Ah, Labor Day weekend. A chance to reflect on the work which needs to be done and the end of summer. Picnics, Parades and the opportunity to watch zombies munching on people. At the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville, PA, the cult film committee has performed another fine job keeping the grindhouse and drive-in experience alive in the Delaware Valley. You might not have to endure the homeless people sleeping around you or sticky floors, or car speakers proclaiming the snack bar’s closing, but it’s still a great way to relive the distant past when one had to scan the newspaper ads for a cool film. Those were the days when I would wonder if Vampire’s Delight was a new movie or something else retitled.
This was my third time attending the Splatterfest and the promoters out-did themselves this year. After a short introduction where prizes were handed out, the committee informed the audience to be respectful of the films they were about to see and leave the effing cell phones off. The crowd was into the presentation and many people brought their own lawn chairs with them. As in years past, all the films shown were on REAL film. Most of the prints were in good shape, although one did have a damaged optical track on the fourth reel. However, the announcer let everyone know in advance.
The film which kicked off the show was the classic Black Friday (1960), directed by the great Mario Bava. In some ways this movie kicked off the wave of gothic horror movies Italy. The beautiful Barbara Steele starred as a young woman who may or may not have been possessed by the evil soul of her witch ancestor. The print was in outstanding shape and hardly had a scratch on it. No one even minded the black and white movie and a cheer went through the audience when Bava’s name was flashed on the screen. Somehow I’d missed this film over my years of film viewing and it was nice to check it off the list.
The fun moved to Demons 2, the 1986 film directed by Mario Bava’s son Lamberto. This was a sequel to Dario Argento’s 1985 movie of the same name and started off with a group of people in an apartment building. They were watching the same movie about a band of people breaking into a city sealed off from the previous demonic attack. Definitely a creative and original opening with a monster working its way into the action through a TV set, which impressed me to no end. After the creative opening the movie became increasingly crazy as any excuse for demons attacking humans was worked into the plot. It had the feel of a movie being composed as it went along. Plus points for the green puppet from hell.
After a brief intermission, the festival continued with another Bava classic I had managed never to see: Bay of Blood (1971), a movie with plenty of bodies and titles. It was originally released in the US as Carnage, but made the round at Drive-ins for years as Twitch of the Death Nerve. This was the best-looking print of the evening with the rich and luscious color Bava was known to use in his films. The plot was confusing, but rewarding if you stuck with it. A group of people are trying to get control of a scenic ocean bay from an Italian countess. The bodies start piling up as a series of killers try to eliminate every one with an interest in the property. I will say it had an ending which took me by surprise, served justice and was consistent with the plot.
By the time Hell of the Living Dead (1980) made it to the screen the audience was thinning. After the third movie, I’ve noticed the crowd begins to thin. This was the only movie of the five I had seen before, back in a theater in Ohio thirty years ago on a double bill with Toxic Zombies. The crowd cheered on the rampaging ghouls at the colonial and turned the showing into a carnival. However nothing will ever equal the experience of hearing a man in front of me at the Ohio theater giggling away. This was directed by Bruno Mattei and was about a group of reporters who fall in with the worst Special Forces team in history. The plot had them try to take out a leaky chemical plant in New Guinea where the toxic chemicals are turning everyone into gut-munching zombies. 1980 was a good year for zombies. All the cash created by Dawn of the Dead (1978)inspired Italian filmmakers to jump on the money train.
The final film was The House by the Cemetery (1981), which was the third part of Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy. A college professor, his wife and child move into a house in a remote part of New York so he can do research on a book. Of course the house was the scene of a series of gruesome murders committed by a mad scientist named (I am not making his up) Dr. Freudstein. Normally I am offended by movies which feature child endangerment as a key part of the plot, but this movie was impossible to take seriously. Featuring a blond moppet named “Bob” with some of the worse dubbing imaginable, you just wanted everyone to meet a bad end so the movie would finish. And once again the final scene made no sense whatsoever.
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