If you are unfamiliar with Exhumed Films, shame on you. Shame. On. You. Beyond providing Philadelphia with monthly exploitation film screenings at PhilaMOCA, on top of providing Philadelphia with almost-monthly screenings of horror films at the International House, AND in addition to the annual 12-hour eX-Fest exploitation movie marathon the group provides the city, Exhumed has become notorious for its yearly 24-Hour Horror-thon. The ‘thon is exactly as it sounds: 24 uninterrupted hours of unimaginable horrors. In years past, this has meant everything from straight horror classics like the original Halloween to nonsense slasher opuses like Pieces. Part of the appeal of going to Exhumed marathons like ex-Fest and the Horror-thon is that you do not know what you are going into ahead of time. You are placing your trust (and sanity) into the hands of this crew of devoted horror nerds, and you should, as they never let down.
On top of all of this, every screening Exhumed takes part in is done on either 35mm or 16mm film, an even more impressive feat when you consider the level of time, commitment and expense required in tracking down and/or purchasing the prints outright (side note: many of the films Exhumed screens are owned by member Harry Guerro) to screen for audiences. This point will also become important in Part 2 of this feature, but I’m getting ahead of myself…
The marathon began on Saturday a little after 12pm with Exhumed’s typically generous prize giveaways, awarding attendees with a raffle that saw winners receiving artists prints from a number of films commissioned for Mondo and Drafthouse screenings in Austin, TX. Once the excitement over the posters died down, we were introduced to our first film, described in Exhumed’s program as a “Weird, fun, underrated horror film from the 1990s.” Any guesses? Well, if you were following our live tweet of the event you would know that…
The Crypt Keeper approves! Film #1: TFTC: Demon Knight
— Sinedelphia (@cinedelphia) October 26, 2013
Exhumed Description: Weird, fun, underrated horror film from the 1990s
I will admit my preference for Tales From the Crypt leans more towards the TV show as opposed to the three feature films, but Exhumed was entirely on point in their assessment of Demon Knight as weird, fun and underrated. The film essentially boils down to an hour and a half of Billy Zane chewing scenery as an evil collector pursuing a key that holds the power of the cosmos. Whether or not that sounds fun to you will depend entirely on your tolerance for Mr. Zane’s talents. I am an enthusiastic supporter so it was not a hard sell for me. But Demon Knight also holds up surprisingly well in part because of everyone not named Billy Zane, as the cast is oddly strong for a horror feature, including a pre-Oscar nomination Thomas Haden Church as scumbag cook Roach and genre favorite Dick Miller as lovable Uncle Willy. Divorced of the context of its release in 1995, the film also offered a fun easter egg at the end as a post-credit scene involving the Crypt Keeper advertised what was meant to be the next Tales feature: Dead Easy, a New Orleans-set zombie film. Unfortunately, that film never materialized; fortunately, Bordello of Blood did (another weird, fun and underrated 1990s horror film).
Exhumed Description: Unique psychological thriller/”Animals Attack” film from one of the most highly regarded directors of all time
Next on the slate was George Romero’s Monkey Shines. The film is an unintentionally silly look at a murderously codependent relationship that develops between a recent quadriplegic and his…helper monkey. Yes, you read that right. And yes, George Romero, he of zombie fame, directed it. A troubled production history and interference on the part of the studio that distributed the film ultimately gave us the film we ended up with, so rest easy Romero devotees, the mess that is Monkey Shines is not entirely Romero’s fault (…but Bruiser still is). That said, the film went over well with the crowd due to ludicrous scenes involving gurney sex and monkey murder, the latter of which drawing “awwwws” and audible coos at the monkey murderer’s cuteness as opposed to the fear the scenes were supposed to engender.
Exhumed Description: Low budget zombie film that may be better than it looks…but probably isn’t
Flesheater was clearly an early high point for the marathon. The crowd was still awake and sane enough by the time the film screened to enjoy its awkward charms, of which there are many. Created in the late ’80s amidst a sea of other low-budget zombie films imitating Romero’s series, Flesheater does absolutely nothing to separate itself from those films. It doesn’t have a single original thought of its own, and seemingly has no ambition to do anything other then exist like its mindless zombie hordes. It really is an awful film, but that is also what makes it entertaining. Best described as a series of loose events strung together by a thin narrative thread, the film is really just a collection of scenes involving people partying, zombies attacking and killing everyone, and then the zombies moving on to the next group of people. That’s it. But the key to enjoying Flesheater is in embracing the complete lack of anything resembling skill in which it was made; these are definitely friends and family the creators recruited to star in the film (“Ohmyyygawd!”), and it’s clear no one was actually looking at the footage being shot or someone would have noticed something as ridiculous as close-ups of characters hammering imaginary nails into boards.
