Wednesday, October 11, 2023

24 Hours of Movies: Our 2023 Scary Movie Marathon!

by Patrick Bromley
I've programmed a lot of hypothetical movie marathons on this site. Here's one we actually did this weekend!
Since back problems stopped me from doing the 24-hour horror movie marathon held annually at Chicago's Music Box Theater years ago, I've been doing them at home -- sometimes with Doug, sometimes alone, and since 2019 with my beautiful wife Erika. Programming these marathons and watching all the movies with her is the highlight of October, so much so that I became deeply sad the day after we finished because it was over despite still having 2/3 of the month left to look forward to.

Last year, we realized that staying awake all night was neither healthy nor very much fun, so we started breaking the marathon up over two days, going late on Saturday and continuing all the way into Sunday night. Because of that, I won't include times as part of our lineup because I only remember the order, not the schedule.
Because of life and parental duties, we got off to a later start than I intended, cueing up the first film around 1 instead of 10 am as I had originally planned. First up was Mark of the Vampire from 1935, a Tod Browning/Bela Lugosi collaboration that isn't Dracula but is still very entertaining. I wanted to see it ever since it got talked about in David Skal's Monster Show and did check it out a few years ago, but, to be honest, remembered very little of it so this Blu-ray viewing might as well have been my first. The bad news: I was already falling asleep during the very first movie. The soundtrack hiss gets me every time.
Next up was an Elric Kane recommendation from one of my Pure Cinema Podcast appearances a few years back: 1962's The Witch's Mirror (El Espejo de la bruja), hard to see for years until it was released as part of Imprint's recent Mexico Macabre box. This was one of my only two first-time viewings in a marathon full of familiar titles, and it was easily the discovery of the weekend. A husband murders his wife to be with his new lover, but the ghost of his ex returns through a mirror to take her revenge. It's got Gothic horror trappings, body horror, and elements of Eyes Without a Face. It's such a special movie, one that I'll be revisiting for years to come, and you owe it yourself to track it down. It's great.
I picked up the 1977 Dan Curtis-directed, Richard Matheson-scripted TV movie Dead of Night on DVD for $5 at Flashback Weekend in August for the sole purpose of showing it as part of our marathon this year because I wanted Erika to see "Bobby," the third and best segment in this anthology. The first two segments are just ok. "Second Chance," in which Ed Begley Jr. travels back in time to find a classic car and prevent an accident, has real "Kick the Can" energy, while "No Such Thing as Vampires" has more teeth -- literally -- even if it doesn't totally come together. "Bobby" makes the entire 70-minute runtime worthwhile, though. It's one of the scariest things ever put on broadcast TV.
Next up was an underrated favorite from one of my favorite filmmakers: Brian De Palma's 1978 telekinetic horror The Fury. Kirk Douglas plays the barrel-chested ex-special forces soldier trying to rescue his telekinetic son (Andrew Stevens) from the clutches of the great John Cassavetes with the help of Amy Irving, another telekinetic teenager just coming into her powers. There are so many great set pieces on display here, with De Palma using every tool at his disposal to create tension and horror, and the last five minutes are some of the best ever committed to film. I became a De Palma nut in the '90s thanks to a nudge from Quentin Tarantino and reading Pauline Kael and this has long been one of my sneaky favorites, so I was really happy to be able to introduce it to Erika. This was one of her favorites of the whole marathon.
Speaking of Erika's favorites, I pulled 1971's Lust for a Vampire (dir. Jimmy Sangster) off the shelf in preparation for the marathon because it seemed like exactly the kind of movie she would love, chock full of nudity, Hammer vibes, and girl-girl stuff. I was right! It has all that stuff. It also turns out I had this same thought back in 2019 because Erika discovered on her Letterboxd that we watched it as part of that year's marathon too. Both of us are convinced we had to have slept through it back then, though, because neither of us could remember much about it. It's the middle part of the Karnstein trilogy alongside The Vampire Lovers and Twins of Evil, which I'm realizing is some of my favorite in all of Hammer horror because I like my Hammer sleazy. Lust for a Vampire definitely fits that bill.
Because of our late start, the 1980 slasher He Knows You're Alone (dir. Armand Mastroionni) ended up being our final film of the first day even though I had two more planned. I'm a big fan of this underrated slasher, in which a killer targets brides. It's mostly known these days on "Before They Were Famous" listicles for an early supporting performance by Tom Hanks, who is so charismatic and charming in his two scenes that the filmmakers couldn't bear to kill him off. The supporting cast also includes early turns from James Rebhorn, Dana Barron, and Paul Gleason. I'm glad Scream Factory helped rescue this movie from semi-obscurity. It's good.
