On December 3rd, the GBT crew (minus Reed) headed on up to scenic Poughkeepsie NY for the fourteenth semi-annual Hudson Horror Show; a grueling 12-hour parade of ‘70s and ‘80s creature-features, body horrors, taboo sexploitation films, and all manner of cult classics. This lineup included RoboCop (1987), The Hitcher (1986), Death Race 2000 (1975), The Howling (1981), and the infamous I Spit On Your Grave (1976).
We’ve picked our favorites from the festival below. The experience of sitting in the same rank polyester seats for 12 hours watching grainy, light-tinted 35mm prints of horror’s finest is a special level of sadomasochism reserved for people who patch up their denim jackets and consider Death Race 2000 a satirical masterpiece (it is, I swear).The projector broke at least three times, the room smelled of stale popcorn and B.O, our hangovers from the night before nearly got the better of us, and the god-awful soundtrack from The Secret Life Of Pets (2016) kept bleeding in from the theater next door.
It was a hell of a time, and we can’t wait to do it again next year.
The Hudson Horror Show is one of the most fun traditions I think I’ve ever been a part of. After attending only twice, this festival has become a highly anticipated highlight of every year, regardless of the films being shown. The festival allows horror fans to essentially exist together for a day in a place where campy, gory, ridiculous films are the only type of films there are. Between the endless amounts of merch and the sheer volume of films that are shown, there’s nothing like the Hudson Horror show. It’s the place where you can find a Scream mug as well as Nightmare on Elm Street on VHS. It offers the opportunity to see those sequels and films so campy and out there that you’ve never brought yourself to watch them on your own. It was the perfect time to see I Spit On Your Grave (1978), if there ever was one.
This is a film that has been on my list for quite some time, collecting dust as I consistently avoided it. It follows the story of Jennifer Hills, a writer, who makes her way to a cabin along the river to focus on finishing her novel. After enjoying a few days of peace, she is savagely gang-raped, beaten mercilessly, and humiliated by three psychotic men and their mentally handicapped ‘friend.’ I Spit On Your Grave is awful. It is a brutal, disgusting, and near-unwatchable depiction of human savagery that uses rape as its fulcrum. There are ways in which I can appreciate this film. It features a strong, developed, intelligent female protagonist whose eventual revenge and triumph is the only reason the viewer can see this film to the end. It portrays the misogynistic machismo of hyper-masculine culture in a fittingly disgusting way. However, this was not writer/director Meir Zarchi’s film to make, however good his intentions were in doing so. Zarchi is a straight, white male making a film about the brutality of rape, in a sort of male-guilt way. It’s said that Zarchi was inspired to make I Spit On Your Grave after he helped a young woman whom he found raped and beaten in a park, and the disgust he had towards the deeply unsympathetic male police officer who questioned her before allowing her to visit the hospital. If this film were made by the woman in the park, I would’ve given it a standing ovation. However, the way that the film ultimately sexualizes its protagonist in many ways, and utilizes rape in the way that gore might be used in another ‘hard to watch’ film detracts from its validity as a ‘feministic’ approach toward the subject matter. I would never recommend that anyone watch this film. Aside from a handful of impressive shots, and a feeling of relief when Jennifer’s revenge begins, this film is a grueling experience. Thankfully, we were able to get it out of the way first and quickly cleansed our pallets with the unabashed camp of the five remaining films.
As soon as I entered the Cinema 8 in Poughkeepsie, the Hudson Horror Festival met one of my first preliminary expectations; it’s the type of event you shouldn’t even bother trying to explain to someone who wouldn’t want to attend. There can be no “I appreciate it, but I just can’t get into it,” for this type of festival. It has that certain “members-only” je ne sais quoi – a place that never purports to cater to anyone besides the loyal crowd that treats it with the same reverence as an annual trip to Disney World. I took my time perusing the vendors, I agonized over the choice between an iron-on patch emblazoned with The Warriors (1979) title-card and one that bore the same pattern as the Overlook Hotel’s carpet, and I inhaled deeply the scent of unwashed denim jackets and parking-lot Budweisers. It should come as no surprise that it takes a special kind of person to merrily sit through twelve hours of film’s own roadside-sideshow. But I suppose I was a little surprised at how many of that type of person existed a car-ride away from upstate New York. Anyway, I Spit On Your Grave (1978) is a horrible film to watch and Death Race 2000 (1975) is a credit to the decade, but for my favorite, I gotta go with The Howling (1981).
