Last October, I attended my first ever 24-Hour Horrorthon, the tenth of its kind put together by Harry Guerro, Dan Fraga, and the rest of the Exhumed Films team. A veteran of various twelve-hour film festivals, I was eager to prove that I was up to the task of sitting through a whopping fourteen 35mm prints of mystery Horror titles hailing exclusively from the 1980s!
While ingesting an inhuman amount of energy drinks and junk food, I managed to stay awake and watch every single film in that impressive lineup, which included (in order of appearance):
MOTEL HELL (1980), THE BOOGENS (1981), VISITING HOURS (1982 – in 16mm), CUJO (1983), EYES OF FIRE (1983), MUTANT (aka NIGHT SHADOWS – 1984), MONSTER DOG (1984), the crowd-pleasing SCREAM FOR HELP (1984), THE MUTILATOR (1984), THE HITCHER (1986), HOUSE (1986), RAWHEAD REX (1986), CHILD’S PLAY (1988), and SOCIETY (1989)!
This film festival was a huge adrenaline rush for yours truly, and I was immediately hooked! So when Exhumed announced this year’s 24-Hour Horrorthon (in celebration of their twentieth year in business), I made sure to buy myself a ticket! Though money was tight, I pledged to myself that I would partake of yet another endurance run of 35mm madness! However, as all of us attendees were to find out, fate had another plan in store for us.
After a rather smooth drive into the Philadelphia (I thankfully missed the worst of rush hour traffic), I parked my car at the nearby Sheraton, and marched up Chestnut Street to the International House. But in all of my excitement to hop in line, I realized I left my ticket back in the car. (If this were a movie scene, you would’ve heard the record scratch as I stopped dead on the sidewalk, audibly sighed, and spun back around.)
After retrieving my ticket, I finally made it into the building and met up with Hudson Horror Show’s Chris Alo, Inked-Up Merch‘s Dan Terr, and a bunch of others that make up my extended film fest family. (Shout outs to Dez, Carl, Kait, Mikael, Jay, Greg, Sean, and the rest!) My spot in line secured, I departed for a quick jaunt to a local diner, and then made it back in the nick of time to get my wristband and grab a seat in the rapidly filling theater.
With all the important stuff out of the way, I wandered around and chatted it up with fellow film fans that I haven’t seen in months. As is the case with each of these shows, everyone was brainstorming on Exhumed’s latest list of vague hints about the day’s movies. (Correctly guessing the most titles earns you some incredible prizes!) Then as noon neared, everyone hunkered down for a rundown of the rules, and some cool giveaways, until it was finally time for the marathon to begin!
MOVIE #1: CLEVER, GRUESOME, “META” HORROR/PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER
The first movie is important for any film festival because it sets the mood for the rest of the day. Having thought long and hard about what this inaugural feature could be (I was secretly hoping for IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS), I was pleasantly surprised when the opening credits of ANGUISH began to roll.
The film features Zelda Rubinstein (POLTERGEIST) as a bizarre little woman obsessed with spiral patterns and snails. She also has strange otherworldly powers that allow her to eavesdrop on her son John (Michael Lerner), whom she repeatedly hypnotizes and commands to murder people that have wronged them. What’s particularly silly about this is that John is an optometrist and scoops the eyes of his victims out to add to his collection.
And then it happens: As John’s murder spree continues, the camera zooms out and we discover that everything we’ve seen is just part of a bizarro slasher film called The Mommy being watched by other people in a theater! And as these characters watch John and his crazy mother kill people, life begins to imitate art as ANGUISH becomes a movie, within a movie, within a movie!
ANGUISH was super trippy, and nearly lost me after a far too lengthy hypnosis sequence, but overall I kind of dug it. Michael Lerner is hilariously over the top, and I enjoyed how the film kept blurring the line between fiction and reality. Even now I’m still hashing out how I truly feel about this oddball Horror flick, but I’m more than willing to give it a second look!
MOVIE #2: ATMOSPHERIC MONSTER MOVIE CLASSIC
Between Salt City Horror Fest, Hudson Horror Show, and Exhumed Films‘ shows, I have seen a lot of 35mm prints. So it was bittersweet when the day’s second film fired up and turned out to be PUMPKINHEAD. (Under its original title of VENGEANCE: THE DEMON.) While I do enjoy this backwoods supernatural revenge tale, I had already seen it on film at a past event.
PUMPKINHEAD stars Lance Henriksen as Ed Harley, the owner of a small general store in the middle of nowhere. Harley seems like a decent enough fellow, until some BMX joyriders accidentally (and fatally) injure his son. After the little boy’s tragic death, Harley seeks vengeance and visits a witch.
But Harley learns all too late that conjuring “Pumpkinhead” comes with a heavy price, as he is forced to feel the suffering being doled out to his intended victims. While the menacing demon continues to pick off the (mostly innocent) “teens,” Harley has a change of heart and attempts to stop the creature’s rampage. But how does one kill something that came straight from Hell?!
Stan Winston directed this classic creature feature, and designed the film’s memorable monster. Pumpkinhead is a joy to watch in action, and I never tire of the sadistic glee it takes in killing those it has been set loose upon. Lance Henriksen gives a great performance here as a vengeful parent who suffers a huge loss, and ultimately makes a decision that will damn his soul for all eternity.
MOVIE #3: ONE OF THE GREATEST GHOST STORY/HAUNTED HOUSE MOVIES OF ALL TIME
I had totally expected THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, GHOST STORY, POLTERGEIST, or maybe even BURNT OFFERINGS, but once again I found I was incorrect as THE CHANGELING’s opening credits began! George C. Scott stars as John Russell, a renowned composer that is trying to start over after losing his family in a terrible vehicular accident.
He rents a long-abandoned Victorian estate in Seattle and soon begins experiencing a series of paranormal occurrences. We quickly discover that John may be the world’s greatest detective (sorry Batman!) as he begins uncovering clues to a heinous murder that happened nearly a century earlier in the house. Aided by a restless spirit, and a member of the local historical society, John begins to uncover the dark past behind a beloved politician.
THE CHANGELING is a superb ghost story that is wonderfully atmospheric at times, and presents its audience with an engaging mystery! George C. Scott gives a stellar performance as the lead, and definitely raises the bar for what could have been a low-budget schlocker. And can you believe that this movie is allegedly based on actual events?!
MOVIE #4: GRIM, CLAUSTROPHOBIC, AND EFFECTIVE MONSTER MOVIE
I was betting that this one was going to be STEPHEN KING’S GRAVEYARD SHIFT. Turns out that I only got the Stephen King part right as this flick was based upon one of his short stories: THE MIST. I haven’t seen this film since its release back in 2007, and admittedly I didn’t care much for its downer of an ending. But I’m glad I stayed put and revisited this film, because it is so damned good!
Written and directed by Frank Darabont, and populated by numerous cast members from the first season of The Walking Dead, THE MIST features Thomas Jane as David Drayton, an artist who is about to have the worst few days of his life. After a storm ravages the area, Drayton heads into town with his son to get supplies. But soon an ethereal fog (the eponymous mist) covers the town.
As everyone in the local grocery store ponders the strange phenomenon, they eventually discover that a variety of nightmarish creatures are hunting for prey in the mist. Banding together at first, the dozens of besieged shoppers gradually turn against each other, leading to one of the most shocking, and utterly depressing gut-punch endings ever filmed!
THE MIST has a great cast, and gives us a dark glimpse at how society rapidly breaks down once people give into fear and superstition. The effects are a mixed bag of practical and CGI, but it is all top-notch and stands up fairly well a full decade later! While I’m sure this film gained a lot of new fans after it was screened, we all needed a major palate cleanser afterward.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how hilariously awesome it was when the entire crowd booed when Harvey Weinstein’s name came up on the screen! Haha!
MOVIE #5: UNCONVENTIONAL ZOMBIE MOVIE
Just when you thought the brief movie descriptions couldn’t get any more vague, comes this three-word brain teaser! Hoping for something crazy like THE CHILDREN, I was instead gifted with DELLAMORTE, DELLAMORE. Though I had already experienced this title in 35mm, seeing it again drummed up fond recollections of seeing it at The Colonial Theatre’s All-Night Italian Splatterfest with my much-missed friend, Jimmy “Doc Terror” Harris.
Keeping the Horrorthon’s unintentional(?) theme of “dead kids” alive, CEMETERY MAN tells the bizarre tale of Rupert Everett’s Francesco Dellamorte. The groundskeeper of a cemetery where the dead return to life, Dellamorte spends most of his nights reburying the locals with the aid of his simpleton sidekick Gnaghi. But things finally get interesting for Francesco when he becomes romantically entangled with a mysterious widow (played by the voluptuous Anna Falchi) that finds ossuaries extremely sexy.
After her untimely demise, Francesco is haunted by doppelgangers of his lost love and begins to go mad. This results in a darkly humorous killing spree and some startling (and head-scratching) revelations as the movie comes to a close. Directed by Michele Soavi (last seen around these parts in ALIEN 2: ON EARTH), CEMETERY MAN is a truly bizarre film that has proven to be hit or miss with people. Personally I really enjoy Soavi’s offbeat zombie film: The gallows humor totally works, the makeup and effects are pretty decent, and Anna Falchi certainly isn’t too hard on the eyes.
