This blood-sucker was in the theater, standing next to me, ready to tear out my throat.
Was it a dream? Well, I wasn’t asleep, that's for sure. Then I realized, I was dreaming with my eyes open, distorting what I saw on the screen into reality.
Yep, after watching 13 straight horror movies over the course of 24 hours, I had gone insane.
Losing your mind is just one of the pleasures that comes with attending the annual Music Box Massacre – a 24 hour marathon of classic and infamous horror movies taking place in the historic Music Box Theater, Chicago, IL. That is 24 straight hours of horror movies, with only five to 10 minute breaks in-between flicks allowing a participant to throw a tinkle and down some tween fuel. Then it is back to the unrelenting horror.
While the event is a challenge to both one’s mental stamina and ass muscles, the Massacre is truly my favorite event of the year. For a horror fan, it’s better than Christmas, your birthday, and your first tongue-kiss combined.
Joining me this year at the event was my brother Luke Dimick, who trekked in from Mount Pleasant, MI to partake in the festivities. Not one wink was surrendered by Luke and I during the event, which ran from 12 p.m. Oct. 9 to 12 p.m. Oct. 10.
This film festival is not your typical fart smelling critic jerk-off. It is programmed by die-hard horror fans, for die hard horror fans. Last weekend’s sixth annual installation was no exception.
The atmosphere during the movies is both respectful and also celebratory. People are quiet during vital plot parts of the movie, but are known to yell and cheer after a well done scare sequence or clever “kill”. The festival is more communal than visiting your average Cineplex. And this audience participation is what helps people not only stay awake, but enjoy horror movies for 24 straight hours. You aren’t just watching movies, you are experiencing them with fellow horror fans.
But a funny thing happens to a person after a complete earth-rotation's worth of staying awake watching tripped out, violent, bizarre and creepy movies -- your brain starts to play tricks.
Hence the near Texas vampire slaying of yours truly during the epilogue of Fright Night.
With a few sips of black coffee and mouth full of Skittles, the chemical shock shooed away the cowboy vampire just before he crewed my face off. This would just be the first of several Massacre induced hallucinations… each more welcomed than the last.
Below, a rundown of the Music Box Massacre events and feature films, and my sometimes delirious take on the proceedings.
Noon - Phantom of the Opera (1925)Downlow: This silent, 1925 masterpiece was accompanied by an amazing live organ soundtrack, performed by the Music Box Theatre’s lead organist Dennis Scott (instead of the craptastic Andrew Lloyd Webber music). Yes, the Music Box has an organ, having been built during the end of the silent era in 1920s. Which brings up a great point, a main reason of my love for the Massacre is its setting. The Music Box is the most beautiful movie theater I’ve ever seen, and I could spend 24 hours awake in its embrace without a single movie playing on the screen.
Movie Synopsis: A deformed freakizod who lives in the bowels of a Paris opera house vies for the affection of a beautiful performer – using murder and mayhem to get his way.
This one is all about the details. The flittering ballet girls twirling in excitement. The amazing makeup effects of the Phantom, and the eerie quality attached to silent horror was mesmerizing. Dennis Scott’s organ playing was pure ear-candy.
Mental State: Fresh as a daisy and ready for action. A packed, but silent, kick-off audience of 500 massacrits cheered loudly at the first shriek of the organ. I was in movie bliss.
1:30pm - The Raven (1935)
Downlow: Each Massacre starts off with a silent movie, then moves on to a 1930/40s classic. This year, Rusty picked The Raven, which stars RDHP favorites Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi together in campy, yet provocative, horror fun. During the opening credits, Luke and I busted out our backpacks full of secret food, and snacked down on a lunch of soggy Jimmy Johns subs and half-crushed Sour Cream and Cheddar potato chips. In the Massacre, movies come first; food and the bathroom come second. This would just be the first of three meals we would consume during the event. It is that long.
Movie Synopsis: A torture enthusiast, Edgar Allen Poe obsessive, and famed surgeon (Lugosi) tricks a convict (Karloff) into helping him steal away an engaged, forbidden woman.
