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With Halloween upon us, celebrate scary movie season

It’s the holiday season – decorations are up and social events are underway. Now it’s time for some holiday movies.

But you won’t see a cheerful guy in a red suit in these films and if you find the holiday spirit – well you probably should run and run fast.

This is Halloween time and lest you forget it, television networks, streaming services and local movie houses have been showing “holiday” fare all month leading up to a horrific bounty this weekend.

For many, horror films go hand-in-hand with Halloween candy. In a survey of Redbox customers, 49 percent of the respondents said they typically watch a horror movie during October to get in the Halloween spirit, while 55 percent plan to watch a scary movie this Halloween. There will be plenty of chances to do just that.

There are at least 12 different Halloween films – some with multiple showings – screening locally in the next four days, including Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic “Psycho” with musical accompaniment by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, a national rerelease of “John Carpenter’s Halloween,” the return of midnight madness with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and a double dose of zombies at the Lancaster Opera House.

It is, for Halloween fans, the most wonderful time of the year.

We love horror

“People like to experience emotions when they see movies, and fear is the most extreme emotion we can experience,” said local filmmaker Gregory Lamberson, whose new horror movie “Killer Rack” is making the rounds on the film festival circuit. “I’m not sure people actually enjoy being frightened as much as they enjoy the buildup of dread and the release that follows a good scare.”

Classic horror films from Universal and Hammer studios, as well as the original “King Kong” are among those that inspired Lamberson to become an author, screenwriter and filmmaker by setting his “imagination on fire,” he said, adding sophisticated genre films from the late 1960s to mid-’70s had a profound impact on him.

“ ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ ‘The Omen’ and ‘Dawn of the Dead’ really shook me up and left me wanting more,” said Lamberson, founder of “Buffalo Dreams,” a weeklong fantastic film festival which opens next Thursday at the Dipson Eastern Hills.

“Thursday Thrillers,” the new weekly movie series at the Riviera Theatre, concludes Thursday with “The Exorcist,” named the scariest movie of all time in that Redbox survey. Horror movies, such as those in the “Thursday Thrillers” tie in with Halloween for fairly basic reasons, said Jim Pritchard, director of theater operations at the Riviera Theatre. “People want to be scared – and want the fun of being scared,” he said.

John Carpenter’s 1978 indie horror sensation “Halloween” is one of those films that continues to scare audiences. It will be shown Thursday in a special nationwide event with local screenings at the Regal Elmwood and Transit theaters. Producer Malek Akkad, whose father Moustapha Al Akkad was the producer of the original film and eight “Halloween” movies in total, said there are many reasons why the original still resonates 37 years later.

“It is filled with themes and characters with which audiences can relate to today, just as they did when it was released; a serene and idyllic suburban America being relentlessly terrorized by a faceless evil. The characters and themes from Halloween established archetypes that still are prevalent in horror films today,” said Akkad, whose links to the “Halloween” franchise include producer duties on “Halloween” (2007) and “Halloween II” (2009).

“Carpenter’s techniques – from the music to the camera movement – are still borrowed heavily in films today,” he said.

A film considered a masterpiece of the horror genre will be shown locally in a unique way. “Psycho” will be shown Saturday in Kleinhans Music Hall with Bernard Hermann’s iconic score played by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

“It will be a lot of fun to play the music live and hear the audience react to the music and movie in a live performance,” said BPO Associate Conductor Stefan Sanders, who will lead the orchestra.

With its screeching, ear-piercing violins, the instantly recognizable music cue from the film’s masterful shower scene is considered one of the most famous pieces of music in film.

“It just captures the mood, the unsettling vibe of the entire film,” Sanders said. “That moment in particular – you hear what you see. You see Norman stabbing at the shower and that’s what a knife stabbing repeatedly would sound like in music. Repetitive, shrill, accented notes.”

Musical horrors

Not all horror films are strictly terrifying – sometimes there’s music and a bit of fun thrown in.

At the Lancaster Opera House, Halloween will be celebrated with zombies on stage and screen. “Detention of the Damned” is a new original one-act high school zombie musical that premiered earlier in October at Lancaster’s annual Zombieville event. It was so popular, it will have an encore presentation at 7 p.m. Friday in the LOH before a screening of the 1968 cult zombie film “Night of the Living Dead.”

“We are riding the popular wave of zombie culture,” said David Bondrow, artistic director of the Lancaster Opera House and director of the musical. “We thought it would be fun to continue the zombie theme. ‘Night of the Living Dead’ is the classic when zombies attack story. ‘Detention of the Damned’ is when zombies attack high school.”

The humorous story and songs were written by local musicians J. Michael Landis and Jay Wollin; the production features Clarisse Birkby, Chris Hatch, Arlynn Knauff, Nathan Andrew Miller, Ricky Needham and Sarah Poremba.

And it couldn’t be Halloween without “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which will have showings at the Aurora Theatre, Hamburg Palace and Riviera Theatre.

The campy 1975 musical and homage to horror and B-movies holds the title as the film with the longest continuing run in theaters. It stars Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick as a couple who seek help at a castle after their car breaks down, only to find a group of characters led by the corseted, fishnet-stocking wearing Dr. Frank-n-Furter.

Originally called a flop, it grew its status as a cult film within a year with wild audience participation including talking back to the characters, dancing and throwing toast and toilet paper at the screen.

“Halloween, in general, ties in with the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ – the dressing up, the costumes, being someone else for a while,” said the Riviera Theatre’s Pritchard.

The film has been an annual Halloween event at the Riv for nearly a decade and features pre-movie entertainment, costume contests and more. This year’s festivities start at 10 p.m. Friday with Ladies of Illusion with Jayme Coxx and Eye Candy Burlesque, followed by a costume contest. The movie starts at midnight and will include a floor show by the Francis Bacon Experiment, a local performance group founded by John Kehoe that will act out the movie in front of the screen.

Kehoe was 16 when he first saw “Rocky Horror” and immediately fell under its spell thanks to the movie’s audience participation.

“You don’t just sit and watch the film,” said Kehoe of South Buffalo. “You get to yell stuff at the screen, you get up and dance, throw toast and toilet paper and have a fun time. What other movies do you get to dance at?”

Kehoe estimates he has seen the film 1,000 times in the past 35 years and still doesn’t tire of it.

After all, he said, “This is what you do for Halloween.”


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