Today is November 4th, and for heaven’s sake, why aren’t we still talking about Halloween? Oh sure, the candy is half-off and the pumpkins are rotting away, but today they started rolling out the Christmas movies when we really should have been keeping our attention focused on the possibilities of scary stories and dressing up like your favorite fictional character. Two months of Christmas would be unbearable. You could argue that there’s a Halloween pregame, what with all the B-list horror franchises that are dumped onto the public in late August, but that doesn’t count and you know it. And anyway, what does Christmas have? The same specials, the same icons, the same morals, year in and year out! (Or even worse–post-modern treatments of the same!) So the only recourse is to resist for as long as we possibly can. Since this blog is just getting started, now’s as good a time as any to start an annual tradition. I declare the next seven days to be Post-Hallow’s Eve, where I will do my part to keep the Halloween spirit alive: talking about spooky things and the kind of creative revolution that shouldn’t have to die out in October. If you have a problem with that, maybe you should just start wrapping yourself in red and green on September 1st, you fascist. You… you Christmas fascist.
But before we can move forward, we’ll have to go back. Back. Back to October 29th, the Saturday before Halloween and the generally-accepted night for everyone’s holiday-related shenanigans. For the better part of a month, I had planned to put an Engineer costume together, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be making my usual rounds across Boston to check the proverbial scene–and I sat on the fence for too long to collect the proper materials. (If you think you can just put on a plastic construction helmet and call it a day, you’re dead wrong, mister. An Engie costume requires dedication. And welding goggles.) But things change–my friends and fellow critics Monica and Jake were going to a twelve-hour horror movie marathon at the Coolidge Corner Theatre and invited me along. After three years of Halloween bar-hopping as the Mad Hatter (2008), Number Two from “The Prisoner” (2009), and the fictional “Joaquin Phoenix” (2010), the thought of going to such an event without a costume seemed… well… it seemed wrong. Luckily, “TF2″‘s Very Scary Halloween Update had been released on the 27th, and a new item set offered a cheap, last-minute alternative. Why, I had an empty cardboard box… red plastic cups… wire coat hangers… duct tape! An Idiot Box was in my reach! Sadly not within reach: empty shoeboxes and aluminum hoses.
11 PM – 1 AM – Journey + costume contest
Not that it mattered, of course. Snow and ice and various other things that shouldn’t exist on October 29th. The shoeboxes would have been destroyed and aluminum arms would have been unbearable. I stuffed my Idiot Box in a garbage bag, braved the elements and took the T down to Coolidge Corner. Met up with Monica and Jake, waited in the snow for the theatre to open up–during which time my umbrella was flattened by the wind–and found a couple of good seats close to the front. I wasn’t expecting the hosts to jumpstart the costume contest so early, so I make a snap decision, don my cardboard box and hop up on stage. I give it my best shot with the Soldier’s ro-bot introduction, but unfortunately, the stage is overrun with people (the weather has done little to deter the costumed patrons), and I was the first person they asked to leave. Their send-off for me wasn’t quite as harsh as the ones they reserved for few of the other costumed contestants–perhaps there was an unspoken understanding that my intentionally half-assed costume crossed the threshold from “lazy” and into “honest-to-gosh no-foolin’ irony.” I don’t bear any grudges. I do, however, protest that the audience chose Captain Crunch over an alien from They Live and the Machete Zombie from Dawn of the Dead. That’s just inappropriate.
Before the actual marathon begins, they present a bizarre remix of horror movie clips, public access talk shows, and Crispin Glover doing that weird dancing thing he does in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. It strikes me as a little odd that they would also include the final money shot from Hellraiser, which was scheduled sometime later in the evening/early in the morning. I contemplate the wisdom of this, and wonder if the audience boasts more people who have seen Hellraiser than not–but then I quickly remember that trailers are guilty of much more egregious spoilers. And what is this exercise, if not a whacked-out trailer to whet our collective appetite? The other thing is that I hate Hellraiser and, very early in the evening, I make a scheduling decision and look forward to sleeping through it.
