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Marathon Of The Dead: The Music Box Massacre Returns

by Peter Sobczynski

If you are a Chicago-based horror buff who wants to indulge in some big-screen screams this weekend but doesn't want to sit through the likes of "The Grudge 2" or "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning," your prayers have been answered with The Music Box Massacre. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Although horror films are all the rage today in Hollywood–it seems as if hardly a week or two goes by without a new one dropping onto the marketplace–it hasn’t exactly been a fertile period for the genre from an artistic perspective. These days, most horror films tend to be either pointless remakes of films that were perfectly good the first time around (“When a Stranger Calls,” “The Fog,” “Pulse”), equally pointless excursions in PG-13 horror aimed squarely at teen girls (“The Covenant”) or ultra-gross exercises in plotless sadism that exist only to show how disgusting a film can be while still holding on to an “R” rating (“Hostel,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning” and the “Saw” franchise). There are some good ones–Lucky McKee’s “May” and “The Woods” come to mind–but they tend to get dumped by distributors unsure of how to sell a horror film that don’t rely solely on gore or hot young hunks or starlets.

Chicago independent filmmaker Rusty Nails (“Acne”) feels your pain and has once again responded with “The Music Box Massacre,” a joint venture between his Movieside Film Festival and the landmark Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport, Chicago) that will unspool 12 classic films in one grand 24-hour orgy of fearsome fun starting at 12:00 noon on October 14th and ending at noon on the 15th . And that’s not all–there will also be a midnight costume contest, some live bands, plenty of vintage horror trailers, a lobby full of memorabilia dealers in the lobby and screeings of two of the more memorable episodes of Showtime’s “Masters of Horror” series. And if that weren’t enough, the great Joe Dante will be on hand to present “Homecoming” (his hilarious “Masters of Horror” entry) and “Piranha” (his equally entertaining 1978 monster-fish extravaganza) and John D. Hancock will do the same with his cult favorite, “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death.” All of this for the bargain-basement price of only $24–you’d have to be dead or insane to pass up such a deal. (Of course, you could well be dead or insane by the end of the marathon but that is something you’ll have to deal with on your own.)

Tickets can be purchased in advance through Ticketweb , either by calling them at (866) 468-3401 or going online at, or at the Music Box box office at 3733 N. Southport in Chicago (only a few blocks away from that other famous site of Chicago-based horror–Wrigley Field). Tickets can also be purchased on the day of the event at the theater for $29. For further information, go to the Movieside web site at or contact the Music Box at (773)871-6604 or at

Here is a list of the films playing at this year’s marathon and their estimated start times.

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920): In this decidedly bizarre masterpiece of German horror, a young couple find their lives changed forever when they go to a carnival and meet the mysterious Dr. Caligari and his assistant Cesare, a somnambulist who can predict the future. With its weirdo characters, twisted and open-ended plotting and striking visual style, the film suggest what David Lynch might have been doing if had been making films back in 1920. (12:00 Noon)

THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935): If you have read even this far into this article, I suspect that this film needs no introduction. Suffice it to say, it remains one of the greatest horror films ever made–creepy, funny and occasionally touching–and is one of the few times in Hollywood history where the sequel to a horror film managed to outclass the original. (1:35 PM)

IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953): In Jack Arnold’s landmark sci-fi film, originally presented in 3-D, a spaceship crashes to Earth outside of a small desert town. When the aliens begin taking over the minds of the townspeople, only two-fisted scientist Richard Carlson can save the day and the world. While maybe not the best alien-invasion film of the era, it is perhaps the quintessential example of the genre–everything you ever wanted to see in such a film can be found somewhere in its 81 minutes. (3:00 PM)

THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964): Face it–it just wouldn’t be a real horror marathon if it didn’t have at least one film directed by Roger Corman or one starring Vincent Price. This loose Edgar Allan Poe adaptation covers both categories with this tense and claustrophobic drama about a Satan-worshipping prince (Price) who invites his fellow noblemen to join him in his castle to ride out an approaching plague. While the festivities devolve into one giant orgy of depravity, the prince becomes increasingly unhinged by the presence of a mysterious masked stranger clad in red–could it be . . . Satan? (4:30 PM)

HOMECOMING (2005): In Joe Dante’s funny and angry horror satire–made for last year’s “Masters of Horror” series on Showtime–recently deceased soldiers begin to mysteriously rise from their graves. This time, however, they don’t want brains–they want to go to the polls on Election Day to vote out the President who sent them off to die in a pointless war in the first place. (6:05 PM)

PIRANHA (1978): Joe Dante’s solo directing debut (after co-directing 1976's “Hollywood Boulevard”) was this hilarious and highly entertaining knock-off of Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” that replaces the lavish budget and technical skill of the earlier film with a lot of wit, plenty of gore, some biting political commentary (courtesy of debuting screenwriter John Sayles) and neat supporting turns from B-movie icons such as Kevin McCarthy, Barbara Steele and America’s finest actor, the immortal Dick Miller. After the screening, Dante will appear for an audience Q&A to discuss “Homecoming,” “Piranha” and his career as one of the best, if most unsung, American filmmakers working today. (7:10 PM)

LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971): This is one of those unheralded early-1970's horror gems that you might stumble upon on cable late at night, get totally engrossed in and wonder why it is that you have never heard of it before. Zohra Lampert stars as a young woman who, following a stay in a mental institution, moves with her husband and a friend to an isolated New England farmhouse. Before long, Jessica is convinced that the hippie girl found living in the barn is really a vampire and the menfolk of the town are her victims–is she losing her grip once again (which would be bad) or is she telling the truth (which would be really bad)? After the screening, director John D. Hancock (who later returned to the genre a couple of years ago with the weird and little-seen “Suspended Animation”) will take part in a Q&A–be sure to ask about his brief involvement with “Jaws 2.” (10:00 PM)

THE THING (1982): Although largely reviled by critics and audiences when it premiered–in the summer of 1982, they preferred their alien visitors to be cute and cuddly like E.T. (which premiered two weeks earlier) instead of loathsome and violent–John Carpenter’s bleak and bloody take on the 1951 Howard Hawks classic has undergone a reappraisal in recent years and is now considered to be one of his very best films. Not for all tastes, to be sure, but I suspect that if you have made it this far into the program, it is probably right up your alley. (12:30 AM)

THE NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986): In Fred Dekker’s campy, ironic and self-aware gorefest (in which all the characters are given the last names of famous genre filmmakers), alien parasites that take over the bodies of humans and turn them into murderous zombies. Yes, this is essentially the same film as the recent “Slither” but this one has the benefit of a funny lead performance from Tom Atkins as the no-nonsense cop who gets to deliver one of the all-time great B-movie lines to a gaggle of sorority gals: “The good news is that your dates are here. The bad news is that they’re dead.” (2:25 AM)

ZOMBIE (1979): If you’ve seen one ultra-gory Italian zombie movie knocking off George Romero’s landmark “Dawn of the Dead” (and believe me, there are more than you might think), you have pretty much seen them all. Therefore, you may as well make it Lucio Fulci’s demented take on the genre–a film that lacks the class and social commentary of Romero’s work but replaces it with tons of cheesy gore (including the squirm-inducing meeting between a giant splinter and an eyeball) and the deranged beauty of a life-or-death struggle between a man-eating shark and a man-eating zombie. (4:10 AM)

FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2 (1981): At some point, even the hardiest of horror buffs need a little bit of time to stretch the legs, get some fresh air or grab a quick nap and this film–easily the weakest of the titles being shown–seems to have been picked for that very reason. Those who stick it out will see a overly familiar tale of dumb summer campers being picked off in increasingly messy ways that is enlivened only by the sight of Jason Voorhees making his first kills (though it would take one more film for him to acquire his famous hockey mask). (5:50 AM)

IMPRINT (2005): When controversial Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike turned in his contribution to the “Masters of Horror” series, a horrified Showtime refused to broadcast it, allegedly out of fear that it would repulse viewers (though they had no compunctions about putting it out on DVD). As it turns out, this wasn’t just a lot of hot air used to publicize the film–the first half contains one of the most sadistic and prolonged scenes of torture ever captured on film and then it gets really twisted and depraved in the second. 7:25 in the morning may sound too early for something this intense but trust me, 2 AM would still be too early. Playing with this film will be “The Eyes of Edward James,” a short that marks the directorial debut of Rodrigo Gudino, the publisher of Rue Morgue Magazine–I know nothing about the film but if it is being paired with “Imprint,” I suspect that it isn’t a walk in the park. (7:25 AM)

DEEP RED (1975): One of the highlights of the career of Italian horror icon Dario Argento, this ultra-gory mystery stars David Hemmings as a concert pianist who sort of witnesses a gory murder and has to try to figure out exactly what he saw before the killer can stop him permanently. Although it has a slightly more coherent plot than one normally gets from Argento, it still contains plenty of the bloody and brilliant set-pieces that have made him a favorite among genre buffs. (8:50 AM)

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981): The festival wraps up with John Landis’s popular contemporary riff on the werewolf genre in which a couple of college students (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) learn the hard way about the dangers of wandering through the woods during a full moon. One of the few horror-comedies where the jokes are really funny and the horror elements are really scary. PS–this is also my beloved mother’s favorite werewolf movie, for reasons I still don’t quite understand. (10:35 AM)

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originally posted: 10/12/06 05:23:06
last updated: 11/01/06 12:41:04
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