Of the six films playing at Hudson Horror, I had only seen RoboCop prior to that day. So for me, every cult-classic projected off its original 35mm print was an absolute treat. But as hard as it was to choose between The Hitcher (1986) and The Howling, I’m sticking with the werewolf flick. The Howling, directed by Joe Dante, stars Dee Wallace, Christopher Stone, Dennis Dugan, and features an inspired cameo by John Carradine. It’s definitely one of the best creature-features I’ve ever seen, serving up remarkable practical effects that not only “hold up” thirty-five years later, but rival some of the glabrous, phony-looking CGI most often on display in modern horror. The Howling is, for the most part, tightly written, although I found it difficult to forgive the film for the lumbering second act and several unnecessary filler scenes. The acting is predictably campy and melodramatic, but there are some genuinely frightening moments of creature-horror that are complemented by harrowing performances from virtually unknown actors. The lighting is perhaps the second-most impressive part after the special effects, including some genuinely impressive tricks pulled in a scene featuring a movie projector as the only light source, and in another that takes place entirely during Golden Hour, replete with low shadows and gorgeous hues. I’m hard-pressed to think of another film that sells itself better off one element alone, but for The Howling, it’s undoubtedly the practical creature design. Rob Bottin created most of the special makeup effects for the film, and his filmography alone should convince you of his talent. The Howling is a fine example of what craft and dedication can do in creating convincing, practical horror. It’s an excellent monster film and a great little piece of the early-’80s horror boom.
In 2014 my good friend Matthew Wickline introduced me to the 12-hour Hudson Horror Show in Poughkeepsie NY, and it’s because of him that three years later, I get to indoctrinate a new friend each time. This year, I got to witness David’s first experience sitting in an otherwise entirely white theater of horror enthusiasts, (a very specific kind of crowd), and I hope he loved it as much as I do every year. Seeing 35mm movies aged to red-tinted perfection is an endeavor best shared with your best buds while you’re slammin’ brews in the back of your car.
Okay, so The Hitcher (1986) could be one of the most relentlessly exciting movies I’ve ever seen. The film follows Jim Halsey, (C. Thomas Howell) a young man on his way to California where he plans to start the next chapter of his life. Things end up going not quite according to plan when he picks up hitchhiker John Ryder, (Rutger Hauer) who reveals himself to be an on-the-loose serial killer, who intends on killing Jim.
What follows is a balls-out, no-holds-barred, Mad-Maxian, car-chase thriller where each bit of violence is more grotesque than the last. As Jim continuously narrowly escapes John’s attempts at killing him, we learn that there may be a little more method to his madness than just wanting to murder young Jim.
I’ve been to a few Hudson Horror Fests at this point, and I tell ya, I have never been as on the edge of my seat during one of their screenings as I was during all ninety-seven minutes of The Hitcher. My GBT associates may not have been as about it as I was but they’re wrong, so it’s all good. If you can get suspend your disbelief enough to get passed the constant police escaping, and be open to the idea that John Ryder may be a bit larger than a life that makes sense, the rest of the movie is pretty spot on in terms of the sequence of events and how they all unfold, making The Hitcher one hell of a ride (pun intended).
My experience at the 14th Hudson Horror Show was very unique in how predictable it was. This was my second time going, so I knew exactly what vendors and merchandise there was going to be, the kinds of people attending, and even the technical problems that I prayed wouldn’t happen like some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. I had even gone in having previously seen three out of the six movies announced in the line-up and this only furthered my childlike excitement rather than numbed it. With the obvious exception of I Spit On Your Grave (1978), the movies I had already watched prior to the festival were both enjoyably campy movies that I was delighted to see on the big screen in a 35mm film format: Death Race 2000 (1975) and RoboCop (1987). As I have previously stated in my Elle (2016) review, I love RoboCop (1987). It’s literally one of my favorite movies. Being able to see it in its original format as the final film in a line-up of 12 hours worth of movie watching made me feel like I was back in ’87.
RoboCop (1987) is about a dystopian Detroit where policeman Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) works to help quell the rise of crime with his partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen). Murphy gets gunned down by a gang of hired thugs, but is brought back to life through the “RoboCop” program, an initiative by a mega-corporation executive to mechanize the police. Part man and part machine, he helps bring law and order to Detroit while tracking down the criminals that nearly killed him the first time. Unfortunately, since we watched an original theatrical print, there was none of the extra gore and insanely violent moments that have come with later director’s cut versions of the film. The extra violence really does add more to the experience of the movie since so much of what makes the film’s satire work is how over the top everything is. Even without being able to see more of the camp gore, being able to see the film on the big screen made everything seem much more like an epic journey. The booming score kicking in as RoboCop rides around Old Detroit in the police cruiser looking for ass to take down in his search for vengeance is nothing short of exhilarating. Seeing Dick Jones threatening Bob Morton in a tight close up in the bathroom feels much more threatening and hilarious. It’s such a fondly remembered movie, as well as one of my favorites, for being able to offer you so much. It transcends multiple genres and manages to be the perfect satire of the time period and American culture in general. It’s funny, it’s action packed, it’s thrilling, it’s sad, it’s triumphant, it’s RoboCop (1987).