While I was happy to see this movie again in 35mm, I was beginning to wonder if Exhumed had anything on its mystery lineup that I hadn’t seen before. Surely the next film would break the streak?
MOVIE #6: WEIRD, FUN SCI-FI/HORROR THAT SEEMINGLY INSPIRED A LATER 80’S BLOCKBUSTER
I was completely stumped on this one, and really eager to see what Exhumed had in store for us. Imagine my mixed emotions when I discovered that it was IT CAME WITHOUT WARNING, a film I had already seen in 35mm this past April!
This Greydon Clark classic features a bulbous-headed, blue-skinned alien that comes to Earth to hunt humans. But instead of using deadly alien technology to claim human trophies, this being tosses living parasitic frisbees at his victims (which include a macho Cameron Mitchell, and a clueless Larry Storch!). A group of vacationing “kids” run afoul of the unwelcome visitor, which leads them on a collision course with an eccentric Jack Palance, and a totally unhinged Martin Landau, who both take the fight to the creature.
IT CAME WITHOUT WARNING has certainly grown on me over the years, and is definitely a fun drive-in flick to watch with an audience. Palance and Landau are a match made in heaven and really liven things up, while Kevin Peter Hall (who would go on to play the “Predator”) is sadly underutilized. (Though he does have bragging rights for the film’s one good jump scare.)
MOVIE #7: DESPITE THE TRASHY TITLE, THIS MADE-FOR-TELEVISION OCCULT FILM IS PRETTY WELL DONE
I had no idea what this mystery movie might be, so I hunkered down and earned myself a (I believe) 16mm presentation of SATAN’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS! This made-for-TV fright flick begins with the mysterious suicide of Martha Sayers. Positive that someone else was responsible for her sister’s death, Elizabeth Sayers (Pamela Franklin) enrolls at the academy her late sister attended, under an assumed name.
While there, Elizabeth makes some new friends as she pokes around for evidence about the events leading up to her sister’s departure from school. But when another student is found dead, Liz must speed up her investigation and uncover the identity of those responsible for the strange goings-on at The Salem Academy for Women before she becomes the next victim!
MOVIE #8: UNIQUE STALKER/SLASHER MOVIE WITH SUPERNATURAL TWIST
For the eighth mystery movie, I was personally hoping for SHOCKER or even MANIAC COP, but instead got Tibor Takac’s I, MADMAN! Being a big fan of Tibor’s 1987 classic THE GATE, I was excited to pop my I, MADMAN cherry by seeing this movie in its original theatrical format!
Jenny Wright (Mae in NEAR DARK) stars as Virginia, a bookstore employee that has acquired an unhealthy obsession with the two books written by Malcolm Brand (Hollywood VFX artist Randall William Cook). Soon after delving into “I, Madman,” Virginia soon finds herself stalked by Dr. Kessler, the main character from the books. Acting out the crimes written in the bizarre novels, Kessler/Brand plans to turn his newest fan into his final victim!
At this point in the Horrorthon, my energy levels began to drop and I found myself fighting to stay awake. While I am normally up inhumanely late on a frequent basis, this flick just wasn’t doing it for me. Though I liked the concept and thought Jenny Wright was great as the lead, the movie didn’t really get interesting until it reached its final act. I was disappointed with I, MADMAN, but I may revisit it down the road when I’m not struggling to keep my eyes open.
Also, I believe that it was around this time (or perhaps even during the previous movie) that disaster struck the International House. A water pipe broke in the ceiling high above the main lobby, and was raining gallons of water down upon the floor. Despite the best efforts of valiant men armed with a single trash can and several small wet-dry vacuums, the waterfall continued unabated throughout the night. This issue was quite worrisome, but the Horrorthon forged ahead.
MOVIE #9: MOSTLY FORGOTTEN, SEASONALLY APPROPRIATE SLASHER MOVIE
After a bathroom break and dose of caffeine, I readied myself for the ninth film. I incorrectly guessed HACK-O-WEEN for this one, which turned out to be TRICK OR TREATS! Featuring David Carradine in a cameo role, the movie mainly focuses on a besieged babysitter named Linda (Jacqueline Giroux) who accepts the challenge of watching a young terror named Christopher O’Keefe (director Gary Greaver’s son Chris) on Halloween night.
Christopher plays a series of cruel jokes and pranks on Linda, who must also contend with Chris’ murderous dad. Played by Peter Jason, Malcolm O’Keefe has escaped from an insane asylum in order to get revenge on the wife for putting him there. But since she isn’t around, Malcolm will just have to settle for jamming his butcher knife into poor Linda!
