I should note that I will be dealing heavily in spoilers for some of these movies, but in general those are movies I would absolutely not recommend another human being actually watch. Still, fair warning. Also, films denoted with an asterisk are first-time watches. Films denoted with TWO asterisks before the title are available on Netflix Instant!
October 13th & 14th I attended the first Music Box of Horrors event. This was the 8th 24-hour horror movie marathon held at the Music Box Theatre. Previously the Music Box had co-produced the show with Movieside Film Festival as the Music Box Massacre. This year, Movieside moved the Massacre to the Portage Theater to celebrate the theater remaining open after nearly a year of legal wrangling put the Portage in danger of being bought out by the Chicago Tabernacle Church. The Music Box decided to hold their own event on this weekend; Movieside’s Massacre is next weekend, October 20th & 21st. The show ran from noon Saturday until about 12:30 p.m. Sunday. I managed to stay awake for most of the show, although I slept through most of Phantasm and The Deadly Spawn, which played between Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal and Blood Diner in the list below, so I’m not counting either of those films as “watched.”
My request is simple: For every movie I watch, I am asking for a small donation. As I mentioned above, I watched 90 movies last October. This year I will probably not quite hit that number, but I will still try to watch as many films as I can. Assuming I hit more around 50-60 films, a donation of just 10 cents per movie would be a total donation of $5 or $6. For the price of a bargain matinee, you could help out needy pug dogs! Even if you just pledged 5 cents or a penny per movie, every cent will go to help out pugs who need homes and medical care. You could alternately make a straightforward donation of whatever amount you wish if you prefer. Additionally, if you would like, I will take requests to watch excruciatingly bad movies and write them up in my reviews for extra pledges! Every little bit helps and many hands make for light work. Together, we can make a big difference for some sweet, weird-lookin’ little dogs who need our help! This year, I’ve chosen a different pug rescue: Curly Tail Pug Rescue, based out of New York City.
**Golem, The* (1920, dir. Carl Boese & Paul Wegener)- I’ve been meaning to watch this for ages, and I’m glad I finally got the chance to see it for the first time on the big screen with live organ accompaniment! Like many silent films, the pacing is pretty slow, but The Golemis well worth seeking out as a seminal horror film. A rabbi creates a Golem– a living creature made out of clay– to protect the Jews of Prague, who have been ordered to leave the city. The Golem proves to be an effective guardian, if a little unpredictable. Some of the acting is (as in many silent films) hilariously overdone, especially “Knight Florian” (Lothar Müthel), who spends a good chunk of his time twirling around a flower. Certainly worth a watch as a precursor to the sound horror films to come and a contemporary of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
Mark of the Vampire* (1935, dir. Tod Browning)- Tod Browning and Bela Lugosi team up for another vampire tale. This time Lugosi plays Count Mora, a long-dead noble and supposed vampire who haunts a derelict castle with his daughter Irena (Elizabeth Allan). The townspeople of a small nearby village begin whispering of Mora and Irena when the local coroner proclaims the death of nobleman Sir Karell Borotin (Holmes Herbert) is due to a vampire attack. From here things seem pretty straightforward until the film’s utterly bizarre final twist, which makes absolutely no sense at all. Still, it’s fun to see Lugosi in his prime basically reprising the role of Dracula, and Elizabeth Allan is creepy as Irena. A very odd footnote to the history of Universal’s horror films, although this one was released by MGM.
**Invisible Man, The* (1933, dir. James Whale)- James Whale had made a huge splash with his film version of Frankenstein, a massive hit that would go on to become one of the most indelible images of horror cinema. Afterward, he made The Old Dark House (1932, again starring Boris Karloff along with Charles Laughton), and then knocked out yet another horror classic with 1933′s The Invisible Man. The Invisible Man plays as an interesting bridge between Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein; more blatantly comic than the former but not quite as subversive as the latter, The Invisible Man is often hilarious. Claude Rains gives a spectacular performance as a scientist driven mad by his achievement of invisibility and desperate quest to become visible again. His reign of terror is something to behold, and some great supporting cast members (many of whom would return for Bride of Frankenstein) keep the tone from becoming too bleak. Fantastic stuff!
**Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors* (1965, dir. Freddie Francis)- Amicus made their name with horror anthologies like this one, although they will probably forever be best known for their later productions of Tales from the Crypt (1972) and The Vault of Horror (1973). Their first anthology was this 1965 film helmed by frequent Hammer collaborator Freddie Francis. It’s mostly solid but typically inconsistent, although seeing a baby-faced Donald Sutherland is more than enough of a treat to recommend the film to anyone. Peter Cushing stars as Dr. Schreck (which he explains means “Terror”), an old doctor who boards a train car with five other men. One of them is the aforementioned Donald Sutherland, and another is Cushing’s frequent co-star Christopher Lee as a stone-faced art critic. Dr. Terror offers to read the men’s tarot cards, and what he sees in the cards makes up each of the stories: one man returns from vacation to find a killer plant growing in his yard, another discovers his new wife may have a taste for blood. A musician overhears voodoo drums and works them into his own music with unfortunate consequences; one man returns to his childhood estate to find it haunted by a supernatural beast, and Christopher Lee’s art critic has the tables turned on him in a very unusual manner. The Music Box screened the film from an original release Technicolor print, and it looked beautiful. A lot of fun, and the obvious blueprint for every Amicus anthology to follow.
**Squirm* (1976, dir. Jeff Lieberman)- During a sweltering hot summer, a massive storm rolls through the town of Fly Creek, Georgia. The roads are flooded and the power lines are down, which complicates a visit by Mick (Don Scardino) to the home of his long-distance girlfriend Geraldine Sanders (Patricia Pearcy). Geri lives with her younger sister Alma (Fran Higgins) and their fragile, overprotective mother Naomi (Jean Sullivan), next door to a worm farm owned by Willie Grimes (Carl Dagenhart) and his strapping young son Roger (R.A. Dow), who does odd jobs– and possibly more– for the Sanders women. Naomi’s grip on reality seems to slip as the day goes by without electricity and water, and she hardly knows what to do when Roger and Mick are coming for dinner– “Lord knows the last time we had two hungry men in this house.” Oh, and also there are about a billion worms that have come up from the ground because of the downed power lines and are eating people. Jeff Lieberman’s Squirm is hugely entertaining, playing out almost like a Tennessee Williams play that happens to have a third act made up mostly of people trying to escape hordes of man-eating earthworms.
**Satan’s Little Helper* (2004, dir. Jeff Lieberman)- Jeff Lieberman appeared at the show in person, and he’d gathered quite a bit of good will after the screening of Squirm. Good thing, too, because the second half of his double feature was not quite at the same level as that film. Douglas Whooly (Alexander Brickel) is a 9-year-old obsessed with a videogame called Satan’s Little Helper. His mom Merrill (Amanda Plummer) has even made him a “Satan’s Little Helper” costume for Halloween, to wear as he trick-or-treats with his sister Jenna (Katheryn Winnick). However, Jenna has brought home a friend from college, her new boyfriend Alex (Stephen Graham). Douglas wanted Jenna to himself, so he throws a tantrum and runs off, where he meets a murderer in a Satan outfit (Joshua Annex) and decides to play Satan’s Little Helper for real. Satan’s Little Helper gets by for a while on goofy black humor, but at a hundred minutes, the film’s schizophrenic tone and collapse into a fairly standard stalker horror film in its last act make it feel much, much longer. The Music Box of Horrors audience ate it up, though, so maybe it’s just me.
Beyond, The (1981, dir. Lucio Fulci)- Really don’t know what I can possibly say about The Beyond that hasn’t been said a billion times before, and much better, by any number of film writers. It’s my favorite Fulci film, although I have found that most of them grow on me after I give them some time and rewatches– I really didn’t care much for House by the Cemetery the first time I saw it, for example, but now I love that movie. The Beyond is the one that won me over and was the first time I felt like I really got Fulci, the one that sort of “unlocked” his other horror films for me, and I still think it’s his best. I’d absolutely recommend watching The Beyond with the other films in his “Gates of Hell” trilogy (House by the Cemetery and City of the Living Dead) if you want a crash course in Fulci. Then go track down his western Massacre Time, aaaand then the giallo Don’t Torture a Duckling. By that point you’ll likely either want to watch everything he’s done or never see another film with his name on it again!
Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal* (2012, dir. Boris Rodriguez)- This was the Music Box of Horror’s premiere, the first time Eddie has screened in Chicago in advance of its impending Music Box Films release (teased as being within the next six months). The film has been getting rave reviews during its festival run, and for good reason: this Canada-Denmark co-production proves that these two countries’ sensibilities mesh so well it’s hard to believe they haven’t done more films like this before. Thure Lindhardt stars as Lars Olafsson, a painter who moves to the small town of Koda Lake to teach at their art school. Olafsson hasn’t actually painted in a decade, although he clearly hopes his new surroundings will provide inspiration. Instead, he quickly gains an unexpected roommate: Eddie (Dylan Smith), the mute son of the art school’s biggest patron. When his aunt dies, Eddie moves in with Lars, who soon discovers Eddie has a sleepwalking habit that often results in the death of small animals. Lars makes this discovery and finds himself suddenly inspired to paint again– but how far is he willing to go to hold on to that inspiration? Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal is very, very funny, with great performances and a welcome appearance by the always amazing Stephen McHattie. The film strikes a perfect balance between humor and gore, and I’d highly recommend it whenever Music Box Films releases it, hopefully sooner than later.
Blood Diner (1987, dir. Jackie Kong)- Completely idiotic and totally indefensible, Blood Diner is sort of a 1980s remake of Blood Feast (apparently it actually was supposed to be a sequel until some legal issues prevented that), only much, much goofier. Michael and George Tutman (Rick Burks and Carl Crew) are brothers who run a vegetarian diner with a nasty secret: most of their food is actually people they’ve killed in order to stage the resurrection of the ancient goddess Sheetar. Their uncle Anwar (Drew Godderis) attempted the ritual when Michael and George were kids, but he got distracted by an underage girl and ended up being shot down by the police in front of the boys. They dig up Anwar’s body and remove his brain and eyes so he can (telepathically?) communicate with them and explain how to perform the ritual. Most of Blood Diner is made up of George and/or Michael making faces for the camera while killing people, usually women, often with kitchen and cooking tools. A seriously pointless wrestling subplot is thrown in for padding (and to work in some Hitler jokes– don’t ask), but mostly Blood Diner cruises obliviously along on gore, stupidity, and a jaunty soundtrack. This is the epitome of bad 80s horror, and I love it. I’m so, so sorry.
**Burning, The (1981, dir. Tony Maylam)- It’s the slasher that launched a thousand careers! Sorta. This shameless Friday the 13th knockoff from the Weinstein brothers and Brad Grey is maybe best known today for starring a young Jason Alexander with a full head of hair. Also in the cast is Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter (in what looks like a single shot of the film, played twice), and there’s a killer synth score by Rick Wakeman. The story: five years after a group of campers accidentally started a fire that left him with severe burns all over his body, Cropsy (Lou David) returns to a neighboring camp to take his revenge. The Burning spends a lot of time with the campers and counselors before and after the slashing starts, and sort of plays like a straight-faced version of Sleepaway Camp (1983). The Music Box showed a very rare UK uncut print that I also had the luck to see at last year’s Exhumed Horrorthon. It’s not the best teen camp slasher, and it’s pretty unapologetic about being aFriday the 13th clone, but it’s worth watching for Wakeman’s score, Alexander’s hair, and Savini’s spectacular makeup and effects work.
Evil Dead 2 (1987, dir. Sam Raimi)- I don’t think I’d watched Evil Dead 2 for a decade before watching it at the Music Box of Horrors, but I’d watched it a few hundred times in high school and college, and it’s one of my favorite horror movies of all time. I wasn’t all that excited to see it again until I saw that Rosebud logo, and suddenly I realized I was about to see one of my favorite movies, that I’ve seen countless times before, on the big screen from a 35mm print for the first time ever. No idea how I’ve gone this long without seeing it, God knows it’s played around here enough. It was a great selection for the final film of a 24-hour marathon, no question– Sam Raimi’s hyperactive splatstick is just as fun the hundredth time as it is the first. I’m going to try not to get too gushy here, but I still love this movie, especially after not seeing it for such a long time. Bruce Campbell’s performance is hilarious and unbelievable, and Sam Raimi’s camera knows when to fly around at insane angles and when to just sit still for a damned second, a talent that seems to have escaped many filmmakers trying to replicate his style. If you haven’t seen it by now, I don’t know what to tell you– it’s required viewing, an undisputed classic that absolutely lives up to its reputation.
Running totals for October:
First-time views for October: 24
Total views for October: 32