The all-night horror marathon --a long-standing tradition wherever Halloween traditions are solidly entombed in the crypt of cinematic history. The idea behind it is simple: the longer you stay up, the more films you watch, the deeper into late night / early morning you go, the creepier it gets as more people fall asleep and the night gradually becomes yours and yours alone and consensual reality fades and you move inside the screen, and your date follows a creepy bunny out of the theater down the sleep arson rabbit hole, no wait, that's you, a half-dreamer / half-watcher and the movie and your unconscious merge and characters in the film look right at you, talk to you, freak you out. You turn around and when you look again you just see an empty couch onscreen, and you're holding a candelabra and walking down a dark hall. And there's no one awake to hear you scream, because you put the volume down low to not wake them.
At college they had one of these festivals every year and after the first few hours they stopped taking tickets at the door and half the crowd went home, weary and irritable. By dawn it was only the hardcore, and the people working the projector. Then I'd sneak in, armed with flask and dilated pupils. There was nothing quite as satisfying as creeping across a deserted campus at the first crack of dawn, coming into the darkened theater to find THE TINGLER had just begun... If you have Netflix though, you can skip having to out your boots on to slog across campus. All you have to do is clear your que and line them up: each film is hand-selected for each particular time of evening, night and morning and afternoon, and to follow one another organically, like a good mix tape. Because if you have a sizable DVD collection as I do, then you know it can become paralyzing to choose the next film, fumbling through your bookshelves, scrolling endlessly through your instant libraries.
It's also annoying when you stumble on a cool list of weird movies online, read about one you never heard of and want to see, but can't find it. So you put it in your Netflix que and by the time it comes you forgot why you wanted to see it! Well, with this list you can forget about the options, the Acidemic Horror festival has you covered--we've done everything but link to them because Netflix won't link titles direct to accounts, 'cuz they're pussies.
And special Note: there's NO torture porn or sexual assault or slapstick, or animal abuse, just the spine-tingling spookiness (and occasional lesbian cannibalism) that carries the tingling electric current along the soul's angsty wires.
5:00 PM - ABSENTIA (2010)
Dir. Mike FlanaganStart with this one and don't worry about it--the film takes it's time getting started but it lures you in via the lived-in natural rapport between Katie Parker and Courtney Bell as two sisters, one of whom is pregnant in the process of declaring her husband dead after seven long years in the titular legal limbo; the younger one (Parker), recently off drugs, here to help with the pregnancy, jogs every morning and goes through a mysterious tunnel that recalls Billy Goats Gruff... at first, but might be home to an interdimensional giant super-intelligent insectoid portal. Turns out, well, I shan't spoil it, but the movie gets the lack of visible monster right, so the terror comes from the anxiety of not knowing entirely what we're dealing with; highlights including Bell seeing her dead husband everywhere but being conditioned by her therapist to just ignore him --great stuff that reminded me of my own tortured delirium tremens. I saw it alone on Saturday as it just happened to be on Showtime while I was writing the first part of this post, and just listening to the great rapport between the sisters from the TV behind me lured me in. I was alone and it was getting dark faster than I was prepared for, and the film ingeniously dug deep into my ancient fears, the way only BLAIR WITCH and Val Lewton have done before. And Parker is so good, warm, intelligent, and gutsy that you just might fall in love.
Dir. Ti WestIngeniously retro and practically in real time across one overcast grey late afternoon into the late evening, it's Ti West's best film so far, and maybe one day he'll make something as good (if he remembers the value of tick-tock momentum), The cast is mixed but Jocelin Donahue as cash-strapped college student Samantha is beautiful, believable, and courageous in her doomed grab for a dollar, and Greta Gerwig sports some great feathered hair and a cozy college sports shirt and in her late afternoon fast food joint scene with Samantha has the ache of an upstate New York fall winter in the bones; and you want to be able to curl up with her in a fire-lit dorm room and take a nap spooning with her on that crappy dorm twin bed, and you feel the sense of desolation creeping up like tendrils of cold around her broke buddy Samantha for needing to take this babysitter job so badly. I went to school in Syracuse, so I relate. The evenings there are so oppressively gray, they don't need Satan lingering in the edges to be mega ominous. The men are kind of anachronistically miscast--one's too quiet and wussy, the other too Williamsburg hipster for the 1970s-- but Mary Woronov and Dee Wallace in minor roles, smash through that mess. The perfect film to watch in the early evening.
