The Dusk Til Dawn Horror Show 10/19-20/02
“Find the end of the rainbow Fly wherever the winds blow Laugh at life like a sideshow Just what you need to make you feel better” –(The System Of) Dr. Tarr And Professor Fether by The Alan Parsons Project
That’s right, folks. The Alamo Drafthouse took its Rolling Roadshow on the road again in order to bring us the Dusk Til Dawn Horror Show. 12 hours of sheer terror! And they didn’t just show it in any old movie venue. Nope, nope! They took us to the Texas State School, ex-home of lunatics and psychos.
When we got there around 7:45, we were told that we had to go through the hospital and the “lobotomy room.” Now, I don’t know if that’s actually what the second room was for originally, but just having someone call it that was creepy as hell. All of the lights were off (of course, no electricity) and we were walking through these dark, empty rooms by the light of a few flashing yellow lights set up by the theatre staff and my weak little keychain light. Most of the rooms were open so we could explore on our own, but I really didn’t want to do too much exploring. I just wanted to take a cursory look and get the fuck out. Lots of weird things going on in those halls many years ago. Who knows what’s left behind?
So we made it through that and went on to the outdoor screen and settled in for a long winter’s viewing. Luckily it wasn’t too cold. That came later, and even then it never got unbearable. Gotta love Central Texas falls.
SESSION 9 (2001)
Directed by: Brad Anderson
Written by: Brad Anderson/Stephen Gevedon
The first movie of the night I had already seen and didn’t care too much for it on first viewing. Not bad, but I thought the location, the tapes one of the characters was listening to and the documentary on the DVD were creepier than anything else going on in the story. But I knew it would play well to this crowd at this location.
And I was right. I loved this movie this time around.
Session 9 is the story of asbestos and what it can do to you. Or, moreover, what taking asbestos out of a creepy old abandoned mental institution can do to you.
Gordon (Peter Mullan–a bit player in Braveheart and a small timer from Trainspotting) is desperate for a job. He runs an asbestos removal company and has fallen on hard times. He’s got a new baby and is obviously having some problems at home. So it’s time to pull out a miracle. He and his crew, Phil (David Caruso in one of his best roles), Hank (Josh Lucas from American Psycho, A Beautiful Mind and Sweet Home Alabama), Mike (Stephen Gevedon) and Jeff (Brendan Sexton III from Welcome To The Dollhouse, Desert Blue and Boys Don’t Cry), have a job that should take them at least 2-3 weeks. In order to get the job Gordon promises a week. Personally, I think it looks more like 6 months, but I don’t know dick about asbestos removal.
So the boys get down to the job. Unfortunately there’s all kinds of tension between all of them. Jeff is Gordon’s mullet-headed American nephew who doesn’t really know his ass from his foot and he’s got nichtophobia. He can’t function at all in the dark. Hank stole Phil’s girlfriend from him and neither of them can let it go. And then there’s Mike. He’s just kind of biding his time working with these guys. He’s actually a pretty brilliant guy, but he had no interest in the bar exams when he took them, so he failed them. Now he’s reconsidering, but he needs money…so here he is.
But when Mike finds a box of tapes recorded during doctors’ sessions with Mary Hobbes, things start changing for everybody. Mary was an inmate of the hospital when it closed (and was a big reason for a lot of these institutions’ closures). She was involved in a law suit against her parents for ritualistic abuse and rape that was all found in sessions like the ones on tape. Was it true? Or was she just making it up? Did she even know?
And when one of the guys goes missing, things really heat up.
My feelings on this movie still hold true, but on viewing it again I’ve decided that I actually really do like the story. The place itself (it actually was filmed in the Danvers Sate Hospital) is the creepiest aspect of the whole movie. Even on film you can feel the horrors of what went on there before it was closed. It’s just an old building, but there’s something there. On the DVD there’s a documentary about the making of the film and it has some of the history of the building. The actors all felt the tension of working there. Caruso actually said that, while filming on the roof, for a fraction of a split second he thought, “Jump.” Not because he felt like committing suicide. It wasn’t a depression that washed over him. It was more curiosity. What would it feel like to fly? He also said that he saw things go by the window during filming.
And then there’s the tapes. Oh, the tapes. Mary Hobbes’ psychiatric tapes are just frightening. She has four different personalities (the fourth doesn’t come out until session 9, but you know it’s there from the get go) and they all sound like different voices. And whoever made the tapes put little imperfections in the recordings as if moisture had gotten to one part of each tape. And that really makes all the difference. Without those imperfections it would have just been weird. With them it’s downright scary.
