To describe the mood of the room at 5am, you’d have to divide fear by fun. The audience is somewhere on the spectrum between “terrified prisoners held for ransom” and “exhilarated audience at a rock concert.” Your eyes start to sag, but then the next violent act occurs, jolting you up with a twitch. You’ve been scared wide awake, and you like it—because you don’t want to miss the next bit of bloodshed, either. This is the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, and you’re not even halfway through it.
The man we have to thank for much of this is sitting across from us at Allston’s Refuge Cafe, explaining the method to his madness. That’d be Mark Anastasio, program manager for the theater. In addition to the marathon, Anastasio also programs the weekly After Midnight series at the Coolidge. You might’ve seen him introducing one of those screenings. He’s the charismatic gentlemen—identifiable by tattoos, an imposing beard, and an inviting smile—who stands at the front of the auditorium and speaks briefly about the picture. Right now he’s telling us about the concoction he’s brewed up for this year’s marathon, which will take place on the holiday itself. Given that gift from the fates—Halloween falling on the marathon’s traditional Saturday—one of the two movies Anastasio has announced ahead of time is Halloween II.
“It picks up at the exact moment that the original ends,” Anastasio starts, when we ask for a sales pitch. “Dr. Loomis is standing in the yard, searching for Michael Myers’ body. He runs over to the police, lets them know that Myers is still on the loose, and we literally hit the ground running from there. This follows the rules of the horror sequel: there’s the POV-via-steadicam style that the first movie followed, but now there’s more gore, and more action. Most of it takes place at the hospital that Laurie [the final girl of the first film] has been taken to. It’s full of pot-smoking nurses and EMTs, who just want to party and have sex with each other. It picks up everything that had been done in the horror genre since Halloween, and adds that stuff to the Halloween formula.”
If you’ve been to the Marathon before—here’s your fair warning, it tends to sell out—then you know the size of the dosage: two movies are announced beforehand, then five more surprise features play afterwards. (All are exhibited via 35mm prints.) What elevates the long night from “movie nerd paradise” into a genuinely singular cultural event are all the ephemeral interstitials that bring us from film to film. There’s an opening band, trailers, short clips; this year, there will even be a game show. The audience will be costumed, and—if they’re daring enough to come onstage—they’ll be judged, too.
“The costume contest will start us off,” Anastasio explains. “It used to be in between the first two movies, but the costumes have gotten so elaborate over the years that I’ve started to feel bad … There was a year where Hawkman and Hawkgirl had to uncomfortably sit in the back through the first film fully costumed, with their wings stretched. That’s when I realized we should probably do the contest first.”
Anastasio has been programming the one-night festival since 2007, and has learned his fair share of crowd control methods since. The first time around, he brought out all the genre favorites: Evil Dead II, The Fly, An American Werewolf in London. And that brought burnout along with it. Now he modulates the event meticulously, programming with a mind toward tonal shifts, running times, and pacing. Mark does try to find visual and thematic connections between the films (“I like there to be some sort of reason to progress from one film to the next—it won’t always be apparent to the whole audience, but some people catch them.”) But what sustains the all-nighter is the rhythm, not the reasons.
“I try to hit the ground running, and keep the energy up as much as possible, even past the 6am hour,” he explained. “I watch the films I’ve programmed in sequence at home, to feel them out, just to try to see where the low points are. Just last year we had Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive. And it ended up entirely repulsing the audience, at about 4 in the morning. It’s not a slow movie, but it is relentless—the score is grating, and it’s got these dreamy colors to it. It put people in a really weird place way too soon. I’m not taking it easier, but we’ve definitely got a different plan for this year’s set of shows.”
The theme for 2015 is the evening itself: Halloween night. Anastasio has also announced the mid-2000s cult favorite Trick ’r Treat—a gonzo anthology picture that loops together a series of violent acts as they occur in a small town during the holiday, like a Mario Bava movie on steroids. That will bat leadoff during the marathon. The rest of the movies planned for the night cut through a wide swath of horror history. One is a canonized classic, another is a critical favorite (Martin Scorsese is a noted fan), a third started a franchise. And, given that we’re just a few days away, Anastasio’s willing to reveal one more title right now.
“By the end of Halloween II, the audience is going to be really up—very high. And instead of crashing them down with something like a totally brutal Tobe Hooper movie, we’re going to keep it light, and stay in the 1980s. We’re going to play a film called Night of the Demons. That’s also set on Halloween. It’s a classical ‘teenagers head to a haunted castle for a Halloween party and then it gets infiltrated by demonic entities’ movie.”
What keeps you up through the marathon—aside from pizza, popcorn, and other intoxicants—is the care that Anastasio takes to ensure the program’s momentum eventually reaches a rabid pitch. He’s the kind of programmer to seriously consider the emotional tenor of a movie like Night of the Demons. “There’s enough weirdness and comedy in it to keep everybody awake past 4am,” Anastasio promises us. And if our hazy memories of Coolidge Horror Marathons past are any indication, then that sentence is sure to be true of the whole night, and the morning along with it.
THE 15TH ANNUAL HALLOWEEN HORROR MARATHON. COOLIDGE CORNER THEATRE. 290 HARVARD ST., BROOKLINE, MA. SAT 10.31 AT 11:59PM. SEVEN FILMS ON 35MM. $20 FOR DOUBLE FEATURE TICKET, $25 FOR MARATHON TICKET.