1 AM – Suspiria (1977)
There are a few blind spots in my education, but I’m an avowed Argento nut (Argentonaut?) and I relish in the opportunity to finally see his most famous work in 35mm. A few minutes have been chopped out of this print–most notably the scene in which Daniel, the blind pianist, is ousted from the dance academy–but the experience is still an important one for me. I will forever regard people with suspicion when they say that “the colors really pop” in regards to anything, because I won’t know if they’ve seen Suspiria on the big screen.
I’m still not convinced that the film can stand alongside Argento’s masterpieces, but then I was never particularly taken by his supernaturals. You take a tour through the “animal trilogy” and you see a young artist struggling to understand his obsessions–a primal scream (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) followed by self-loathing (Cat O’Nine Tails) and an attempt to rationalize everything (Four Flies on Grey Velvet). It all alchemizes beautifully in Deep Red, which is a brilliantly lurid tale about an asshole artiste who decides to start fucking around with murderers and mental illnesses, gets a few of his friends killed for their trouble, and can’t see the truth when it is, quite literally, right in front of his face. It’s one of the greats, and it’s ranked pretty highly on my personal top ten list for a couple of years running. I will argue, now and forever, that the killer’s barely audible whisper of “… Giordani! …” is one of the most effective scares in all of cinema.
But Suspiria strikes me as being a little too abstract to be truly effective–it dips into exposition a little too often to carry its running time. But then you get to the very last scene and everything-–all the madness and detective work and casual conversations—colludes into something truly terrifying. Far be it from me to question a film’s methods if it ends with that kind of climax. But I don’t know if I’ll ever buy into Inferno, and The Mother of Tears just breaks my heart.
2:38 AM – The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
The worst part about the zombie trend is that you can’t criticize its relentless presence in popular culture without inviting a thousand bad puns. Oh, it’s an epidemic, you say? Oh, the trend won’t die, you say? No. I’m saying that we should all shut up about zombies until some other Romero-esque innovator can find something new to do with them. That said, I would have loved to have been around to see how this little beauty affected the cinematic landscape. (Trivia item: the film takes place on the date of my birth.) True, it launched more ships than it prevented, but The Return of the Living Dead isn’t just some random VHS curio that features a shit-ton of gore–it’s a pop bookmark that predicted (and, therefore, refuted) our modern obsession with zombies. It should stand to reason that anything that can resurrect the dead should also keep them from being killed by conventional weapons. And, yes, this is also the movie that made “brains” a popular zombie chant, but it also predicts zombie fandom and assures you that, no, you fucking sociopath, I don’t care how any former humans you tear apart, I don’t think you will be able to save the day this time around. (It really says something that people could imagine themselves as zombie-smiting heroes in the face of Romero’s nihilistic conclusions.) Return reimagines the apocalypse as a bad day for selfish idiots–everyone is so completely absorbed with the repercussions on their own lives that no one pays any mind as paramedics and policemen are led to slaughter… over… and over… and over again.
The wacky remix videos start up again, launching into a karaoke version of “The Monster Mash” over footage of pissed-off cats gussied up like vampires and mummies. I attempt to provide the “Boris” vocals. However, my “act” is not an impression of Boris Karloff but the popular comedic exaggeration: the lisping hangman from Blazing Saddles. Sadly, this is neither the time nor the place for an actual-type singalong and the crowd soon expresses their displeasure. Philistines!
Pretty sure it was 4:15 AM – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
So much has been said about it already, but The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is an old favorite of mine–I remember having a hell of a time convincing my college chums that it was eight kinds of brilliant. As with Suspiria, I’ve never had the chance to see it projected on film, and it’s an exciting prospect particularly because the print is so terrible–the constantly-changing color tones suggest that this was chopped together from about five different sources. It’s pretty great (even without the John Larroquette narration), but halfway through I start to wonder if this artificial grindhouse experience has any parallel to the stupid extracultural intruders who blindly stumble into danger and get pounded into sweetbreads. But no matter how you watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it’s the kind of film that never fails to beat you down–and that promises to make the rest of the night/morning an interesting time indeed.