Pretty much everything is in place in this movie. Yeah, Caruso is a little over the top at times, but it works for his character. Everyone does a fine job and the tension is built up gradually and deliberately by director/writer Brad Anderson (Happy Accidents and Next Stop, Wonderland). Maybe it was the atmosphere of the mini-festival, but I liked this movie a LOT better the second time around.
After Session 9, my buddy and I decided to do a little exploring of the grounds. We walked around the track where they walked the inmates around in circles to turn them into butter. Then we found the cemetery. I can’t describe to you what it feels like to go into a cemetery on the grounds of an old asylum. Just knowing that the people underneath me probably never found peace in life made me feel a little freaked out to be walking over them. I mean, what really makes me more sane than these folks were? Is the real asylum outside of this building? (A question that Douglas Adams posed to us in the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy pretty overtly.)
But no time for that. Time to get back to the movies.
Directed by: Juan López Moctezuma
Written by: Juan López Moctezuma/Carlos Illescas/Gabriel Weiss
Based on book by: Edgar Allan Poe
Tim League, owner of the Alamo, promised us that this was a great Eurotrash asylum flick. That it would really blow our minds. That we would never forget the experience of Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon.
Well, he was right, but not really in a good way.
This is, of course, based on the famous Edgar Allen Poe story The System Of Dr. Tarr And Professor Fether. Now, anyone who has read Poe knows that he never really wrote a bad story. He was one of the masters of horror literature and probably the first to actually be considered literature in the horror genre. That he died in a gutter just adds to his macabre reputation. You just have to love the guy!
This story is basically an “inmates run the asylum” story. Dr. Maillard (Claudio Brook, later from License To Kill and Cronos) has invited Gaston LeBlanc (Arthur Hansel from Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary) to write a story in his paper about his asylum. But things start to go awry for the “good doctor” when he introduces Gaston to Eugenie (Ellen Sherman). Doubts start to creep in. Is this the real Dr. Maillard? Is Eugenie really an inmate? What about those weird Napoleonic guards outside? Are they really guards? And should they be allowed to have guns?
So, you see, there really are no questions in this movie? We know from the beginning exactly what happened even if we have never read a word of Poe. (I haven’t read this particular story, but I’m pretty sure that Poe didn’t envision weird priest dudes with spirals on their tunics…although it makes an interesting Halloween costume. No one would guess it.)
I know we can’t grade these kinds of movies on the same curve as a real movie. (The acting is always stiff, the direction is always bizarre and the story is always nearly non-existent.) But we should at least be able to grade it. This one almost seemed like it was trying too hard to be weird. Not to mention just kinda boring. There’s only so much crazy that you can take before you finally tune it all out.
One thing I couldn’t tune out, though, was the fucking music. It was grating and terrible. One character is supposed to be comic relief (he wasn’t) and was tied up and hopping around screaming for help through a gag. The xylophone and the flute are two instruments that should NEVER be allowed to play together. It made the whole thing sound like a really bad cartoon. I wanted to stick the flute down its player’s throat and beat the xylophone player with his own mallets.
But there were some good points. Claudio Brook puts in a GREAT and over the top performance as the crazy doctor who has devised his own system (credited to the mysterious Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether…probably figments of his own imagination) to get the “crazy” out of people. Some of his lines are so badly psychotic that you just have to love the character. And his sudden bursts of laughter at inopportune moments make for some very strange viewing. (“Let’s hope it’s not Mr. Chicken. Bwaa!!! Ha-ha-ha!!!” End laughing….now!)
Lots of nudity, too. Director Juan López Moctezuma (also Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary…and not many others) must have liked his female nudity (Who doesn’t?) because he put it in at every turn. Even when it had no purpose at all. Although he does have a scene with grapes that predates American Beauty’s rose petal scene by about 30 years.
And then there’s the chicken dance. Oh my. This nearly made the whole 88 minute movie worth sitting through. As a friend of mine at the show said, Andrew Lloyd Webber ripped THEM off, he just did it with cats instead of chickens.
But women dressed as chickens doing surreal West Side Story impressions aside, this movie is nearly worthless unless you’re a Eurotrash completist. No one really liked it except for Tim League. I guess I’m glad I saw it because it’s pretty rare, but I won’t search for it again.
