Monday, October 17, 2005

Movie Massacre Marathon report...

I’ve been going to the Music Box Theater in Chicago for quite a while, ever since they refurbished it (the venue was originally built back in the ‘20s) as a revival house back in the ‘80s, when it replaced the lamented Parkway and Varsity revival theaters. Home video sadly killed the revival theaters in this town, and the Music Box quickly morphed more into a general art theater. So call it twenty five years, more or less.

This last weekend, for the first time (as far as I know) they attempted a 24 film fest, this one naturally being horror movies for the Halloween period. I went for the first part of it, but wasn’t able to get anyone else to go, and frankly pooped out after about nine hours, not including travel time into the city.

As was typical with the Music Box, the crowd was a mix of not only the nerds, dweebs, geeks and spazzes you’d expect at a horror movie marathon, but a good number of Goths and punks. There were even the occasional normal older persons. Many came in costume, and at least one guy came in pajamas for the overnight stay. Interestingly, women probably represented a good quarter of the attendees, a marked change from the horror and sci-fi events of my youth.

The first show was a very nice, extended print of Nosferatu, featuring live organ accompaniment. The organist guy was a cherub-like middle aged fellow, and came out in a little cape and Phantom of the Opera mask. (I was seated right by the organ, and had a good look.) He was having a lot of fun, and regularly exhorted the audience to give a villainous laugh. Amazingly, he played the entire near two-hours without referring to any sheet music, playing an instrument that requires you to pump with your feet as much as play the various levels of keyboards. I can’t even play a kazoo.

The movie is a classic, although some of acting, overplayed even for a silent movie, drew laughs from the audience. Unfortunately, there was some of that obnoxiously snarky and superior “It’s old, so it’s funny” response from the more clueless and callow members of audience too, which annoyingly continued on through Creature of the Black Lagoon. However, eventually the audience started mostly taking Nosferatu for what it is, and just watched it.

The second movie is a new Japanese ‘horror’ film called Pulse, which will be featured for an extended run at the Music Box later this year. Color me unimpressed. At first it was a knock-off of Ringu, which was fine. However, it soon turned all arty and abstract and metaphysical and such, and as I’ll be the first to admit, my brain don’t play that.

See, the dead are being squeezed out of the afterlife, which is full, and so they are keeping people from dying by making them disappear into a state of eternal loneliness, at which point they disappear and leave stains behind (presumably meant to be reminiscent of the charred ‘shadows’ of people incinerated by the atom bombs back in WWII), although sometimes the still extant characters can see them, and the limbo people (or is it the dead people) will occasionally call the living people and say “Help…help…help…” over and over, and….

After a while I couldn’t figure what the hell was going on, despite much exposition and a gruesomely torpid pace. At some point the film just seemed to start going in circles, and I began longing for it to end, which it wouldn’t. The film turns out to be two hours, and seemed to this viewer much longer. There’s a wraparound bookend to the main story featuring a handful of folks on a cruise ship, and the damn movie went on so long that when we finally returned to that setting, it took me a while to remember that that was how the movie started.

For all I know, this film is a work of genius and I just didn’t ‘get it,’ but boy…I didn’t get it.

The third movie was the aforementioned Creature of the Black Lagoon, which happily was shown in 3-D. This is always a pain for me, because I wear glasses and so need to balance the 3-D specs on the outer ridge of my not terribly big nose. Still, aside from the usual caviots about the format, the 3-D was spectacular, not so much for the things thrust into the camera, but for a simply incredible depth of field. Characters would come up and stand behind other characters, and the illusion of depth was stunning. As a bonus, the film is much better than most other 3-D movies, the Creature is perhaps the last classic monster the movies have created, and Whit Bissell is in the movie! A great choice.

The next show was a selection of short films by local Chicago filmmakers. The first and best was a perhaps half hour movie called Skunk Ape?!, about the titular creature (a guy in a really bad gorilla suit, unaltered and straight out of the bag from some local novelty store) chasing a loud punk band from the Florida Everglades and then tracking them back to Chicago and gorily dispatching them. It was a comedy, and actually funny, and featured a lot of great Chicago locations, including Wrigley Dogs (down from Wrigley Field) and the Miracle Mile. Really good stuff.

The next movie was Death Line, a Brit horror flick from the ’70s that was sort of a precursor to CHUD. I’d never seen it, and it starred Donald Pleasance, so I was excited. It was pretty great, if a tad gory for my schoolmarmish tastes. Happily, the director was from Chicago (and moved to England after being “significantly” involved in the 1968 Democratic Convention demonstrations, and thus having, according to him, incurred the emnity of The Man—as you can imagine, I was sort of rolling my eyes at this point. Let it freakin’ go, you damn boomers, that was like forty years ago, and you didn’t end up changing the world, so shut up already all youse guys).

In any case, said director, Gary Sherman, was actually on hand to introduce the film and go some Q&A on his various movies. Most cool was that he owned the actual original answer print, which they used. And although I found his continued emphasis on the film as a “political statement” a bit tiresome, luckily the politics was all subtext (which always works so much better anyway), and the film proved quite good.

Sherman, in his comments, was clearly still pissed that the American distributor reedited the film, pretty heavily according to him, when it was issued here in the States as Raw Meat. The movie was recently released under that title here on a supposedly nice DVD, which I checked after I got home to see if it featured the original cut of the film. Apparently it does, so feel safe in checking it out.

Anyway, it was now about 9:30, and I buggered out at this point. In other words, with nearly 2/3rds of the show left, including such cool flicks as Scanners, Return of the Living Dead, The Howling, Near Dark and quite a few others. Maybe next year I’ll stay longer.

It was overall a great show. A guy named Rusty Nails from a website called was the host (and apparently a name in the cult movie world) and sponsor of the show, and came out in between the movies to keep the crowd roused and give out prizes etc. He was more than up to the job. There were also fun trailers running between all the movies.

So even so I totally wimped out, I got my $30 worth (ticket and parking), and look forward to doing it again next year. I’d write a better article but my lunch hour is up. Thanks to all the organizers of a really worthwhile event.


At 11:51 AM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

Sounds like fun. I wish they'd do something like that round these parts, but knowning Asheville, it'd be a 24 hour Michael Moore fest. Eurgh.

At 12:07 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Yeah, that's how I felt. The east coast and west coast always seem to have these things, but Chicago's always had a dearth of them. So even the fest's existance, whether I personally want to go or not, is a good sign.

For instance, Milwaukee has a revival house (The Times Cinema) and Chicago doesn't.

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