Dispatches from the 11th Annual “Shock Around the Clock” 24-hour Horror Marathon

Drexel Theater, Columbus, OH – October 12-13, 2019

“I may seem scary, but I have the heart of a small child…I keep it in a jar on my desk.”

-Robert Bloch, as quoted by Stephen King

There is always something cool going on in this town. 

After several years of unproductive hemming and hawing, including missed opportunities beyond my reckoning, 2019 marked my maiden voyage as an attendee of the annual “Shock Around The Clock” horror movie marathon. I couldn’t be happier I finally decided to take the plunge. Celebrating its eleventh year at Columbus, Ohio’s historic Drexel Theater, SATC takes place each October in a single, continuous session starting at noon on the Saturday of Ohio State football’s bye week and ending at or around noon of the next day. Well over 200 bores, ghouls, and children of the night piled into the Drexel and peacefully cohabitated for a festive day of sights, sounds, smells, and screams fit to thrill the living and wake the dead (if we weren’t already at capacity). What follows are a series of brief dispatches on the twelve films that comprised SATC11 – a mixture of old favorites, new hotness, and some truly raging obscurities, eight of which I’d never seen before – as well as brief commentary on the opening cartoon, yearly contests held, and the scene in general. Happy Halloween from DAE, everyone! “Shock Around The Clock” was one hell of a great time.

*All times even more approximate than you’d imagine, from, say, “Day of the Dead”, on.

12pm – “Hair-Raising Hare” (1946) – SATC11 got underway with an unexpected bang with a screening of the classic Looney Tunes cartoon that sees Bugs Bunny lured from his abode on a dark and stormy night to a mad scientist’s impressionist castle via the cunning deployment of a mechanical lady rabbit. There, if anything could ever go right, he would be served up as an hors d’oeuvre to Gossamer, Termite Terrace’s towering, impractically furry, oddly loveable, anatomically indistinct, red/orange house monster. While not among the top half of Bugs’ immortal golden age outings, “Hare” still has much to recommend it, from the hyperventilating scientist’s unsubtle aping of the great Peter Lorre, to improvisational sojourns from the occupation-hopping and ever-industrious Bugs as a gossiping manicurist and train conductor for a steam-powered suit of armor respectively, to the surprise introduction of “Canned Monster” to supermarket shelves everywhere. As a tone-setter for what promised to be a fun, ridiculously extended celebration of the cinematic macabre, it was a genius decision. There is, in general, no more foolproof method of stoking just the right kind of mood leading into a movie (or movies) than to play me a Looney Tune just before showtime. You’d think that other theaters would have gotten that memo by now. (3/4 stars)

12:10pm – Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) – Any accumulated momentum didn’t carry into SATC11’s first feature, unfortunately. Every SATC has buried within its roster like a precious gem at least one movie from the first half of the twentieth century, and though overly mannered and generally archaic by modern horror’s freewheeling standards, there are still plenty of choice cuts from the era, including foundational adventures from our titular pair of co-stars, that would do just the trick as a rousing, rollicking festival opener. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, to put it charitably, is not the movie I would’ve picked. Far from the advertised epic clash of Universal icons – the admittedly awesome lobby poster depicts the two monsters locked in a dramatic struggle on the edge of a cliff – we are treated to a hackneyed and glacially slow modified police procedural where polite amnesiac/occasional bloodthirsty lycanthrope who nevertheless hates to trouble you Lon Chaney, Jr., apparently fresh from the grave and back on the prowl, spends interminable hours in a hospital bed debating aloud whether he really wants to die, thus snuffing out his wolf man’s curse in the process, or might actually see a silver lining to living it up by the full moonlight after all. In the second half of the movie, Frankenstein’s Monster, played not by Boris Karloff but a terminally distracting Bela Lugosi, periodically lumbers into frame, grunts and yells, arms comically outstretched, and crashes into things. The end. Well, no, wait. There’s also a Baroness von Frankenstein for some reason, and the requisite torch-wielding angry mob to almost no end whatsoever. Chaney belongs in a different movie entirely – he looks desperate and embarrassed – and Lugosi – who knew little shame onscreen – in at least a different character. You know the one. Their series of bizarre, anticlimactic encounters (note that the title reads, “meets”, not “versus”) amounts to little more than a ninety-minute, slow-motion shrug, although Lugosi’s trademark overacting physically pollutes even the role of Frankenstein’s legendary towering mute, leading to repeated, reflexive grins of delight and incredulity from a**holes like me whenever he happens to re-enter the scene. (grade: 1.5/4 stars)

