Warning: this column was written directly after pulling the all-nighter described below. Although I managed a few hours of sleep, I'm extremely hungover. Forgive me.
For movie geeks, there's nothing more satisfying than the communal harmony experienced when a group of like-minded film freaks commit to a protracted marathon of movie watching. It's comforting to know that, though outsiders may judge or laugh, there are people who get it, who understand the passion and excitement that compels us to waste away in darkened theaters and living rooms for the better parts of our lives, sacrificing jobs, relationships and physical health in the process.
Group movie marathons are, in the same way that an orgy might be the ultimate catharsis for a sex addict, the pinnacle of why we watch movies in the first place. It's the euphoric peak that comes from indulging your addiction with others like you. You're getting off, and you're not alone; you don't have to downplay your proclivities for fear of discovery, because in this place you are the norm. You are you, and you are loved for it.
When the experience is over, we must contend with the reality of the sun coming up, of the fact that we are likely going to sleep through work, and the reminder that we are once again alone (filmically speaking). Like an alcoholic or crackhead, we are hopelessly dependent on a very particular kind of sensory stimulation to get through the day, and the consequences are sometimes brutal.
This all goes double for horror geeks. Connoisseurs of schlock are a rabidly devoted and passionate bunch, and they are sometimes most despised by fellow cinephiles. The guy in the burberry scarf whose party trick is to breakdown the editing of Battleship Potemkin is still a nerd, but within the film freak caste system, he's king nerd. He's the aristocrat, and the guy in the Cannibal Holocaust tee who wants to show off his uncut VHS copy of Thriller AKA They Call Her One Eye is the unwashed cretin, the weirdo, the leprous peasant. Horror is widely considered inferior, childish and artistically lacking--for many film buffs, cinephilia and artistic elitism are one and the same (this whole column could be spent arguing the legitimacy of horror as an art form, but I'll spare you). The point is, we are at the very bottom of the movie nerd food chain, and we must stick together.
On Saturday night, that's exactly what we did.
Just before 10pm, a line of oddballs extended through the entire Circle lobby and out the back door. They were all there for one reason: to view five blood-soaked, breast-obsessed, batshit crazy films back-to-back in the safe company of fellow weirdos. The deal was: free pizza in between the first and second movie, half-price concessions, and a $10 refund on your $20 ticket if you were still present at the end of the fifth film. Caffeine and sugar aplenty and a monetary incentive to stay the course; no self-respecting geek should even contemplate leaving.
As the crowd moved into the theater, I spoke briefly with event co-programmer Joshua Peck (who handpicked the night's lineup along with David Nofire), who informed me that the slumber party was actually soldout. This was an amazing feat for Tulsa, and Peck himself was surprised. He said he would've been extremely happy with 30 people, but 100 showed up.
As he introduced the first film, he asked the packed audience "Who's planning on staying the entire night?" The crowd roared with applause.
"Uh, I'm a little worried about how much cash we have here for your ticket refunds," he nervously joked. "We might have to write some IOU's or something if everyone ends up staying."
The first film shown was The Return of the Living Dead, an '80s zombie classic that predates 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead remake for its depiction of manic, fast-moving zombies who plow down their victims. This was the only film of the event that I'd already seen, but I'd forgotten how intelligent and aggressive the movie is; it's campy, and at times very funny, but it also establishes a fully realized world with a remarkable consistency and consideration for its own internal logic. And it has one of the funniest, darkest and most uncompromising endings ever for a movie of its kind.
The second film was a surprise that Peck refused to reveal until show time, and understandably. House, a Japanese ghost story from 1977, is one of the strangest movies I've ever had the pleasure of viewing. A handful of schoolgirls travel into the country to stay with one of the girl's aunts in her remote mansion. The house seems to be haunted, and weird shit starts happening. And by weird, I mean too weird to accurately convey in this column, but I will say that a piano eats one of the girls (spoiler alert!), and the movie eventually turns into a psychedelic spectacle of color and sound that fries the brain in the same way as the last 20 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's a movie unlike anything you'll ever see. Various patrons seemed awestruck, annoyed, offended or some combination of the three. One particular group of girls couldn't seem to wrap their minds around what they were watching, so they opted instead for near constant (and very, very loud) laughter.
The third movie was an overlooked slasher gem. The Burning was one of the first filmic endeavors for Bob & Harvey Weinsein (the founders of Miramax). They wrote and produced the movie along with Brad Grey (who eventually became the president of Paramount Pictures). Like the greatest slashers, The Burning is set in a summer camp. A prank goes horribly wrong, and an unpopular camper is burned alive. He survives the accident and returns five years later to randomly kill off campers and counselors. Lots of blood, loads of creative kills, and plenty of gratuitous skin. And as an added bonus, it co-stars Jason Alexander (who sports a full head of hair) as a wise-cracking camper.
Night Warning, the fourth pic on the night's roster, was actually shown on an old film print that Peck acquired through a private collector via the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. Had it not been for House, this would've been the most unsettling movie of the night. It's basically Psycho flipped on its head. An orphaned teenage boy lives with his doting Aunt. She harbors a sexual obsession with her nephew, and as he starts dating girls and thinking about out-of-state college, it becomes too much for her to handle. She snaps and people start dying. And also, she's actually his real mother (spoiler alert! again).
It's a nasty little low-budget thriller that very intelligently exploits the psychosexual premise to its fullest extent, and by the time it was over (around 5:30am), the audience seemed a bit more somber. Or maybe they were just exhausted.
When the fifth movie began, I was falling asleep against my will. I desperately wanted to survive the full running time of Race with the Devil, and although I nodded off at various points, I had pumped enough coffee, soda, candy and popcorn into my system to not sleep longer than a minute or two at a time before jolting back awake. Race is a movie I've been wanting to see for a very long time. It was made by a major studio and stars Peter Fonda and Warren Oates during their mid-'70s heyday. Fonda and Oates are best friends who take their RV and wives into the woods for a weekend camping excursion. Unfortunately, the woods also house a group of satanists, and on their first night, Fonda and Oates spy the satanists performing a ritualistic human sacrifice. Of course, the satanists catch Fonda and Oates spying, and the rest of the movie is spent running and chasing. It's exceptionally well-made, and was the perfect way to close out the night.
When credits rolled for the last time around 7:30am, I realized that most of the audience had survived the entire night. I called Peck later the next day to confirm this, and he informed me that out of 100 people, 77 stayed. The slumber party was, by any measure, a smashing success. Horror fanatics found solace; it was an epic bender, a geek's orgy, and a high that will hopefully be recreated in the future by Peck and the Circle.
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