In October of 2008, the New Beverly Cinema had its first all night horror festival, and it has since become an annual highlight of my horror-filled month. Usually on the second Saturday of the month, the marathon runs about 12 hours, or "dusk till dawn," allowing those who stay the whole time to stumble out into the harsh daylight, completely disoriented and in need of something to eat that might require a utensil or two. If an IHOP or Denny's was within walking distance of the theater, it would almost assuredly be part of the tradition.
I've gone all but one year (a wedding back in Massachusetts kept me out of it in 2009), and I usually review the movies I haven't seen and let that be that. But this year I thought I'd do something different - a running journal of sorts, with timestamps and photos and examples of my in-theater diet. Because if the success of Instagram has taught me anything, it's that there's nothing more exciting than a picture of someone's food taken with a cell phone.
7:15 pm - I arrive at the theater, a bit late thanks to heavier than expected traffic on the 101 freeway. Luckily my good friends and frequent New Beverly seat-mates Joey Hall and Angel Orona had saved me a seat pretty close to where I'd sit even if the theater was empty, so cheers to them. The first movie was at 8pm, so this gave us time to chat about movies, Halloween costumes, and discuss when to order our traditional pizza from across the street. IMPORTANT STUFF.
7:55 pm - Programmer Brian Quinn (who is behind the New Bev's awesome Grindhouse nights, which is what drew me to the theater in the first place back in early 2006, shortly after moving to LA) gets up to welcome us all and thank some folks. First and foremost he thanked Phil Blankenship, who created the festival and was behind its first three iterations before parting ways with the theater. He's doing God's work this month - his "Heavy Midnites" program at the Cinefamily is hosting 30 of the "Video Nasties" on 35mm, every night at midnight throughout October - highly recommended for you nite owls! Quinn also thanked New Bev owner Michael Torgan, who is quite possibly the most generous and thus awesome person I've ever known, both of the night's projectionists, the other New Bev staff members (like Matt, who had the thankless job of checking off every name for the sold out show), and co-owner Quentin Tarantino, who was instrumental in securing some of the prints and trailers.
He also explained the lineup's "B-movie" status. Indeed, there wasn't a real "draw" title: no Halloween or Evil Dead or Fulci's Zombie - the most well known film was probably Frankenhooker, and that was the last one on the schedule. No, the idea was to show films that hadn't played theatrically in LA for years (in Night Monster's case, that would be over SIXTY years!), rather than the same old stuff that we can see anytime. I think it's a great idea; it greatly reduced the number of lameos who only come to watch the first two movies (which in years' past would be the biggest titles), and allowed folks the chance to see these films on 35mm for the first time, more often than not. Come on, who actually saw Neon Maniacs PERIOD, let alone during its brief theatrical run?
8:00 pm - IT BEGINS! A trailer reel of slashers like Slumber Party Massacre, Sorority House Massacre (which has footage from Slumber!), House On Sorority Row, and... Fright Night? Not sure how that one fit, but it was awesome to see anyway.
8:10 pm - First feature: Strange Behavior (1983), which I watched for HMAD in early 2009 and had been looking for an opportunity to revisit. Fewer films have more apropos titles (which makes the fact that most folks know it as Dead Kids kind of an ironic shame), as the film's key asset is how goddamn WEIRD everyone is. A high school senior has no problem being naked near his father, a man cuts his toenails at the dinner table (and then complains about the floor being dirty!), grown teenagers play Frisbee in the middle of nowhere (and in the middle of the night)... basically, every few minutes, you'll be puzzled and laughing.
But the centerpiece has to be this party scene, set to the awesome "Lightning Strikes" from Lou Christie:
Fun fact: the movie was co-written by Bill Condon, who went on to win an Oscar for writing Gods and Monsters (and another nomination for Chicago). He's also the only one to "get" that the Twilight novels are laughable shit, so if Breaking Dawn Part 2 is sold out, feel free to rent this instead!
9:00 pm-ish - I reach into my cooler and crack open my Starbucks double shot mocha drink. I also dive into my "Monster" trail mix, which is a substitute for the same brand's S'mores mix that they seemingly no longer make. Very sad, it was a perfect movie snack, free of these damned raisins.
10:00 pm - A short! The Three Stooges in If A Body Meets A Body, where Moe and Larry show their true colors after learning Curly may have just inherited a fortune (they were previously about to kick him out of their home forever). As it turns out, the dead man's maid is a guy in drag who is trying to steal the money for himself, or something. I dunno, a bunch of folks get slapped around, Moe makes faces while constantly threatening murder, there are some misunderstandings... same old shit. Never really shined to the Stooges, but it was harmless, the crowd enjoyed it, and it certainly fit with the film it was preceding.
