Frightfest 2003

2003 was the year that I finally put my DVD burner to good use, compiling discs full of trailers, the featured movies and the trivia game. This minimized disc swapping during the evening, and allowed me to make a full continuous program.

Again, this Frightfest marathon was held towards the end of our stay at the old house; the three Halloween events that we held there tend to run together in my memory. I believe there was a sherbet-based toxic sludge punch cooked up by wife Satanica Pandemonium; we may have made pepperoni & cheese calzones; Ensign Kim brought over a coiled length of bread that like a bloated snake with ham and cheese baked inside.

I believe we had an audience of twelve, including Satanica and me. She dressed as Larry from the Three Stooges, and I either put on a bloody butchers smock or a Jason mask. I remember some costumes that were there that night, including a female Count Dracula, an angel, a jogging suit-wearing wiseguy, Raggedy Ann, and my sister Cosmo came as the Devil.

I also created some of the intros and interstitial screens for the movies using After Effects; including a title screen of blood dripping down over a swirling pattern. Upon putting in disc one the first set of trailers included Scream, Blacula Scream (the further adventures of “Blacula - Dracula’s soul brother”), the ’79 Salem’s Lot miniseries, Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula and Deranged. Then it was on to the first feature of the evening, Trick or Treat.

I was a metalhead in high school, and remember when Trick or Treat first came around. The year was 1986, and movie producers were just beginning to discover that heavy metal and horror went well together. Now, every horror movie released sports a soundtrack of hard rock acts. Learning that both Gene Simmons of Kiss, and Ozzy Osbourne himself (back in the Bark at the Moon & Blizzard of Oz days) had cameos in the film made it a must see.

Apparently, no one else saw it and it remains an obscure item to this day. One day at Best Buy I happened to spot a cheap $3.99 DVD of it in a bargain bin and snapped it up. The transfer isn’t the best, as it’s made from the same master used for the old VHS version, but it’s serviceable.

The film opens in the bedroom of social outcast Eddie Weinbauer (Marc Price), showing a collection of vinyl heavy metal albums and posters torn from the pages of Hit Parader magazine.

Flashbacks reveal Eddie’s classroom torment at the hands of a quartet of preppie bullies, led by Tim Haney (Doug Savant). This includes a particularly traumatic moment where Eddie is shut out of the locker room, naked in full view of his girl’s volleyball team – which includes Leslie (Lisa Orgolini), for whom he harbors a secret crush.

Eddie’s solace is in heavy metal music, and specifically Satanic rocker Sammi Curr (Tony Fields), who went through hard knocks at the same high school and achieved success as a rock star. Modeled on the supposed behavior of real life heavy metal rockers Alice Cooper, King Diamond and Ozzy Osbourne, Curr’s onstage theatrics involve biting the head off a live snake and spitting the blood at his audience.

When a TV newscast informs Eddie that his idol has been killed in an overnight motel fire his world collapses.

Through his friendship with Nuke (Gene Simmons), the rock n’ roll deejay at the local radio station, Eddie receives a master LP of Curr’s final and unreleased album, the only one in existence. Nuke plans to play a copy on Halloween night, but gives Eddie the original.

At school, Eddie is paid a surprise visit by Leslie, who invites him to a pool party that night. Eddie goes but is spotted by Tim and the gang, who weigh down his backpack and toss him in the deep end of the pool. It’s Leslie who dives in to save him but Eddie believes her invitation was a set up. Humiliated and soaked to the bone, Eddie vows to get even with Tim and his friends.

Eddie plays Sammi’s last album, causing him to imagine the circumstances of Curr’s death, with the rocker chanting in a flaming circle as the motel room burns around him.

Eddie awakens to discover the chanting is actually the album skipping. Playing the record backwards, Eddie hears a message from beyond the grave that instructs him on how to trap the school bullies. Later he comes dangerously close to killing Tim in the shop class’ drill press.