1:50pm – The Birds (1963) – Indeed, the only way to make Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man appear even more slight than it already did would be to view it in direct comparison with an unquestioned genre hallmark. Little Mac, figurative pixelated pug boxer ordinaire, may I introduce you to former undisputed heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, in the form of Alfred Hitchcock’s utterly splendid nature run amok spectacle The Birds. As the product of a childhood where my lifelong dedication to the church of cinema was perversely forged by cable television and videocassette movie piracy, it has been both my passion and pleasure as an adult to see as many movies as I could on the legitimate big screen. The moment when the credit “Directed by Alfred Hitchcock” flashed before me, bigger than life from my front row seat, only to be whisked away by Saul Bass’ swarm of weaponized crows, was about my single favorite of the marathon. No matter what sort of powermad, degenerate skirt-chaser Hitchcock has been characterized as in recent years, you cannot fault the man’s skills as either an architect or conductor. The Birds follows the rough blueprint of the Master of Suspense’s “other” horror classic, unfolding as a completely different, self-contained movie – in this case a droll romantic comedy concerning the flirtation and circular pursuit between a mischievous San Franciscan socialite (Tippi Hedren) and the suave lawyer (Rod Taylor) who doesn’t quite know whether to kiss or condemn her – that is completely usurped halfway through by terrifying forces beyond its or our understanding. When flocks of gulls and crows begin launching concentrated attacks on the denizens of a sleepy oceanside hamlet, we are treated to the full fury of arguably the greatest technical achievement in all Hitchcockdom – astonishing visual effects, especially for the time, piercing, enveloping sound design, and a nonstop procession of great setpieces glued together by the straightforward but brutally effective suspense endemic in witnessing predatory birds, at rest but alert, amassed and watching as our heroes try to inch past them to their latest temporary reprieve, painfully aware that a single misstep will trigger a sub-nuclear explosion. (grade: 3.5/4 stars) 

3:55pm – Costume Contest – Not having personally witnessed any of SATC’s ten previous incarnations left me at something of a loss as to how to behave during its humorously informal costume contest, where contestants literally lined up to the immediate right of and paraded directly past my front row seat. As with the even goofier “Scream Contest” yet to come, emcee/curator Joe Neff based his cuts on approximate audience reaction and seemed to embrace a sliding scale of general civility, encouraging his 200+ seated judges to escalate hostilities with each subsequent round. Still, it’s hard to be a critic with any teeth under such circumstances. After all, I certainly didn’t have the nerve to get up there and stand for inspection with only greasepaint, a wolfman mask, and/or an unrehearsed quip as protection from the prevailing indoor weather. Standouts I remember included a female “Ash” of Evil Dead fame, here named “Ashley”, a suited academic type being attacked by red paint and adhesive birds (the eventual winner), and a couple of parents dressed as beaked plague doctors, complete with a little bundle of joy they dramatically revealed as a toy duck. I forget junior’s name offhand, but we all quacked up.

