The concept of a “playlist” has traditionally been linked to music, but you’ll find analogues for it strewn throughout film culture. Repertory programs are something like an equivalent. But a closer relative—the closest—would be one-sitting movie marathons. In this city, a number are held annually: The Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival hosts 24 hours of consecutive screenings every February at the Somerville Theatre (it’s colloquially known as “The ’Thon”); the Harvard Film Archive schedules all-nighters once per year (the latest iteration featured six movies and numerous shorts that were all centered around trains); another science fiction marathon is held by MIT every winter (its 38th annual gathering was this past January); and the Coolidge Corner Theatre holds a Halloween Horror Marathon every October, which it has done for more than 15 years now (it runs from midnight to noonish, traditionally on the Saturday before Halloween, and serves as the unofficial flagship of the theater’s year-round midnight-movie programming).
You leave these mini-festivals with favorites, but it’s the way the movies talk to one another that leaves the deepest mark. That’s why we make playlists in the first place—alone, they’re songs, but together, they’re a progression. And if programmed correctly, each new film in a marathon brings provocative shifts in tones, theme, subgenre, and subject; thus the night begins to tell a narrative of its own. One Coolidge marathon opened with Psycho  and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre , a double-feature that the theater will host again this Monday night, on Halloween itself. Both take their cue from the same real-life crimes of a specific serial murderer, but the disparity between their forms—skewed classicism from Hitchcock, chaos and anarchy from Chainsaw’s Tobe Hooper—couldn’t possibly create a greater dissonance. A related experience was had at the last Harvard all-nighter, which ended with screenings of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three  and Snowpiercer —two different attempts at consolidating specific human societies into the makeup of a train’s operations. Their numerous rhymes and clashes produced a charge as great as either film. That’s the unique beauty of experiencing art within a bundle. You might call it the playlist effect.
You might also call it curation. What all good playlists require is a connoisseur or two to put them together. And for this year’s Halloween Horror Marathon—it’s happening this Saturday, and it usually sells out, so we’d recommend procuring tickets in advance—the Coolidge has connoisseurs both behind the screen and projected onto it. Putting the lineup together is Mark Anastasio, program manager at the theatre, along with Nick Lazzaro, head projectionist, who aided in editing and shaping the six-film lineup. But they’ve also received help from the first two films being played this year: Wes Craven’s Scream  and Scream 2 . As you likely know, the two features are awash in horror movie lore—they’re borne of the post-Tarantino genre cinema of footnotes—and they display their influences via a cacophony of explicit references. Anastasio originally planned to follow their lead for the marathon by pairing the duo with four older films that are referenced within the Screamology, and even announced as much during recent midnight screenings. But the setlist that allowed for didn’t sit quite right with the programming pair. Their playlist lacked oomph.
As a result, the lineup has changed in the past week, not that many attendees will know it. The Coolidge marathon format sees that two films are announced ahead of time, while the other four are left as surprises. Anastasio and Lazarro, for instance, just recently replaced the two films that were originally to close the marathon, with choices that skew away from the referenced-in-the-Scream-movies concept. But the crowd gathered at the Coolidge is unlikely to protest: One of the new choices, Anastasio told me, is perhaps the most requested title in the history of the marathon. As usual, he also left me with a lineup of hints on the films that wait behind Scream 2: Marathoners can expect “Jamie Lee Curtis, ghosts, monsters, werewolves, and Stephen King.”
We can tell you about the werewolves. Sometime around 6 am, attendees will be perked up by a screening of Joe Dante’s playfully grotesque (and Lewtonesque) The Howling —a parable about sexual repression that knowingly suppresses its own subject into metaphor via many of the same methods used in early Hollywood horror films. That gives credence to Anastasio’s note that this is a “very self-aware lineup.” Dante has produced an admirably diverse oeuvre of meta-minded genre movies, most of which predated and surely influenced the cheeky but not unserious tone of Craven’s Screams (and Tarantino as well, for that matter). The Howling came from his most productive period, the 1980s, as do the majority of the films in the secret portion of the marathon—and many of them exhibit a similar sense of pop postmodernism, the same spirit that the Screams would eventually inherit.
Those Scream films, particularly the first one, likely play even better than you remember: Craven keeps a balance between genre satire and voracious horror that is almost elegant. And you could say the same of his formal control—contrary to the jarring roughness of the works which made his name—which utilizes constantly roving cameras during the many tense stalking sequences. The scares are layered throughout, but he saves his iconic close-ups of wide eyes for the sole moment where a scene’s rhythm demands it. With all that said, neither Scream has the classical grace of The Howling—but that’s where programming steps in, because the Scream pictures are nonetheless the better choices to kick things off. The Coolidge Horror Marathon is something of a happening: There’s a costume contest, various interstitial activities on the stage, film miscellania on the screen between films, and even a DJ. The Howling is an exceptional film. But for this kind of party, Scream is the perfect icebreaker.
Scream 2 isn’t the perfect anything, but the Halloween marathon is the perfect place to see it. It features exceptionally complicated set pieces—happenings of its own—and the various flaws that surround them seem lighter when flanked by other films. Perhaps the finest of those happenings is the very first, an opener set at a movie theater filled with rowdy horror movie fans dressed up in costume—a theater filled with an appropriately exaggerated take on the sort of crowd that will populate the Coolidge for the marathon. For a night that’s all about meta, this sequence takes it the furthest. This might be the greatest benefit of playlists, or curation, or programming, or whatever you want to call it: in the best circumstances, it can even make the movie better.
THE 16TH ANNUAL HALLOWEEN HORROR MARATHON. COOLIDGE CORNER THEATRE. 290 HARVARD ST., BROOKLINE. MIDNIGHT. $25 FOR SCREAM & SCREAM 2, $30 FOR FULL MARATHON. ALL FILMS PROJECTED ON 35MM. COOLIDGE.ORG