The Music Box of Horrors 2019 – Recap

I love the music box theater, I love the programmers there, I love the people that go there, and I love doing this every year. The movies they pick are always cool and important pieces of genre. That said, my taste in movies does not always match up with the movies we watch. I don’t bear any ill will to the people who selected the films or the people that made them, or to suggest that they aren’t worth watching. Except for Dario Argento, that guy gets enough good press that no one will care that I don’t like him. Be better Dario! But take the rest of these with a grain of salt.

Presented thusly:

Time – Title (Year of Release)

The stuff I wrote after each film

My thoughts now, having slept.

Rebecca’s thoughts.

12pm – The Man Who Laughs (1928)

A  slow start to the whole day. There was a live score which, on its own, is super impressive, but over the two hour runtime the repetition of themes and constant sound got somewhat grating. The film is, overall, maybe a half an hour too long for modern audiences, there are scenes and expositions that are now buried deeply enough in the zeitgeist that seeing them on screen feels redundant. Fantastic acting by the main cast, many very funny moments kept the momentum up. “Homo” is the dog’s name which is not made clear until late in the film.

I knew about this film in two contexts – as a work of German Expressionism and as the inspiration for the earliest iteration of the Batman villain joker. Throughout the movie I kept seeing the man as a Humphrey Bogart type, rather than as a disfigured clown. That said there are hundreds of little touches to the film that have been emulated in reflected in popular cinema ever since. I stand by my initial feeling that the film is a bit on the long side, and some scenes feel like they’re only included to hold the audience’s hand. The dog gets the biggest applause. 

Rebecca – the evil jester looks a lot more like Joaquin Phoenix’s joker. I’m here for that dog, such a good boy!


2pm – Office Killer (1997)

Carol Kane plays the only role she ever does, someone who’s never dealt with mental illness’s idea of a mentally ill person. Besides the fact that I cannot stand her acting, this movie has its upsides. Kane murders her officemates one by one and stashes them in her basement where she has set up a grim facsimile of an office. Their decaying hands are placed at typewriter keys, their lolling heads support phones against their shoulders. “We’re working from home now,” is a fucking hilarious line. Comedically the movie is very satisfying, but there’s not a lot of redeeming material between the laughs.

Carol Kane is a wonderful actor and comedian, and her delivery sells the best moments of this film. My judgement right after the film ended was undeservedly harsh. Last year we watched another Carol Kane film, Mafu Cage, where she plays a mentally deranged murderer (and animal abuser). In Office Killed she’s a mentally deranged murderer too. In both she is portraying a stereotype, a fictionalized distillation of the way pop culture sees mental illness. This character (not the acting) is, I think, what rubbed me the wrong way. I also want to clarify that i’m not saying Carol Kane has never experienced mental illness, but she’s not the one who wrote the movie and character. The vague mental issues of the “protagonist” create a lot of holes as far as motivation is concerned. Both films also left me feeling very unresolved and sad. I know it’s silly, but I don’t watch horror films to feel sad, I think it’s the spooky trappings that mostly appeal to me, the intrigue and visuals and whatnot. Dead girl scouts got a huge laugh.

Rebecca – was waiting in line for a flash tattoo, “but I liked the mafu cage ok!?!”


3:45pm – Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

I totally missed the opening of this one but I picked up most of the plot as it went. Four people move from New York to a farm to start over. The titular Jessica is implied to have a history of schizophrenia, and to also be off of her meds as they can no longer afford them. The former inhabitants of the house may or may not be vampires who haunt the town. It is also implied that the entire town has been turned undead via vampirism. The frenetic climax and ending is great, and it balances out the very slow build. Whether it is all in Jessica’s head is left ambiguous.

I also tweeted to a friend:

People move into a (maybe) haunted house. We watch them solve banal relationship issues and go antiquing for 85% of the runtime.

The ending of this movie was exciting but the rest of it was less “slow burn” and more “stagnant fizzle.” Also the director was there for a Q&A afterwards and made comments that I wouldn’t call “racist” but would label as “weirdly, unnecessarily racial.”

Rebecca – 15 mins in I realized that I’d seen it before and i made the same mistake then as I did now of thinking the premise would be something much cooler based on the title. That big red 70s title screen was when I knew I was in trouble. 


6pm – Demons 2 (1986)

I had to leave halfway through to go home and feed the cats, but here’s my opinion on the half I saw:

I think Dario Argento had a very specific learning disability for unlocking locked doors, which he passed on to all of his characters. 

Attempts at suspense just create a dull slog. 

The monsters and effects are really good but the acting is not.

I get pretty cranky during Argento movies. Also I just realized that the English dialogue was a dub over the original Italian? I think? So what I perceived as bad acting is not at all the actors fault. Maybe I should learn to just have fun at these.

