24 Hours in the Mouth of Madness
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This here, it was the type of thing my friends and I had fantasized about for years; kicking off Saturday, October 15th, at noon, the Music Box Massacre, a 24-hour horror movie marathon—sort of an endurance challenge for depraved couch potatoes of the horror-fanatic variety. It was set up just like a horror cliché—the eccentric uncle who kicks off, leaving his inheritance to whatever family member can survive the night in his haunted mansion—except there was no uncle, no inheritance, and no haunted mansion. The real challenge here was keeping my butt from going numb.

There were films for every fashion of horror aficionado, from the 1922 grainy black-and-white classic, Nosferatu, to Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2001 Japanese horror film, Pulse; movie selections spanned the spectrum from splatter to suspense, with modern classics and classic classics alike. Gary Sherman, director of the ultra-creepy Dead & Buried, provided an intro and follow-up Q &A to his cult classic, Death Line (re-released in the US as Raw Meat, but lacking in all the good bits), and local film students showcased low-budget shorts.

Nosferatu set the event in motion with organ accompaniment. F.W. Murnau’s visionary film adaptation of Dracula (sort of) is an oft-emulated, gritty, haunting, and Goth-textured work of genius. Here, the production was shown as originally intended, in a theater that first opened in 1929. The Music Box still boasts all the ornamentation of such historical venues—a dark blue ceiling of “twinkling stars” and moving cloud formations, rounded towers, fake marble statues, and organ chambers—the ambience perfectly suited to the silent classic. While the film takes its time building suspense—especially for a story that’s now so easily recognizable—it’s well worth the pay-off. Silent films always require a certain measure of patience in the present era of movie watching, but even after decades of Dracula motifs ground down to cliché, this film still leaves you feeling haunted hours after it’s over.

Romero’s The Crazies (1973) was fired up shortly after. As intensely political as it is cheesy, the film serves as a precursor to 28 Days Later—a virus drives people into a frenzied, murderous rage. Biological weaponry, government conspiracies, bureaucracy as the big bad guy, and, of course, nefarious grannies menacingly wielding knitting needles. In its proper historical context (Watergate, Vietnam), it’s as freaky as anything Romero, the creative genius behind the Night of the Living Dead franchise, has done. The Crazies however, doesn’t rate up there with the original Living Dead trilogy (Night, Dawn, and Day) or even 28 Days Later.

What followed were films familiar to most everyone in the audience.

Scanners, David Cronenberg’s paranoid, horror-action film, centering on psychic super-spies engaged in telepathic battles for the whole of humanity. The Return of the Living Dead—a darker, more nihilistic, pseudo-sequel to Night of the Living Dead—which is, ironically, a comedy. Dario Argento’s Demons, horror’s answer to metafiction, where a movie about demons inexplicably comes to life for the audience watching it. The Howling, the story of a pack of werewolves led by a self-help guru serves as a tongue-in-cheek homage to werewolf classics, which then became a modern werewolf classic. Near Dark, a vampire Western, which is really all that needs to be said about it.

But, it begs the question, why were we there, filling the seats, toting blankets and pillows, losing sleep, to see films we could just as easily have rented at home?

The overall experience was an affirmation of the community that forms around films—a gathering of the cult that becomes devoted to cult classics. The theatergoers each held their own individual impressions and memories of the films that played, but so many of these personal memories are, in a sense, collective. The interactions with the screen—the bits of dialogue that are shouted along with the characters, the waves of laughter at stiff, artificial sounding lines, and, of course, the jolt that comes from a good scare—are things that need to be experienced collectively.

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