Exhumed Description: Grim, gruesome, disturbing ’70s horror film
Generally speaking, you should have one of two reactions when the first name you see appear on screen for a film is Charles Band: dread or elation. There is almost never an in-between. Consider Mansion of the Doomed that in-between. Not technically bad, just occasionally boring, the film follows a talented doctor trolling the streets for victims to help him in his quest to replace his daughter’s eyes. The film plays out like a gruesome grindhouse take on French chiller Eyes Without a Face as the villain is not entirely unsympathetic in his cause but eventually goes so far over the edge that you want to see him get his comeuppance. Coming off the less serious tone of the first three films, Mansion of the Doomed brought the crowd down a bit, but that seemed to be the intention as it appeared to be a palette cleanser readying the audience for the next film.
Exhumed Description: Euro-Horror classic
If Mansion of the Doomed was a palette cleaner, then Inferno was intended to be the main course. Probably the highlight of the entire marathon, Dario Argento’s thematic sequel to Suspiria is an underrated gem. The film sadly does not get the sort of critical attention his better-known works do, which is unfortunate because visually it holds up against anything he has done. Another slight on the film seems to be Keith Emerson’s work on the score, a sore spot for fans of Argento’s collaborations with Goblin, but I would submit that Emerson’s score holds up well and maintains an interesting classically-oriented counterpoint to Goblin’s more prog-focused material. All things considered, Inferno worked well to highlight the serious side of the marathon as films like Night of a Thousand Cats tend to be best remembered from year to year due to how insane or silly they are as opposed to offering genuine scares. Also notable for the fact that a fire alarm was triggered midway through the film’s running. The irony of the action was not lost on the crowd, although, not everyone was amused:
— Jacob Knight (@JacobQKnight) October 26, 2013
— Heather (VDA) (@VDA_Net) October 27, 2013
— Chuck Francisco (@CyanideRush) October 27, 2013
Exhumed Description: Silly, sorta-sexy ’60s “Spook Show” short
Offered as a “half” film, Monsters Crash the Pajama Party was as satisfying as any of the “full” films precisely because it delivered on something none of those films could offer: audience participation. The film works as another in a long line of gimmick films of the era, like the William Castle pictures or Scent of Mystery’s presentation in Smell-O-Vision, but also riffs on both the practice of film gimmicks and horror films in general. Functioning as an Old Dark House picture, the film is a silly menagerie of a mad scientist and his minions, college co-eds, and the local police all converging on an old mansion. Eventually, the film casts off all pretenses of fright and begins throwing absurdist and post-modern gags at the audience at a dizzying pace, culminating in the mad doctor turning his ray onto the crowd to allow his minions to “cross over” into our world. This “crossing over” entailed a break in the film so a number of Exhumed members in costumes could run out into the crowd imploring us to “SCREAM” (helpfully reminding us with a sign, no less!) before the group dragged off a helpless victim and again “crossed over” back into the film. It was exactly the kind of wacky showmanship that would have made an old entertainer like William Castle smile.
Exhumed Description: Pioneering combination of horror and rock music
Curating a marathon seems a lot like making a mixtape in that you have to consider ebb and flow, ups and downs, and tonal shifts from film to film or song to song as you take your audience on a journey. Exhumed seemed like they wanted to unite those two points with the inclusion of Welcome to My Nightmare, an Alice Cooper concert film. Unfortunately, I think it was the one misfire. As is often the case with a mixtape, there will be the occasional dud that you think will play well but just does not work as you intended. Welcome to My Nightmare seemed to be a slog for a large portion of the crowd in part because it was the film that would not end. Multiple fade-outs from various performances led the crowd to believe the film was ending only for Cooper’s stringy visage to reappear eliciting mounting groans as the film progressed. The largest applause for any of the film’s was the ironic clapping that overtook the audience when the credits finally began to roll over another one of Cooper’s performances.
Exhumed Description: If you loved last year’s “Night of a Thousand Cats,” you’ll probably love this; if you hated last year’s “Night of a Thousand Cats,” you’ll probably want to take a nap
Alternately should have been titled: The Triumphant Return of Rene Cardona, Jr. and Hugo Stiglitz. Another clear highlight of the marathon, although, firmly on the silly side of things, Tintorera was definitely inspired by the success of Jaws, that much I am certain of. What I am uncertain of is what exactly director Cardona thought Jaws was about, because for a Jaws cash-in it only resembles Jaws in so far as there is a shark that occasionally decides to eat people. In fact, I would instead describe the film as Syfy deciding to remake Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers as a shark attack film starring Hall & Oates. There is a shark killing people, yes, but that is merely a backdrop in Cardona’s mind to explore such typical horror themes as yacht rock, gratuitous sex and bromance. The film does take an inexplicable detour in its last third into unintentional Moby Dick parody, but I would like to think that was Cardona fulfilling a sincere desire to milk as much pathos out of Stiglitz’s haunted visage as possible. Because Stiglitz knows pathos.