Exhumed Films is a Philadelphia area based group, who have been around for nearly twenty years as a bit of a traveling repertory theatre- finding various venues around the area to screen gems from its collection of the best (and worst) horror, sci-fi, and exploitation films. They are beloved by many, including the folks here at Cinedelphia. The screenings are always on real film- mostly 35mm. Whenever I feel jealous that L.A. has something like the New Beverly Theatre, I just remind myself that we have something special too, in Exhumed Films.
For the last ten years, Exhumed Films has been hosting its 24 Hour Horrorthon at the International House in West Philadelphia. Doors open at 11 AM on the Saturday before Halloween- the movies start at noon, and they don’t stop until noon-ish the next day. There’s usually between 13 and 14 movies played. Tickets always sell out within minutes of going on sale- yet when it comes to cult movie watching it still seems like the Mid-Atlantic’s best keep secret. This year’s Horrorthon is happening on October 29th- and it’s way past sold out.
I’ve lived in Philadelphia for five years- and been attending Exhumed screenings for about two and a half of those. 2015 was my first Horrorthon. And I’ve been looking forward to this year’s ever since I walked out of the theatre at noon on that Sunday, bleary eyed and fairly delusional. Let me tell you why October 29th can’t get here fast enough.
1) It’s 24 hours of uninterrupted movie watching
This one’s obvious…yet still, it’s such an indulgent present to give yourself once a year. 24 hours of nothing but watching movies. In a theatre in the dark. None of the distractions of movie watching at home- you can’t look at your phone (you can, but you would be a jerk), you can’t press pause or take a break. It just goes, and you have to keep up with it.
2) The element of surprise
Don’t bother asking what movies are going to be playing- the only ones who know are the programmers! Each one is a surprise, hinted at by a clue in the Horrorthon program. In addition they have a “no repeats” rule from previous years. So while you could peruse the internet for lists of Horrorthons past and cancel those out (sadly knowing there will be no Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Suspiria, etc.) this makes it all the more exciting to see what else they come up with. And somehow they manage to succeed, year after year.
You don’t have to talk to anyone or meet anyone new at this event to still feel like you’re in good company. Everyone is there for the same reason- because we love weird stuff. So much that we’re willing to spend a night with a room full of total strangers. But by the end, we’ve all been through this crazy dream together, and even if we haven’t met, we’re no longer…(takes sunglasses off) strangers. It’s cheesy, but it’s true!
There’s a Wawa down the street where last year I got my dinner, midnight dinner, and breakfast. This is what it feels like to survive only on Wawa for about 24 hours. Your body doesn’t appreciate it the next day, but it’s kind of a fun (if not amusingly gross) experiment.
5) Endurance Testing
I have colleagues, friends and family who run marathons, do triathlons and all that stuff. While I love going to the gym and I’m trying to take better care of my body in general, I’m not (yet) at the place where I could do any serious runs. But when I tell people that I’m going to sit and watch movies for 24 hours, it’s like I’ve told them I’m about to enter an Iron Man competition. They can’t imagine doing something like Horrorthon- as if they wouldn’t physically or mentally be able to. And maybe that makes them the healthier person, but I must say that last year there was a strange sense of pride and accomplishment when it was over. It’s honestly not an easy time- it IS challenging to watch 24 hours of movies. Somewhere around the third one (the tedious Godzilla 1985) I felt fairly certain I wasn’t going to be able to make it. It reminded me of being at a sleepover when I was a kid and feeling like I wanted to call my parents to come pick me up. Then George A. Romero’s hidden masterpiece Martin came on next, and I was given new life. That’s just the way it goes at Horrorthon- when you think it’s time to give up, you…COME BACK TO LIFE!
6) Adapting to the environment
It’s not often that we have to figure out how to stay awake for 24 hours- and while retiring to an empty conference room to crash is an option, I’m kind of a wimp about needing somewhere comfortable and private to sleep. So last year I figured I would just stay up and power through it. Except for a twenty minute doze at 3 am during Terrorvision, and taking a break to charge my phone for The Horror At Party Beach, I was successful in staying for the whole thing! The key for me was black tea. Black tea. Stay away from the red bulls, because while you may get way up, eventually you’re just going to crash and crash hard. Then you might miss like three movies! Black tea won’t get you too amped, but it will keep you awake and focused in a more balanced way. Black tea! Also B-Vitamins, and nuts for snacks. Or honestly, whatever works for you!
7) Seeing classic favorites on the big screen
Seeing movies like Near Dark and Army of Darkness in any context is a total blast. Seeing them on the big screen, by surprise, with an enthusiastic, adoring crowd, is possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity.
8) Discovering new favorites
While it’s also great to check off some blind spots (I crossed off Altered States and Night of the Demons last year), it’s also incredible to be totally enamored by movies you never knew existed. For example, a movie like Brain Damage, a gory allegory for addiction, or We’re Going To Eat You, an early 80’s Kung Fu movie…with cannibals. That’s right, a kung fu cannibal movie. I never would have seen these films if it weren’t for Horrorthon. I can’t wait to be blown away by something I’ve never heard of before all over again on October 29th.
9) The Recreation of Sleepovers Past
I don’t know about you, but my love of horror movies comes from a small group of horror movie loving friends I had when I was very young- we would do sleepovers every weekend, and would go to Blockbuster and his mom would rent us whatever we wanted. A lot of them ended up being horror, and a lot of them scared me pretty badly (Frogs was a bad one to see with my fear of insects and reptiles, and it still kind of haunts me). Of course those times ultimately resulted in a lifelong love of the genre. Horrorthon is as close as I can get to re-experiencing that kind of frightful joy.
10) Keeping a bygone thing alive
As long as people are watching movies, there will be a dedicated niche of folks who want to keep the old ways alive. Sure, streaming is great and I love having thousands of movies at my fingertips on my roku. But just like vinyl seems to sound better, watching the crackles and pops of a 35mm film just seems to feel better. Exhumed’s slogan is that they “bring dead things back to life.” As nice as it is to watch a movie at home by yourself or with your sweetie, it’s still an unparalleled experience to see movies with a crowd of people all as ravenous about them as you are.
And just to think these are all things I took away with only one of these under my belt. I can’t wait for the next ten!