilogy of Terror and Chopping Mall.
Business is Good (Ryan Jackson)
Hilarious black comedy that starts out with involuntary kidney donation and then gets far, far stranger. The boss’s explanation as to why he needs so many kidneys? “I’m making a hat.” (Beat.) “Out of kidneys.” [EDIT: The line is actually “I’m making a duvet. Out of kidneys.” Not sure how I misheard that one.] Sadly, this one does not seem to have made it to the internet yet.
Gasp! (Brandon Kosters)
A novel use of 3-D glasses: you close one of your eyes and what you see is different depending on which eye is open. It’s a great gimmick, but unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much beyond the gimmick.
ZADD (Douglas McKeown)
McKeown also directed The Deadly Spawn (see below), and seems to have filmed this short specifically for the Massacre, using the Portage as a location. One particular scene seems to be a neat little homage to Carnival of Souls, or at least that’s what I’d like to think. Filmed two or three days before the Massacre, I haven’t been able to find it posted on the internet yet.
Killer Cicadas and Attack of the Giant Cicadas (Dave “The Rock” Nelson)
Nelson, the self-styled “Ed Wood of the future and beyond,” appears to be a minor local scene celebrity with some sort of connection to Svengoolie. I’d never heard of him before. This no-budget micro-short double-bill appears to have been recording on an ’80s-vintage VHS camcorder, and mainly consists of close-ups of cicadas accompanied by Nelson’s halting narration. There were a couple of good moments (“The cicadas are upset that the hobby shop is no longer there!”) but in general this wasn’t really my thing.
Vintage short films (screened throughout the night)
Mighty Mouse in Frankenstein’s Cat (Mannie Davis, 1942)
Actually, this was originally a Super Mouse short later rebranded when Terrytoons changed the character’s name to Mighty Mouse in the mid-’40s. Plenty of fun, if a bit short. I appreciated that Frankenstein’s Cat appeared to be a robot of some sort, and I really liked that the bats were allied with the mice.
Our Gang in Spooky Hooky (Gordon Douglas, 1936)
I’m not much of a Little Rascals person, and this seemed to be a lackluster entry. To tell you the truth, I didn’t pay much attention to it.
The Unknown (Tod Browning, 1927)
Lon Chaney, Sr., plays an armless circus performer with two huge secrets and a thing for Joan Crawford. I really enjoyed it; all the lead players were excellent, and Browning (who’d later go on to do Freaks and have his career wrecked by it) skillfully evokes the carny atmosphere. My one complaint is that it doesn’t really seem like horror.
The Haunted Palace (Roger Corman, 1963)
This technically shouldn’t count as one of the Corman/AIP “Poepictures” because, despite the title, it has nothing to do with Poe; it’s actually an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Regardless, it rivals The Masque of the Red Death for my favorite in the film cycle (the only one I’ve not seen is The Raven). Great dual-role performance by Price with backup from Lon Chaney, Jr., Debra Paget, Frank Maxwell and Elisha Cook, Jr. And, of course, it looks beautiful.
Targets (Peter Bogdonavich, 1968)
This is my second viewing of the film and I like it even better than I did the first time. Bogdonavich does a great job of balancing the meta-comedy of the Byron Orlock plot with the increasing tension and terror of the Bobby Thompson plot. Boris Karloff was rarely better, Tim O’Kelly beautifully portrays Bobby’s gradual run off the rails, and Bogdonavich steals a few key scenes as a film director trying to coax Karloff out of retirement. Essential.
Trilogy of Terror (Dan Curtis, 1975)
Time hasn’t been kind to most of this classic. Most of Dan Curtis’s directorial work seems hopelessly cheesy in retrospect. The first segment is decent but doesn’t make a huge impact. The middle segment simply doesn’t work as a piece of visual entertainment–Karen Black tries hard to make the twist work, but it falls flat. The final segment, which is the only one anyone remembers nowadays (it’s the one with the Zuni warrior fetish doll), saves the whole thing. The doll looks a bit stupid on a big screen in a theater full of people. Watch it at home in a darkened room, by yourself or with your sweetie, and it’s a different animal altogether–remember, this was originally a TV-movie. It’s tense and exciting, with Black giving a bravura performance and Curtis upping his visual game.
