by Casey Dewey
This week, on Friday the 13th, On Friday, June 27, the Loft Cinema presents another All-Nite Scream-O-Rama. This year’s lineup is one of the all-time best. Featured are heavy hitters George Romero, Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper, along with a healthy dose of new blood with Adam Wingard’s terrifying 2011 flick You’re Next. The horror fest lasts from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. There's seven feature-length howlers, and there’s also vintage horror movie trailers before the films, drink specials, giveaways, and the infamous and often needed barf bags. Advance admission is $13, day of is $15, and Loft member tickets are $12.
I’ve gone ahead and written a guide to the films, along with a helpful “Fright-O-Meter” to measure each film’s maximum scares.
7:00 p.m. Dawn of the Dead (George Romero. 1978)
Simply put, this is one of the best films ever made. It’s the second in Romero’s Dead series, following the game-changing 1968 film Night of the Living Dead and preceding 1985’s Day of the Dead. The zombie outbreak in Night has spread far wider than that film’s countryside; the beginning sequence of Dawn has them smack dab in the middle of urban Pittsburgh where a SWAT team has been dispatched to clean up an infested apartment complex. After that’s taken care of, a news show employee and her helicopter-pilot boyfriend team up with two SWAT members and end up inside a large mall. After mowing down hordes of zombies, the quartet of survivors open the keys to the kingdom. The mall and all it’s goods are theirs for the taking—at least for a little while. Special effects and make-up artist Tom Savini cemented his genius on this picture; while the zombies may look a little cheesy, the film’s many exploding heads and scenes of limb and stomach ripping are still effective.
Fright-O-Meter: 10/10. Sure, zombie movies nowadays feature them running as fast as cheetahs, but there’s something more unsettling about small bands of zombies slowly looking for prey. As Dawn shows time after time, it’s often only an illusion that you can get past them. There’s plenty of “jumping out of nowhere” scenes in the film, but the real scares come from the icy paranoia of the survivors holding out for just one more day and trying to keep their humanity intact. A large chunk of the fright also comes from the masterful, tension-filled soundtrack by Italian prog-rock-rock band Goblin.
9:30 p.m. The Burning (Tony Maylam. 1981)
After the success of Friday the 13th, kids-killed-at-camp became a popular (with teenagers at least) and cash-making genre. Most of them were awful (Bloody Murder) and some of them were great (Sleepaway Camp). The Burning firmly falls into the latter category. In this flick, a group of horny New York counselors are picked off one by one (and in the film’s most notorious scene, all in one bloody swath) by the camp’s former caretaker, one mean disfigured son-of-a-bitch named Cropsy. If the name sounds familiar it should; the character is based on the same NY urban legend that the popular (and very disturbing) documentary Cropsey explores. Dawn of the Dead’s Tom Savini provides the blood-soaked effects and Rick Wakeman of Yes is responsible for the film’s spooky score. There’s a few “before they were famous” turns here—look for a young Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander with hair (his actual hair, not with that rug he’s sporting nowadays), Ned Eisenberg (The Sopranos) and Fisher Stevens (Ben from the Short Circuit series, Vince Latello from My Science Project, the scene-stealing grifter from The Brother from Another Planet, and the directer of the award-winning documentary The Cove). Also of note, this is the unrated UK cut, so you get a little more gore, and it’s presented in 35mm.
Fright-O-Meter: 10/10. The Burning is one scary flick, if not downright despairing. Counselors are killed in colorful and shocking ways, the sets (especially towards the end) are menacing, and scariest of all, the most gruesome kill of the film happens in broad daylight.
11:10 p.m. A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven. 1984)
Director Wes Craven had already contributed a fair share of bonafide classics to the horror genre (The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Swamp Thing), but 1984’s (30 years ago!) A Nightmare on Elm Street propelled him to Master of Horror status. Freddy Krueger, a child killer who was murdered years before by a group of suburban parents turned vigilante, haunts the dreams of a teenage girl, her boyfriend (Johnny Depp in his film debut) and her friends. He can’t come into the waking world, so he offs them (brutally) in their dreams. It’s among Craven’s best, and the nightmare imagery still holds up. This one’s also in 35mm.
