Monday, October 29, 2012

Exhumed Films 24 Hour Horror-Thon Part 6(66)

Exhumed Films, a four-man horror collective that began in 1997, has been screening double features, all nighters and, more recently, 24-hour film festivals in the Philadelphia and South Jersey area. Since I began attending screenings in 1998, I would say (without actually doing the math) that I've been to at least 65% of their screenings. I've been to every 24 hour fest with the exception of last year, so I figured an article about this fantastic event is overdue.

Beginning at noon on the Saturday before Halloween and ending at around noon the following Sunday, the guys from Exhumed program 13 to 15 films (all on 35mm), filling in the gaps with short films, trailers, cartoons, etc. The catch is that all the films are a surprise. Before the screenings begin, they give out a program with hints and there are prizes for guessing correctly. Every year this event feels less like an extended film screening and more like a convention, with food vendors, an amazing assortment of give-aways and a huge crowd (it sold out in record time this year). The first year, there weren't a whole lot of people left by the end; I had an entire row to myself by 8 a.m. This year there were some empty seats by the conclusion at almost 1 p.m. -- it also seems to get a little longer every year -- but most of the audience stuck it out for the long haul.

Though the line up changes every year, there are certain types of films to expect: a horror classic or two, a giant monster or Godzilla movie, sequels, something really obscure and probably offensive, some sort of action/kung-fu film, an animals attack film, etc. Though I have some favorite past screenings (Lady Terminator, Raw Force, Five Element Ninjas, Phantasm), there were some wonderful surprises this year. There was also a punishing early morning block of films that allowed me to get in a few short naps.

1. The Gate (Tibor Tak√°cs, 1987) -- I hadn't seen this much-loved horror classic in over ten years and was relieved to find that it holds up. While his parents are away for the weekend, a boy and his friend accidentally open a gate to a demon dimension. This was a great way to kick off the fest and a lot of the audience seemed really excited.

2. Q - The Winged Serpent (Larry Cohen, 1982) -- The (sort of) giant monster movie of the fest, I was excited about this one because I love most of the films of Larry Cohen. An Aztec sect in New York City commits a series of ritual murders and people start to get plucked out of the sky by a mysterious, feathered beast.

3. Driller Killer (Abel Ferrara, 1979) -- I was glad to see this trashy, NYC slasher film on 35mm, but Ferrara really could have used some editing.

4. Xtro (Harry Bromley Davenport, 1982) -- This British horror-sci-fi was one of the surprise hits of the fest. This dark, imaginative film comes highly recommended.

5. Halloween III (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1982) -- I usually never fill in my guessing ballot at the beginning of the fest, because I'm a terrible at it. But every year I get one film right and this year it was Halloween III, which I also just watched 3 days ago. The greatest and most misunderstood sequel in any American horror series, Halloween III was another highlight of the evening.

6. Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977) -- Argento's supernatural horror classic was another welcome sight. The first time I saw Suspiria was at an Exhumed event over ten years ago and it deserves to be seen on 35mm.

7. C.H.U.D. (Andrew Bonime, 1984) -- One of my favorite creature features, this wonderful movie about cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers came at a perfect time during the fest and seemed to delight everyone.

8. The Night of a Thousand Cats (Rene Cardona Jr, 1972) -- Starring Hugo Stiglitz and boasting some of the most bizarre scenes imaginable, this was by far the surprise favorite of the festival. Sort of a weird, Eurohorror riff on the Bluebeard story, but also with a lot of cats. Words fail me.

9. The Vampires Night Orgy (Leon Klimovsky, 1974) -- A sadly boring Spanish vampire film with an interesting premise, this film promised an orgy and did not deliver. In protest, I slept through some of it.

10. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987) -- Another fest favorite, I couldn't believe that I had neither seen nor heard of this great little sci-fi horror ge. Starring Kyle MacLachlan as a a weird FBI agent pursuing an otherworldly killer (before he did the same thing in Twin Peaks), this comes highly recommended.

11. Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters (Roberto Rodriguez, 1962) -- also known as Tom Thumb and Little Red Riding Hood, this is where we enter the grueling part of the evening. A weird, hallucinogenic, musical, children's film about the evil queen (from Snow White) pursuing Red and Tom with the help of black magic and monsters, I think I would have liked this slice of weirdness at any time other than 3 a.m. after I had been up watching movies all day in a crowded theater.

12. Beware! The Blob aka Son of Blob (Larry Hagman, 1972) -- I love The Blob and the '80s remake, I love The Stuff (of course, it's Larry Cohen), but I really hate Son of Blob, which I had the misfortunate to see a few years ago. When the title screen came on, I died a little inside and tried to nap.