4:10pm – Creepshow (1982) – Every extended stay or outright movie marathon needs a suitable hook with which to reel in attendees, and it should be no surprise what SATC11’s was for yours truly. I gushed sufficiently over Creepshow in the full review I wrote a couple years ago to cover most of the bases I could reupholster here, so instead I’ll mention some things that especially stuck out to me this time around. That saturated color palette deployed by director George Romero and cinematographer Michael Gornick to more directly reflect the comics to which they’re paying homage gives the movie a killer look that is almost instantly recognizable. John Harrison’s score is limber, inventive, and consistently amazing, whether in the sinister but rollicking main title theme or the wonderful sequence during “Something to Tide You Over” where he repurposes public domain ditty “Camptown Races” into an oppressive funeral dirge. Famous funnyman Leslie Nielsen makes a terrific villain. Famous leading man Ted Danson makes a surprisingly effective everyman. I never stop being charmed by Stephen King’s barn-wide portrayal of doomed bumpkin Jordy Verrill. Viveca Lindfors wrings the most out of her couple minutes of screentime, making her “Aunt Bedelia” as righteously aggrieved as she is rightly guilty, while E.G. Marshall’s stellar performance as the odious, cheerfully racist/classist/elitist prick Upson Pratt is the stuff that off-Broadway one man shows are made of. I have more history with the 1982 Romero/King/Savini superpower summit than with any other horror movie, and just as much love for it some thirty-six years after a random HBO showing scared my cousins and me to death as kids. SATC11 marked my second time seeing Creepshow on the big screen, and it was predictably glorious. Its pulpy tales of bloody grudges carried out from beyond the grave and sneak attacks launched on both the hapless and soulless from the most shadowy corners of the unnatural world retain their power to delight. It is a smooth, polished, immersive, and effortlessly pleasing piece of horror cinema, imitated by legions, including certain uneven efforts bearing the same name, but never duplicated. (grade: 4/4 stars)

6:25pm – Michael Gornick Q&A – Legendary (in our circles) cinematographer Michael Gornick was on hand to introduce two of his three most famous credits, Creepshow and Day of the Dead, and to tell brief but engaging stories of his time in the Romero inner circle and of his first and most prominent directorial credit, 1987’s comparatively underwhelming but still underrated Creepshow 2. Gornick, who received hearty and deserved applause from the audience whenever his credit happened to appear onscreen, proved to be an amiable, insightful, and engaging guest, talking up the ins and outs of assisting in the print remasters of his various projects for deluxe home video release, the joys of repurposing catalogue music for inclusion in a new movie, fondly recalling his salad days working with George Romero in the late 70s and 80s, discussing in some depth the challenges of making Creepshow 2 as a first time director with a shoestring budget, and imagining what might have been regarding the proposed but aborted adaptation of Pet Sematary that was originally earmarked for Romero before being whisked back to development hell and, eventually, mutating into the version Mary Lambert delivered in 1989. Neff beat me to the punch in bringing up Creepshow 2 before the Q&A started, and my follow-up question was lost in the giddy fog of meeting the man himself. Convention/screening guests are often a mixed bag, but it was clear Gornick was happy to be with us. It couldn’t have been more a pleasure to chat with him and get a signed Creepshow mini-poster. But, seriously, why is that 4K Dawn of the Dead blu ray he mentioned in passing apparently limited to a European release? I’m happy Martin is getting restored and all but, seriously, I need some HD Monroeville Mall shenanigans in my life, stat. 

7pm* – Day of the Dead (1985) – When asked his opinion on the black sheep of George A. Romero’s original zombie trilogy during the Q&A that also served as its introduction, Gornick replied, simply, “I think it’s a masterpiece.” I don’t have the number of viewings under my belt to render that kind of verdict with any surety, but I will say that this, my first time seeing Day in the theater, was an eye-opener in some of the best ways possible. Romero’s apocalyptic zombie epics may not have introduced the undead to cinema, but they did pioneer their use as extremely flexible, practically all-purpose metaphors for societal ills ripe for comment while leaving his rapidly decreasing casts of squabbling human survivors to do the heavy lifting. Day doubles down on this dynamic while largely dialing back the dead themselves, though Tom Savini’s arguably career-best SFX work ensures that their appearances always leave a, shall we say, visceral impression. The story, set in a missile silo buried miles below the streets of an unnamed city essentially abandoned to the zombie hordes, moves at first in fits and starts, later in dramatic lurches, and, by the time the climax arrives and the war finally moves underground, with all the comfort and manageability of a bungee jump mid-freefall. Much like the desperate stowaways jockeying for position in his original 1968 farmhouse, this time even more fractious and driven stir among other varieties of crazy, Romero posits that the civilian scientists performing desperate experiments on captured dead in hopes of any kind of breakthrough and the resentful military police protecting them will end up running each other through a blender long before the top-billed fiends have a chance to do anything more extensive than mop up. Buoyed in its weird or listless moments by strong performances from Lori Cardille and the late Joseph Pilato, to whom the showing was dedicated, Romero reaches his end deliberately and with a heavy thematic hand, ratcheting up the interpersonal tension to the point that the undead amassing on the other side of the wall are rendered practically an afterthought…until they’re not. (grade: 3/4 stars)