Fake Trailer Contest
There were only three entries this time around and I felt the field was a bit weak. The exception, of course, was Galilycan.
Away in the Woods (Michele Kristen Carter)
Haven’t been able to locate it on the web. I don’t recall a lot about it, other than it was done in stop-motion clay animation.
Invasion at Clown Alley (Happy Wasted Films)
Aliens invade and the government sends its top clown duo to sort them out. Great title, great premise, one or two wonderful moments, but otherwise doesn’t live up to expectations.
Galilycan (Zoran Gvojic)
I’m not going to mince words here. Zoran Gvojic, doing business under the name Lowcarbcomedy, is a fucking genius. His two previous entries (Curse of the Cosmic Frank-Einstein from Haunted Space and the Moon and Schrödinger’s Mummy) were astonishing pieces of work and this one is no different. Continuing the theme of famous historical scientists repurposed as monsters, Galilycan–a portmanteau of “Galileo” and “lycanthrope”–follows the adventures of the famous werewolf astronomer as he matches wits with-a Da Pope, comic Italian-American accent and all.
Chopping Mall (Jim Wynorsky, 1986)
The visual style is hopelessly rooted in the ’80s (check out that pink lace bodystocking-type-thing Barbara Crampton–that’s right, Barbara Crampton–wears) the robots are only slightly better shots than Imperial Stormtroopers, and none of the couples have any chemistry with each other. Despite (or because of) all that, Chopping Mall is great fun, with some nice effects, Night of the Comet’s Kelli Maroney kicking ass, and terrific cameos from Mary Waronov and Dick Miller. Thank you, have a nice day.
The Deadly Spawn (Douglas McKeown, 1983)
I liked the monster design, the effects and the obviously model-based establishing shot of the house, and there were a couple of good scenes (my favorite being when a school of larval Spawn menace a group of middle-aged women). The final shot is priceless. Other than that, I couldn’t muster up much interest in it and the only character I really liked gets killed around the beginning of the third act. And it has a tendency to drag, especially toward the end.
Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974)
It’s an enjoyable movie and Margot Kidder’s character didn’t annoy me as much as she did the first time around. On the other hand, I got more irritated with the obvious age difference between Keir Dullea and the character he was playing (Peter is written as someone in his late twenties but Dullea was a couple of years shy of 40). Beyond that, I didn’t really find anything new in this re-watch. It’s a good movie, but I find it hard to shake the feeling that it’s been outshined by the slashers that came after it.
Trick ‘r Treat (Michael Dougherty, 2007)
I’ve always regarded Trick ‘r Treat as a mediocrity and have never understood how it got a cult following. Even the stories that work seem a bit thin and insubstantial, and the twists are painfully obvious. Anna Paquin is capable of much better work. Sam is a brilliant creation from a design perspective and Quinn Lord’s performance is delightful, but the decision to unmask the character is a huge mistake. On the other hand, the direction is inspired, several of the lead performances (particularly Dylan Baker and Brian Cox) are brilliant, and I liked the school principal’s story a bit more on second viewing.
* * *
I started to fade towards the end of Trick ‘r Treat. I had hoped to stay through Tenebrae and Eaten Alive, but knew I’d be leaving by the time Sundown started, because I needed to be home in time to make the Horror Draft LAMBcast episode recording (don’t remember the episode number, but it should be out soon). I stayed through most of Cemetery Man and had consistent problems focusing on it (and I’ll be honest, I have never liked it much anyway), so I bailed with about 30 minutes to go.
I reviewed Twins of Evil for Forced Viewing earlier this year and Day of the Dead back in 2010. I will review the other three films I missed–Tenebrae, Eaten Alive, and The Town that Dreaded Sundown–soon, along with Cemetery Man.
My next event is Fatal Frame on October 30, described by its organizers thusly:
In collaboration with the Co-Prosperity Sphere, South Side Projections and The Chicago Cinema Society present Fatal Frame, a program of avant-garde horror films. Following H.P. Lovecraft’s supposition that “The oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown,” these films hinge on uncanny enigmas, favoring existential terror over cheap thrills and grotesque monsters. And we’re presenting them all on glorious 16mm film.