In addition to amazing performances by Karloff and Lugosi, this movie knows how to be both fearsome and funny. As we’ve stated before in the RDHP, seeing Karloff and Lugosi together on screen is enough for a good time, but The Raven adds to the fun with a simple but entertaining plot that involves various Poe-inspired torture devices.
Mental State: It’s only movie number 2, pssst! Child’s play. The audience is right in synch with the movies now, with even the teens next to me laughing and cringing along with Lugosi. Seeing youth enjoy the classics gives me energy to press forward.
2:45 p.m. - The Wolf Man (1941)
Downlow: As one of my favorite horror films of all time, I was insanely geeked to view The Wolf Man as part of the Massacre experience. Yet, having already seen the movie several times, I used the 10 minute movie intermission preceding the film to literally sprint across Southport Avenue to a Subway “restaurant” and order up more subs for dinner.
Forget the movies, my true horror at that moment lied in whether the deli meat in this sub would last until I was ready to eat it six hours later. Nothing worse than creating your own massacre in the Music Box’s piss-stained toilet room.
While in line, a long haired rocker looking dude noticed my festival bracelet and asked, “Hey, are you going to sneak that into the theater?” Not sure if he was a friend or NARC, I cautiously responded, “I might.” His expression changing from serious to relived, the man said “Good, me too!” It was all a goof!
Movie Synopsis: An American (Lon Chaney Jr.) travels to his family’s English homestead, only to be converted into a man-strangling werewolf.
The best of the classic universal horror movies. It is fluffy popcorn fun, but also quite touching as were-man Larry Talbot struggles with his torturous curse. Seeing this on the big screen, in 35 mm was a treat, even if it was the millionth time.
Mental State: Bring on more movies! I could do this all day… and I’m going to, and all night, and then all day again… yikes.
4:15 p.m. - Season of the Witch (1972)
Downlow: The best part of the Massacre is you get to see films you’d never see otherwise. Luke and I had never even heard of Season of the Witch, even though it was directed by fan favorite George Romero. Star of the film, Jan White, was in person for the screening and said it was her first festival appearance ever.
Jan told an amusing story of how the film was released originally with the title “Hungry Wives,” in an attempt to get porno theaters to screen the movie. She and Romero pleaded with distributors to keep the Season title, but to no avail. It's ironic, as the movie is considered one of the first feminist horror movies.
Movie Synopsis: Living a boring suburban existence with an abusive husband and fickle friends, a woman turns to witchcraft to improve her station in life. But with the good (seducing her daughter's boyfriend), comes the bad (unleashing murderous demons!).
There is a reason you’ve never heard of this crapfest. The move was self-indulgent, slow and pointless. Romero tried hard to make a social statement about women and the suburbs, but failed due to a disorganized plot. I clapped because the star was in the same room, but those claps were faked Mrs. White! FAKED!
Mental State: This movie sucked the energy straight out of the room. Luke and I both turned to each other following the movie and simply said “Lame.” It sure was, in more ways than a person can count. Luckily, a masterpiece of horror awaited us on the other side of a five minute break.
6:15 p.m. - Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
Downlow: Here we go, the main event. This is the one people were talking about in the halls, the one they came for. Luke had never seen this classic before, ratcheting up my own excitement. I was jealous, I wish I was seeing it for the first time in such a setting! It is a moment one will never forget.
On top of it all, The Chiodo Brothers, the writers, directors and FX masters from KKFOS, were in the house for the viewing and a QA. These guys are as humble as they are talented, which made me love their work even more. For reference, the Chiodos are also the creative minds behind the raunchy puppets of Team America:World Police and the hilarious, beautiful “mouseterpieces” from this year’s Dinner for Schmucks.
During the Q and A after the film, the Chiodo’s said they got the idea for Killer Klowns during a lonely car ride one night. One brother asked the other what they though the scariest thing would be to pull up alongside them on the road. The other responded, it’d be a crazy klown, who’d pull up beside me, and then stare me down. From that, Killer Klowns!
Movie Synopsis: The title pretty much says it all. Cannibal aliens who look like clowns land in a small town and proceed to slay the townsfolk with a barrage of clown themed weapons, like cotton candy cocoon guns and popcorn eggs that hatch snake like monsters. Local teens are hip to the invasion, but the grumpy police just think it’s all a put on.