9:15pm* – Mandy (2018) – I’m not done with Panos Cosmatos’ hallucinatory cult thriller Mandy. The truth is I’ve barely scratched the surface. When Neff announced before Day of the Dead that, due to an obscure bit of tricky logistics, they would have to move up Mandy from its originally announced starting position in the morning’s wee hours, we were pretty enthusiastic. I’d purchased my ticket far from convinced I could endure the entire marathon, instead envisioning an admittedly shameful scenario in which I stayed for the first five movies, met Michael Gornick, slipped home during the changeover following The Wretched, got some sleep, awakened, hit the road past sunrise, reentered the theater with my conspicuous bright eyes/bushy tail in time for Argento’s Opera and Shaun of the Dead, then filed out with the rest of the zombies…and nobody possibly the wiser. Two factors worked against this plan, causing me to abandon it outright for the more reasonable tactic of simply leaving once I’d definitively had enough: 1) The marathon vets arrived early and en masse, thus forcing me to snag a front row seat and making it harder to blend into the crowd, and 2) Mandy, the one movie I’d “planned” to miss that left me conflicted, was moved up in the viewing order three hours. I resolved to stay long enough to finally see this…thing…I’d heard so much raving about online, and then most likely check out for the still-evening. Of course, I proceeded to fall asleep somewhere around the twenty-minute mark, which, while denying me witness to much of the rampant batsh*ttery I’d been so breathlessly promised, did allow me to absorb the movie’s pompous, ponderous general tone and consciously decide I wouldn’t be taking the full dose. I awoke fitfully throughout Mandy, but never expended an ounce of effort to stay that way. One day I’ll watch all 121 minutes – if for no other reason to see what Cage does with that wicked custom chrome battle-axe – and, hopefully, even review it. What taste I got, and what aftertaste lingers, suggests you shouldn’t hold your breath for either. (grade: incomplete)

11:25pm* – Scream Contest – With emcee Neff holding a microphone in one hand and plugging his ear closest me with the other, I braced myself for SATC11’s “Scream Contest”, which, from such auspicious beginnings, quickly revealed itself, perhaps unsurprisingly, as the limpest portion of the overall program. Another procession of attention seekers lined up to my right and paraded past me to front row center, where they each conjured up some variation of theoretically horror movie-worthy scream. This is not an easy thing to do well, which is, in part, why horror royalty like Barbara Crampton and Linnea Quigley enjoyed/enjoy such long careers and cult adulation, and was borne out in large part by the exhibition to which we were treated. There was an interesting level of modulation and attempted psychology noticeable behind some of the screams, but the exercise still became fairly tedious after little more than a single round. Suffice it to say I had far less issue rendering a “brutal” judgment this time around, though lots of my cohorts still seemed overly agreeable in a way that threatened to hobble what was, though seriously fun, already a noticeably less than punctual affair as we approached the halfway mark.  