Fright-O-Meter: 8/10. The scares and thrills are abundant, the gore is messy, and creepiness permeates almost every frame of the film. The only reason I’m not giving it a 10/10 is simple—it’s hard not to watch this without thinking of the buffoon Freddy Krueger later became. After several sequels, a spin-off television series, a “rock” album, action figures and a Halloween costume, Freddy became as iconic as Cap’n Crunch and just as scary.
12:50 a.m. You’re Next (Adam Wingard. 2011)
The most recent film in the night’s lineup, it’s also one the scariest. An upper-middle class family of dull (these are some of the most unlikeable characters in recent memory) yuppies gather in a house in the Missouri woods for a family reunion. Suddenly, figures in the forest wearing flak-jackets and ominous animal masks kick off some murderous mayhem with crossbows, machetes, axes and piano wire. What they didn’t count on was a lone survivalist in the group—a lean, mean, killing machine. Twists and turns are around every corner in this exciting home invasion flick. Bonus points for great usage of the Dwight Tilley Band.
Fright-O-Meter: 10/10. A 10 so strong it almost broke the meter. You’ll be white-knuckle gripping the edges of the seats on this one. Keep a firm grasp on the popcorn, it’s guaranteed to go flying at least a couple of times.
2:30 a.m. Body Melt (Philip Brophy. 1993)
Like an unholy cross between The Stuff and Street Trash, Australia’s Body Melt is one goopy movie. Any film that opens up with a title card with “Dumb Films Presents” receives an automatic thumb’s up from me. It’s a mucky flick about a vitamin supplement that produces some rancid side effects. There’s detergent drinking, exploding erections, fetal face facehuggers, messy miscarriages, rollerblading gone wrong, bodybuilders with helium voices, grandmas watching full-on porno, mutant outback hillbillies obsessed with Deep Purple’s “Highway Star,” hallucinogenic sequences about stealing male ribs, kangaroo culling, killer snot, awful ‘90s fashion and an even worse techno soundtrack.
Fright-O-Meter: 0/10, but it’s a 10/10 on the Barf-O-Tron.
4:00 a.m. The Funhouse (Tobe Hooper. 1981)
Immediately after adapting Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot for TV, director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) churned out this fun little fright flick. Four horny and stoned teenagers on a double-date check out a carnival on the outskirts of town. They ride the ferris wheel, the men win stuffed animals for their dates, they check out the two-headed cows at the animal freak show, and they all take a peek at the hoochie coochie tent. The four of them decide to stay the night in the carnival’s funhouse; the kind with carts-on-a-track and pop-up mechanized skeletons and witches. After witnessing the carnival barker’s mutant son murder Madame Zena, the carnival’s resident gypsy and after-hours prostitute, the teens are trapped inside. Soon enough, bodies start piling up when father and son decide to clean house.
Fright-O-Meter: 7/10. After 1977’s gruesome Eaten Alive, Hooper mostly strayed away from his gritty and visceral backwater style of filmmaking. The Funhouse has some great thrills, and the garish Frankenstein mask the mutant wears is still one of the creepiest disguises on film—just ask Rob Zombie.
5:40 a.m. Grizzly (William Girdler. 1976)
It’s staggering how many films were made about killer animals in Jaws’ wake. At least Barracuda, Orca, Great White, The Jaws of Death and Tentacles kept the maritime aspect. Grizzly, as you would expect, is about a pissed-off 15-foot prehistoric grizzly bear. He’s on the loose in the mountains, and it’s up to a weary park ranger, a military veteran helicopter pilot, and a loose-cannon naturalist to stop it by any means necessary. Limbs fly left and right, observation towers are toppled and no one (and no bear cub) is safe from the primal beast. From the director of the far superior film The Manitou.
Fright-O-Meter: 4/10, and that’s being liberal. Still, this cheese-fest offers up some surprisingly graphic scenes.