When I tell some of my non-horror friends that I am going to a 24-hour horror movie marathon, a few might be slightly intrigued, while most give me that strange look of “why in the hell would you want to do that?” If you are a horror fan, then you know exactly why we’d do it. If you’re not, then I’m not sure I could explain it. It is something that each year I tell myself I’m getting too old to do them, but then the next year, I’m right back there for more madness.
So why do we do it? Why do we sit in the theater for movie after movie, in seats that really weren’t made for you to be there more than two or three hours? Why battle your body and mind to stay awake when they both are clearly trying to persuade you to do otherwise. Why sit and watch movies that most likely you own a copy in your DVD/Blu-ray collection? Why? Because we love it. Yes, it is simple as that. We’re dedicated to the genre and when given the chance to sit with other like-minded crazy fans, enjoying seeing films in a darkened theater on the big screen, the way they were meant to be seen, it really is a no-brainer.
Since 2005, Chicago has had a 24-hour horror movie marathon, starting at the Music Box Theatre, which was called The Music Box Massacre. In 2012, the people putting on the Massacre parted ways with that theater. The Music Box continued the marathon tradition, changing the name to The Music Box of Horrors, while the other individual started his own, calling it simply the Massacre. Which means that for the last five years, Chicago has had two different 24-hour horror movie marathons, usually within a week apart. And in those five years, I’ve only missed one of them. I attended both of this year’s marathons, though in different capacity, and had a blast at each of them, for different reasons. Before I get to them, let’s go over a few things you might need to get yourself prepared for one of these…adventures.
The first thing that you need to do is make a plan. Take a look at the schedule of movies listed and start to figure out which titles you really want to see, which might be the one or two to try to take a little nap during, or when would be a good time to run out and grab a bite to eat. Lately at both of these events, they have some food trucks stopping by, so you don’t have to waste that much time grabbing some chow. Then again, sometimes the break from the seats is good thing. Plus, the fresh air might help wake you up and get some blood circulating back in those legs!
The other thing you want to plan on is bringing at least a pillow, or maybe even a blanket. There are times the theater might get a little cold, so you want to be prepared. But a little pillow can help you get just a little bit more comfortable when you really need to take a few minutes of downtime. Sometimes it might be impossible to get comfortable enough to sleep, while other instances, you have no choice and your consciousness just turns off. Granted, you might wake up with one hell of a kink in your neck, but after all, we are professionals, right? Also…and I know this sounds like an obvious thing, but believe me it’s not, you want to make sure you bathe before hand and have deodorant on. Yeah, I know. How dare it say something like that. But once you’ve been in a crowded theater, with hundreds of people that have been in there for many, many hours, the air starts to get a bit….thick. Trying to enjoy a movie while someone near you is turning a bit ripe, makes it tougher. So please, for the sake of your fellow horror fan, come in clean and fresh, huh? Everyone would greatly appreciate it. Especially around 3am.
The last thing you have to prepare yourself for is having the will to survive one of these. I know that might sound a bit overdramatic, but you have to understand that after several hours in the theater, when you realize that you could just be sitting at home in the luxury of your favorite chair or couch, possibly watching this same movie! When comfort and sanity starts to battle the desire to continue watching this movie, you have to stay strong and vigilant! It really is an endurance test, as well as giving yourself the experience of seeing some of these great titles on the big screen. That is what you need to fight your brain and body with. That is why you need to power through the pain and discomfort, and tiredness, and still enjoy the movies. Trust me….it is not easy. But once you’re through, and after you let your body play catch-up, you’ll be thankful. Or still just tired as hell and pissed that you put yourself through that misery. But where is the fun in that?
Our first 24-hour marathon this year was the Music Box of Horrors, held on October 15th at, of course, the Movie Box Theatre. At this show, I was going to be a vendor, so while we were going to try and be there for the long haul, most of our time would be spent behind our table instead of in the theater. This is a tough decision that we face every year, whether we just want to go and enjoy the films or try and sell some merchandise to the fans attending. For a couple of years, we stopped vending and went for the films. But it is a lot of fun to be set up there, getting to chat with the different fans coming in for the flicks, as well as being able to put some great horror reference books in the hands of these fans. My friend Bryan Martinez was helping me out at this show. Being the creator of the highly entertaining and informative web series The Giallo Room, I knew he was only helping me so he could go see Torso, but that was okay.
Once again, they had a great lineup programmed, with titles like classic Italian films like Dr. Butcher M.D. and Torso. You also had Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the rare pics Eyes of Fire, Jeepers Creepers 2, Raw Meat, Street Trash, Popcorn and more. But let me say a little something about the task of programming one of these marathons that most people don’t think about. It really is impossible to create a lineup that is going to satisfy every single person coming through the door. There are going to be those films that you really want to see that might be showing at 4am. Instead of complaining, maybe you should just be happy that they are screening at all. I wanted to point out that picking 12 films to play is tough enough, but trying to line them up that you think might be the best way is one tough thing to do. So before you start to bitch, give them a little break and just go to enjoy what you can see. If something is playing that you don’t like, then use that time to get something to eat, visit the vendors, or just take a nap.
For the last two years, the Music Box of Horrors has been programmed by Will Morris and I think he’s done a pretty stellar job. Have I personally been happy with the way he’s scheduled them? Not always. But the fact that he continues to come up with some fantastic titles and lost classics, that is good enough for me. I always look forward to see what he’ll be setting up for us next time.
For this year’s event, since we were vending, our day started much earlier since we had to get there in time to get set up and ready for the crowd. Speaking of which, as a die-hard horror fan, it gives me such pleasure to see people already in line, hours before it starts. That is dedication. One of the special guests this year was Jim Muro, director of the cult film Street Trash, which would be screening later that evening. Muro hasn’t directed a ton of films, but is a highly regarded steadycam operator and cinematographer in Hollywood, working on such movies like Titanic, True Lies, Casino, and many others. So for him to come out and hang with some horror freaks like us, screen Street Trash, do a Q&A, then bum around the lounge with the fans signing and chatting, really shows just how damn cool this guy is! I was only able to stay in the theater for a short time during the Q&A with Muro, but what I did hear, what just a riot. He had some great stories from making the film and had the audiences laughing several times.
Also, a returning guest this year was director Gary Sherman, who was at the very first Music Box marathon back in 2005. This time out, he brought a newly found print of Death Line (aka Raw Meat), which was his first feature film, released back in 1972. We’ve met Sherman several times over the years at events like this and just think the world of him. He’s got some great stories and just one friendly guy. Coming out to run the Q&A with Sherman was another Chicago director, John McNaughton, director of the infamous Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Like Muro, both of them were in the lounge signing different memorabilia for the fans. And the best part, none of these guys were charging a penny for signatures.
One of the films that I heard a lot of people excited about, especially since it was playing early in the lineup, was Sergio Martino’s notorious film Torso (1973). It’s not often when you get to see a classic giallo on the big screen, from an actual 35mm print, so I think that drew a good crowd on that title alone! Same with screening Dr. Butcher M.D., which was just recently released in fully uncut for the first time on bluray by Severin Films. While the film print was just a tad bit red, it was still a treat for cannibal film fans to get to see this on the big screen. Besides, sometimes seeing an actual film print, even if the quality is less than stellar, really is something special, that unfortunately I think is being lost upon newer fans.
As we were vending during the marathon, it was great to see the different fans come out and pick up a few books from us throughout the night. From the titles chosen, I could tell that these are serious film fans, really interested in learning more about the genre. It is because of that very reason that I choose to be behind the table instead of inside the theater. But the tough part of being a vendor at this type of event is that generally once the movie starts, it slows down to a crawl since most of the people are in the theater. But it does give you a chance to sit and relax, walk around a bit and chat with the other vendors, or even do a little shopping yourself. I know I was at the House of Movie Monsters table a few times during the evening adding a few things here and there to the collection.
Being a vendor at 24-hour marathon, you also have to figure out how long you need/want to stay open. It does come to a point that by a certain time, your chance of another sale is growing very slim. People are more worried about staying awake than spending any money. Plus, if they had planned on buying something, they most likely would have done it already. We hit that moment around 3am, sometime after Halloween III started. Our initial plan was to pack up the van, then we’d be able to catch the screening of Eyes of Fire which was next on the lineup. But once we had done that and we went into the theater, not only was it a bit warm, but it kind of smelled like a locker room after a big game. As we stood in the back of the theater for a few minutes, I actually started to sweat. Sure, it might have been because we had just gotten the van loaded up, but between that and the smell, Bryan and I decided to call it a night and make the drive back home, while we were still both awake. Figuring we’d be in the car another hour, that is one thing that you want to make sure you can do. Had we stayed for the next feature, I probably would have either slept through it, or end up too tired to drive home. So we ended our marathon then and headed home. But I know that we’ll be back next year to do it all over again.
Thanks to the Music Box Theatre and their staff, for keeping this tradition alive and well and giving us horror fans a place to celebrate the genre! We’ll be back next year to do it all over again!
Next up….The Massacre!