11:40pm* – The Wretched (2019) – The surprise reshuffling of Mandy, with all its attendant, excessive trippiness, into SATC11’s “prestige” half had little effect on those members of the audience who, unlike me, managed to stay awake for all of it. I was expecting more noticeable loopiness among my peers in general as we approached midnight and the marathon’s midpoint, well aware that the overnight showings were where things were supposed to really get weird. The scream contest proved silly enough, and the response to it bemused but pleasantly unconcerned enough, to make me want to abandon my aforementioned exit strategy and decide to hang in for as much of the long haul as possible. Armed with this new, possibly temporary, resolve, I was given the gift of The Wretched, which would have fit perfectly into the “daylight to dusk” portion of our program but instead kicked off the “moonlight madness” segment in high, engaging, unassuming style. Second newest of our trio of modern day horrors, The Wretched, whose showing was billed as an official Ohio premiere, seemed, oddly enough, more akin to something out of the mid-eighties in mood and feeling, which is hardly even criticism coming from me. Instead of the complex psychological horrors of recent conversation pieces like Get Out and Hereditary, filmmaking brothers Brett and Drew Pierce offer a breezy, confident melding of two reliably crowd-pleasing, if until now incongruous, fringe subgenres – the “First Summer Job/Coming of Age” movie and the “What the Hell is Going on in the Shadows Next Door?” movie. Think Fright Night meets Adventureland, with a dash of Invasion of the Body Snatchers thrown in. Young Ben (John-Paul Howard), navigating the choppy emotional waters of first love and his parents’ impending divorce, spends his summer days working for the harbor master at a vacation port on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and his nights concerned that his next door neighbor, an odd woman who may or may not be a thousand-year-old witch in disguise, is possessing her family for nefarious ends. Well-made, well-played, and terribly fun, however inconsequential, The Wretched made a great impression at just the right time. (grade: 3/4 stars)

1:40am* – Crash (1996) – My second extended siesta of SATC11 unfortunately took place during a 35mm screening of David Cronenberg’s psychosexual meditation Crash, which is, for the record, definitely not the treacly, proto-woke ensemble piece that exposed and then solved modern racism en route to the 2006 Best Picture Oscar. Instead, Cronenberg tosses his audience an almost even hotter potato – exploring the taboo intersection of sex and extreme danger, in this case the straight-faced eroticization of near-fatal car crashes and the gruesomely twisted wreckage inevitably left behind in both flesh and steel – and struggles, early and often, to keep them properly focused. This is a problem endemic in not just Crash but many lesser movies about sex – and, believe me, there are many lesser movies about sex – which is the idea that what is hot to me is so often hilarious to you, and vice versa. Cronenberg is in no laughing mood, however, and pushes perhaps the gamest cast in recent memory – Holly Hunter; Elias Koteas as a take no prisoners sexual adventurer; James Spader, practically typecast; Rosanna Arquette; Deborah Kara Unger as a capital-N Nymphomaniac with the emphasis on both parts – to the limits of narrative coherence, the then nascent NC-17 rating, and beyond, but fails to land much of resonance. Neff applauded us during the changeover for warming to and not dismissing the movie, which is well done, and, indeed, sufficiently hard to shake. Cronenberg, the director of so many “body horror” classics, is here largely exploring his own fetishes, for fast cars and sleek technology in general, and ascribing to their already obvious relation to sex additional weight that I found plausible enough if still somewhat dubious. The horror comes from how far these addicts, once hooked, will go for their next fix, and if it seemed sometimes like I was awake for all of Crash’s sex yet asleep for its accompanying insight, I could take strange comfort in the prevailing feeling that overwhelmed both of those components – stunned, sustained disbelief that these sadomasochists, with their gaping wounds and broken bones, weren’t going home from their booty calls in body bags. (grade: incomplete)

3:50am* – Body Melt (1993) – The conventional wisdom, so often repeated with haughty certainty by TV talking heads during true crime reconstructions or other such discussions of all things police blotter, goes something like this: Nothing good ever happens at 3:50 in the morning. Consider our early morning showing of Body Melt exhibit Q in an already impressive collection of evidence. In the interest of full disclosure, I will also admit to sleeping away an indeterminate but healthy, um, chunk of this unearthed 1980s Australian splatter horror artifact, though, unlike with its predecessors, I could never consciously acknowledge I had missed anything the least bit important during my time away, or, in that unlikely event, bring myself to care. Essentially a viscous snot rag converted to celluloid, the movie unfolds as a compendium of conspicuously wacky case studies of the various ways a sinister weight loss supplement converts its suburban test subjects into blathering, bellicose jellied hams. This is one heckuva drug, let me tell you, with practical applications that are neither exactly limitless nor legal. If you wish to lose weight, then weight you shall lose, though there’s no guarantee how much, for how long, or from where. The pounds just melt away, honestly, and then keep going, until, one by one, adherents to the miracle cure are reduced to so much twitching protoplasm, suitable for a hapless police inspector to stand over gravely before slinking off with involuntarily shaking head. Wash, rinse, repeat…well, except for the “wash” part. Released in both its cinematic afterglow and same peculiar corner of the world, Body Melt owes the sort of comprehensive debt to Peter Jackson’s spectacularly gooey kiwi-horror cornerstone Braindead (known on these shores as Dead Alive) that could never be properly repaid in multiple lifetimes, but, with its obvious, single-pronged satirical thrust, wheezing attempts at inspiring laughter, and often inept attempts at inspiring revulsion – I was reminded more of The Toxic Avenger – the movie collapses into a lifeless heap, not unlike its cavalcade of obnoxious, otherwise anonymous victims. (grade: 1.5/4 stars) 

