The Exhumed Films 24-Hour Horrorthon has taken place for the past five years over Halloween weekend. It’s an entire day of horror movie mayhem, which breaks down to roughly 14 movies and seven blocks of trailers.
If you live in Philly, or really any place other than Los Angeles, you know that 24 hours of horror movies, projected on 16mm or 35mm film, is a rare and beautiful thing. On the morning of the thon fans stocked with provisions (mostly of the cheesy variety), sleeping bags—tents were outlawed a few years back—and dressed in various forms of comfy pant attire and obscure horror t-shirts, line up hours before doors open in hope of getting good seats.
While they are waiting in line, attendees are presented with a program that hints at the movies to be shown; Exhumed never tells what they are showing before the event. The clues, quite frankly, suck. For instance, there’s this one from 2010’a Horrorthon: “Holy fucking shit. The greatest, bloodiest kung-fu movie of all time. I don't even know what else to say, I just... I mean, this... this movie is... holy fucking shit...”
The movie hinted at was Five Element Ninjas.
The Horrorthon is the brainchild of Exhumed Films, which grew out of the four fans’ desire to watch the Lucio Fulci double-feature Zombie and Gates of Hell. Dan Fraga, Joseph A. Gervasi, Harry Guerro, and Jesse Nelson have been presenting seldom-seen genre films since 1997.
The movies and trailers come almost exclusively from Guerro’s collection. “Harry is by the far the behind-the-scenes genius of Exhumed Films. He’s one of the biggest film collectors in the country. He collects hundreds and hundreds of films and trailers,” Dan Fraga said. “As he buys trailers, he’ll splice together thematic reels … We would be completely lost without him … Over the course of 15 years we’ve shown well over 300 movies.”
Sitting through 24 hours of movies, sometimes on a folding chair, is a serious test of endurance. Everyone has their own mode of survival. Some go for a healthier tactic, like drinking green tea and eating fruit, while others just slam energy drinks and hoagies all night.
This year, Josh Gregal is travelling from Seattle for his sixth Horrorthon.
“ … Pinpointing exactly when I need strategic caffeine and snack breaks, wondering just what the hell that smelly thing the dude in front of me will invariably eat at 2AM, the adrenaline rush I feel when I realize a movie I really love is starting, and the weird sense of accomplishment my friends and I feel after cramming ourselves into a dark room with a bunch of stinky weirdos for an entire day—for a horror nerd, there's nothing else like it,” he said.
There are only a few short breaks during the thon and the organizers like to play with the audience’s sanity at about 3am. While the opening movies are generally crowd-pleasers, past years have included A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors, Creepshow, and Halloween, Exhumed saves the bat-shit crazy films for early morning hours.
“The first year we ran a movie called Teenage Mother which was sort of a, I wouldn’t say a joke, but it was thrown in there to throw people off, confuse them. First of all, it was 3:30 or 4:00 am when it came on, which is prime time to fuck with people because that seems to be the apex of delirium … So, that kind of set the stage, and by no means have we ever shown anything quite like that again, but it’s become a tradition to find the movie that will completely mess up the audience and show that somewhere in the three to five am range. We’ve got one for this year. It’s the kind of movie you’ll watch and wonder, ‘I don’t know if this is real, did I doze off and dream some of it?’ because it’s ridiculous and surreal and yet, it exists,” Fraga said.
Exhumed set up a sleeping room in University of Pennsylvania’s International House for fans that can’t make it through the entire night, after the first year got a little out-of-control. Joseph Gervasi described the aftermath of that first Horrorthon thusly, via email.
“The first thing to hit me was the stink. The miasma rose and hovered; it was jaundice yellow and vein-laced with green … Here at the International House during the Sunday morning home stretch of the first Exhumed Films (EF) 24-hour Horrorthon, the audience had transformed their environment into a post-Hurricane Katrina tent city. There were, literally, tents set up on the side of the movie screen. Strewn about the aisles were sleeping bags, dozing (possibly deceased) bodies, empty bottles of soda and booze, trash bags filled with junk food wrappers, and the all-permeating reek of human pores flushed fetid through a day and a night’s worth of fevered Frito consumption … As they gathered their bodies from their seats and lurched into the cheerful afternoon sunshine, I could see their smiles and they were a tiny bit beautiful in a barfy kind of way.”
The draw for fans is not only watching old favorites, or classics they never thought they’d get to view on the big screen, but seeing films they hate. There’s something wonderful in saying, “Oh man, do you remember that one? It was amazing; it was so crappy.”
Ryann Casey has been to the last four thons and shared her memories of the best of the worst, “ … Boarding House might be THE most memorable because I hated it so much. I really don’t even remember most of the movie but from the soundtrack (piercing notes repeated ad nauseam) to the nonexistent ‘plot,’ it was the only movie that has ever made me angry just having to sit through it—and that’s from someone who actually stayed through most of last year’s Meet the Feebles,” she said.
As a fan of the event, one of the greatest things for me is being part the community that comes out for the Horrorthon. Crazy film devotees, with, generally, odd social skills, join forces to make it through the terror, torture, and bloodletting.
“By bringing like-minded (at least in terms of a certain type of cinema-obsession) folks — many of them outcasts, either by self- or societal-definition — together, we attempted to create a supportive environment and engender a sense of inclusiveness … From what’s been said and written to us, we’ve seen friendships and romantic relationships flourish beside creative and even business projects. We began just as the internet was becoming the primary tool of communication and networking in the late 20th Century and into the 21st. Fifteen years on, we continue to draw in the misfits and show them the nightmarish and the absurd. It’s nice to have you here with us. You’re looking absolutely ghastly. Where’d you get that Sleepaway Camp t-shirt? Has anyone told you today how much you totally rule? Oh,” Gervasi said.
This year’s Horrorthon is October 27 and 28. Tickets sold out in less than a week, but there’s still a chance to get them.
While the organizers wouldn’t give me details about the roster for this year, Fraga did concede that this year is a “little 80s-centric” with “not a lot of super-popular movies, but there’s a good number of films that people will be familiar with.” For uber-fans who have attended for several years, you’ll be happy to know they are back on track with the zombie movie finale.
Images courtesy of Haunt Love