When I quit Horror Movie A Day's "A Day" part, one of the things I was most excited about was having more time in October for all of the events that spring up to cater to the people who apparently only like horror stuff when October 31st is nearby. For the past six Halloweens, I've had to make sure I had time to watch a new movie and write it up - a daunting task even with just a couple of extra events, but with stuff happening every night it was damn near impossible. And nothing was harder than Screamfest week, because not only would I be seeing multiple films a day there, but it would ALWAYS coincide with the annual all night horror marathon at the New Beverly, putting my ass in a theater seat all day and night on Saturday AND Sunday, with no time to write.
Thankfully, this year's Screamfest was a bit earlier than usual, allowing me a relatively easy day before the marathon (just a Community convention that required nothing from me but to sit and listen to Community writers/staff talk about Community). And thus, I'm happy to report that for the first time in six years (of which I've attended five; I missed 2009's incarnation for a wedding) I managed to stay awake through THREE of the movies in their entirety, shattering my previous record of one. Yes, as I've explained a couple times before (including in last year's recap), I suffer from what I call "Cinesomnia"; regardless of how much I am enjoying a movie, I tend to fall asleep quite often when watching them even on a normal day, so after a full day of stuff, it's just too much for my brain/body to stay awake through a weirdo '80s movie at 1 am. But somehow I pulled it off - I even made it all the way through the night's final movie, for which my "attendance" is usually in technical terms only (in 2011 I was in my seat, but I didn't see a single frame of Horror Planet). Even more impressive, the movie was boring as shit.
So once again I figured I'd offer a little running diary of the event, and encourage folks to try their own local version (nearly every big city repertory theatre will do something along these lines this month). Even if the movies aren't great, there's something infectious about the event itself - plus it's a great way to test your resolve!
6:28pm - I arrive at the theatre to get in line with my good friend (and horror trivia teammate) Jared Rivet. My wife will be joining us later, opting to use the time to do some work rather than stand around and talk about the merit, or lack thereof, of whatever movie pops in our heads. I also run into my pal Dan Madigan, whom I met at the theater back in 2006. He recently moved back to LA after a year or so away, and it was a wonderful surprise to see him at the door, helping programmer Brian Quinn with the show's sold out list.
6:39pm - The doors open, a few minutes ahead of schedule! The nice thing about the event being sold out is that there's no need to wait for credit cards to be approved or change to be counted. With a wave of an ID you get in the door and pick your seats; I was happy to get my "usual" spot (six rows back from the screen, all the way to the left if facing it) where I'd be sitting for the next 12+ hours. I proceed to spend the next hour chatting with pals and theorizing about the secret film (which has never once been correctly guessed by me or anyone else, far as I know). My hopeful pick? Argento's Opera, because I knew it was a film that was taking him a little longer to track down, and there's ALWAYS an Italian film in the lineup - the known films were all American (or Canadian, close enough). We also discuss horror trivia with my buddy Mike, from our biggest rival team (MacReady's Beard, from whom we just reclaimed our crown on Thursday after they won last month's game).
7:37pm - Quinn takes the stage to make his introduction. As always he thanks Phil Blankenship first and foremost, as Phil was the originator of the fest before he moved on (and is currently undertaking his own month-long "United States of Horror" festival at the Cinefamily), along with those who helped supply the prints and trailers, plus Michael Torgan and the rest of the New Bev staff who would be projecting and working the concession booth all night. All told, 36 individual reels of film would be unspooling before our increasingly weary eyes - my goal was to be awake for at least 20 of them!
7:48pm - The first trailer reel! Fitting with the theme of the first film, all of the entries were vampire films, going back to the '50s (two Hammer entries!) and ending with 1996's From Dusk Till Dawn, which meant that we were probably the only movie audience in the world that was watching the guy who owned the seats we were sitting in get attacked on-screen (Quentin Tarantino is the theater's landlord). Also included is the 1979 Dracula, which is my personal favorite version of the story.
8:09pm - Movie #1: VAMP (1986). I had never seen this '80s horror-comedy, and those who I talked to who had seen it didn't inspire much confidence. And they were right! It's amusing to a degree, but it lacks energy thanks to some poor world-building (is the entire downtown area populated with vampires? Is Billy Drago's character a vampire, or just an asshole?) and the foolish mistake of killing off its best character (AJ, played by the Clooney-ish Robert Rusler) before the halfway point. But it's not without charms; Dedee Pfeiffer is adorable and Grace Jones' ridiculous wardrobe will have you simultaneously damning and praising the "glory" of the '80s. Also, the DP's obsession with bathing everything in pink and green (even the sewers!) had me constantly amused. Funnier than any joke in the movie, however - it's said to be set in Kansas, and then shows our heroes driving through the mountains in order to get downtown. At least (fellow Los Angeles production) Halloween confined them to background shots!
9:38pm - Vamp ends. I stretch and head outside to double check the number for Papa John's, located across the street from the theater and thus securing my business every year even though I think their pizza sucks. I also notice the It Lives Again poster - I'd love for a triple feature of these movies someday, if anyone is listening...
10:02pm - Our "ten minute" break, which has run just about 25 minutes, comes to an end for another trailer reel. This one's all part 2s, so we get to enjoy Scream, Blacula, Scream (the original was part of the previous reel), the hilarious Friday the 13th Part 2 ("Why should Friday the 13th in 1981 be any different?" movie voice asks, before offering a continued body count that gives 13 kills to the first film (it only has 10) and hilariously claims this one has less when it actually had one more), and Nightmare on Elm Street 2, a film that features Clu Gulager, patron saint of the New Bev who is in his usual seat in the front row. Dude's 84 years old and will stay for the entire time, putting many of my friends to shame as they claim just one late movie is too hard for them.
10:18pm - Movie #2: DRACULA'S DAUGHTER (1936), the first sequel to the 1931 classic with Bela Lugosi (hence the "part 2" themed trailers). I didn't think much of this one when I saw it a while back, and thus opted to snooze through the second act and then go outside to order my pizza, ensuring it'd be ready at the break between it and movie #3. It's not a terrible movie, just slow even by the standards of the era, and in my opinion was a bit too soon in the series to drop its main villain (it also puts Van Helsing in the background for too much of it). It was a glorious print, for what it's worth. If you can't make a marathon, at LEAST try to see a Universal classic on the big screen this month - they take great care of their 35mm prints it seems; the few I've seen have all been spectacular.
11:32pm - I walk across the street to get my order of pizza (large cheese), breadsticks (plain; I would have liked garlic Parmesan but I was trying to consider my neighbors), and a giant choco chip cookie, sliced into triangles like a pizza. Mmmm, junk food. I also notice people in the standby line for the next movie; I assume they all got in as there were a few seats that never filled over the course of the night (including the one in front of me and my wife, score!) and some folks have already left. Amateurs!
11:40pm - Clu spies my breadsticks while stretching his legs and questions why we would want to eat such a thing. Apparently he was unfamiliar with breadsticks (though I suspect he was just looking for an excuse to talk to my wife; he's admitted to having a crush on her several times over the years). I love that guy so much; he has attended every one of my midnight screenings and always has great stories to tell, and is super positive - even when I show a junky movie he finds something to like about it.
11:50pm - A Three Stooges short! It's tradition to show a couple other things in between movies instead of just trailers, though this would be the only one of the night, no cartoons like in years' past (maybe they're running out of 35mm prints of such things). It's a pretty typical Stooges tale; they get hired to do a job that they're ill-equipped to handle (investigating a murder, in this case) and spend most of the time smacking each other around. As I explained before I don't have much affinity for the trio, but they're fun with a crowd and this one had some fantastic physical acting from Shemp (he gets poisoned and proceeds to basically beat the shit out of himself), plus it allowed me to focus on my food while it was still hot. I also crack open my Starbucks Mocha doubleshot energy drink. Fuel!
12:07am - Movie #3: DEATH SHIP (1980). I saw this one when I was 14, having rented it after reading a quote from Jamie Lee Curtis in an issue of Fangoria, claiming it freaked her out. As a teen I didn't know what to make of it, and even now at 33 I'm still baffled by some of its plot points, but it's a great haunted house (er, boat) tale with plenty of slumming actors (George Kennedy and Richard Crenna in the leads) chewing the scenery as they poke around and (in Kennedy's case) get possessed by the powers of this Nazi ship. Also, as the secret movie would turn out to be another American one, this is the closest we got to an Italian movie all night - it had a lot of the sensibilities of those films (weirdly angry children, incoherent gore scenes, heroes who are also kind of assholes, etc), making it a perfect "centerpiece" movie. And it's worth noting that it kind of feels like a Shining wannabe, with Kennedy in the Nicholson role (he spends a lot of time charging down corridors, not unlike Jack in the maze at the end of that film), but it beat Kubrick to theaters by almost three months.
1:40am - I stretch a bit and discard some trash that has accumulated. I also take a few pics of the stuff hanging in the lobby and such, solely for the purpose of making this article more visually appealing. You're welcome.
1:51am - Raffle time! I have actually donated a few crappy DVDs (and one good one, plus a Day of the Dead score) for the cause, and I pray I don't win them back.
1:59am - My wife and Jared both win back to back, prompting an asshole (me) to yell "FIX!". Theresa gets a pair of DVDs, including Hidden in the Woods which made me laugh as I had JUST gotten rid of my copy figuring I wouldn't be watching it again; Jared scores a VHS copy of Night Train To Terror, which was Movie #5. But first...
2:03am - A 1988 trailer reel, which did NOT hint at the secret movie in any way shape or form. Knowing the theme allowed Jared and me to make a game of trying to guess which movies they would be based on the logo at the top (I also got Beetlejuice based only on the PG rating!). This is why we win at horror trivia - our minds are conditioned to know the most useless goddamn shit that would never be required of us to know off the top of our heads.