Although it had a limited home video release from Code Red, the frequently absurd TRICK OR TREATS has continued to remain fairly obscure. (I myself had only seen it once before, and I didn’t recall too much about it, aside from that jerk of a kid!) That’s kind of a shame because I found this movie to be an odd, yet thoroughly entertaining horror/comedy!
TRICK OR TREATS is set up as a slasher film, but tosses in doses of comedy that don’t always work. Christopher provides a few chuckles as a smart-ass kid with a dark sense of humor, but Peter Jason truly steals the show as the demented Malcolm. I was in stitches when he escapes the asylum in a stolen nurse’s uniform, and has to shrug off sexual advances from other men as he makes a beeline for his intended victim.
After this movie ended, many of us went back out into the lobby to assess the state of the broken pipe. At this point, the H2O was starting to leak downstairs, and attempts were being made to try and turn off the water to briefly stop the flooding. Though it was definitely getting worse, our marathon continued!
MOVIE #10: WONDERFUL, RIDICULOUS GIANT MONSTER MOVIE
I had such high hopes for this movie, in fact it was definitely the one I was looking forward to the most! Would it be a Godzilla flick?! GAPPA, THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTER?! THE X FROM OUTER SPACE? WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS?! Nope! The tenth film on the roster turned out to be the 1975 Shaw Brothers classic INFRA-MAN! ( A film I had sponsored at Hudson Horror Show back in 2012!)
At this point in the night, things got really quiet in the theater as people began to pass out. But enough stalwart folks (myself included) stayed awake and had a blast watching this crazy Chinese knock-off of Japanese tokusatsu films. When “Princess Dragon Mom” rises from the depths of the Earth and declares war on humanity, only the “science patrol” and the mighty Infra-Man can stop her evil machinations.
This movie is off-the-wall insane with some incredible fight choreography, and a colorful array of villainous monsters for Infra-Man to battle. (Gotta love those “Slinky-bots!”) The film assaults your senses with hilarious dubbing and sound effects, outlandish costumes and monster suits, and an array of laser beams and explosions, all while the bug-eyed bionic hero kicks and punches his way to victory!
After this film ended, it seemed like everyone was beginning to get their second wind! With four movies to go, we were almost at the finish line for another successful Horrorthon! Surely nothing could stop us all now!
MOVIE #11: OFFBEAT HORROR MOVIE THAT WAS STAPLE OF EARLY 80’S HBO PROGRAMMING
Seeing as how they played THE HITCHER at last year’s show, I was all out of guesses on what this mystery title could be. As the credits began to roll, THE UNSEEN flashed across the screen eliciting a mixed reaction from the audience. But no sooner did the film begin when the fire alarms suddenly went off. Figuring it was a hoax, we didn’t budge from our seats until we were told to evacuate.
Moments later, we were all ushered out the front door of the International House, along with all of the students who live there. Hundreds of us milled around outside in the cold (and rain) while we waited to hear news on whether or not the show would continue. After a few hours, we were allowed back in to reclaim our belongings, and discovered that the Horrorthon was indeed canceled. Ironically, THE UNSEEN would remain unseen that day.
As for the residents of the International House, they were stashed in the theater like refugees, until repairs were made, and the all-clear was given. Needless to say, they weren’t having a lot of fun either.
Heartbroken that the Horrorthon ended prematurely, a group of us went on a desperate search for breakfast. (Can you believe we couldn’t find an open diner on a Sunday morning?! And that was with the aid of Michael Gingold! Haha!) After finding sustenance at a nearby Wawa, we hung out in the lobby of the nearby Sheraton, where we talked about the Horrorthon, and watched a Stephen King marathon on TV. I dozed for a bit, and shortly after I woke up, bid my friends a fond farewell, and departed for my hotel room at the Howard Johnson. Thankfully they let me check in early, and after a hot shower, I collapsed into bed.
When I finally awoke hours later, I ordered myself a Domino’s pizza, and watched some of DRACULA A.D. 1972, and followed that up with HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. (It was mere days before Halloween, and there were next to no Horror films playing on TV? What gives?!) As I drove home the following day, I reflected on the incomplete Horrorthon, and found myself filled with regret. The mere thought of never knowing what the final three films were absolutely haunted me. (And I was not surely not alone.)
But then a few weeks later, it happened: A free makeup show (on Saturday, December 9th) was announced for anyone that attended the Horrorthon! As an added bonus, for the low price of fifteen dollars, we could take part in a secondary double feature of an ultra-rare 3D print of FRANKENSTEIN’S BLOODY TERROR, and Al Adamson’s DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN! (A potluck snackfest and a “Sinister Secret Santa” giveway were touted as well!) But, on such short notice, would yours truly be able to attend?! And if so, would the mystery movies be worth the trip?! FIND OUT IN THE NEXT THRILLING CHAPTER!