Day two kicked off with The Masque of the Red Death, a Roger Corman Poe adaptation from 1964. I know Erika loves these Vincent Price Poe movies so I wanted to make sure I programmed one. I must have had the same thought a few years ago because Erika reminded me I had shown this one back in 2020. Oops. I love all the Price/Corman/Poe films, but this one has been one of my favorites ever since getting to see Joe Dante's personal 35mm print at a Music Box marathon about 15 years ago. Price is at his most villainous and the cinematography by Nicolas Roeg is gorgeous. It's not the last time he'll come up.
Holy shit. Originally intended to be one of the last movies of Saturday night, James Wan's 2021 effort Malignant was next as we played catch-up from the night before. I liked the movie a lot when I saw it two years ago, but it played even better on this viewing. Everything just worked for me, maybe because this time I knew where it was all going and could give myself over to the craft of it all instead of constantly being knocked over by twists and surprises. If I hadn't started nodding off again near the end, this would have been my favorite watch of the marathon. Oh well. It gives me an excuse to revisit it again this month!
Our next (last) catch-up movie was 1993's Skinner, which was supposed to be the last movie of our marathon's first leg. I feel like it would have played better then, as it's definitely a late-night kind of movie. That's not to say it played badly on Sunday afternoon, though. The movie, directed by once and future porn director Ivan Nagy and starring Ted Raimi as a serial killing drifter (plus Traci Lords as a vengeance-seeking former victim and Ricki Lake as his sweet and clueless landlord), isn't as gory as I was expecting and has a welcome streak of dark comedy running through it. This was my second first-time watch of the marathon, and while it wasn't as good as The Witch's Mirror, I'm so happy to have finally seen it.
For the Sunday afternoon lineup, I was trying to find movies that weren't too gory or mean-spirited. Our makeup viewing of Skinner kind of messed that up, but it does explain why I programmed 1986's April Fool's Day next. Fred Walton's slasher semi-spoof, about a group of friends (including Deborah Foreman, Clayton Rohner, Amy Steel, and Thomas F. Wilson) who come together and start getting bumped off in Agatha Christie fashion, is about as nice and fun a slasher as you're going to find. I know it's a favorite of Heather Wixson's, and while I don't share her total devotion to it, I do enjoy its charms. This was good Sunday afternoon viewing.
Up next was 1980's Fade to Black, written and directed by Vernon Zimmerman and starring Dennis Christopher as a movie-obsessed kid who goes crazy and starts killing people as different movie characters. Difficult to see until Vinegar Syndrome rescued it and put it out on Blu-ray a few years ago, the movie is as much a character study in the vein of Peeping Tom, Psycho, and Maniac as much as it is a horror film. It's been years since I last saw it but I was surprised by how much of it stuck with me. Christopher can be an acquired taste and he certainly embraces the theatricality of the role; I was much more interested in the supporting turns by a young Mickey Rourke (one of my favorites) and Tim Thomerson, whose subplot as a criminal psychologist never really goes anywhere but I don't care because I'm always happy to see Tim Thomerson show up in a movie.
The penultimate feature was I Am Not a Serial Killer, which I first saw as part of the Bruce Campbell Horror Fest and went on to be one of my favorite horror movies of 2016. I hadn't seen it in the seven years since, but it's just as good as I remember it being. Max Records (Where the Wild Things Are) gives a great performance as a potentially sociopathic teen who discovers a serial killer living in his snow Minnesota suburb. The 16mm photography rules and the story takes some genuinely interesting and moving turns. Charlie even joined us for this one and seemed into it. Too many people still sleep on this one.
The whole marathon was more or less building up to Nicolas Roeg's 1973 masterpiece Don't Look Now because Erika has wanted to see it for years and I was holding off on watching it with her because it's a fucking downer. While I have long suspected she mostly wanted to see it for the sex scene (the longstanding rumor is that Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie were really going at it), it was great to see just how into the movie Erika got. This was her favorite of the whole marathon, which made the buildup that much more worthwhile. We had one more movie to get through -- Jeff Leiberman's horror comedy Satan's Little Helper, a movie I don't love but which has great Halloween vibes and would make for a nice palate cleanser after the heaviness of Don't Look Now -- but it was late on Sunday night and time to call it. The marathon was officially over.

Thank you, Erika, for watching all these movies with me and being such a good sport about my choices. I love you and I promise not to show Lust for a Vampire again next year. Speaking of which, how much longer until next year's marathon?


  1. Awesometastic. You both rock. thanks for sharing the marathon details and many great suggestions within!

  2. I have thought about creating a marathon, but I know that I probably would not last a long time. I got through nearly three movies (finishing the second half of one) one night last weekend. That was enough.

    With the shifts in the story and very old-school special effects, The Witch's Mirror is a fun watch. There is an inexpensive Casanegra DVD release (with a decent transfer) still widely available if the Imprint release is hard to get.