Realizing that he can communicate with Curr’s spirit and that the phantom rocker has a plan for dealing with his tormentors, Eddie delivers a tape recording of the album to Tim as a “peace offering”. But it is Tim’s girlfriend that finds herself the victim of a demonic sexual attack when she inadvertently plays the cursed cassette.

Realizing that he has come close to killing someone because of his black magic bargain with the devil rocker, Eddie tries to call off the deal. A threatening Curr manifests physically, bursting forth from the speakers of the stereo system in a shower of sparks and arc lightning, issuing a warning to Eddie that he “be loyal to your heroes… they may turn on you.”

Eddie smashes the record and enlists his only friend at school, the dorky Roger (Glen Morgan), to retrieve the cassette copy from Tim’s car and destroy it. Unfortunately, Roger decides to listen to it first, prompting another appearance from the ghostly Sammi, who threatens Roger with death if he doesn’t play the tape at the school’s Halloween dance that evening.

Leslie calls Eddie from the dance where he hears Curr’s music playing in the background. The undead rocker explodes from the sound system and performs a show stopping number on stage at his alma mater. Using his guitar as a weapon, Curr fires bolts of lightning into the crowd vaporizing whomever they touch.

Eddie arrives too late to save his classmates, but manages to save Leslie from a near rape by Tim. Still on the loose in the school’s PA system, Curr appears, kills Tim, and pursues Eddie & Leslie before they manage to stop him with a massive charge from the school’s breaker box.

After destroying the tape all is fine – except for Nuke’s midnight radio tribute. The airplay allows Curr the ability to materialize through anything in town capable of picking up a radio transmission. Eddie throws a radio in the back of a stolen cop car and taunts the rocker into making an appearance - racing the vehicle off a cliff and into the ocean. Meanwhile, Leslie destroys the last copy of the album.

Trick or Treat was directed by actor Charles Martin Smith (who appears in disguise as the school principle), recognizable from roles in American Graffiti, Starman and The Untouchables. He also has the pilot episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to his genre directing credit.

Tony Fields invests Sammi Curr’s stage performance with acrobatic energy (if maybe not the best lip-synching) compared to other similar screen rockers, such as Stuart Townsend’s sulking onstage Vampire Lesat in 2002’s Queen of the Damned. He died of AIDs related complications in 1995.

Rock group Fastway (founded by ex-Motorhead guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke) provided all of Sammi Curr’s music. Vocalist Dave King contributes Curr’s singing voice, but left the band shortly after the release of this movie. Fastway continued into the 90’s with a new front man and a more “pop” sound.

Doug Savant, beyond a stint in Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla, has gone on to a successful career in TV - appearing in “24”, “CSI” and currently as a series regular on “Desperate Housewives”. Special effects designer Kevin Yagher, who developed Freddy Krueger’s famous makeup two years prior, cameos as the doomed lead singer of the band at the Halloween dance. Glen Morgan, who plays Eddie’s friend Roger, quit acting and became a staff writer for “The X-Files” and “Millennium” before writing and producing the big screen features Final Destination 1 & 3, The One starring Jet Li, and writing and directing the remake of Willard. And Ozzy Osbourne, two decades before becoming a television ratings bonanza as the perpetually confused old duck in “The Osbournes”, turns up here mocking his own heavy metal persona. In a couple of brief segments Ozzy appears as an uptight reverend crusading against the evils of rock music.

By no means a perfect film, Trick or Treat is the best heavy metal horror movie ever made (not that it has many competitors for the title – Black Roses, anyone?). It functions as a fun piece of nostalgia for those who lived through 80’s high school with Slayer or Black Sabbath stenciled on their Trapper Keeper.

The clever concept exploits a common (and widely publicized) fear at the time, of rock singers recording subliminal backwards messages in their music (a process called “back-masking”). The most widely publicized case was brought before a court in the UK by the parents of a teen suicide, who claimed back-masked messages in a Judas Priest album drove him to it. The case was dismissed. It’s funny to think now, in an age where music stars seem to routinely gun each other down, that the worst 80’s parents had to fear was – yikes – the Devil!