8:05 PM - BLACK SABBATH (1963)
Dir. Mario Bava
The only one of Bava's films, and maybe also the only trilogy, I find truly scary - the good, shivery spine tingle kind, especially the Wurdulak segment, which taps into a very primal anxiety, the way family ties can become nooses without you ever noticing. Even strongly suspecting their father (Boris Karloff) has been turned vampire, the family do his bidding, too conditioned by the Catholic social structure to rebel; and the mama can't resist running out in the cold to comfort her pale dead bambino, even stabbing her husband when he tries to restrain her. Did I spoil it? No man, I didn't. PS: The American version presented here is different from the Italian most fans know by heart from the DVD, in a different order, dubbed into English, missing a lesbian undercurrent, but providing instead Karloff's real voice (not in the Italian version) and "Sdenka" (Susy Anderson) is still sexy, as is Rosie (Michèle Mercier--above), gorgeously lit as she prowls the red telephone sequence.
9:30 PM: ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)
Dir. John Carpenter
Dir. John Carpenter
It's the HD version and it sure looks good. There's no supernatural element, but just seeing the cop get out of his house and drive off to his first job as captain, moseying through the deserted eerie battle zone of East L.A as the big red sun sets and Carpenter's music thuds ominously along on that click track is enough to qualify. Not to mention a gang member hsoots a kid through the eye for asking an ice cream man for sprinkles. There was some real concern in the late 70s that gang violence was going to destroy America, so groove on the scariness of that and how we never hear any of the gang members say a single word. Even here, before HALLOWEEN, Carpenter knew that once a monster talks, smiles, or even laughs, he's lost half his menace. Laurie Zimmer is a great Hawksian heroine, and Austin Stoker is a great level-headed cop; Darwin Joston is convict Napolean Wilson; Carpenter would revisit the concept and reverse the gender/races in in GHOSTS OF MARS, which would make a great choice, too.
11 PM: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
Dir. George RomeroI got the whole idea for this post while spending the weekend in Harrisburg, PA (a stone's throw from where it was filmed) and turning to it 'free on demand' as a last resort after everyone else was asleep, and even wrongly formatted and badly digitized, it blew my mind. From the start it's been the kind of movie that can reach a viewer right through any televisual limitation, surviving in potency even through a million second generation public domain VHS dupes. Aside from a rather wearying stretch of road with a bald uptight dad going on about how "the cellar is the safest place" there's nary a dull moment and even if you just saw it for the 100th time; see it again, with us, at eleven. Forever.
12:30 AM: LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)
Dir. John Hough1985 was a year of great zombie contention, according to a hazily remembered source, between Romero and co-NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD screenwriter John A. Russo. The result was two different zombie movies coming out at the same time back when there were NO other zombie movies, outside of Italy, of course, certainly none that would make it a first run cineplex instead of a decaying drive-in. My punk crew and I saw both in one weekend; we loved THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, which really jibed with our then life style (the whole thing with zombies going "Braaainnsss!" begins with RETURN). But we found DAY to be way too much of a downer. Half the film is spent in irritable bickering between gonzo scientists trying to isolate what makes zombies tick and a bunch of crazed military guys getting understandably tired of being bossed around by a bunch of civilian ectomorphs down in a cramped mine shaft. The yelling and Gary Howard Klar's evil giggling get annoying, but the idea of Bub (Sherman Howard) the first sympathetic zombie, being trained by one of the lead scientist (Richard Liberty), like a combination mentally-challenged son, is tellingly Romero, who's always gone more for the social critique underlying the zombie menace, than the comedic self-awareness of most of his imitators. And perhaps the split from Russo hurts them both - the military and the scientists needing each other after all. Meanwhile, a cool Jamaican chopper pilot (Terry Alexander) and and an amiable Irish drunk (Jarlath Conroy) have the right idea: set up some inflatable palm trees around a camper at the edge of the mine shaft and grow ganja. Humanity is saved.
