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October 13th, 2012

Since 2005, the Music Box has been hosting a 24 hour marathon, under the banner of Music Box Massacre.  And we have been to every single one of them, both as a dealer and as a fan coming to see the movies.  But this year, there were some changes.  Some not so noticeable, while some others very much so.  The first change was the marathon was now being called The Music Box of Horrors.  There also didn’t seem to have as many people waiting out in line before the doors opened.  Granted this might have something to do with the rain that was pouring down on those silly movie fans dumb enough to stand out in it.  Of course, that group would include me and my wife.  But once the event started, the number of people increased over the course of the day, making the theater a little more crowded by the time the evening rolled around.  This was my wife Dawn’s second 24-hour marathon so I think we both came a little more prepared this time out.

Another thing that changed was the amount of dealers they had this year.  Usually, they have dealers crammed in every open space possible in that small lobby of the theater.  But this year, after it was announced that they would have even more dealers this time, I was very shocked to find basically only 3 dealers set up, 2 of which were selling jewelry of sorts and one selling DVDs.  So there wasn’t really much there tempting me to break out my wallet.  Which is a good thing for most of the fans coming through the door because of the next big change this year.

One of the great things about the past marathons here at the Music Box was that no matter who the special celebrity guests that appeared there, there was never any charging for them to sign stuff for the fans.  People from Clive Barker to Joe Dante, never a single dollar exchanged hands.  Sure, you might have to wait in line for a bit, but it was always worth it.  Since things had changed this year, I had emailed the Music Box asking them if the guests would be charging this time out.  I was told that while Sybil Danning was charging $25, all of that money was going to the Vital Bridges charity.  So while not completely thrilled that you’d have to pay, at least it was going to a good cause.  But then I was then told that the second guest, director Jeff Lieberman, would not be charging.  Much to my surprise, and everyone else coming through the door, we all found out that Lieberman was in fact charging $20 a signature.  Now nothing against Danning and Lieberman, but first of all this should have been advertised by the Music Box way ahead of time to let the fans know that this was going to be different than past shows.  Plus, how did this changed after I was told by the management just a few days before that Lieberman wasn’t going to charge.  I really don’t know how much money they made that evening, since I don’t remember seeing that much of a line at either of their tables throughout the evening.  I had emailed the Music Box back asking them what had changed since their original email, but as of this posting, haven’t heard back from them.

But let us get to the movies.  The first movie up was the silent classic film THE GOLEM (1920).  The great thing for me as a diehard horror fan is seeing a theater full of people there watching a movie that was made 90 years ago.  The other great thing is that there was a live organ accompaniment during the film, just like it was done back in the day.  There really is something special about that, and is something that every movie fan should experience at least once.

The next film was Tod Browning’s MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935), starring Bela Lugosi and Lionel Barrymore.  I remember when I had first watched this movie, many many years ago, I didn’t care for it.  But now I find it a very entertaining film.  Sure the acting is a bit over-the-top, especially Barrymore, but I just find this so entertaining.  Plus, no matter the plot holes, you had to admit that the film is very atmospheric.  And any movie that co-stars Lionel Atwill is worth watching for him alone!  This is the remake of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT with a few changes in the characters.

Our last black and white film was from another famous Universal director, James Whale.  It was his 1933 film THE INVISIBLE MAN.  This was the movie that made Claude Rains a name, even though he only “appeared” in the movie in the last few minutes.  It was his voice that Whale cast him for, which is perfect for the movie.  Rains gives a great performance with just that voice, of a man who has lost his mind, forever off the psychotic deep end.  There are times when he almost seems to regain his sanity, especially when talking to his love Gloria Stuart, but it doesn’t take long for the sanity to slip away, replaced once again with his megalomaniacal ranting.  Plus, for the time, those invisible effects were pretty damn entertaining.  But even scarier is when he has his bandages on, with the fake nose and glasses.  This is a classic for a reason.

Our first color film of the marathon happened to be the very first anthology film from the British studio Amicus, who would go on to make many more of these types of films.  It was DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965), starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, not to mention a young Donald Sutherland.  Fun stuff.

The next film was SQURIM, the first of two films from one of the marathon’s guests, Jeff Lieberman.  We’ve seen this film many times, but I think this was the first time on the big screen.  And it was just great.  Seeing those extreme close-ups of the worms was way closer than I ever want to get.  Great dialog, great characters, and just an all around good time.  Best killer worm movie out there.  The next film was SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER, which we’d seen before as well as were not the biggest fan of.  So we thought this would be a great time to sneak out to grab some food.  We walked a few doors down from the theater to a Mexican place called Freda’s, which for some reason I don’t recall ever seeing there before.  Since we’re always willing to check out new Mexican places, and we’re both hungry, we figured we’d give it a try.  This place definitely gets Thumbs Up from the Kitley’s. 