5:25am* – Bliss (2019) – I’m of two minds regarding Joe Begos’ Bliss, and both of them sported migraines for a solid hour after seeing it. One the one hand, not only do I understand exactly what Begos is trying to achieve as a filmmaker, I have to report that, for the most part, his efforts are successful. This is an extended gut shot of a movie, one that approximates the nihilistic exhilaration and ennui of being strung out on drugs as well as most anything since Requiem for a Dream, and we all remember how that ended. On the other hand, the movie is borderline unwatchable, on purpose for extended stretches, and, for good measure, impresses upon its audience some unspoken duty to care about one of the most aggressively unsympathetic main characters I’ve ever seen on screen. Dora Madison plays Dezzie, a fatalistic, temperamental Los Angeles bohemian painter with serious talent but limited prospects, a user, a**hole, and classic misunderstood soul surfing into and out of the orbits of a dwindling list of friends seeking to pull her out what they recognize as a personal tailspin. On the outs with her agent, broke and facing eviction, hating life with a gusto rarely seen in someone so young and ostensibly vibrant, Dezzie takes a fateful hit of the designer drug “Bliss” at a sleazy club one night and immediately begins the bender to end all benders, a colorful gutter crawl that will lurch and stumble forward for close to 75 minutes of uninterrupted screen time. As her descent continues, Dezzie’s reactions to the various stimuli in her environment become ever stranger and uglier, and time spent in her hovel and headspace ever more uncomfortable, until questions arise of whether supernatural elements might be at play. Disorienting to the point of sensory overload, Bliss is the cinematic equivalent of the stress positions with which suspected terrorists are sometimes tortured in prison, a combination tension headache, fever dream, and bad trip with no off switch in sight. I did kinda dig the ending, and not just because I’d been so diligently watching the clock. (grade: 2/4 stars)

7am* – The Dark Red (2018) – Inside the Drexel’s main theater, the air around us grew simultaneously stuffier and thinner with the approaching dawn. Yet the crowd remained, relatively undaunted, punch drunk, blinkered, and hungry enough for at least one more. After each showing, I again trudged up the aisle, stopping for a bathroom break, or a lemonade refill, or, more likely, to pop out front for a brisk walk from the Drexel entrance to my car and back. Framed by the sunrise, vehicular stragglers dotted the back parking lot. Having dressed for a day at the beach, all t-shirt and shorts, I liked feeling the crisp October breeze, which helped keep me awake for a change. I reentered the Drexel with no particular sense of urgency or expectation, amazed we were finally in the home stretch. Up next, tucked among overheated trailers for overripe grade-Z shlock like Bloodsuckers and The Tower of Screaming Virgins and the sort of hysterically stern 1950s public service messages “Weird Al” Yankovic routinely plays as interstitials during his live show, was the Midwest premiere of Dan Bush’s The Dark Red, yet another squealing tonal shift sufficient to leave skid marks on the proverbial pavement. Barely horror at all, The Dark Red plays in its broad strokes like the sort of faux-Lost water cooler mystery that network TV reliably belches out anew each Fall season in the vain hope it might strike a lucrative national nerve. An institutionalized young woman tells her court-appointed psychiatrist the fantastical tale of being kidnapped and robbed of her unborn child by a shadowy cult, despite official assurances that she miscarried. April Billingsley holds the movie together single-handedly as it goes farther afield from there, starting with the revelation, worthy of a Wednesday night ABC cliffhanger, that she knows her daughter is still alive…because she’s psychic! Soon enough, its a full-on clairvoyant vs. conspiracy rumble/race against time in the mashup of Scanners and Kill Bill Volume 2 you never knew you wanted. Not quite as fun in practice as I may have made it sound, but still solid. Not much more, but nothing less. (grade: 2.5/4 stars)