DAY OF THE DEAD (1984)
Dir. George Romero
Dark, thick atmosphere, decadent art design; red bathed Bava-esque level of warm, dusky, painterly light; the translucently pale skin of two beautifully alive in the firelight reflection of the rose red wallpaper women; the throbbing echo-industrial drone breathing, the score like one long auditory hallucination, sexy as hell and brilliant, creepy, untamed, assertive--and ideal for the midnight hour of any festival (see more here). Or if, like me, you just saw it a month ago... go for (also in HD)
Dir. George Romero
2 AM - THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970)
Dir. Roy Ward BakerNot only does it open on one of the worst matte painting castle exteriors in history, it also stands as a great British horror crossroad, straddling the decades with unrepentant 70s sapphic nudity right alongside all the typical 60s Hammer vampire Gothic trappings: florid dialogue, gorgeous Brit actresses, Peter Cushing, all that. Especially if you have a good HD TV, it's worth its precious 2 AM time slot because the colors are sublime. Once you see Peter Cushing's blazing red tunic in the post-credits dance scene, and you're like DAMN. That ballroom looks 3-D, and then in comes Ingrid Pitt as Marcela Karnstein, with two gorgeous fertile looking virgins and their easily misled fathers, just waiting to get knocked over like bloodless ten pins.
3:30 AM - THE AWAKENING (2007)
So now it's late, and all that's left is a yen to see and hear British women--so effortlessly smart, confident, sexual, and relaxed compared with American actresses-- as they engage in candle lit supernatural hallway walking and weird noise investigating. Rebecca Hall, as a professional ghost-debunker lured to her existential Waterloo fits the bill; and as the movie around her aims in the direction of THE OTHERS, THE INNOCENTS, DEVIL'S BACKBONE, and THE WOMAN IN BLACK, she aims for the stalwart company of Olivia Williams, Rhona Mitra, Kate Beckinsale, and Kierra Knightley. Bullseye on both counts. She's terrific and never wastes a line. The setting and photography are evocative as greenish blue hues can make them; Dominic West is the burly school superintendent; there's a kid with a distracting haircut and a good, creepy use of a dollhouse. You'll guess the twists a mile off, but that doesn't mean you don't like guessing. Just means you're good at it.
5:00 AM - PONTYPOOL (2008)
Dir. Bruce McDonaldAs the sun comes up with the October briskness, it might not be as cold where you are as up in Pontypool, Canada, in the dead of winter when it's still completely dark as you drive to your early morning job. but you can glean the early dawn vibe, the special feeling when you and maybe none or two of your mates and only a few early risers and very very late-to-bedders are up and about in your time zone. Spread you auric tentacles out and bask in the collapse of concrete consensual reality, the bizarre and magical mix of bleary crankiness and magical openness, like a whole alternate dimension that's neither asleep dream nor conscious waking. What really makes PONTYPOOL work so well, beyond the unique zombie-language gimmick, is the comfortable sense of being in a warm radio booth on a frozen Ontario small town early early morning, as disgruntled talk radio host Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) begins to think the locals are all fucking with him as the calls coming in become more and more panicked, incoherent, and violent; his producer (Lisa Houle) shows the wear and tear humoring this charismatic witty but bitter dude has wrought on her, as well as the confusion that even after all that she still kind of has a thing for him, something he's way too self-lacerating to do much about. It's so organic it all unfolds in more or less real time for long stretches without the viewer (me at least) noticing any lapse; as the influx of news and shaky narration causes a breakdown in our perception of reality, leaving us to imagine most of the carnage in a kind of WAR OF THE WORLDS broadcast in reverse. In other words, while not being specifically scary, and always kind of funny, even romantic, there's a sense that something meta is always at stake, something that might leak out and effect even your seeing it, like you could call in to Mazzy's show while watching him in the movie and maybe he'd answer, and you'd both realize you'd probably fallen asleep.(more)
6:30 AM - HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)
Dir. William Castle
William Castle prided himself on being the dime store spooky matinee knockoff Hitchcock, and its his palpable love of the dime store horror tropes that save him, and make his films endure, like hazy childhood memories of parking lot haunted carnival rides. His films are like how horror movies are remembered by children who love horror movies, and this his masterwork, as subtle as a skeleton on a string zooming over the heads of the popcorn tossing kiddies (a process called "Emergo") and six times of terrific. Like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD it has a punchy energy that endures past any amount of public domain dupe streaking. Netflix's copy is adequate (you don't really want it to look too good--though the Blu-ray in Vincent Price Vol. 2 is terrific) and, take it from me, six in the morning is the best time to see it, ideally with ten year-old kid who just woke up and is sitting on the floor because your sleeping bag is taking up the whole couch. Dude, that kid was me! Meanwhile, Elijah Cook Jr. gets drunk and babbles the grisly exposition; Vincent Price plays deadly games with his scheming wife (Carol Ohmart); the elderly caretakers of the house walk around the hall on wheels, frozen in papier mache poses of carny ride menace; pistols in little coffins are handed out as party favors; there's two severed heads, and an animated noose. (see my first ever site, Dr. Twilite's Neighborhood, which includes this as part of its 50s Canon)
8 AM - MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1971)
Dir. Gordon HesslerThe Grand Guignol meta effect is in full effect here, as it was in PENNY DREADFUL after it and MAD LOVE before it--they're performing dastardly reimagining of Poe's classic story, wherein the ape is the hero and Herbert Lom gets acid thrown on his face (again?) but the audience of semi-bemused royals presume it's part of the show, even though it's the closest thing to a performance they've given yet. If the ape looks familiar, it should, it got it's start smashing bones for Kubrick in 1968, spooked Joan Crawford as TROG in 1970, and now here it is, much the worse for wear but still the only sympathetic face in the film. Considered by most to be Gordon Hessler's finest hour, which doesn't say a lot unless you like terrible fake sideburns, ratty period costumes, a script that's just a few dull stretches of THE AVENGERS taped together, and boozy British actors pretending they remember their lines and marks. Well, there's some of that here, but the Demoiselles are stunning and dressed in dusky reds and black lace chokers (making their acid scarring all the more painful); the actors include Jason Robards, the period mise en scene is at least at Hammer level and there's galore post-modern leakage which is why it's after PONTYPOOL. And if you fall asleep, well dream your way right in, into the cage, that is, with Erich, the gorilla! (and then see the 1932 Florey version, which is sublimely weird).
9:30 AM - BLACK SUNDAY (1965)
Dir. Mario BavaI could do without the schmaltzy concert piano score or the misogynist torture of the opener, but the rest is great, and it's perfect Halloween fare. Lots of long pans and dollies across acres of ancient castle griffins and Barbara Steele standing or lying with eerie alien stillness and holes in her face. Even the 'good' Steele is spooky looking, like a reverse Rondo Hatton! This was Bava's big American calling card, and it's a perfect breakfast movie once the ugly taste of Catholic metal spikes is out of your mouth. The print used here is just so so, but it might inspire you to get the Blu-ray, to better savor the tactile, brilliant cinematography and dreamy dark fairy tale poeticism for which Bava is without peer. Just ask Tim Lucas!
11:00 AM -HELLRAISER (1987)
Dir. Clive BarkerThis was just an innocent list but it's become about the actresses of Great Britain, more cigarette resonant and unabashedly sexual than most American girls depicted in films. this chick Julia (Clare Higgins) has the balls to ask for a brandy from her husband when she's sick, rather than refusing one with a dainty little 'eh' of a sneeze like a Yank bird, and it's pretty great the way she plays with a sadistic smile after her first kill, traumatized but hardly succumbing to the American tendency to play the glum martyr --though even now she says she's afraid of thunder, and worthless husband Larry is like, "I'll protect you!" not realizing she's already done and seen things that would turn him ashen like a Poe sailor. To bring his brother (her lover) back from the Cenobiteverse Julia gamely lures a string of grotty 70s-looking British business men on their three martini lunch hour up to the attic, where she bashes their heads in with a hammer so her love can slowly absorb their blood and put some meat on his bones, as it were. Her stepdaughter meanwhile (Ashley Laurence) is getting wise, and endangered by angler fish-esque demons and shit. She's cool too but with her beyond morality pursuit of pleasure, unapologetic wit and intelligence, and adult way of handling her body, Julia's exhibit A in what's lacking in so many similar American ladies who tend to be youth-worshipping baby doll types until it's too late to dodge the Baby Jane mirror headlights (click this searing yet lovingly indulgent list that tracks them from Lolita to cougar). Think Julia gives a fuck her man's got no lips or skin? She'll shag him anyway just as he wouldn't care if she was in the thick of her period. Fookin' A. Oh yeah, the Cenobites themselves, they're kind of fucked up, not my bag, but respect the analogy towards the masochism of the horror marathon viewer! If you've seen it lately, HELLRAISER 2 is pretty good too, even #3 is watchable, but it's a steep slope, human!