Movies don’t get much more fun than Killer Klowns. Sure, the plot is pretty out there, but this one isn’t trying to be a serious drama. Klowns knows its audience, they want action, comedy and a few zany thrills along the way. A perfect selection for a Massacre crowd.
Mental State: This erased any mind clouds created by Season of the Witch, as the crowd yelled, screamed and clapped through a masterpiece of 1980s cinema. The energy was at full volume. Only 16 hours left to go? Shit foo! Can’t it be 48 hours of horror?
8 p.m. - Rabid (1977)
Downlow: Luke and I decided to eat our sloppy, lukewarm, Subway “sandwiches” for dinner at this point. Um, yeah, bad mistake. Word to the wise, never eat during a David Cronenberg movie. As a Cronenberg fan, I should have known this, as Cronenberg has made a name for himself as the king of gross out body horror. He didn’t let us down with this one. Puke entered my mouth several times, and it just wasn't due to slimy ham skin.
Movie Synopsis: A beautiful woman mutilated in a rural motorcycle accident is treated on the fly at a nearby plastic surgery center. But after the clinic uses a never-tested skin graft procedure, the woman grows new body equipment that has a taste for human flesh. Soon, her disease spreads into a rabies apocalypse.
Not Cronenberg’s best movie, but certainly not his worst. Having never heard of this film, I was happily surprised it soon turned from a sexy thriller to a gross out infection apocalypse flick. A great grindhouse treat that served as a semi-serious break between two comedy/horrors. On the negative side, amazingly this was the only film during the entire 24 hour where we had an annoying/weird person sit behind us. The guy would laugh in a weird frog snort laugh at totally unfunny things, thoughout the movie. Example: A doctor walks into the room to talk to his patient. Doctor: "How are you feeling today?" Guy in audience: Hahahahah, oh geez!"
It was like, "Whoa, what are you on, buddy!?" So annoying.
Mental State: The Subway didn’t make friends with my stomach, and the two decided to fight all while viewing people puking and eating each other on screen. I had to act fast… TWEEN FUEL TO THE RESCUE! Pop in a couple of granola bars and bam, I’m back in the game. The night started to feel long, but I was still in movie happytown.
10:15 p.m. - Basket Case (1982)
Downlow: There was a lot of buzz around this movie in the theater, and Luke and I couldn’t figure out why. We’d heard of it, but not that it was “that” good. Oh how wrong we were. With star Kevin Van Hentenryck in person for a intro and following Q and A, the audience was amped up for interaction with this horror/comedy. Luke and I never saw this one coming.
Movie Synopsis: A man seeks revenge on the doctors who cut away his conjoined, horribly deformed twin brother. But when love enters the picture, the man’s mini-me gets jealous of his action, and takes action of his own.
By far mine and Luke’s favorite film of the festival. Maybe it was the rowdy environment, but this one satisfied on so many levels. It was shocking, crude, hilarious, bizarre and stomach churning all at the same time. Perfect for a party-like horror festival. There is one scene (you’ll know the one) that had Luke and I “laugh-reaming” – that is laughing while screaming in disgust. Amazing.
It is movies like this that make festivals like the Massacre so special.
Mental State: Ending at 12:15 a.m., we had official reached the half way point. While this may seem reassuring, it is actually quite sobering. Yeah, we have watched 12 hours and seven movies, but we also have 12 hours and six movies to go. It is at this point that any massacrit, even experienced and die hard folks like myself, start to transition into survival mode. It is no longer just a movie marathon, it is a challenge to the mind and body. No sleeping allowed, Luke and I said. Let’s do this.
12:30 a.m. - Pet Sematary (1989)
Downlow: Usually the crowd starts to thin out at this point, but not this year! The house was still packed as the marathon moved into its back half. I hadn’t seen Pet Sematary for nearly 15 years, but when I did had mediocre feelings about it. Cliched and not scary were words that came to mind. I soon realized it holds much more power than I had given credit.
Movie Synopsis: A family movies next door to a “pet sematary,” only to learn from neighbors that just beyond it lies land that can resurrect the dead. When tragedy strikes the family, overwhelming grief leads to abuse of the property, with negative results.