Rebecca – hard to follow without having seen the original, some bonkers monster lore for demons. I like that they didn’t save the people you thought they would save. Like the little kid, who had a little demon pop out of his chest. Clothes get destroyed in a conveniently sexy way. If you don’t think about the plot too hard it’s a fun time. Patient zero was much cooler as a demon, her true form. 


7:55 – Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell (1992)

Adam – I was there for the last ten minutes of this one, and even though I’d brought Taco Bell with me I had to wait til this movie ended to even think about eating. It was pretty gnarly.

Rebecca – I heard someone say it was their “fourth favorite Evil Dead movie.” An over the top good time, a sprinkling of sexism. 

9:15 – Dog Soldiers (2002)

The first really incredible film of the night. A military training exercise goes awry when the squad finds a brutal murder scene and are stalked by werewolves! And it all just gets more fun from there. 10/10. Same director as the descent.

I had heard of this film in the context of its director, and even seen some clips of it on youtube. I was still blown away by the quality of this movie, I didn’t feel bored or tired once during the runtime. And it never holds your hand with things, it uses camera work and dialogue inflection to start hinting at some things early on in the film. And the acting is just incredible. As full of slang as it is, the delivery loses nothing of the message. 

Rebecca – The twist makes some of the character decisions more difficult to parse retrospectively. 


11:45 – Event Horizon (1997)

I don’t know that anyone would argue this is a *good* movie. But it is a fun movie. The bonkers sci-fi plot is really entertaining, and the production design is a visual treat. Laurence Fishburne acts the fuck out of his role and has some incredible lines like “we’re getting the fuck off this ship,” delivered in a perfect deadpan. This movie has good comedic timing.

This movie has so much that hits the nail on the head for me in terms of story and aesthetic. Watching it this time, for the third time ever, it did feel a bit more muddled plotwise than how I remembered it. Then again i’d already sat through twelve hours of movies at this point. Also, the sergeant from Dog Soldiers is the pilot in this movie, which felt like a fun Easter Egg. 

Rebecca – The ship having an “autoimmune response” is cool. It takes the “is it real?” thing and plays off of it by having the ship create real things based on their fears. This movie started and I was like “look! Sarge is back!” To die in outer space. I love Doctor Allen Grant. 


1:30am – Retribution (1987)

I’m not sure what the fuck I just watched. This was like if “The Room” were a horror movie, just a bunch of weird scenes that vaguely tie together and a main character everyone likes because they’re the main character. This movie went off the rails quick and turned into an All-Terrain-Train shortly after.

Mobster is executed Julius Caesar style and possesses the body of the main character. He gets his revenge at night while the character sleeps. This is all possible because they share a birthday. This movie is very strange but super watchable. I was not bored during this one. 

Rebecca – in the final showdown, to communicate that the mobster/ghost wants to do one final revenge killing, and our guy wont let him, we see a special effect of a ghostly green smiling actor’s headshot flash on top of the main character’s face. The dog, Ms. Holly, got the loudest applause at the end.  Dr. Rasta, Danny Daniels. He changed his last name to Daniels. 


3:30am – Alligator (1980)

Jaws is an alligator and lives in a sewer. Perfectly serviceable flick.

No comment.

Rebecca – No comment.


5:15am – Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

I will never get that hour back. At least it wasn’t two hours I’ll never get back.

I knew enough about cyberpunk before this to know that this movie existed, but had never seen it. I knew “a guy puts metal in him” and “that’s that name from Akira.” For two movies in the same genre that came out within a year of each other they are vastly different and I did not expect anything I saw in Tetsuo, except for maybe that first scene with the Iron rod. It was pretty hard to follow a lot of the literal plot because of the level of surrealism, but knowing the plot now I imagine going back and watching it over would be more rewarding. Going in blind it didn’t do much for me.

Rebecca – that nap tasted bad


6:45am – Halloween II (1981)

Adam – I tapped out and went home to feed the cats breakfast and go to sleep.

Rebecca – Mostly slept through this one. Every time I woke up Jamie Lee Curtis was still in a hospital and i’m like “girl you gotta get out of there, why’re you still in the same place?”


8:30am – The Fly II (1989)

Rebecca – Loved. It. Very goopy. Good romance, good at comedy, almost too gross, gross enough to be wild. Gooptastic. The Goopery. Not stuck with the superman morals of “don’t kill bad guys,” so he does do some murders, but in the best, revengey, face melty way. That girl coulda used a moist towlette before she kissed him in that final scene because he was narsty. 


10:30 – Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Rebecca – Joss Whedon has a very silly good time. Second in command vampire had the best lines, favorite character. 

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