2:18am - Movie #4: THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977). The secret movie of the night is also the most well known of the bunch! It's been a while since I've watched it, but I opt to let myself sleep as necessary, catching only a few scenes. I also walk Theresa to her car; she just wanted to see what it was before taking off (she comes every year but has only once made it until the end). Not sure why she waited; she's not a big horror fan, so it's not like anything would have convinced her to stay for another 90 minutes instead of enjoying the comfort of a warm bed. But it's nice to get a little fresh air and exercise (probably because I do things like this, I suffer from sciatica - walking helps calm it a bit).
3:46am - Hills is over, and the food is nearly gone (except for the cookie, which no one besides me wanted). The crowd has thinned some, but not as much as in previous years. A friend of mine once told me about an event in New York where you enter for free, but pay to LEAVE - wonder if that would work here (I assume falling asleep counts as leaving, so I'd be out). Quinn announces that there will be a final trailer reel followed by the last two movies back to back - no more breaks!
4:03am - The trailer reel begins, and I still don't know what the theme was. Some of the movies seem to be related to the film we were about to see (one was an anthology, another was set on a train, etc), but others were just there. Weird.
4:13am - Movie #5: NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR (1985). The best looking print of the night (none were bad; Hills and Death Ship were a bit beat up but I've seen worse - this was basically immaculate) for the weirdest/shoddiest movie - go figure. The behind the scenes story on this one is fascinating: the producers had a couple of bad movies (Death Wish Club, aka The Dark Side to Love, and Cataclysm) and the footage from an unfinished one called Scream Your Head Off, and decided to cut them down to anthology segments and film a wraparound where God and Satan ride a train and fight over the fate of souls. It's actually a fun idea for an anthology, but as you might expect, cutting a 90 minute movie down to 25 minutes makes its narrative a little hard to follow, resulting in a completely incoherent mess. Adding to the insanity is an awful '80s pop band singing their one song "Everybody But You" in between every segment (and twice during the end credits, where we learn God played himself and Satan was played by Lu Sifer), ensuring you'll be singing along with it by the halfway point. I had seen this not too long ago for Horror Movie A Day, and since I hadn't seen the final movie at all (the only other one besides Vamp I had never seen) I once again let myself sleep. I do regret it though; a sleep-starved mind might actually be able to play on the movie's level and figure out what the fuck was going on through half of it (I'm pretty sure Cataclysm never made any sense to begin with, for what it's worth).
5:47am - Movie #6: THE FINAL TERROR (1983). An apt title sure, but this 1983 slasher entry was not ideal for 150 or so very tired people - it's a goddamn snoozer. How I managed to stay awake for the entire thing is beyond me; it's the sort of movie that could easily knock me out at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon after a solid night's rest. Part of the problem is the script's seeming unwillingness to kill off any of its cast; there are I think 9 members of the "group" (a bunch of forest rangers - points for novelty, at least) but only three of them get killed - one during the final showdown with the killer. But it's memorable in a weird way; for starters everyone seems unhinged - an opening scene where we meet all of the males (oddly, the females are mostly sidelined for the entire film) had me nervous for every single character as it seemed they might all kill each other before heading off into the woods. The other "oh, cool" element was that it was directed by Andrew Davis and featured Joe Pantoliano - who would re-team a decade later for a slightly better movie called The Fugitive. It also offers early roles for Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward and Adrian Zmed, giving The Burning a run for its money as not only the most boring and male-centric slasher of the era, but also the one with the most future stars that would be leaving it off their resumes.
7:10am - It's over! A few years back they actually played the National Anthem at the end, like TV stations used to do at the end of a broadcast day (before infomercials), but the lights come up, telling us it's time to go. Thankfully, it's a bit foggy out this morning, so when we stumble outside the light doesn't blind me as it has in years' past. Jared (who heroically stayed awake for the entire night!) snaps this picture of us as we make our way to his car:
I get home a bit before 8am, stumbling to bed with my contacts in and sleeping for about two and a half hours.
Overall, it was a solid entry in the annual series. I had never seen any of the films on 35mm before, which is always a plus (Quinn goes out of his way to ensure that the films he shows aren't ones that play very often - he's pretty sure a few of them have NEVER played since their original theatrical runs) even if they're not the greatest films in the world. And the crowd seemed to agree it was worthwhile - the place was still pretty crowded (100+) by the end, whereas in previous years you'd see a lot more empty seats by the end. Also, by not including an "A" title like Friday The 13th or whatever, it keeps randoms from coming and being dicks - most of the crowd was made up of New Bev regulars who know how to behave. Indeed, apart from a guy who kept checking his blue-light watch (including twice in under a minute!), there were no distractions of note to annoy me - a huge feat even for a single movie these days, let alone six of them. Sure, I would have liked to have stayed awake through everything, but considering that I didn't get much sleep the night before, didn't have a lot of caffeine, and was subjected to the interminable Final Terror, I think I did pretty damn good (like I said, I've never stayed awake for more than one movie in the other times I've gone - even by movie #2 I'm dozing off for at least a few minutes). So hurrah for me, and here's to an even less sleepy 2014!