10:30 pm - Trailer Reel #2, which mostly consists of classic haunted house films like House On Haunted Hill, The Haunting, and Legend of Hell House. But it also had Woody Allen's What's Up Tiger Lily, which might be the most overly "hip" trailer in existence - had I not already seen (and enjoyed) Lily, I would never ever watch it thanks to this overly annoying spot. Since Fright Night didn't really fit the others, I thought maybe each reel was having a "bonus" trailer that would provide clues to the secret movie, but I later learned that the Lily trailer was accidentally still attached to Hell House from another program and they just let it run.
10:40 pm - Second feature: Night Monster (1942), which I had never seen. A pretty typical "Old Dark House" horror from the '40s (where a bunch of folks are assembled in a big estate and several off-screen murders ensue, usually in conjunction with the discovery of a hidden passageway), though it felt a bit more convoluted and over-populated than most of the ones I've seen. Bela Lugosi has a pretty weak role as the butler - most of his performance consists of opening doors, walking up stairs, etc. But it was a charming slice of old-school fare, and the print was immaculate, a nice surprise since you'd expect a 70 year old B-movie to be pretty beat up. I also loved the ending, as it has one of the weirdest explanations for a killer ever (it involves an amputee WILLING legs into existence!), and if you take roll call for the survivors you'll realize that one character was left to die inside the now-burning house. Sorry, dude.
11:55 pm - PIZZA TIME. I stepped out of Night Monster for a minute to place an order for a medium pepperoni and some bread sticks. Not for nothing, but Papa John's is way too damn expensive. This cost me 18 bucks - I can get a bigger pizza for less than half that at Little Caesar's, and not have to miss a minute of a movie to order it because it's always ready (and tastes better to boot). Papa John's - annual beneficiaries of my hunger and unwillingness to travel further than "next door." Great breadsticks though.
12:05 am - Raffle time! I actually won this pretty cool Video Dead poster:
Incidentally I'm not actually a fan of the film, so perhaps this will find its way into being a prize for one of my own screenings soon. I brought it out to the car before I forgot it and/or spilled pizza sauce on it, and snapped this pic of the lineup on the way back in:
12:20 am - Trailer reel #3 - a collection of "golden age" slashers like Happy Birthday To Me, Visiting Hours, The Funhouse and Mother's Day. Most of them were Canadian, which was fitting for the Northern slashing about to occur.
12:25 am - Somewhere in the middle of the trailer reel I was almost dealt a crippling blow to the evening, as I rubbed my eye and then opened it to discover that my contact was no longer in it. Obviously there was no way in hell that I'd find it in the dark, so I slammed my eye shut and went outside to the light and a mirror, where I discovered it hadn't fallen out but merely folded in half and gotten stuck under my top eyelid (if you're not a contact wearer, please understand that the use of "merely" is ironic - this hurts like HELL). Some rubbing and blinking and such successfully got the thing back in place in time for see the last trailer: Black Christmas, which like Halloween pretty much shows every scare in the film (including the closing shot!). Amazing film, but terrible trailer.
12:30 am - Third feature: Curtains (1983). I'll have a full review up on Horror Movie A Day, as this is one I've been wanting to see for a while but had never gotten around to it. Only a weak VHS transfer has ever made it to DVD ("courtesy" of Echo Bridge, which means you can find it in the frozen foods aisle of your grocery store), and obviously it doesn't screen too much, so it was great to finally scratch this one off my list thanks to a 35mm showing. It's not particularly good, but it's got a quirky personality and a great turn from John Vernon, so it's worth the effort to see for slasher aficionados.
2:00 am - Halfway point! I stretch my legs and have a nice chat with Clu Gulager, the veteran actor and patron saint of the New Beverly. And by nice I mean he refers to Hunger Games as being "for little girls," which is awesome as I did not drink the Kool-Aid on that one. Sorry folks, I liked the first half just fine, but if I'm watching a movie about a tournament I'd like to spend at least one second wondering who will win, rather than have it be a foregone conclusion because they didn't bother making a real character out of anyone else. Well, unless you count that tree where our heroine spent the entire movie. But I digress...
2:10 am - Trailer reel #4 - this one focuses on psychos and maniacs, including Maniac itself, Toolbox Murders and The Hitcher (original, not the remake or else there only would have been one guy clapping instead of the whole theater). (Actually, as I proof-read this article, I now realize that all three of those have been remade. Sigh...)