What a depressing movie! And I thought this was a tame one! I had totally forgot about spinal meningitis stricken sister Zelda and her twisted green spine. This one still packs a punch. Engrossingly atmospheric, and one of the more hard hitting Stephen King movies.
Mental State: This is about how heart-wrenching grief over the loss of someone you love will drive a person to do f'ed up things. During and after the movie, my heart sank to a place it rarely travels, as I thought about how I would handle the loss of someone I love.
My thoughts turned to my wife, most likely happily sleeping in bed. But at that moment, a flood of fear surged over me. What if something happened to her? I hope she is alright. Is she alright? The marathon started to get to me in this weakened state, and at the end of the movie at 2:15 a.m. I turned to Luke and said, “That movie makes me want to cry.” And I nearly did… but like a true man, I kicked those feeling in the crotch and soldiered on.
I needed some comfort, and that's when I remembered the cookies my thoughtful wife had baked for us the night before. They were no-bake chocolate oatmeal "clumpies" formed into the shape of deadly spiders and disease infested rats, complete with pretzel stick legs and tails. What a gal!
After downing four of the tasty critters, the love-baked coco drop-kicked my depression, and I took a quick spin around the theater lobby in preparation for the next tale of horror.
2:30 a.m. - The Funhouse (1981)
Downlow: Historically, the 2 am to 6 am stretch of the Massacre is where the lesser movies in the lineup are placed. People are tired, many are passed out from exhaustion, and the mood of the theater changes from excitement to hard-fought endurance. In an attempt to rectify this situation, slasher The Funhouse was programmed in the witching hour. Director Tobe Hooper is the evil mind behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so I expected a bloody freak fest to wake me up.
Movie Synopsis: A good girl runs with the wrong crowd to a traveling carnival that has a bad reputation. After deciding to spend the night in the Funhouse in order to make-whoopee, the group witnesses a murder by the Funhouse owner's hideously deformed and insane son (what's with all the deformity this year!?). Locked in the Funhouse with the killer, the group fights to survive amongst their creepy locale.
A very bright and colorful movie, yet the Funhouse just wasn't that fun. The action was slow to develop, and even the uniquely gross murderous freak wasn't enough to stop me from yawning. The killer slowly stalked each victim though the funhouse, and that was kind of cool. Unique setting, but you can't make a whole movie on a premise.
Mental State: When this one ended at 4 a.m., Luke and I had come to the end of our second wind. After nine movies and 16 hours staring at a screen in 1920s style movie seats (i.e. uncomfortable), we were starting to fade. To wake everyone up, Rusty Nails ordered everyone in the theater to stand and dance to some punk rock music. It was a short term solution, but no one could think of anything better to try. A survey of the crowd found about half of the remaining 200 massacrits sleeping. Determined, Luke and I cursed their failure and pressed on with eyes a blazing!
4:15 a.m. - House By The Cemetery (1981)
Downlow: Italian horror movies are boring regardless of when you watch them. But when viewed at 4:15 a.m. on zero sleep, they are pure torture.
Synopsis: I have absolutely no idea what this shit-pot of a movie was about. A family moves into a house near a cemetery, and start to get possessed by ghosts or face basement zombies or something. All I know is there was a lot of long pauses, badly dubbed voices, and a ridiculous amount of loud screaming that pierced my tired head like boiling hot pokers.
This was the low point of the massacre. But don't get me wrong, I'm not angry this movie was screened. I had never seen it before, and was happy to have the chance to check it out on 35 mm. That said, this was awful and nearly claimed me to the land of lullabies.
Mental State: If Apollo Creed had been sitting ring side to my movie viewing battle during House By the Cemetery, you would have certainly heard him scream "throw in the damn towel!" Luke and I were busted during this flick, with head nods and jerk-awakes galore. Our guts churned with tween fuel, and our eyes were drier than your grandma. But through the torture, I didn't once drift into sleep, regardless of how much my eye balls screamed from over exposure to light. At that point, three movies more seemed like a lifetime.
