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Bumming A Ride On The Omnibus Of Art: The Music Box Massacre Returns!
by Peter Sobczynski

Now in its fifth year, the 24-hour festival of classic horror films offers up an assortment of mad machines, gruesome ghoul and exploding body part and reminds viewers that there are times when you actually are what you eat, in a manner of speaking.

Chicago-based horror fans who are wary of that “Paranormal Activity” nonsense and actively scornful towards the upcoming remake of “The Stepfather” and the latest installment of the apparently endless “Saw” franchise do have something to look forward to this weekend, the latest Music Box Massacre. Created and programmed by local filmmaker Rusty Nails and now in its fifth year, this is a 24-hour marathon consisting of 13 feature films, vintage trailers, live musical performances, special guests, memorabilia dealers and much, much more. Now in its fifth year, Nails has put together an extra-strong program that is an effective balance between the classic and the contemporary and includes more than a few personal favorites of my own.

The festival is once again being held at Chicago’s landmark Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport) and tickets for the event are $27 in advance and $33 on the day of the event. As long as they last, they can be picked up at the Music Box box-office or online at Brown Paper Tickets. For further information go to Here is a list of the films currently scheduled to play at this year’s festival.

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923): The legendary Lon Chaney stars as Quasimodo in this famous adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel, a title that I presume will ring a bell with most of you. (12:15 PM)

ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945): In this creepy collaboration between Boris Karloff and producer Val Lewton (part of the string of horror classics that he put out during the decade that also included “Cat People,” “I Walked with a Zombie” and “The Leopard Man”), a group of people are quarantined on a remote island after an outbreak of the plague and discover that is the least of their worries--one of them may actually be possessed by a vengeance-seeking demon as well. (2:15 PM)

A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959): In one of the funniest horror-comedies ever made, courtesy of Roger Corman, genre favorite Dick Miller stars as a would-be beatnik who finds himself hailed as a brilliant sculptor when he begins (accidentally, at first) killing people and covering their bodies with clay. Irrelevant side note: My venerable mother, a woman who is loathe to watch anything that even smacks of horror, loves this one.(3:45 PM)

THE BLACK CAT (2007): In this episode of the now-defunct “Masters of Horror” cable series, “Re-Animator” director Stuart Gordon reunited with that film’s star, Jeffrey Combs, for this story in which a drunk, broke and blocked Edgar Allan Poe is haunted by a black cat that may inspire him to pen one of his most famous works, if it doesn’t drive him mad first. After this screening, actors Tim Kazurinsky and Greg Hollimon will be on hand to read some of Poe’s work as a tribute to the 200th anniversary of his birth. (5:00 PM)

THE BROOD (1979): In what is arguably the first major work from David Cronenberg, Art Hindle plays a man whose estranged wife (Samantha Egger) is undergoing an experimental psychological treatment at a clinic run by Oliver Reed designed to help patients release their inner rage by giving them physical manifestations in the form of rashes or, in her case, creepy child-like monsters who go around whacking people with hammers. Described by Cronenberg in interviews as being his version of “Kramer Vs. Kramer,” this is one of his most underrated works to date--a film that is simultaneously thoughtful, intellectually curious and scary as all get out. Hindle will be on hand after the screening for a Q&A. (6:15)

RE-ANIMATOR (1985): My guess is that if you have read up to this point, you are already intimately familiar with Stuart Gordon’s wild (and wildly funny) adaptation of the works of H.P. Lovecraft. If not, all I can say is that this is a must-see, provided that you have the guts, of course. Stuart Gordon is scheduled to be on hand to discuss the film afterwards and introduce the next selection. (8:30 PM)

FROM BEYOND (1986): The people responsible for “Re-Animator” reunited a year later for another Lovecraft adaptation, this one being a creepy, kooky and kinky tale about a group of scientists who invent a machine designed to stimulate the pineal gland that unleashes the darkest desires of those who use it and which has the slight side effect of opening a dimensional door that leaves us vulnerable to attacks from malevolent spirits that are always among us. (10:45 PM)