13. The Incredible Melting Man (William Sachs, 1977) -- This sci-fi horror film gained some notoriety for its great special effects, designed by Rick Baker. I, unfortunately, had my fill of disappointing horror films and took a much-needed coffee break.

14. Humongous (David Wallace, 1982) -- While this Canadian pseudo-slasher film has some potential, it is sadly repetitive and entails marooned teenagers running around an abandoned island, trying not to get killed by a murderous man-beast who pretty much epitomizes why abortion should be legal.

15. Dr. Butcher, M.D. (Marino Girolami, 1979) -- Ahhh yes. Every year (except 2011, to a lot of uproar), Exhumed ends with a zombie film and this happens to be one of my favorites. A weird cross between the zombie and cannibal genres, Dr. Butcher may be hated by some, but it was a great way to end the weekend.

This was certainly one of the most fun horror-thons and I'm already looking forward to next year. Note to self: Next year, don't sit behind the 6'4 guy who forgot to shower.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Ken Russell, 1988
Starring: Amanda Donohoe, Hugh Grant, Catherine Oxenberg, Peter Capaldi, Sammi Davis

Lair of the White Worm is one of Russell’s most fun and, dare I say it, accessible films, though viewers are generally polarized by this irreverent, hallucinatory exercise in genre filmmaking. Angus, an archaeology student, is excavating the ruins of a convent located at a bed and breakfast run by sisters Mary and Eve. Angus finds a large skull, which he thinks is some kind of prehistoric snake, possibly related to the legend of the d’Ampton worm, a mythical beast slain by Lord d’Ampton. The mysterious Lady Sylvia returns to her home, Temple House, and nearby a watch is found that belonged to Mary and Eve’s father. Their parents disappeared a year ago, near Temple House and Stonerich Cavern, where the d’Ampton worm allegedly lived. The current Lord d’Ampton, James (Hugh Grant), believes that the cavern may have been the home of Angus’s prehistoric snake and possibly a modern descendant. The serpentine, overtly sexual Lady Sylvia thickens the plot when she shows her true colors, steals the skull and kidnaps Eve, intending to sacrifice her in Stonerich Cavern. 

Loosely based on Bram Stoker’s lesser-known novel of the same name, Russell’s film focuses on the legend of the Lambton Worm, though most plot similarities end there. On one hand this is a campy, playful genre film about a giant snake monster, but it is also an outrageous mindfuck about the evils of sexual repression. The mix of comedy, horror and blasphemy can be jarring, particularly when graphic scenes of nuns being raped are suddenly and unexpectedly flashed across the screen. All good taste is thrown out with the bathwater (in this case bathwater full of boy scout), though I think this impulse is generally one of Russell’s strengths as a director. 

A lot of excellent elements come together with Lair that didn't seem to gel in Gothic, his other genre effort from the same period. The set has a claustrophobic energy and is chock full of snake and worm imagery. The fantastic, technicolor hallucinations and hilariously bizarre dream sequences add a creepy, uncomfortable edge to what is otherwise a self-aware comic horror spoof. Though there are some nice Lovecraftian touches, the silly humanoid snake creatures have a certain vampiric tone that feels lazy. And let’s face facts: a key component to Angus and James’s solution to Eve’s kidnapping involves bagpipes and an antique broadsword, though they wield them with gusto. A very energetic Hugh Grant at first seems out of place, but has fun with his role. The plot is solidly lead along by Peter Capaldi, whose character seems resolute in his acceptance of bizarre events. There is also a great bit part from Stratford Johns as an ineffectual policeman. 

The only truly sexual character, Amanda Donohoe, is easily the star of the film. She is sexy, sinister, dexterous and has the bulk of the film’s many witty lines of dialogue. Her hermaphroditic performance as Lady Sylvia is one of the major elements that marks Lair as truly a Ken Russell effort. A combination of sexual magnetism and a virulent hatred of all things Christian make her a memorable villain, in addition to the fact that she clearly had fun with the role and gave it her all, unafraid to climb a tree in tight leather clothing, dance naked in nothing but blue body paint or spit venom on a crucifix. Though the majority of the film is reminiscent of classic creature features from the ‘50s or the colorful, gothic Hammer films of the ‘60s, Lady Sylvia’s character stepped out of the more subversive, softcore, Eurotrash films of the '70s. 

There are two region 1 DVDs available. The simple Lion’s Gate disc is still in print, while the superior Pioneer DVD can only be found online. The latter has a wonderful commentary from Russell himself and comes highly recommended. I'm still waiting a posthumous Russell box set that includes special editions of all his cult films and loads of special features.