8:45am* – Opera (1987) – More than with any other subgenre, I feel the black-gloved villains of the Italian “Giallo” proto-slashers are possibly the most natural extensions of their creators’ darker thoughts – brutal, mysterious, elegant even – vessels through which they may fully visualize decadent, lurid, nigh unspeakable acts in creative ways unavailable to even the grungiest of grindhouse auteurs. Makes you wonder exactly how they pass their off hours. For all the discussion leading up to our showing of how the appropriately grandiose Opera was not one of director Dario Argento’s best movies, I still found it absorbing, intriguing – if not always the most coherent – and, of course, wildly entertaining. The tale of a talented ingenue understudy (Christina Marsillach) who parlays an unfortunate accident into a star-making turn as an operata only to attract the attention of a melodramatic and terrifyingly dedicated stalker, is right out of the Giallo playbook and allows Argento somehow more license for bombast and sensuous indulgence than even he normally exercises. The stalker cuts a lively, bloody swath through the opera company, various hangers-on, and unfortunate civilians, often cruelly incapacitating the young singer at the scene of the latest crime and literally forcing her to witness his handiwork via the cunning application of custom-made needle assortments to her lower eyelids, which is the sort of inventive, cringe-worthy coolness you’d expect from an acknowledged master. Argento, not to mention Giallo on the whole, has, perhaps unfairly, been a blind spot in my horror rearview ever since a viewing of his highly touted Suspiria left me surprisingly cold several years ago. Opera was another animal entirely – warm, grand, ghoulish, and garish – and made me want to resume my Giallo education post haste. (grade: 3/4 stars)

11am – Shaun of the Dead (2004) – Though it looks like lots of fun, and probably even is, I don’t envy event organizers Joe Neff and Bruce Bartoo their jobs. After eleven years in this capacity, and many more in previous incarnations at prior locations, this just seems like a tricky endeavor to make new each fall. I used to pride myself on making mixtapes as a kid, and know something as seemingly insignificant as running order can sink or elevate a song in context. Twelve movies as schizophrenic in tone and profile as the ones I’ve provided commentary on here don’t just combine into Voltron on their own. I’m greatly appreciative of their efforts, of all the amazing lobby art – on the walls, in the atrium, inside the theater itself – that immortalized the two Romero headliners in unliving color; of the cool double-sided handbill poster I took home as a memento; the full-color program modeled after a 45-cent ‘50s paperback; the certificate full of momentous, celebratory prose I received for lasting the entire marathon (because I DID last the entire marathon!); the glossy Creepshow mini-poster I had signed by Michael Gornick; the coffee mug I picked up on my way out, despite never having finished a cup of coffee in my life. The easiest decision in assembling the eleventh annual “Shock Around the Clock” 24-hour horror marathon had to be how to end it, which was with Shaun of the Dead, the movie that introduced the world to talents like Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg and, more importantly, helped clear the way for the living dead to shamble onto TV and into the mind-blowing pop culture ubiquity they now enjoy. The beloved “romantic comedy with zombies” celebrates its fifteenth anniversary in 2019 from a position, I’d argue, as one of the most consequential movies of the 21st century, its abiding humor, heart, and love for the genre that spawned it fully intact. Shaun was just as fun this time around as the first time I saw it, which is no small feat. Moreso, even, because of all the slinking around the graveyard we’d done beforehand. (grade: 3.5/4 stars)

12:42pm – “Sunlight” – Umm…eww, gross. (pause) Next?!

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