6 AM sounds about right – Hardware (1990)
Even in the hours before my scheduled bedtime, my body always knows when I’m planning a marathon. After multiple warnings throughout the night, the protestations have officially begun; stupid o’clock is rapidly approaching and the delirium can’t be too far behind. As a Power-Gloved Dylan McDermott treks across the post-apunkalyptic desert, my higher brain functions sputter out one last competent thought: those bastards knew exactly what they were doing when they programmed this movie at this time of night. Not brilliant as far as such thoughts go, since the hosts made this declaration shortly before projecting it. It starts off with a quote from the Bible and it takes forever to figure out a plot before it finally settles on a government robot violently enforcing population control. Also present is a perverted William Hootkins, singing about “wibbly-wobbly feet” and foolishly wandering around without any regard for said robot. (Hey, Eckhardt! Think about the future!) I’m starting to drift, but I remind myself that, hey hey hey, that’s what Hellraiser is for, and somehow keep my eyes open.
7:30 AM or thereabouts – Demons 2 (1986)
The lights go up and the short break between movies offers a nice little wake-up call; I’m ready and rarin’ to go for the next round. The original Demons was apparently a big hit with the marathon crowd several years ago, so the fine people at the Coolidge tracked down a print of the sequel. A melodramatic narrator briefs me on the details of the first film–in which the patrons of a movie theatre were attacked by (and systematically transformed into) demons–and promises more of the same in a high-rise apartment building. So one of the titular nasties breaks into our world through a television set and passes its wacky demon-disease onto its victims. And, uh, that’s it, I guess. Dario Argento produced and co-wrote this li’l thing, and it’s got his fingerprints all over it. It certainly feels like one of his lesser efforts, practically smothered by its own high concept. But let’s not kid ourselves–it’s a zombie flick with a meager twist, and there’s not much to latch onto beyond that. Except, hey, these characters sure do mention Sally’s name a lot.
I think my phone said that it was 8:58 AM? – Hellraiser
Some day, I may watch Hellraiser again, egged on by some ill-conceived plan to plow through the entire series. But today will not be that day. I briefly contemplate on how poor Andy Robinson can’t catch a break… and I fall asleep soon thereafter. Exactly as planned. And it’s just lovely.
I manage to wake up a few times to catch the film’s best moments–a few shots of the Zombie Frank (a distinctly different Zombie Frank from the one seen in The Return of the Living Dead) and the cheesy yellow lightning/portal crap that banishes the Cenobites back to hell or wherever. I should probably read a little Clive Barker, though–The Hellbound Heart may prove… interesting?
Oh look, half of the Hellraiser sequels are streaming on Netflix.
I suppose 10:30 AM adds up – Rabid
Those 94 minutes give me all the energy I need to make it through the final movie on the bill. David Cronenberg is not necessarily one of my favorite directors, but Rabid strikes me as an important chapter to understanding his later work. It’s not very effective as a shocker, exactly, but the ’70s low-budget cinematography is wonderfully creepy. Maybe I’ve been conditioned to associate this aesthetic with something approximating “realism” (thanks, Taxi Driver!)–still, whatever it is, it sure lends credence to an arm-vagina that houses a bloodsucking penile stinger. I don’t know if I’d rather read about Rabid than watch it, as the old saying goes, but it might be more interesting to watch in the context of a marathon of other Cronenberg films, just to see how his sex/body horror aesthetic evolved throughout the years. (Walter Chaw did a nice retrospective in 2003 alongside an interview with the man himself.)
Only a handful of stragglers stuck around for the whole event. As I collect my Idiot Box and part ways with my friends, two thoughts immediately spring to mind: the sun hurts, and while it stands as a preferable alternative, the length of Hellraiser is a poor benchmark for a good night’s sleep. But a good night’s sleep has nothing on the night that I just had. I freaking love Halloween. And next year, the Engie gets his due.