Following the movie we played another installment of the Frighfest Trivia Game™. Our guests were given 30 seconds to choose answers to five questions from the movie they had just seen. A game segment followed each movie, and at the end of the night the player with the most correct answers took home a cheezy prize!

Next up, another round of Horrifying Horror Movie Trailers, this batch including Motel Hell (“It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters!”), Nosferatu (1979) and Dario Argento’s Opera.

Lucky McKee’s May gathered exceptionally positive word of mouth in 2002 on the festival circuit. A small independent film, it never came to Rockford theaters so I had to wait for DVD in order to check it out. In this case the hype was right - May was worth waiting for.

“If you can’t find a friend, make one” a mother tells her young daughter on her birthday. May has to wear an eye patch to school on account of her lazy eye, and has trouble making friends. Her mother, a doll maker, gives her a porcelain doll named Suzy, the first doll she ever made. Suzy will be May’s best friend her mother tells her, but forbids her to ever take the pristine doll out of its glass case.

May (Angela Bettis) grows into a socially awkward young woman. As an adult, she still carries on one-way conversations with Suzy. But as her best friend, the doll is deficient in at least one major area. “I need someone I can hold,” May speaks aloud. Silent Suzy looks on.

Early scenes play out almost like the setup for a romantic comedy – as painfully shy May meets Adam (Jeremy Sisto), whom she confides in Suzy has “beautiful hands”.

Adam, a mechanic who is heavily into Dario Argento movies (his apartment is adorned with what could be considered a shrine to the Italian maestro, and at one point he mentions going to a screening of Trauma), is at first drawn to May’s weirdness. Proclaiming that he “loves weird”, he asks May to tell him about the most disgusting thing she’s ever seen at her work. May works at a veterinarian’s office, and even Adam is unprepared for the gruesomeness of the story she so innocently relates.

Also a budding filmmaker, Adam shows May his student film – Jack and Jill – in which two college-aged lovebirds go for a picnic that turns into a mutual cannibal feast. When asked what her opinion on the gore-drenched flick, May replies that “it was sweet”.

Unfortunately things go south during a make-out session, as May gets carried away in the moment and bites Adam’s lip – then proceeds to wipe the blood over her chin “just like in your movie”. A line has been crossed, and Adam goes to leave. “This is weird, May” he tells her. “But you like weird,” she reminds him. “Not this weird,” he explains.

May’s co-worker at the veterinarian’s is Polly. “You have a beautiful neck,” May tells Polly, a lesbian. Predatory and flirtatious, Polly graduates from innuendos to close dancing, and things finally reach a head when sexually inexperienced and vulnerable May, having just been jilted by Adam, spends a night over at Polly’s.

Unfortunately, shortly thereafter May finds Polly in the company of Ambrosia (Nichole Hiltz) and is devastated.

Alone at home, May screams. Suzy's glass cage continues to crack, visually signifying May’s emotional and mental collapse.

As her repeated attempts to reach out to Adam go badly, May takes the initiative to volunteer at a care center for blind children. But, as fate conspires against her, things go bad when May brings in Suzy. The children, anxiously trying to discover what’s in the glass box, accidentally break it and bloody themselves crawling across the broken shards.

Despondent and alone, May tries to entice Polly’s kitty (whom May has taken in) to come to her. When she’s ignored, May kills the cat in a fit of rage… and then is seen later snuggled up in bed with the corpse.

One day, she meets punked out Blank (James Duvall) on a city bench. “You have great tattoos”, she remarks, admiring his arms (and Frankenstein tattoo - foreshadowing what's to come). They go back to May’s apartment, and when he looks in her freezer and discovers Miss Kitty’s body wrapped in plastic, he freaks out. Calling her a freak is the last straw, and May snaps. In a burst of frenzied hurt and rage, she grabs a pair of shears and buries them in his skull.

