Posted: 08/27/2008


Terror in the Aisles at the Portage Theater

by Jef Burnham

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The horror-obsessed masses of Chicago joined host, Rusty Nails, once again for a 14-hour marathon of monsters and murder (topped only by the 24-hour Music Box Massacre in October). For those of us crazy enough (or stupid enough, I’ll admit it) to attend multiple day-long movie marathons, Terror in the Aisles was somehow easier and more refreshing as a whole experience.

It came as a shock and a disappointment this event would be switching venues from the usual Music Box Theater to the Portage Theater; but our home for the evening proved more spacious for the vendors, and the serving of hot dogs and nachos at the concessions stand meant there was no reason to miss of a moment of the action, even to get lunch and dinner. One thing the Portage Theater lacked is the heavy atmosphere of the Music Box, but part of that atmosphere has to do with uncomfortable seats and sticky floors, so you won’t hear me complaining.

As with the other marathons, Rusty pulled in some impressive guest speakers. In this instance, we were graced by directors Doug McKeown and John McNaughton. The first to appear was McKeown, whose career has been primarily in theatre, but he directed one film, a cult classic called Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn. This was the first time McKeown had ever attended an event like this, but he flew all the way in from New York for it. He was incredibly pleasant during his interview, and even allowed us to see a film he made as a teenager that hadn’t been screened in over 40 years. For hours before and after his film, you could find him in the theater or wandering around the lobby, smiling, chatting and munching on popcorn. McNaughton, director of the astonishingly unnerving Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, on the other hand, was less than affable. He came off more than a little bitter during the interview and was extremely curt with the fans. And McNaughton didn’t stay but a few minutes after his interview, despite living in Chicago. Now, I’m not going to make any assertions about his character, personally. He may have been having a bad day. But no one was happy with his behavior.

And now, to the day’s lineup of films:

Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story (2007) — A wonderful documentary about the director who loved to slap a gimmick on his horror movies.

The Listening Dead (2006) — A short film by Phil Mucci.

The Tingler (1959) — During the film, Castle’s gimmick of vibrating the seats to simulate the Tingler was recreated by Rusty, Nurse Nora and others, who snuck up behind unsuspecting audience members with joy buzzers.

Slumber Party Massacre (1982) — The only feminist slasher film I’m aware of, filled with sexual metaphors and imagery.

The Demonology of Desire (2007) — A short film by Rodrigo Gudino, founder and publisher of Rue Morgue magazine, that no one seemed to care for, though I liked it much better the second time through.

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) — The original Wes Craven version.

The Dinosaur — Doug McKeown’s short film about a kid’s dinosaur toy becoming real and eating a bully. If you weren’t there, you are not likely to ever see this one.

Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn (1983) — A slightly obscure horror gem, featuring amazing effects around which McKeown had to sculpt a storyline.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) — I had avoided seeing this absolutely terrifying film again for nine years prior to the event, and although I am still amazed by its effectiveness, I may just avoid it for another nine.

Machine Girl [Kataude mashin gâru] (2008) — Wow! Believe me, you have never seen anything like Machine Girl. The best approximation I can make is Evil Dead meets Ichi the Killer. And that doesn’t come close to describing the staggering amount of gore in this Tokyo Shock original.

As per usual, there was also an auction, benefiting a local charity. The charity represented at Terror in the Aisles was Vital Bridges, which provides much needed assistance to those suffering from AIDS. Between the auction and donations, we raised approximately $500 for the charity. And at last, having done a little good, and some would say, wasted a lot of time, we stumbled back out onto the quiet streets at 2:15 am Sunday morning. No one had collected on their $1,000,000 Fright Insurance that was been passed out by the lovely Nurse Nora before the show (This was a fake policy, as you may have guessed, unlike the actual $1,000 Fright Insurance policies distributed by William Castle before the screenings of Macabre).

The 24-hour Music Box Massacre will take place on October 25 from noon Saturday until noon Sunday. If you like horror movies and are in the Chicago area, come on out. Even if you stop in for three or four movies, at a little over $20 you’ll still be paying less per movie than you would to see a single feature.

Jef Burnham is a writer and a film critic in Chicago.

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