Time for some more exploring. My buddy and I decided to run to the car to get some blankets because it was starting to get a little chilly and we were sick of sitting in lawn chairs. The problem was that, because of the detour through the hospital, we didn’t really know how far away our car was. Luckily it wasn’t too far, but it was a little weird walking through the grounds pretty much alone. There were a few people here and there, but we were basically all alone.
At one point we found a building with an open door. (Actually, most of the buildings were open…hmmm.) He went in with me shining the light around the mostly empty room from the doorway. (Yeah, I’m a pussy. What can I say.) When we heard a noise just on the other side of the wall, he walked quickly out trying to save his cool exterior. Not so sure he succeeded, though. Time to get back to the movies.
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Mario Bava/Filippo Ottoni/Dardano Sacchetti/Giuseppe Zaccariello/Franco Barberi
Mario Bava was one of the giants of Italian horror. Every horror film geek knows his name and his reputation. With movies like Black Sunday and Black Sabbath he defined what it meant to be a horror director. By 1971 he was ready for something new, so he invented the slasher movie.
But he didn’t do what everyone after him did. There is no one killer. The killer is everybody. There’s no one who is innocent. No one. I think every character in this movie kills someone.
The story is, well, um…it’s got something to do with a couple trying to get insurance money out of the woman’s mother…or aunt…or something who was just brutally murdered, but the cops think it was suicide. In order to get the money, certain people have to die. Why? I guess because they know too much, but it doesn’t seem like they know much at all, actually.
So lots of people die in really cool ways. But does that make a good movie? Unfortunately, no. This flick was slow, slow, slow. There were some good bursts of murder (a lot of which were copied for Friday The 13th about a decade later), but everything moved so slowly that I kind of lost interest after a while.
Some of that may have had to do with the fact that, not only was it my third movie of the night and I had been up since 5am (had to work on Sat., dammit), but I was also laying down on one of the blankets we went to get. Probably a mistake.
So, no, I didn’t really like this Bava film, which ended up being a sequel to Wes Craven’s first film Last House On The Left, even though it came out a year earlier…and it has not one thing to do with the Craven film. Not a sausage.
And I had such high hopes for this one. It’s got one of the greatest titles in the history of horror film. And it was our first “mystery film” of the night. It didn’t bode well for our mystery premiere later that night.
Not much exploring done for the rest of the night. Just a lot of announcements to “Get the fuck off the water tower!” and to stop vandalizing the school. Tim probably won’t ever have this event out there again. Too bad. It’s a perfect place for it.
Directed by: Jack Sholder
Written by: Jack Sholder/Robert Shaye/Michael Harrpster
In the early 80s there were many, many slasher movies running around. For a young producer it was a quick and easy way to make money. And, after making a couple of flicks that really didn’t make any money (Stunts with Robert Forster and John Waters’ Polyester), Robert Shaye decided to try his luck. With these three movies Shaye would lay down the foundation of his little production company, New Line Cinema. Later he would, of course, be the producer of the Nightmare On Elm Street series and, unbelievably, The Lord Of The Rings!
But enough about him. Let’s talk about the movie.
When Dr. Dan Potter (Dwight Schultz, Lt. Barclay in Star Trek: The Next Generation) is moved to a new asylum where his mentor, Dr. Leo Bain (Donald Pleasence who couldn’t get away from playing obsessed psychiatrists at this point in his career), he has no idea what a horrific experience he is about to give his family. He is put in charge of the third floor where they keep the four most dangerous men in the hospital, Col. Frank Hawkes (Jack Palance), Byron “Preacher” Sutcliff (Martin Landau), Ronald “Fatty” Elster (Erland van Lidth from The Running Man and Stir Crazy) and Skaggs aka “The Bleeder” (he never shows his face).
The problem with Dr. Potter’s therapy sessions with these guys is that they loved their old doctor. In fact, Hawkes gets them all to believe that this new guy killed their old doctor in order to take his place. So revenge must be theirs. And, since Dr. Bain doesn’t believe in bars, all it takes is a power outage to set these dangerous men free. (The windows and doors have sensors on them that make steel walls come down if anyone gets too close to windows and doors.) The whole city goes out for a couple of days and the inmates go on a rampage in order to get vengeance for their favorite doctor’s death.