We got back to the theater, we had missed the Q&A with Lieberman, but I had seen him a couple of times before at Cinema Wasteland (and will again in April), so didn’t feel we missed much.  But we were in time for our next feature, HOWLING II: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF, starring the Sybil Danning, as well as Christopher Lee and Reb Brown.  I don’t think I’ve actually sat down and watched this since it first hit video way back in the ‘80s.  This truly is a turkey of a movie.  But seeing it in a packed house of other cult movie fans, it made the experience even better.  Plenty of laughs throughout the whole movie.  And when the end credits start, with the multiple of Danning ripping off her top, got a cheer each and every time.  After the film, Danning came out for her Q&A, though it mainly was just the A, since she loved to talk and had some great stories.  From working several times with Christopher Lee, to all the other films that she has worked on in her long career, she was simply captivating.  We had had a chance to have a small chat with Danning before the screening and have to say that she was a super nice person to talk with.  She really seems to get and appreciate her fans and what they mean to her, and she makes them feel that.  But more importantly, again making her so damn cool, she made sure that she thanked the fans for coming out to this event, to meet her, and especially for supporting her career over the years.  She really is the genuine article.  So nice to see that these days

The next feature is one that I would call one of my favorite films, Lucio Fulci’s THE BEYOND (1981).  It is one film that I could watch over and over again and never get bored.  So much weird shit going on there, with some amazing visuals, not to mention over the top gore, that it is just a pleasure to watch it unfold before you.  With a great cast and an amazing score, it was so great being able to see this on the big screen once again.

EDDIE: THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL was the only feature playing at this year’s massacre that I had never seen before.  Mainly because it was made this year and hasn’t been released yet.  But we really knew nothing about it either.  But I have to say that it was a pretty enjoyable movie.  A dark comedy about art and cannibalism.  Sound good, right?  I think most horror fans would get a kick out of the movie.  Definitely not just a comedy, that is for sure.

The next film was the last one that we were able to make it through the entire movie without dozing off.  And that was the 1979 film PHANTASM.  Such a classic and surreal movie, it is not one that your really want to start watching at 2am.  But Don Coscarelli’s bizarre imagery and story is one to hold your attention.  This is another film that never gets old or boring.  Watching Angus Scrimm just chew up the scenery with that grimace is just great.   And how could you go wrong with a movie that stars Reggie Bannister, right???

By this time, Dawn had already gone out to the van to get a little bit of sleep.  I was bound and determined to get watch the next movie, THE DEADLY SPAWN once again on the big screen, being such an amazing movie, probably one of the best low budget monster movies ever to be made.  The title creature is just freaking awesome and is unlike audiences has ever seen before.  But it wasn’t too long before I started to notice gaps in the film.  No, it wasn’t a cut print but because I was drifting off into realms of unconsciousness.  So about halfway through, I decided to throw in the towel.  As much as I’d like see THE BURNING, with BLOOD DINER being the next film and me not being a big fan of it, I knew I wouldn’t make it until then.  So we decided to call it a night…or early morning.  Not sure what time it was exactly when we left….somewhere around 7am I think.  But I was still awake enough to know that I could make the hour long drive home.  Granted, that is a very long hour, but we made it just fine.

So another year and another marathon at the Music Box.  Overall, we did have a good time.  We have noticed that it seems the price for this event is getting higher over the years.  Sure, we do get to see 14 movies if you stay for the whole event.  And at a price of $40, that is only about $2.85 a movie.  So when you look at it at that way, when a regular movie will cost you over $10 these days, it’s not a bad price.  But when you then consider that you can get a weekend pass to a movie convention for a price cheaper than that, it does seem a bit high.  They mentioned that this event did sell out.  I know when we were waiting in line at the start the line was much smaller than it was at the past shows.  Sure, it did fill up throughout the evening, but I think if it did sell out, then these people were not staying for most of the movies since there were always plenty of seats to find if you wanted to.  I’m sure that the cost of the ticket really had something to do with the lack of a lot of the regulars from the Chicago horror scene not being there.  But ultimately, the show did seem to have a different vibe.  Will we come back next year?  Most likely, but I definitely would have to look at the lineup they are going to have before making it an immediate decision to come, like it has the past 7 years.