12:30 PM: LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1985)
Dir. Ken RussellKeep the British lady thing going with this gem from Ken Russell, the colors on the Netflix look gorgeous (the DVD seemed washed out, though it has a wry unmissable Russell commentary track that's one of the greats). And Amanda Donohoe is a tour de force, never camping or vamping but nailing, in every possible permutation that verb can be permuted, the most intoxicating upper crust broad since Stanwyck as the Lady Eve. Her snake goddess is what Auntie Mame always aspired to be but could never shake her ostentatious Americana baggahge. Familiar Scottish face Peter Capaldi is a summering archeologist who unearths a dragon skull; Hugh Grant, in his film debut, is the local lord-inherit who inherits too the burden of a giant white worm neighbor; the two local blonde sisters at the inn (Catherine Oxenberg and Sammi Davis) are fetching, smart, and crafty, and even the hallucination scene has a disturbing potency-- "she had a bad trip" - notes Grant, after one of the sisters accidentally touches some of hallucinatory snake venom. No one ever says no to a drink anywhere in the film, thank god. Between this and his Chopin opposite Judy Davis in IMPROMPTU, and Capaldi after this and LOCAL HERO. There's also the hottest older woman-on-paralyzed younger boy seduction in film history (until Creedence Leonore Gielgud's in TROLL 2). So forgive the occasional silliness, such as the absurd fangs and charmed dancing of Paul Brooke. And be charmed yourself.
2 PM - INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1977)
Dir. Phillip Kaufman
Let's face it, you're never going to make it this far in this bizarro festival -- the 'you' who began doesn't even exist anymore; a slough of cells, a weariness, probably passing out, falling asleep, and when you wake up, you're not you -- you're groggy, maybe irritable. The you back in the cool raro moments at the crack of dawn with HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL are long gone. It's cool. I get it. Move on if you must, but make sure it's still you and there's not a shell of a being that was once or will be you under your pool table or cooling in your sauna, or in your garden, or in the crawlspace, or under your bed. And then put this on the 'stream and join the flow of ditrates and bata. And then read Poe's William Wilson. And weep...
And let's just say the HD print on Netflix looks damned good, which is important as the photography is of that great 70s urban texture dilapidated period, filled with great moments of alienation, San Francisco as a crucible for the dehumanization of 20th century society, the urban disconnect from your closest neighbors, and it's gorgeously photographed by Michael Chapman, who brings the same urban alienated beautiful grime-glisten and disturbingly wayward roving he brought to TAXI DRIVER. Cast includes: Leonard Nimoy as a pop psychologist; Brooke Adams and Donald Sutherland as health inspectors on the run; Jeff Goldblum and a pre-ALIENS / post-BIRDS Veronica Cartwright as their mud bath managing friends; and even Kevin McCarthy and Robert Duvall in moments of cameo stuntcasting. See it with someone you love and then wonder, just what do you know about that someone, and when you come out of the bathroom are they still the same someone? Is that even you coming out of the bathroom, Wilson? William, it's me... William...
4:00 PM - YOU'RE NEXT (2013)
Dir. Adam WingardLet's end on a cheerful, non-supernatural note... Scrappy Sharni Vinson is a great final-ish girl, full of wily Australian gumption in this tale of a besieged family reunion in the woods; it works because it recalls not just classics of the 70s and 80s, but classics of the 30s, i.e. the old dark house full of secret panels, greedy relatives gathered for the will, lightning storms, scary masks, strong female leads, no one who they seem, ironic karma, sudden twisting violence, moody Carpenter-esque synth soundtrack, and a refreshing lack of any moral compass. (MORE)
If you've recently seen any of the above, do substitute SCREAM, SCREAM 2, BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, RE-ANIMATOR, JOHN DIES AT THE END, EVIL DEAD 2 (though it's got some slapstick, fair warning) and/or CABIN IN THE WOODS. And for god's sake, stay alert, lock your doors, keep watching the knobs and clutching the butcher knife, large wrench, hammer, baseball bat, or fire poker, turn on a white noise machine or Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast to block the spooky noises of trees against the window, because they're not trees....