by Neal Mates
This year marked the 20th year that Exhumed Films has been in existence, as well as the 11th time they’ve held their 24-Hour Horror-thon. I’ve regularly been attending Exhumed screenings since the 2nd Horror-thon, in 2008. For the most part, these have been films that I have never seen, or even heard of, and this year was no different. It was another great day of rarely-screened gems, which ended in the strangest way I’ve ever experienced. But more on that later. Here’s what unspooled before our eyes...
This Spanish-American gem from 1987 got the day off to a very mind-warping start, as a hen-pecked man (Michael Lerner) begins, due to hypnotic suggestions by his mother (Zelda Rubinstein), to kill patients from the eye clinic he works at to get their eyes. After about 20 minutes, things begin to take a very “meta” turn. To give away anything else would be to spoil the joy of discovery. The sound design and visuals of this movie are very effective to getting into characters’ mental states.
This 1988 film (which was called “Vengeance: The Demon” on the print that was screened) is one of the only films directed by special effects legend Stan Winston. Lance Henriksen stars as Ed Harley, a single father running a small grocery store in the mountains. After his son is accidentally killed by some motorbikers in from “the city”, he gets in touch with Haggis, a witch hidden in the hills, to exact vengeance on them. When he realizes the true price of what he’s asking for, he tries to stop the titular demon before it is too late. The creature work, and the general art direction evoking Appalachia (shot in the L.A. hills) is top-notch. The acting, beyond Lance and Florence Schauffler, is standard horror stuff.
This 1980 film is one I’ve wanted to see for a while. George C. Scott plays John Russell, a composer that moves to Seattle for a teaching job after the loss of his wife and daughter in a tragic accident. The old mansion he moves into turns out to be haunted by a restless spirit. The path it leads John on sends him to entangle himself with the highest corridors of power. A reliance on atmosphere and genuine dread puts it above the jump scares most haunted house stories rely on.
Apart from a premiere screening of the African zombie film “The Dead”, this is probably the most recent film they’ve screened. This Frank Darabont film from 2007 is another in his line of successful adaptations of Stephen King stories. Thomas Jane plays an illustrator who finds himself, after a severe storm, stranded in a supermarket with many others after a mysterious mist envelops the town. The only thing they have to fear, beyond the monsters that inhabit the mist, is the monsters lurking inside of themselves when cut off from civilization. It can paint a pretty bleak picture of humanity, especially against the unknown. (Of course, with the loud round of hearty boos that greeted Harvey Weinstein’s name in the credits, I think humanity might ultimately do OK...)
I always heard that this one was an odd duck… This 1994 oddity by director Michele Soavi is, ostensibly, about a man (Rupert Everett) who works in a cemetery who has to kill the reanimated corpses of those buried there after they’ve been in the ground for a week or two. He is aided in his work by his simple-minded assistant, Gnaghi. He falls in love with the beautiful young widow (Anna Falchi) of an older man recently buried there. It then goes off in directions so bizarre that mere words can’t do it justice. There is no trailer that doesn’t show the abundant nudity or gore, so the NSFW tag is wholly appropriate here.
This 1980 film from schlockmeister Greydon Clark is seen to tread the same path as it’s big-budget counterpart, “Predator”. No, really. Get past the laughable effects, the scenery chewing by the likes of Martin Landau, Jack Palance, and Cameron Mitchell, (and proof that David Caruso was always that stiff) and you have a story of an alien coming to Earth to hunt humans as sport. The alien is even played by Kevin Peter Hall, who also played the original Predator (as well as Harry in “Harry and the Hendersons”).
This film, projected in 16mm, was originally a TV movie from 1973 produced by “Jiggle TV” pioneer Aaron Spelling. It follows a young woman (Pamela Franklin) who enrolls in a girls school in Salem, MA, to investigate what caused her younger sister to escape cross-country and kill herself in her L.A. home. She slowly realizes there may be a coven of witches amongst them. It’s TV origins show themselves in the bloodless violence and jump scares. The film also features early roles for future “Charlie’s Angels” stars Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd. Still, a bit of silly fun.
I wasn’t familiar with this 1989 film by Tibor Takacs (The Gate), although one name stood out in the opening credits of the actors: Randall William Cook, who is known primarily for his effects work on (among other things) the Lord of the Rings movies. This was another film that took a “meta” turn. The crazed killer springs from the dreams of an aspiring actress (Jenny Wright),that are based on the cheap pulp novels from the used bookstore she works at to kill people she knows. Cook ably plays the killer, under the prosthetic make-up he helped put on himself. He also did the stop-motion animation in what little time he had open after all of that. Some good gore effects and the vintage 40s and 50s look of the nightmares were well done.
This 1982 film by Gary Graver didn’t seem to be able to figure out if it wanted to be a parody of 80’s slashers or actually be one. The idea of following the killer (Peter Jason) around as he escapes the asylum to go back to his home on Halloween and the wife who had him committed. However, most of the film’s running time is focused on the babysitter (Jacqueline Giroux) getting more and more annoyed by the escalating pranks the bratty, magic obsessed kid (Chris Graver, the director’s son) pulls. This brings up the biggest surprise in the closing credits “Magic Consultant: Orson Welles”. That isn’t a joke. It turns out that Welles was a close friend of Gary Graver. Apparently, Mr. Graver even helped Welles in making F for Fake. The things you learn...
Sleep started to overtake me during this Shaw Brothers 1975 entry in the “tokusatsu” (Giant Robot, Ultraman, etc.) craze. Again, it wasn’t until later, after doing some research, that I realized the titular hero was played by Danny Lee, best known as the cop hunting Chow-Yun Fat in The Killer. It’s everything that you’d expect from a movie of these sorts. The villain even looked like a Rita Repulsa prototype. The film was followed by a vintage episode of Ultraman.
Honestly I can’t say much of anything about this film, because we only got to see about two minutes of it before the alarms went off.
You see, at some point during the early morning hours, a water pipe burst in the residential area of International House, causing it to rain in the building, flooding the lobby area and basement. However, nothing leaked into the theater. If you didn’t step outside to use the restroom or anything, you wouldn’t have known about it. At some point, it was decided to evacuate the building so fire inspectors, L&I, and I-House staff could inspect the building to see if it was inhabitable. We were sent outside, along with the residents, with whatever we could grab at around 6:00 AM. By about 8:15, the folks still there for Horror-thon were let in to grab the last of our things, clean up our areas, and leave so that the residents could wait in there, out of the approaching rain, until they figured out if their units were safe to return to. The rest of Horror-thon was cancelled. We were able to watch 10 of the scheduled 14 films.
There hasn’t been any word yet from the Exhumed folks if the other films will ever be announced and/or screened. Frankly, still haven’t heard what happened to all the people who lived in International House. Still, it was a great and strange experience, watching great and strange movies.