On Saturday, I got to fulfill an unbelievable dream, hosting a marathon of female-led horror films with Houston Alamo Drafthouse Programming Director Robert Saucedo and the incomparable Barbara Crampton. When Barbara became involved, she and I decided to make the lineup one that features a strong female perspective, that rarity in horror films, and we programmed the first three movies on what was, for me, a stormy, dreamy afternoon over email. It was clear at once that Barbara and I saw eye to eye on what the lineup should be, and Robert filled it out with the perfect fourth film, a preview of an upcoming movie that solidified our theme.
Evan and Phil both flew in for the marathon, and we just about filled up the biggest theater at the Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park. The crowd was wonderful, thunderous, absolutely on fire for every film, and we've heard nothing but the warmest praise for our lineup since, which feels really, really great. I'm incredibly proud to have worked with Barbara and Robert on what I think turned out to be a super thematically strong evening of film.
On to the recap!
Our first movie was a beautiful DCP of Rosemary's Baby, Barbara's first pick. It looked gorgeous on the big screen, and as ever I found myself surprised by how deeply funny that film is, underneath the darkness and dread of it.
Mia Farrow's transformation is especially harrowing writ large, and it was the first time Barbara and I, and most of the audience, had seen the film on the big screen. Barbara pointed out onstage how much more alone Rosemary is in 1966 than she would be now: no cell phone of her own, no bank account, no autonomy. When she realizes her husband and doctor and nearly everyone she knows is against her, she is left without a support system or any resources to protect herself and her baby - and yet she still forges ahead fearlessly, determined to do whatever it takes to free herself from this hateful conspiracy and defend her child. It's a black, terrible thing that Rosemary suffers, and yet she does not let it break her. She fights and fights until the end, and she only stops fighting when she, again, decides it's in the best interest for her child. Her devil child.
Our next movie stars Barbara herself - Stuart Gordon's 1995 film Castle Freak. Of all of her films, this is the one Barbara wanted to show for Dismember the Alamo (partially because it's so little seen - about 75% of the audience raised their hands when we asked who'd never seen it), and we agreed heartily. She said during the Q&A that, when viewing Castle Freak with Gordon about five years ago, afterwards he turned to her and told her that he thinks it's his new favorite film of his body of work, because it's so relentlessly dark and sad.
And it really is: as heartbroken as I am for the tragedies suffered by the Reilly family (and Jeffrey Combs turns in his most human, affecting performance as a father racked with guilt after his drunk driving accident ripped their family apart), I feel doubly sad for the titular freak, poor Giorgio (the incredible Jonathan Fuller). He's lived a life without love and it's turned him into a monster through no fault of his own.
And Barbara is stunning in the film as Susan Reilly, ferociously angry with her hapless husband and just as fiercely protective of their daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide), who was blinded in the car crash. Susan and Rebecca are left alone in the castle with Giorgio at the climax of the film, and it's thrilling to watch them defend themselves and each other when all of the men tasked with protecting them start dropping like flies.
Due to some studio politics, Castle Freak never received a theatrical release, and there's only one 35mm print in existence, owned by Full Moon's Charles Band. Barbara asked him on our behalf and so Houston was treated to a flawless print and an incredibly rare theatrical experience. I own Castle Freak and have seen it many times, but there was nothing like watching it on the big screen with a theater of newbies and Barbara Crampton herself by my side.
Our third film was my pick, but we couldn't have watched it without the tireless efforts of Robert, who's been trying to program Ginger Snaps for years. The theatrical rights are super tricky, and he spent days cold-calling Canada to secure the archival DCP for us. It looked INCREDIBLE and I was overcome with excitement and on the edge of my seat for the entire film, one of my favorites. I saw Ginger Snaps for the first time as a pissed-off teenager, and there is no better movie for an angry teenage girl to watch. It follows the alarmingly codependent Fitzgerald sisters as they grow apart for the first time when Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) gets her period before Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and, okay, also Ginger's bitten by a werewolf, so puberty has an even more drastic effect on her than it does most girls.
It's hilarious and fearless and gets its attitude just exactly right, and I have to admit it tickled me when I I sensed nearly every man in that audience audibly squirm during any of the period blood stuff (whereas, of course, they didn't make a peep for some truly horrific gore in Castle Freak). I think Ginger Snaps is an important movie, a movie that forged its own way in a genre that wasn't prepared for it, but it's also a complete blast.
And the best part is that, even though Ginger Snaps is a film about sisters, Mimi Rogers' Pamela plays perfectly to theme as the Fitzgeralds' clueless matriarch (who happens to wear the greatest hair accessories in cinematic history). She has no idea what Brigitte and Ginger are up to, but she's willing to do anything to protect her daughters - including, as it turns out, hide a body or run away and abandon their dad (our third feckless father in a row!).
And our final film of the night, a sneak preview of a November 28th release, was selected by Robert, and after watching it at Fantastic Fest, I instantly agreed that Jennifer Kent's The Babadook was the only way we could finish out our evening of maternal horror. This was the only film Barbara hadn't yet seen, and it was a joy watching it next to her, because the movie's deeply scary and wildly effective, and I think it's probably particularly so to mothers, like Barbara.
Essie Davis turns in a spectacular performance as Amelia, a single mother with an incredibly challenging child (the terrific Noah Wiseman). Amelia is struggling with work, writer's block, financial security, an emotionally provoking son and the grief of having lost her husband the day she gave birth to Samuel.
Soon the stress and difficulties of this life give way to an external threat, at first in the shape of a mysterious childrens' book introducing a monstrous character named The Babadook. To say more would be to say too much, but The Babadook does a gorgeous, terrifying job of showing that motherhood can be dark and hard and dreadful, in addition to being lovely and fulfilling. It's a very scary movie as well as a thoughtful, gorgeous one, and I can't think of a better way to complete our evening.
Thanks so much to everyone who made it out to the marathon, especially those like Phil, Evan, Amanda and Tom who traveled just to be there! And my deepest thanks to Barbara Crampton for taking such an active, mindful role in programming Houston's Dismember the Alamo with us, and to Robert for giving us such freedom to create this great, meaningful night of female-forward cinema. Later, Barbara dubbed our marathon "Mad Women," and I can't think of a better way to describe the night.
(Thanks to Tom Nix for capturing my dream come true)