Chicago horror fanatics may not know Mary Wolfe by name, but they've probably got her to thank for some of their favorite blood-drenched events across the city. For years she's helped organize screenings of classic horror movies and celebrity guest appearances, with a uniquely fan-focused approach: screenings accessible to die-hards and newbies. No fees for snapshots or autographs. Not plot lines that could ostracize any faction of her audience.
Understandably, October's a big month for Wolfe. As Halloween approaches, she's organizing her ninth Terror in the Aisles festival. On Friday, Oct. 21st the festival will be screening "An American Werewolf in London" with an appearance by the film's star, David Naughton at the Portage Theater in Chicago. Then on Sunday, Oct. 30, she will be heading up the Vincentennial, a tribute to Vincent Price attended by his daughter and biographer Victoria. The Price tribute will also be held at the Portage Theater. But before all that, she's bringing the Massacre to the Music Box Theater.
For the last seven years, Wolfe, along with Movieside Film Festival, has camped out at the Music Box for a 24-hour horror movie marathon. It's grown from a fringe gathering with local stars to a destination event--almost a week before it kicks off this Saturday, the show's nearly sold out, and bringing in heavy-hitter Herschell Gordon Lewis, the so-called "Godfather of Gore."
Wolfe discussed the fest, horror trends, and her downright-giddy excitement over a well-crafted slasher with HuffPost Chicago.
So where did the Music Box Massacre come from? Horror movie marathons aren’t a totally new idea, but you guys seem to have a unique philosophy about how they should be done.
I was part of the original group of folks, about 13 total, now about 30, that created the Massacre. About two years before we started it, we had been planning the festival. Our goals were to show thought-provoking, intelligent, fun, funny, sexy, bizarre and interesting films at a low cost to audience members. We wanted to have great guests, with no fees for autographs or picture-taking, if possible, since most horror conventions have people charging for autographs and picture-taking. We wanted to show older films to young audiences and newer films to older audiences. But most of all we wanted to show that horror films could be beautiful and full of amazing concepts and ideas--whether they were terrifying or hilarious--and we wanted people to feel like part of a community that was exciting and inviting.
What's the audience like at one of these events? Do you have die-hard fans of the movie marathon now that it’s been around for seven years?
The audience is incredible! There is an amazing variety of people. There are older people, kids, film-lovers, horror lovers, people who are merely curious about what the event is like, an occasional wedding party. It's a great gathering of a truly unique blend of different kinds of people. People fly in from all over North America to come to the Massacre for 24-solid-hours-of-non-stop horror movie insanity.
How was the response to the first Music Box Massacre? Did you decide to keep going because of it or in spite of it?
[It was] surprisingly good. The crowd was pretty decent. The theater wasn't at capacity, but there were enough people there that we knew we wanted to do it again. Our first guest was Gary Sherman of “Dead and Buried,” who is a Chicago resident, and a very nice person. By the second year, we had Joe Dante, [director of] “Gremlins” and “Matinee,” who is one of our favorite directors, and is also a fantastic person. The second Massacre sold out and the show has continued to sell out ever since. The show hasn't really changed much as far as what we do, in terms of programming or bringing guests or getting a lot of free posters, t-shirts and other fun giveaways for the audience. But what has changed is that the show has become extremely popular within the community and has a much larger presence. But the festival crew always puts a tremendous amount of work and care into every show... and we think the audience feels our love for them.
What makes you love the horror genre?
I love horror movies that are inspired and take us to new places, explore the psyche, show us the human condition. Horror is such a great genre because it is open to so many possibilities. You can include comedic elements, dramatic elements, science fiction elements, Western elements, musical elements--the list goes on. The are so many different things that people can dream up, or that exist in real life, that the possibilities for things that scare or tantalize or creep us out are endless. Horror is a genre where creative people can really flex their muscles; that's why it can be depressing when some studios only want to put out remakes of films that already stand on their own. No film studio, Hollywood or independent, should be afraid to bring new and exciting stories to the viewing public.
How do you choose which movies to screen?
There are a lot of films that we've already seen and love that we want to play for people. We watch films based on recommendations by friends, festival goers and people who work with the festival to see if they might work in the program. We also watch a lot of new films that are hitting the festival circuit to see if they suit what we are interested in playing. We've the opportunity to screen some great new films from the last few years at our various festivals: "Rec 2," "Rubber," "Black Death," "Pontypool," "Trick 'R Treat" and a number of others. In the end, we tend to watch a lot of films, whether we've already seen them or not. But we do have some general guidelines--we try not to play films that are misogynist, racist or homophobic or have real animal deaths in them, because we're not interested in films with those elements. Luckily, most good horror films don't have any of those ingredients.
Does the horror scene have a lot of women? How do you feel about Chicago's community of horror fanatics in particular?
There are so many wonderful women who are part of the horror community, or just horror fans, or have a casual appreciation, and we just keep growing and growing! It's really lovely. And as time goes on, it seems that more good roles are being written for women in horror films, as opposed to the old “scream queen” roles where the only reason to have a woman in a film was for her to be naked and running around screaming. Chicago has a great community of horror fans and female horror fans. Most everyone is very supportive and has a lot of positive energy and it's great to see them at the shows. We are always excited to see new horror films by female directors; whether they have short films or features, we show both.
What are you trying to accomplish with this horror showcase? Do you get a lot of horror-newbies at the Massacre? Are you trying to expose people to the classics? Is there anything you want to teach people with this show?
Our main goal is for people to have fun see movies they love! We want people to come and have a great time. Maybe they will meet some new folks and end up hanging out with them later. The show starts off as a bit of a history lesson, starting off with a silent film with live organ accompaniment. Then we'll play two rarely-screened 60's films: “Burn Witch Burn,” “Hour of the Wolf.” We often try to find a few films not a lot of people have seen in a theater recently, like “Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things,” “The Sentinel,” “The Vampire Lovers.” We have a Vincent Price classic to celebrate his 100th birthday (“The Abominable Dr. Phibes”). ... I guess we're just trying to show folks how many beautiful, crazy, outrageous and amazing horror films there are out there, and that people can enjoy them in an atmosphere where, hopefully, everyone is nice and super fun to be around.
You seem to have a lot of projects going on--are they all horror- or film-related? Which of your day jobs are you the most passionate about?
I am a computer programmer, writer, web-designer and do a number of other jobs. To be honest, the day jobs are just a means for me to pay rent and take care of bills. Sometimes the work can be fun. Especially when I have down time and I can work on festival items on the side.
When I'm not working or working on the festivals I love to read--I tend to read three books at a time. I love to play soccer and kickball and try to ride my bike a lot or go running. My schedule is generally packed.
And I have to ask--your top three horror movies?
“May” by Lucky McKee, “Let's Scare Jessica To Death” by John Hancock and “Near Dark” by Kathryn Bigelow are three of my favorite films... but there are so many beautiful, thoughtful and inspiring films to choose from: “Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Seventh Victim,” “Isle of the Dead,” “Phantasm,” “Left Bank,” “Blood Creek,” “The Host”... I could go on for a long time. It's very exciting!
Editor's Note: The original version of this story contained disputed information about the Music Box Massacre's origins. That information has been removed.
Watch trailers from all 13 films being screened at this year's Music Box Massacre: