Late night, and there’s a Tom Snyder-sized hole in my soul

So I can’t sleep. So I blog. So I’ll be (relatively) brief here.

I think.

Last Saturday, I went to the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica for the 9th Annual Dusk-to-Dawn Horrorthon. It had been a while since I last attended; the Horrorthon was always an on-and-off thing for me. Part, if not all, of my not-so-commitment stems from the fact that it’s a different environment over there. The All Night Horror Show at the New Bev and Cinefamily was/is more about going to enjoy the films, while the Aero is more about going to enjoy yourself enjoying the films. It’s more of a party atmosphere. I never really was much for parties; even my past usual states of inebriation were preferred in gatherings of one.

This is something that I discussed with my friend who went to the Aero with me; whereas the All Night Horror Show has brief intros and plays trailer reels between films, the Horrorthon is as much about what happens between the films, as it is about the films themselves — maybe even more than the films. And what does happen between films there? Insanity, mainly.

As I’ve “written” before, the Horrorthons are hosted by Grant Moninger, film programmer at the American Cinematheque, who in the few screenings I’ve seen him at comes off pretty normal — but during the Horrorthon he lets his freak flag fly and becomes some sort of wild coked-out preacherman with an internal volume control setting of Infinite. He aims to keep everyone awake and in the proper mood for the night. Dude works himself up into a red-shaded face that goes “beyond tomato”, to quote my friend. He also has a cannon for an arm, with the way he launches various candies and DVDs to people in the audience. Damn near everyone left with a Blu-ray of National Treasure (from the “treasure chest”); I didn’t, but I did end up with three copies of Boys on the Side and some breath spray. I can only imagine how much more I’d walk away with had I actually tried.

Over the years, he’s introduced various characters and gags to the Horrorthon; among them, the Corn Gorn, who is a guy in a Gorn (from Star Trek) costume that gives away cans or ears of corn. This year, the Corn Gorn and his Bride welcomed their first child, a chair. He also pops up during the lengthy interstitials that play between films and come from the Tim & Eric school of odd/random/wrong. Some are ads from television, some are clips of films or music videos or public access, and their presentation in the context of the Horrorthon either lends them a surreal aspect or flaunts the weirdness they always had.

The old faves like the Red Roof Inn commercial (“Muuuuulti-tasking!”) and the Stop Using Dirty Catheters clip showed up, as well as some new (to me) ones like a back-and-forth between a helicopter and a washing machine which left me hating both. My personal fave is probably the music video to Dennis Parker’s ode to cocaine-fueled self-confidence and delusion titled “Like an Eagle“, which is so evocative of the late 1970s, particularly the dark specter of The Party’s Over slowly creeping in, hovering ominously in the night sky. I can practically taste the paranoia and desperation that a porn star would feel while recording this song.

There were also the usual TJ Hooker clips with added credits including the names of audience members; my favorite from this year is some dude credited as “Gamer-Gator: The alligator that hates feminism”. There was also one that credited Heavy Midnites’ Phil Blankenship as “the man who hates Horrorthon”; that as well as Grant even referring to one of his on-stage characters as hating the Horrorthon “more than Phil Blankenship” made me wonder whether this was a friendly jibe between programmers or a legit Fuck You. I don’t know and I don’t care.

You cared enough to write about it, though.

I’ve talked about all this stuff before, and maybe I’m just getting older, but while I understand that it’s part of the have-a-good-time party atmosphere, it’s gotten to the point that frankly, they tire me. So once I sit through the first couple of breaks, I usually use that time the rest of the night to get some fresh cold night air mixed with cigarette smoke. Outside, I got treated to nice sights like one of the Aero volunteers bringing out popcorn to the people in the stand-by line.

I am not a people-watcher, even though I’m sure my ramblings might draw you the opposite conclusion; I was born/cursed with a gravitational pull that pulls such precious humans into my orbit and so I feel I must mention them because they seemed to make it obvious that they wanted to be noticed. This time, I had a group of three in the row ahead of me, consisting of two guys and a girl. I immediately assumed the guy furthest away from the girl was the third wheel (takes one to know one), but later I concluded that it was the girl.

She was the girlfriend or wife or whatever of the guy in the middle, and he averaged about one kiss to her cheek or forehead every four minutes. Usually he would lean in and whisper something to her, and then SMOOCH SMOOCHITY SMOOCH SMOOCH. Never did she lean in or even give off the air that she wanted a kiss; she gave off the air that she wasn’t necessarily hyped up to be there. She ended up falling asleep by the second film; before the third film — a masterpiece — both guys told her that she was going to/had to stay awake for it, because it was that good. She fell asleep for that one as well. The boyfriend would occasionally hold up his stubby beer bottle for him and the douchebag sitting behind him to see in the glowing light of the cinema screen. My favorite moment was when he started getting into the Like an Eagle video, and in the middle of doing the White Guy Sitting Down dance he looked over to his lady, who could not be any less amused or enthused. She gave him nothing. This only made him dance harder. They all left after the third film. I am single.

Then there were the two ladies who were in the row behind; they arrived shortly before the first film began. They saw that there were three available seats but they were reserved; no problem there, just tear two of the Reserved signs right off and sit down! One of them said something to the effect of “Well, I paid $19 for a seat” and then she kissed her friend on the forehead. They then proceeded to do their best impression of two assholes who think they’re in the funniest episode of MST3k never made.

I, obviously, am a perfect human being of no flaws, who judges and scorns everyone else for not being perfect me.  Realizing this, I forced myself to join in the fun and make comments a couple times but it was just that, forced. It gave me no fun either way to listen or be part of it. I just…I just can’t, man. I like to actually watch the movie and save my comments for afterward, preferably over a meal — preferably a meal that you’re paying for. Even then, I’d rather just eat. The lesson here kids is: Don’t ever hang out with me, don’t ever watch a movie with me, I am an old man.

So, the films. The first one was Creepshow, written by Stephen King and directed by George A. Romero. This is one of those movies that I hadn’t seen in so long (decades, really), that it was like watching it for the first time. I forgot that Ed Harris and Ted Danson were in it. I forgot how disgusting the roach story was; I can handle damn near everything in a movie, I mean, I can eat pasta during a zombie movie, but the roach story (starring E.G. Marshall) actually made me lose my appetite once the free sandwiches were given out in the lobby, following the film. Even the smell of those sandwiches made me sick. (I regained my appetite for the free pizza following the second film.)

But I enjoyed it, this anthology joint inspired by the old horror comics, like Tales from the Crypt. My favorite of the five stories is “The Crate”, starring Hal Holbrook and Adrianne Barbeau. I think that one had the best mix of humor and horror, the two H’s — four H’s if you count Hal Holbrook. What I didn’t remember from my last viewing (when I was still in grade school) was how most of the characters in this film were painted with many shades of Unlikable. But I guess that’s how those old EC comics rolled, and it didn’t matter if they were unlikable or stupid or even innocent, they’re gonna get theirs one way or another.

The second film was Gargoyles, a TV-movie from 1972, starring the lovely Jennifer Salt and muthafuckin’ Cornel Wilde. It’s about this doctor, I guess he’s like a demon doctor or something — basically something about anthropology — and his daughter going to Arizona because they heard that those dirty Mexicans have no rights there, making it Nirvana for the Whites. Actually, that’s not why they went, because those rules hadn’t become a reality yet and I’m projecting. No, they go there to talk to some old dude out in the middle of nowhere, and he shows them this odd-looking skeleton while telling them about the “nakatakachinko” or however the fuck it’s spelled. All I know is every time this old dude said the name, the audience burst into hysterics and I bet I looked like fuckin’ Daria in the movie theater.

Why do you hate fun?

Wilde doesn’t believe this shit, and it’s around that time that the naka-naka-not-gonna-work-here-anymore attack his shack and it ends with the old man unconscious and on fire. I hope he didn’t wake up in the middle of being cooked, that would suck. Anyway, these attackers are real life gargoyles, played by real life actors in real life rubber suits. They skulk around the desert in stuttery post-production slow-motion, which I guess is a way to make them look less lame. Somewhere along the way, young Scott Glenn and his gang of slacker dirt bikers get involved, and the head Gargoyle is an asshole played by Bernie Casey. He’s an asshole because even as a gargoyle, he treats women like objects and even smacks his lady Gargoyle friend on the ass like some secretary during the good ol’ days. I was born way too late. Anyway, it’s a dull TV-movie presented with fade-to-blacks where I guess the commercial breaks were supposed to come in. Everyone else thought the film was hilarious though, and my friend liked it even more than one of the other films, so I’m just hating on fun again.

The third film was John Carpenter’s The Thing — the masterpiece I referred to earlier. If you don’t know about this film, then you just don’t fuckin’ know and you have to fix that ASAP. I’m not going to try to convince you by writing more about it. There are better pieces on this film elsewhere. Unlike the previous films, this was presented on DCP. It’s give and take with these formats; you lose the magic (yes, I said magic) of watching a 35mm film print, but you also get a great looking picture. Look, I prefer 35mm, but in the end, I just want to enjoy these movies with a crowd — provided the crowd’s coming correct.

Thankfully, everybody turned off their Make Fun Of switch and took in this film for the classic that it is. I mean, Wilford Brimley’s in the film and nobody even made a Diabeetus joke! He doesn’t have his mustache in this, though, so maybe they just couldn’t recognize him. Like Samson and his hair, Brimley needs his walrus stache to conjure up the winds of Beetus. Also, he’s credited as “A. Wilford Brimley” here, so maybe people thought he was merely A Wilford and not The Wilford.

My friend had never seen the film before, so it was a real treat after to hear him talk about how much he liked it. We discussed the ending and then some dude stepped up and told us about the short story titled “The Things” and how it is told from the Thing’s point-of-view. I haven’t checked it out, but I’ve heard good things about The Things.

The fourth film was a reddish-but-clean 35mm print of The Night of a Thousand Cats, a 70s joint shot in Mexico by Mexicans, and unfortunately I have to say that mi gente have made much much better films than this ordeal. It stars Hugo Stiglitz (nice to see he made it out of that German bar OK) as this rich bearded playboy type who likes to chopper around Mexico City in his helicopter, scoping out for hot chicks and then getting as close to them as his ‘copter will allow, staring at them through his sunglasses. Rather than flip him off or call the cops, the ladies find this intriguing and/or romantic and he usually drops down a ladder so they can climb up and be taken away to his sprawling castle estate. There, he wines and dines them, introduces them to his creepy mute man-servant, and serves them brandy (or is it cognac) in a giant snifter.

Then he kills them, puts their heads in glass cases, and feeds the remains to his “thousand” cats in a pit.

I’m sure to your average reader of Fifty Shades of Grey, this is fucking hot, but to me, a man who prefers to abuse women with words, that whole deal sounds fucked up and horrible. By the way, I put “thousand” in quotes because I’d say it’s more like a hundred cats that he has. Still, it’s an alarming number of kitties. I mean, even cat ladies would be a bit unnerved by this number. And don’t get it twisted, that whole premise might sound like it would make an interesting film, except the filmmakers didn’t make that film. Instead, they made a boring slog that would be better titled The Night of a Thousand Helicopter Shots. Most of the film consists of shots of the helicopter, close-ups of Stiglitz’s blank face (probably some Kuleshov-style directing going on here), shots of the city, inserts of his hand on the cyclic, shots of attractive women. Aside from the shots of the women, I was fuckin’ done with this movie by the 20-minute mark — and there were still about 40 minutes of movie left. Yup, this is flick is barely over an hour and it still felt like three. The original cut is an hour-and-a-half, but no thanks, I gave at the office.

I tried to find things to enjoy, like looking at 1970s Mexico City, the fashions, the interior decorating, and of course, the ladies. On occasion, there would be something to jolt me awake, like Stiglitz grabbing a cat and throwing it up in the air so hard and fast, you’d think Grant Moninger threw that cat. Oh yeah, there’s some good ol’ fashioned cinematic animal cruelty going on here, but that is to be expected. At least none of the cats appear to get killed, they only get thrown around — or thrown at people. What else can I say? Oh, there was one part where Stiglitz helps himself to one of the raw pieces of meat that used to be a beautiful woman, and then his man-servant takes a piece and holds it up to a flame, slightly cooking it before handing it to him. It shows that he was looking out for his boss. Aside from that, don’t watch this film. Watch this instead.

It was about 5 in the morning by the time the fifth film (out of seven) came on; a wonderfully beat-up/scratched-up 35mm print of Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn (the on-screen title, anyway — it’s actually just The Deadly Spawn, for brevity’s sake) from 1983. I’ve seen bits and pieces of this over the years, but never in its entirety, so it was cool to see it for the first time on the big screen. It’s a fun little low-budget alien flick; obviously made for $2 and a dream, but it does the job and the alien effects are impressive. The main Deadly Spawn itself is pretty cool and scary looking, just a giant penis with hundreds of razor sharp teeth.

Like most films of its ilk, this opens with a meteorite coming down to Earth, and of course, the contents of this fallen star include Bad News. They are the titular Spawn, and they’re all about the OM NOM. They mostly hang out in the basement of a house, waiting for the hapless and expendable to come downstairs and face the chomping. Eventually, they get bored and decide to venture upstairs and out into the open. One of the characters is this kid who loves him some horror movies; he’s got posters and creature masks all over his room (he even has a Gorn head on his shelf). Meanwhile, his older brother is the more responsible one; he wants to borrow his parents’ car and take his friends out that night after their study session — and I got the feeling he actually would get his studies out of the way first before going out. Good for him. Work hard, play hard, brother.

Speaking of playing hard, for a film that doesn’t take itself seriously, it still managed to surprise me when it came down to Who Gets Got. I think if this was a studio film — or at least, a higher-budgeted film with more investors — I think the filmmakers would’ve faced some opposition on certain characters being killed off, insisting that things play out in more of a “safe” (and boring) manner. I mean — SPOILERS YOU SENSITIVE SOULS — by the end of the movie, the two brothers survive but goddamn, the older one is shell-shocked and the younger one became a Man way too fuckin’ early in his life. Neither is gonna be happy or content for quite a while. Their parents died horrible deaths, and the awesome girl who was clearly supposed to end up as the older brother’s girlfriend is currently on the front lawn without a head (that particular death bummed me out while simultaneously making me applaud the filmmakers). Early on, this movie takes it sweet time in between feedings, but once it gets going full speed, it does not fuck around. END SPOILERS SWEETIE

The sixth movie ended up being the last movie for me and my friend, which I’ll explain later: a DCP or Blu-ray of the 1982 exploitation/horror-ish film Basket Case, from Frank Henenlotter, who has gotten a good amount of representation at these marathons for the past few years. The film’s about this dude Duane who shows up at a seedy hotel in New York City with a big basket and a fat wad of cash. What is this seemingly nice guy about? Revenge, my man, revenge.

This guy Duane, he’s actually carrying his Siamese twin bro Belial in the basket, and things didn’t turn out so well for the other bro. Because, uh, he’s living in a basket. Yeah, he’s all small and deformed, but don’t fuckin’ judge Belial because of his handicap. Judge him because he’s a murderous fuck and kind of a player hater too. Both he and Duane are looking to take out the doctors responsible for separating them, and while things seem to work out on that end, Duane also hooks up with this chick Sharon or Susan because there’s always something, right?

Let me get what I didn’t like about this movie out of the way. Henenlotter loves screaming. There’s evidently never enough screaming in his films — and the longer, the better, the louder, the better. It doesn’t help that the sound mix and/or the theater’s sound system had a love affair with the high-end and the unholy consummation resulted in a child by the name of Audience’s Bleeding Ears. Like nails on a goddamn chalkboard, it was.

Aside from that, I dug this movie (which I last watched a couple years ago). My friend liked Gargoyles better, proving that he can get it wrong when it comes to movies and friends. Anyway, Basket Case has that awesomely grimy feel and look that cannot be duplicated unless you took a film crew with you into a time/location machine and went to 42nd Street in the early 80s. I always felt the movie had an interesting mix of humorous and slight melancholy — I can’t explain the latter because I’m just a sad fuck in general, but when I say humorous, I don’t mean laugh-out-loud, I mean it’s just got this goofy sense to most of it. I don’t remember any actual jokes or punchlines, most of the humor just comes from casting the most interesting looking/sounding people in the roles. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to take away from Henenlotter’s writing and directing, if anything this just shows good he is at getting the tone he is clearly going for. The actors are not only playing characters, they seem like they’re genuine characters themselves.

It’s hard to pick a favorite performance, but it just might be the actress who plays Dr. Kutter. She’s one of the 3 doctors marked for gruesome death-by-Belial and she’s a real trip to watch. Her character is introduced having dinner with a younger man and plying him with more alcohol than he probably needs or wants at the moment. Poor guy already has a few buttons open on his shirt, and she’s got this slightly creepy way about her while she calls him “Cuddles”. I think the creepiness might have to do with her apparent trance-like state while saying the lines, her eyes just a tad too wide and not quite looking at the person she’s talking to (or she’s looking at his forehead). It’s almost like she’s reading from a cue card. Except when she gets into bitch mode, the trance ends and suddenly she’s fully engaged with the other person. Was that a choice that the actress made? Like it’s only natural for Kutter to be unlikeable, but being nice is such an alien concept to her that she can only “act” nice, and even then she’s terrible at it?

Whatever the case, it’s a suitably weird performance for such a film.

It was about 8 in the morning and at that point, my friend and I were both more excited about breakfast than in watching the final film, Zombie Holocaust (aka Dr. Butcher, M.D.). I had seen it before in both the Euro and U.S. cuts, and honestly, I didn’t feel they were great shakes in either form. It starts out pretty promising, with some gory moments in a hospital that culminate in some dude jumping off a building, and becoming a mannequin upon hitting the ground — which results in the mannequin’s arm coming off. Cut to the next shot and the mannequin is now an actor again, arm magically reattached.

Then the film travels over to some godforsaken island somewhere and becomes a cannibal flick with zombies sprinkled throughout the boredom. I watched the Euro cut on DVD and was disappointed. I saw the US “Butcher” cut at the New Bev during one of their Grindhouse nights and was pretty fuckin’ drunk, so I enjoyed it a little more. I wasn’t necessarily amped up to see it again at the Horrorthon, except for marathon completion’s sake.

But, as mentioned earlier, we were both hungry + my friend had a particular place in mind where he really wanted to go eat and where it pays to show up early + I had the movie on DVD if he was truly curious about seeing it = Let’s Go. And so we did.

The food was kick ass.

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