Friday, August 25, 2023


 by Anthony King

‘Tis the season.

Folks, I'll be honest with you: I recently started a new job (you may call me Lunch Lady Anthony now), and I have yet to figure out a new movie-watching and writing schedule. So, with any luck, we'll be back to our regularly scheduled Notes on Film next week. In the meantime, this marathon is something I've been thinking about for awhile. After all, it is the season of fairs, both county and state. A few weeks ago my family and I went to our local county fair as per annual tradition, and every year it's the same. Rickety rides operated by dirty, toothless men; the smell of fried food wafting through the air; the smell of livestock shit wafting through the air; the smells of fried food and shit in the air, mixing together, sending me to euphoria. I love fairs and carnivals, and I think it'd be a riot to sit through an all night marathon of movies based on and around such things.

7:00, Nightmare Alley | Edmund Goulding | 1947 | 111 min.

We kick things off with a classic noir that borders on the psychological horror side. Tyrone Power is Stanton Carlisle, a worker who travels with a carnival. He weasels his way into the gig of assisting Mademoiselle Zeena, a mentalist. His hunger for power doesn't stop there. Stanton becomes one of the hottest entertainment acts, working as a mentalist with his wife. The trick is that Stanton has stolen Zeena's secret to making the show work, and now she wants revenge. With co-stars Helen Walker, Coleen Gray, and Joan Blondell, Nightmare Alley is a fun way to ease us into this marathon.

9:05, Adventureland | Greg Mottola | 2009 | 107 min.
We jump ahead half a century to one of my favorite movies of all time. Adventureland takes place in 1987 and stars Jesse Eisenberg as James who has recently graduated college and is back living with his parents in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. With dreams of moving to the city, James takes a job at the local amusement park where he meets and falls in love with Em (Kristin Stewart), and becomes best friends with Joel (Martin Starr). It's a Y.A. coming of age story with a killer soundtrack and some of the most romantic scenes in a modern comedy. It's the 2009 version of Valley Girl (1983) so we can pretend Valley Girl (2020) doesn't exist.

Midnight, Freaks | Tod Browning | 1932 | 66 min.
Unless Freaks kicks things off, this is really the spot in an all-nighter this film deserves. Tod Browning's classic tale of revenge follows the performers of a traveling circus and sideshow. Trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) declares her love for little person ring leader Hans (Harry Earles). Soon, though, all's revealed and we discover Cleopatra is only marrying Hans for his inheritance, and she's having an affair with strongman Hercules (Henry Victor). Soon the “freaks” execute their plot of revenge in one of the most unforgettable cinematic moments, all leading to a shocking reveal during the final scene. It's fun, it's classic, it's full of unforgettable characters, and it's only a little over an hour so we can get right to the next movie.

1:07, The Amusement Park | George A. Romero | 1975 | 54 min.
George A. Romero's long lost film was commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania to raise awareness about elder abuse. It premiered at the American Film Festival in 1975, and then was shelved until its rediscovery in 2017. After undergoing a restoration, the film debuted in 2019 to mixed and mostly confused reviews. This had been rumored to exist for decades, building a reputation nothing could withstand. It still has Romero written all over it, though. It follows an elderly man as he goes to an amusement park and experiences nightmare sequence after nightmare sequence. It's good, but very strange, and the perfect way to lead you into the delirious portion of your night.

2:15, Berserk | Jim O'Connolly | 1967 | 96 min.
Who wouldn't wanna spend the witching hour with Joan Crawford? Mommy Dearest stars as a lady ringleader whose circus is beginning to financially fail. Luckily, a string of murders reignites interest in her three rings, and she'll do whatever she has to bring in the customers. This is like if Joan's character from Johnny Guitar ran a circus, and it'll be a nice little jolt to keep you going.

4:05, Carny | Robert Kaylor | 1980 | 107 min.
Here's where things get strange. On the surface Carny is a typical “girl runs away with the circus” story. The girl in question is Jodie Foster, and the circus is a traveling carnival owned by Kenneth McMillan and co-managed by Gary Busey and Robbie Robertson (RIP). While nothing outright “scary” happens, there is a constant undercurrent of horror through the entire picture. The film opens with Busey meticulously putting on clown makeup under a single, naked lightbulb while carnival music warbles over the top. There's a love triangle, great music, and an incredible cast of characters that includes Meg Foster, Elisha Cook Jr., and Teddy Wilson, with appearances by Tim Thomerson, Craig Wasson, and Fred Ward.

6:10, Big Top Pee-Wee | Randal Kleiser | 1988 | 86 min.
We're sending you out on high note. Paul Reubens was one of a kind, and his beloved Pee-Wee Herman was a staple character for nearly everyone of my generation. While his follow up didn't quite live up to the heights of Big Adventure, Big Top has slowly gained a devoted cult following. Admittedly, I haven't seen this since I was child, and I remember not liking it because I loved the first movie so much, but what better way to pay tribute to one of the funniest, kindest people to have lived than by ending our carnival all-nighter with him.

I agree that Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse is really the perfect ending to an all-nighter, but it's becoming cliché (however great the film is), and let's go out with a laugh. Thanks for coming to my all-nighter, and I hope you get to mingle with the carnies soon!

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