5:45 a.m. - Theater of Blood (1973)
Downlow: Testament to the power of seeing a movie in a theater. I'd seen this on DVD a year ago and hated it. As tired as I was, I thought this movie would be the end of me and I'd be a puddle of sleep on the Music Box's now filthy floor. I underestimated the movie going experience. This one saved ended up being the savoir I had longed for in these wee hours.
Synopsis: A disgraced Shakespearian actor rains down revenge on a group of critics who ridiculed his craft, mimicking murders contained in Shakespeare plays.
Vincent Price is a pretty hammy actor, so when called upon to play a hammy actor in this movie, he delivers with mastery. This was a highly entertaining and funny movie with a great premise, stylistic kill scenes, and a mood perfect for the grindhouse setting the Music Box had become at 6 a.m. If you have never seen this, do it now.
Mental State: Theater of Blood got the crowd back to its normal self. Re-energized by Price's brilliantly cheesy performance, we all realized that the massacre was almost over. Only two movies to go! The buzz returned to the theater, and Luke and I began our sprint. With a fresh cup of coffee in my veins, we pressed on toward the home stretch.
7:45am - Psycho (1960)
Downlow: This 50th Anniversary screening was highly anticipated among the crowd, especially given few had seen it on a 35 mm print. We were not let down by the hype.
Synopsis: A blonde on the run checks into a creepy roadside motel, only to find its mother-obsessed caretaker is not as friendly as he appears. She takes a shower.
One of the best horror movies of all time, and here is the proof. After 12 movies and 20 hours of movie watching, this film still got screams and cheers out of the audience. Director Alfred Hitchcock is a master of suspense, but Psycho shows off his ability to create entirely unique angles and shots as well. Psycho is good when watched on a TV screen, but is beautiful and amazing when viewed on the huge silver screen. I always knew the music in this film was great, but hearing it on the blasting theater speakers made me realize just how brilliant it is. Now I can't get it out of my head.
Mental State: I knew exactly how Norman Bates felt at the end of the movie, staring creepily into the camera pan, raving mad. By 9:45 am, having been up over 24 hours, with 22 of those spent watching movies, I was nuttier than a shit house rat. But I wasn't alone, as the theater was still nearly full of massacrits who had endured the ordeal with me. This gave me hope and strength, and with only one movie to go, I lifted my head and dashed for the finish.
10 a.m. - Fright Night (1985)
Downlow: The last movie of the massacre! This beloved 80s movie was the perfect way to cap off the horror event of the year. People dug in their heels, pried open their eyes, and drank in the 80s goodness. Why can't they make vampire movies like this today?
Synopsis: A horror movie fan has a hunky vampire movie in next door to his suburban home. He tries to get help from authorities as town murders begin to add up, but no one believes the teen. When the vampire vows for his blood, the teen calls in the help of the local late night TV horror host to slay the undead.
It's a fun film, and I dig the whole look into suburban paranoia and the idea that even in the suburbs, danger can lurk right next door. But I didn't grow up on this one like some people, so I find the whole movie just okay. I do also love the nod to older vampire films and the general tone of the movie -- it is silly, light but also full of great vampire lore. Worth a watch, but probably not after seeing 12 straight movies.
Mental State: Throughout the movie reality and movie began to intertwine. As described above, I was dreaming with my eyes open, and had to actually shake my head in order to snap back into the real world. I'd probably be classified as insane at that point. I began to see things, stepping into that realm cherished by Freddy Krueger between dream and reality.
By the end I had been up for 30 hours watching movies, and I entered the weird numb realm where the brain shuts off and switches to autopilot.
Someone could have poked my eye out with a pencil, and I wouldn't have noticed. To quote Luke at the end, "I just don't care about anything anymore, I can't feel."
As the credits rolled, Rusty Nails pronounced how proud we should all be for having survived the massacre. And proud we were.
To celebrate, the survivors all gathered in the middle of Southport Avenue outside the theater, 200 zombie people smelling of death and popcorn, swarming into traffic and shutting that shit down for a group massacre survivor picture.
On the way back to the L to return home, Luke and I were both relieved and sad it was over. In fact, I was ready to watch another movie, mind crazies or not.
After all, I really wanted to ask that vampire why he was wearing a cowboy hat?