On Halloween night, May dresses up as a life-sized version of Suzy. Her demeanor changes as well, from nervous and awkward to calm, collected and in-charge. The suggestion is that May has adopted Suzy’s personality, now that the doll has been literally freed from her glass prison.

With a storage cooler in tow, May goes harvesting. She stops at Polly’s and, with two scalpels, takes her beautiful neck. Drunk Ambrosia stops over, but doesn’t see the abattoir in the living room. “You have beautiful legs,” May exclaims before plunging both blades into Ambrosia’s temples.

Then, it’s off to Adam’s – where he’s entertaining another girl. Adam is leery of May’s cool behavior, but the new girl invites May in. Once inside May kills them both and saws off Adam’s hands with utensils she’s liberated from work.

May sews all the parts together – Blank’s arms, Ambrosia’s legs, Polly’s neck and Adam’s hands – to a stuffed torso, and gives her creation the name Amy, using the letters of her own name.
Unfortunately, the life-sized doll’s stuffed head is unable to see without real eyes, so May commits the ultimate sacrifice for her new friend – she scoops out her own eyeball for her. May clings to Amy as she lies dying. As the life runs out of her, Amy reaches up and gently strokes May's face as the film fades to black.

Criminally under-seen, May is not only one of the best horror films of 2002, but showcases a formidable acting talent in Angela Bettis. May is a great part, allowing her a character arc from na├»ve waif to confident stalker, and undergoing a physical transformation from ugly duckling to icy beauty. Bettis is more than up to the challenge, and it’s a shame that she hasn’t done more since. Apparently the only people who saw May were horror film directors – her most high-profile roles include the lead in the TV remake of Carrie, Tobe Hooper’s Toolbox Murders redux and Lucky McKee’s episode of “Masters of Horror”, Sick Girl, opposite Erin Brown (aka Misty Mundae).

McKee also had some bad luck since May: his first studio picture, The Woods, starring Patricia Clarkson and genre icon Bruce Campbell, was filmed in 2004. In fact, M. Night Shyamalan was also coming out with a film called The Woods at the same time, but changed his title to The Village to avoid confusion. Tied up during Sony’s acquisition of MGM, it remains in limbo as of this writing. He has since directed the aforementioned episode of “Masters of Horror”, and wrote and stars in the upcoming Roman, a “brother” picture to May, which was directed by Angela Bettis! He appears in May as the make-out guy in the elevator.

May was liked by everyone at the house, including the girls who are not the horror genre’s biggest fans, and remains to this day one of the best “finds” of Frightfest.

Following the second trivia segment and another round of trailers – Vampyres (“…very unnatural ladies!”), Maniac, Zombie (with barf bag advertisement at the end), and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (“After a decade of silence – the buzz is back!”), it was time for the closing film of the night, Robert Wolfgang Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses.

Zombie, a musician & artist and devoted horror fan (his first band, White Zombie, takes its name from the Bela Lugosi film of the same name) set out to make an ode to grindhouse horror films of the 70’s. In 2000 he got his chance from the folks at Universal Pictures, who had a solid track record of being a genre friendly studio with a slew of classic films released in the 30’s-40’s and the early 1980’s. Maybe they were trying once again to capitalize on the genre that endeared them to so many fans over the years, but they clearly didn’t know what they were getting into with Rob Zombie aboard.

In interviews Zombie made it clear that he wanted to make a balls-out homage to hardcore 70’s horror cinema the likes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Cannibal Holocaust and The Last House on the Left. He was allowed to shoot on the Universal lot at the same house used for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and gathered together a cast of veterans from 70’s sleazoid cinema, including: Sid Haig (Spider Baby and just about everything Pam Grier did in that decade), Karen Black (Trilogy of Terror), Bill Moseley (Chop-Top from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) and Tom Towles (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer).