2:20 am - Fourth feature: Neon Maniacs (1986). Never even HEARD of this one before the lineup was announced, and thus I didn't look into it as it's nice to have a surprise. As it turns out, it was probably the best crowd movie of the night - a fast paced (well, compared to the others), silly tale of the titular Maniacs wreaking havoc on "San Fransisco" (mostly Los Angeles; at one point they went to Winchell's on Vine, which is like a two minute drive away from the New Bev!). After decimating all of her friends in the park, our heroine more or less shrugs it off, going home for a swim and even going to school the next day! But the Neon Maniacs (of which there are, like, 20) want to finish the job, and thus they keep coming after her, until the climactic battle of the bands which featured a horrendous pop group (fronted by the male hero) battling the '80s metal outfit Jaiden, who clearly would have won if the Neon Maniacs didn't arrive on the scene and screw everything up. It's a great bad movie that was perfectly placed in the lineup, giving folks a nice burst of energy for the remainder of the night.
3:50 am - I wander outside for some fresh air and to take that photo of the marquee at the top of this article before I forgot. I also snapped a few shots of the posters hanging up - none of these movies were in the festival, but just added to the overall atmosphere.
4:00 am - An animated short based on Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart" and narrated by James Mason - it was nominated for an Oscar, but as you can see, the actual animation is kept to a minimum, which is a bummer. It was joined by trailer reel #5, which was all Italian horror, boding well for the secret movie! All previous lineups have had an Italian movie (usually right at the top), so folks began murmuring as to what it might be. An Argento? Maybe something from Bruno Mattei, a frequently seen name at Quinn's Grindhouse nights? BAVA???
4:20 am - Nope, it was Fulci. Fifth feature turned out to be The Psychic (1977), a perfectly good thriller from Fulci's pre-zombie days, and thus it's nowhere near as gory or violent as you might think if you only know of his more infamous titles. A perfect choice... for me, as I just watched it recently and thus opted to just nap through most of it, occasionally waking up from the crowd's laughter at its very occasional silly moments (if you haven't seen it, it's actually one of the most "normal" Italian horror flicks ever).
5:50 am - No breaks, no trailer reels - the sixth and final feature Frankenhooker (1990) started right after Psychic. Frankenhooker was the first Frank Henenlotter film I ever saw in its entirety, and I was looking forward to re-evaluating it now that I've seen all of his others, but alas - the sleep I got during Psychic was not enough, I guess, and I ended up sleeping through about two-thirds of it. If you're not a regular HMAD reader, I suffer from what I dub "Cinesomnia," which means I tend to nod off at the movies quite often. It's not a slight on the films themselves - I fall asleep watching my favorite films all the time, and no amount of coffee ever seems to help. So that was a bummer, but it was a great print, and was nice to see the lovely Patty Mullen on the big screen, albeit briefly.
7:18 am - It's over! Frankenhooker's last credit scrolls away and the lights come up. Previous years have had a final cartoon and/or the National Anthem (like they used to do at the end of a broadcast day on TV), but no dice this time around, making me regret my choice to keep sitting rather than say a proper goodbye to Joey and Angel, who were smart enough to go during the credits and get a head start on defrosting their windows, as it got pretty damn cold over night. I stumbled out with my leftover breadsticks and bag of half-eaten snacks to take this shot of Quinn, who probably needed sleep more than anyone else:
I'd guess only about a third of the crowd remained there until the very end; I think Psychic cleared out a bunch as they were waiting to see what the secret movie was and left as soon as their curiosity was sated. And unlike me, they were smart enough to sleep in their comfortable/warm beds instead of in a movie theater chair surrounded by pizza boxes and such. I got home just before 8, where I stumbled into bed and slept for three hours before heading back out for more movies (at Screamfest).
All in all, a damn fun time. None of the movies were particularly mind-blowing (though Strange Behavior was even better a second time - seriously, that party scene was pure magic in a packed, wide-awake theater), but it was a solid, well-paced lineup that offered a little bit of everything, complimented wonderfully by the shorts and trailers. In fact I'd even encourage more of that sort of stuff - the night actually only lasted a little over 11 hours, so another short film or longer trailer reels wouldn't have hurt. I went to another theater's all nighter last year and it was quite annoying, with the MC just sort of yelling nonsense in between movies and tossing candy around, and the only "bonuses" were the same three or four bad local commercials played between each movie. Very different vibe, one I didn't much care for - THIS is how I like it, further cementing my belief that there's no better place to watch movies than the New Bev.
Join me next year!!!