PONTYPOOL (2009): In this intriguing, though not entirely successful take on the zombie movie template, a small Canadian town finds its citizens suddenly turned into violent psychopaths and while reporting on the brutality from their basement headquarters, a radio crew slowly begins to realize that the people are being driven mad by a virus that is spread through language. (12:30 AM)

DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW (1981): In this cult classic TV movie, a retarded man is mistakenly accused of attacking a young girl and while hiding in a cornfield disguised as a scarecrow, he is killed by a posse of locals. Later, when the truth about his innocence comes out, a scarecrow creature emerges and begins picking off the posse members one by one. Author J.D. Figelson, who wrote the novel the film was based on, is scheduled to appear. (2:05 AM)

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986): Although Tobe Hooper’s original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was actually relatively gore-free, it was always regarded as some kind of high-water mark for cinematic carnage. This vastly underrated follow-up can be seen as his amused response to that reputation-he deliberately cranks the on-screen violence to such ludicrously bloody extremes in order to force viewers to contemplate the entire notion of violence-as-entertainment and how much blood and dismemberment is enough for a satisfying night at the movies. What is even more fascinating is how Hooper’s seemingly junky horror film is just as accurate a look at the mood of America during the Reagan years as the original was to the turbulent post-Nam era. (The screenplay was written by Kit Carson, who has just gotten done co-writing "Paris, Texas" at the time of this film.) This time, the cannibalistic monsters have an agenda for their work-sure, they still kill and process people for food but they have taken the initiative and made a comfortable living by selling it as gourmet chili to the same people that they are killing for the key ingredients. (Put it this way--that ain’t a peppercorn.) Additionally, the film also niftily spoofs the American gun culture (substituting saws for guns) in a way that even Michael Moore would approve of. Toss in Dennis Hopper at his most whacked and you have an unjustly overlooked classic of the genre that is still begging for rediscovery. (4:20 AM)

BLOOD FEAST (1963): The killer caterer conceit continues with this landmark low-budget horror film from Herschel Gordon Lewis, generally considered to be the pioneer of the gore film, in which a madman goes around slaughtering nubile young women to use their body parts as the ingredients for a very special “Egyptian feast.” The film is pretty awful, a fact that even Lewis himself is willing to concede, but it does evoke a certain strange fascination and the infamous scene in which a woman has her tongue torn out of her mouth (an effect allegedly created via the use of an imperfectly refrigerated sheep’s tongue) is a truly demented vision that every film fan should experience at least once. (6:10 AM)

MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986): After years of complaining about how Hollywood kept screwing up the screen adaptations of his best-sellers (even going so far as to criticize the likes of Stanley Kubrick), Stephen King decided to take matters into his own hands by writing and directing that adaptation of one of his own short stories about how the machines on Earth suddenly begin to attack mankind after the planet passes through the tail of a mysterious comet. The fact that he has yet to direct a second film should give you a general idea about how successful he was at translating his work to the big screen, though it does have a certain trashy charm that does make it reasonably entertaining under the right circumstances, such as a large amount of beer or a lack of sleep from having spent nearly 24 hours watching back-to-back horror movies. (8:15 AM)

CARRIE (1976): The fest comes to a close be segueing from one of the very worst Stephen King adaptations to one of the very best, Brian De Palma’s incredible take on King’s tale of a socially maladjusted teenage outsider (Sissy Spacek in a justifiably Oscar-nominated performance) who uses her secret psychic powers to get violent revenge on her cruel classmates (including John Travolta, Nancy Allen and P.J. Soles) and crueler mother (Piper Laurie, whose work was also nominated for an Oscar) when they finally push her too far. Although De Palma is usually a better filmmaker when he is working from his own material than when he is translating the ideas of others, this remains one of his finest works--a still-potent brew of horror, humor and a surprising degree of empathy for his tormented heroine that is topped off with a final shock that is so scandalously effective that it still has the power to jolt newcomers and repeat viewers alike. (10:15 AM)

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originally posted: 10/09/09 03:16:54
last updated: 10/09/09 03:32:09
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