The rest of the movie is like a sick cross between Straw Dogs and The Dream Team. Dr. Potter, a normally mild mannered man, must become a killer in order to protect his family. But, ya know? I liked it. It was fast paced, interesting and always pretty thrilling. Yeah, it’s a pretty typical horror flick where the insane guys are the bad guys, and it’s pretty sad to see Martin Landau in a movie like this (and when, exactly, did the new family friend get arrested?), but it’s a lot of fun and not a movie that you ever hear about anymore.
And Jack Palance is always great to watch, especially when he’s fighting some inner turmoil. (Heh heh.)
And now for the big premiere. We knew we were going to see a movie that wouldn’t be released until next year, but no one had any clue what it was. Luckily, it was a great way to end the mini-festival.
Directed by: Eli Roth
Written by: Eli Roth/Randy Pearlstein
When five friends decide to take a vacation in a cabin in the woods, horror strikes. Yes. You read that right. Five kids are in danger when they stay in the woods. Who’da thunk it?!
But this time it’s not a mysterious killer on the loose. It’s a disease and human nature that do these kids in. Paul (Rider Strong from Boy Meets World) is the moral center of the group. He’s a nice guy who all the girls see as a brother, including childhood friend, Kelly (Jordan Ladd from Never Been Kissed and The Specials) who he, of course, has the hots for. Jeff (Joey Kern from Super Troopers) is almost the exact opposite of Paul. He’s not a complete dick, but he seems to be in it all for himself. He and his girlfriend, Marcy (Cerina Vincent from Not Another Teen Movie…and the Yellow Galaxy Ranger–bet there are a lot of kids looking forward to seeing her naked, and they will here) don’t seem to want to do anything but have sex. Go figure. And then there’s Bert (James DeBello from Detroit Rock City and 100 Girls). Bert’s just a jock moron who doesn’t want to do anything but shoot squirrels because they’re gay.
It’s all fun and sex for these kids until a weird hermit with some kind of skin disease shows up on their doorstep and starts trying to get them to help him. The kids decide that they can’t bring the guy in the cabin, but they’ll try to get help. Unfortunately, the hermit gets in their truck and tries to drive away, exploding blood from his mouth before he is able to get very far. The kids get him out of the truck and accidentally set him on fire sending him into the woods. Now they have to deal with the fact that maybe they caught the disease.
As things (including their bodies) degenerate, they start to show their true colors and none of them really like the others much.
And, of course, there’s the locals who are all a bunch of Deliverance rejects who don’t understand human compassion or the fact that the kids didn’t bring this contagious menace with them.
This was a really clever little horror flick with some great humor A LOT of gore effects. The disease is based on the same flesh-eating virus that one of the sound mixer (John Neff) contracted once. He says that the make-up was pretty much dead on.
Writer/director Eli Roth shopped this flick around for about seven years trying to make sure that it was an Evil Dead type horror movie where it was the kids themselves who were the “evil.” (There are even “Shemps” credited at the end in homage to Sam Raimi.) He kept getting turned down because there was no killer! That’s what’s so cool about the movie!! The kids turn into monsters and do whatever they need to just to survive themselves. After he made it all of the same folks who turned him down to begin with were clamoring to see it at festivals. Bob and Harvey Weinstein actually posed as him and his producers in order to get a copy of it so they could see it. Assholes.
Roth, who helped out with some Broadway plays, was able to get Angelo Badalamenti (Broadway and Hollywood score writer) to do his score for free! That’s how much faith people had in him after a while.
Lucky for us he was able to get this movie made. It’s a great flick. Anyone who likes those late 70s/early 80s gore flicks will LOVE this one. There’s murder, twisted reasoning, leg-shaving scenes, a fingering, sex, nudity and, of course, lots and lots of gore.
Cabin Fever was the best way to end this festival. Can’t wait to see what’s on the slate for next year. And, as we walked away in the day time, the sun brought a new perspective to the asylum, as it always does. Gone were all of the dark corners and recesses of the site. Now it looked exactly like what it was: an old school that was abandoned a few years ago. Probably a reform school or something (with a cemetery?), without all of the creepy parts. It was still weird, but not as chill inducing. Funny how the light can bring clarity.
(Anybody know anything about this place? It’s a right turn away from the Texas Dept. of Corrections just outside of town on Rt. 969. I looked up Texas State School on the net and got nothin’. I’d love to know what’s up with this place and how the hell Tim got permission to do this.)
But I didn’t get a ticket to the 4th Annual Butt-Numb-A-Thon. (24 hours of pure movie pleasure!!) Oh well. I may have one with some friends all on my own on the same day. So n’yah!