Sold-out Horrorthon enters sixth year

Posted: October 25, 2012

 IT CAME from the West Coast Video in Audubon, N.J.

If Exhumed Films had a tagline like the horror movies it celebrates, the above line may suffice. Even if New Jersey, from some perspectives at least, doesn't have the same terrifying connotation as a black lagoon or outer space.

For the past 15 years, Exhumed Films has specialized in showing rare horror films. Some feature familiar (hockey-masked) faces, and others only made brief appearances at drive-ins and grindhouses before time forgot them. They have names like "Lady Terminator" or "Blood Diner."

The film buffs behind Exhumed are Joseph A. Gervasi, Dan Fraga, Jesse Nelson and Harry Guerro. The latter three used to give each other recommendations on chilling flicks while they worked the counters at that West Coast Video. The trio estimates they've shown between 300 and 400 films during their 15-year tenure, some from Guerro's own extensive collection.

Exhumed screens films throughout the year, like its annual Christmas-themed screenings, and this weekend is its marquee event: the Horrorthon, a 24-hour film festival, now in its sixth year. The screening schedule, as usual, is secret.

"The films they show are a pretty good mix of films you've seen before . . . and then there's the films I've never even heard of," said Matt Prigge, a local film writer who has attended four Horrorthons. "A lot of what they show are silly movies you can laugh along with. Then others are really dark - you can't even enjoy [them] on grindhouse level."

Tickets for the 400-seat International House went on sale this summer and sold out in a week.

Fraga, Nelson and Guerro went to Audubon High School together. Gervasi met Fraga through the punk scene. Today, they all have nonscary day jobs: Fraga teaches English at Haddon Heights High School; Guerro is a pipe fitter; and Nelson works for a telecommunications company and runs Diabolik DVD, a rare-film import company, with Gervasi.

Back in 1997, they started showing movies at a "dilapidated hellhole," according to Gervasi, in Mount Ephraim, N.J., called the Harwan Theatre (now a Walgreens). Their first show featured "Zombie" and "Gates of Hell." They weren't sure they would make back the paltry sum they put down to rent the theater and were surprised by the reaction they got.

"There was this thriving underground of fans who we weren't aware of," Gervasi said. "They all came out to see this thing and reacted enthusiastically."

But these days, horror junkies don't need a screening to find what they're looking for: Why truck out to the theater when you can stream a movie on Netflix?

Fraga said the horror community's enthusiasm keeps their event going. He remembers a stranger striking up a conversation with him because he was wearing a T-shirt from Sam Raimi's classic "Evil Dead II." Watching "bizarre" movies can make someone feel like an "outcast," Fraga said, but "to find others who shared the same interests gave us a community."

Some go to great lengths to attend Exhumed events. Jason Coffman, 35, comes to the Horrorthon every year from his home in Chicago. He usually turns his trip into a long weekend, but this year, he'll leave Chicago at 5:30 a.m., arrive just in time for Horrorthon to start and leave right after it ends. The trip is worth it, Coffman said, because he'll see movies he'll never come across otherwise. Even if that means getting no sleep.

"I hope there's something I've seen before and let me pass out in my seat for a bit, but I stay up for nearly the entire thing," he said. "I don't sleep more than hour or two for the whole show. I just subsist on energy drinks and crackers."

What inspires a man to fly hundreds of miles just to watch movies? "More than any other genre of film, watching a horror movie with a group of people, being scared with other people, is what people that come to our films crave," Nelson said.

Gervasi added that the dynamic between Exhumed and its audience helps it thrive. "We manage to keep up numbers and enthusiasm because we as individuals feel the enthusiasm," he said. "There's a great joy in seeing these films with folks. Here's your church, here's your shared experience."


Contact Molly Eichel at eichelm@phillynews.com or 215-854-5909. Follow her on Twitter @mollyeichel.

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