Allegedly, when the studio brass saw the finished film they were so disgusted they refused to release it. This decision led Internet gossip pages spreading stories like wildfire about how the film was too graphic, too hardcore, and too intense for a mainstream studio to handle. There was speculation that Zombie had actually delivered on his promise to make a rough and ready return to the grimy classics of yesteryear.

The film was released in early 2003 by Lions Gate Films, three years after being made.

House of 1000 Corpses opens with Dr. Wolfenstein’s Creature Feature Show, a nod to late night television’s horror hosts. The doctor invites us to watch his Halloween eve movie marathon before a commercial for Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen hits the air. Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) is a foul-mouthed fellow in a full clown suit and makeup who operates a combo gas station & roadside attraction.

Spaulding and veteran character actor Michael J. Pollard debate the sex urges of “retards” in an extended scene reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue style, before being interrupted by a pair of ski-masked robbers. Unperturbed by having a gun pointed at him, Spualding hurls insults at his incompetent would-be assailants before an imposing figure wearing an oversized mask crashes in, disabling the robbers with an axe.

We are then introduced to a traveling foursome – Jerry (Chris Hardwick), Denise (Erin Daniels), Bill (Rainn Wilson), and Mary (Jennifer Jostyn) – driving across country researching a book on off-beat roadside attractions. They hit the mother load by stopping at Spaulding’s, which aside from offering tasty combinations of gas & fried chicken also showcases such oddities as the Flesh Eating Toad, the Crocodile Boy and the “world famous” murder ride.

Hosted by Captain Spaulding himself the murder ride, in addition to featuring animatronic recreations of Albert Fish, Ed Gein and Lizzy Borden, also informs the group of the exploits of local legend Dr. Satan. A crazed lunatic who attempted to create a superhuman race by experimenting on patients in the “Weeping Willows” mental hospital, Dr. Satan was supposed to have met his fate at the hands of vigilante justice, being lynched from a nearby tree.

Intrigued, the twenty-something’s ask directions to the hanging tree and set out to find it. Along the way they pick up hitchhiker Baby (Sheri Moon) in the middle of a rainstorm. Baby is a bubbly blonde sexpot who makes enemies of the girls by flirting with the guys. When the car “breaks down” (courtesy of Baby’s brother Rufus shooting out the tires), Baby offers to take the group back to her house nearby.

At the house Baby’s albino brother, Otis (Bill Moseley) is busy torturing captive cheerleaders upstairs while Mother Firefly (Karen Black) entertains the new arrivals. An aging flapper, strutting her stuff while wrapped in a feather boa, Mother Firefly invites her guests to stay for dinner – a surreal affair where all of the guests wear masks, and is attended by the entire Firefly clan – including Grandpa (Dennis Fimple) and hulking, deformed Tiny (Matthew McGrory). Late arrival Otis brings the youngest member of the family - a fetus preserved in a jar of formaldehyde. After dinner the family puts on a full Halloween Eve cabaret show. Baby, dressed up in greasepaint, lip-synchs to the Betty Boop/Helen Kane song “I Wanna Be Loved by You”.

After offending their hosts the kids try to escape the family freak show but find themselves attacked in the driveway by moving scarecrows - actually Tiny, Rufus and Otis in disguise.

The next morning, in a lift from John Carpenter’s Halloween, the subtitle “October 31st – Halloween” reminds us of the date. At the behest of Denise’s father, Don Willis (Harrison Young), deputies Wydell (Tom Towles) and Naish (Walt Goggins) visit Captain Spaulding’s gas station to inquire about the missing teenagers. Spaulding points them in the direction of Dr. Satan’s hanging tree and en route, they meet up with Willis in person. The trio discovers the kid’s car in a ditch with the mutilated body of one of the cheerleaders in the trunk.

Mary awakens in captivity and discovers that Otis and Baby have murdered Bill (a scene which is presented as faux snuff footage) and manufactured The Fish Boy exhibit out of his remains.

The police and Mr. Willis arrive at the house, which during the day resembles an outdoor flea-market/junk yard. There they discover the grisly goings on in the smokehouse (more cheerleaders hung up inside), but the Fireflies get the upper hand and kill all three of them.

Otis skins Willis and wears his flesh to torment Denise. The remaining kids are clothed in rabbit costumes and lead out to a field where they are stacked in a coffin for burial. Mary escapes but is pursued by Baby to a nearby graveyard where she is caught and brutally stabbed to death.

Denise and Jerry are lowered into a pit in the ground where they are attacked and stripped of their costumes by a gaggle of medical mutants. Jerry is hauled away into the catacombs, leaving Denise to search for a way out. The underground tunnels resemble a Halloween haunted house attraction, with corpses lining the walls and the sense that something could jump out from a corner at any minute. Finding her way to the main chamber, Denise finds the very much alive Dr. Satan performing surgery on Jerry, surrounded by his vacant-eyed creations. She is then pursued by The Professor, who may also be Papa Firefly, dressed in a gas mask and sporting an axe. The Professor, bringing to mind in many ways Friday the 13th’s Jason, stalks Denise through the tunnels. Denise is seemingly trapped until The Professor causes the tunnel to collapse on him when a misplaced blow of his axe cuts a support beam.

Denise escapes into the daylight and is offered a ride by Captain Spaulding… but Otis is lurks in the back seat. The End?

Despite his claims to return to gritty 70’s horror, Zombie uses every cinematic trick in the book – including split-screen, negative-color images, gritty 8mm photography, flash cuts, clips from Universal horror movies (The Wolf Man, Old Dark House, House of Frankenstein, and the Munsters appear briefly), over the top production design and a primary color lighting scheme worthy of Mario Bava - to deliver a music video-style postcard to Halloween horror.

Zombie clearly adores his monstrous creations, the Fireflys, so much that his identification is with them and not the victims of their violent rampage. In films of this type viewer empathy with the victim is required in order for the horror of the situation to work. His next film, The Devil’s Rejects, abandons all of the visual trickery and adopts the look and feel of a genuine grindhouse opus. Following the further exploits of Captain Spaulding, Otis and Baby while on the run from the law (Officer Wydell’s brother, played by conviction by William Forsythe), The Devil’s Rejects actually lives up to the pre-release hype of House of 1000 Corpses and is actually a legitimate hardcore horror film in the mold of queasy 70’s shockers.

For a lifelong horror fan that can spot Zombie’s genre influences and references, House of 1000 Corpses plays almost like the equivalent of a horror-themed amusement park ride. Unfortunately for the attendees of our Halloween movie marathon – who are not devotees of the genre – the film’s faults became glaringly apparent, resulting in an almost unanimous critical drubbing.

Incidentally, this marked the first and only year that all three of our Halloween marathon movies were set on Halloween.

After the third and final trivia game was completed we tallied up the scores and handed out the prizes – top prize being a “real dead body” which was a full uncooked chicken in a coffin shaped box.

As usual, we handed out consolation music CDs afterwards. The track listing, for the record, is as follows:

Welcome, Foolish Mortals - from The Haunted Mansion ride
Everybody Scream (Theme from Dr. Wolfenstein’s Creature Feature Double Feature) – Rob Zombie
When You’re Evil – Voltaire
The Munsters Theme – Los Straighjackets
Thriller – Michael Jackson
Look Alive – from The Haunted Mansion ride
Trick or Treat – Fastway
Scream! – The Misfits
Partytime – 45 Grave
Steven – Alice Cooper
All Hallow’s Eve – Type O Negative
A Disquieting Metamorphosis – from the Haunted Mansion ride
Made to Love You – Alien Tempo Experiment
Night of the Vampire – Roky Erickson
Psychic Voodoo – Deadbolt
Horror High School – Zats
The Haunted Mansion (organ suite)