According to program director Jeff Yanc, the Loft Cinema strives to offer Tucsonans something conventional theaters and laptop screens can’t — a marathon film experience that's social.
The Loft is always competing with television and online streaming, but it hosts intriguing, novel events that bring the public out to the theater.
“Films lose a lot when you watch them on laptops and phones,” Yanc said. "What we’re trying to do is do film justice, the way it’s supposed to be seen.”
Yanc has been hosting the all-night Scream-O-Rama for 10 years, since he began working at the Loft Cinema.
The Scream-O-Rama is a 12-hour horror movie marathon that’s been screening about twice a year during Yanc's tenure. He calls the event a “communal experience” with a “slumber-party” atmosphere.
“When I came here, I brought my love of horror with me. I wanted to bring classic horror to the big screens,” Yanc said. “Watching horror with an audience is much better than watching it at home alone. I love the fact that laughing and screaming are very similar emotions.”
The show sold out hours before the screening. Tucsonans flocked to the theater at 7 p.m., dragging in blankets and pillows and sporting their favorite horror movie merchandise. They trudged out at 7 a.m. the next morning.
The event featured cheesy trailers, trivia games with prizes and seven hand-picked horror films, each with comical introductions by Yanc in a Freddy Krueger costume. The Loft even offered a free breakfast buffet.
Tickets were $17 at the door.
“It’s a really good deal. You see one or two films and you’re set, you’ve gotten your money’s worth,” Yanc said.
The night began with the 1996 black comedy, slasher film "Scream," which follows a small town’s reaction to several killings by a masked murderer.
It’s a cheesy classic that breaks the fourth wall often enough to have the audience laughing out loud — the awkward term “cellular phone” had patrons slapping their knees — and rooting for Sidney Prescott’s girl power. It set up several inside jokes that would come up every few hours, such as the horror movie rule that anyone who had sex or did drugs that night would die.
It was still light outside the theater and the audience was wide awake, so an introductory kiddy-pool horror film got the them to dip their toes in the water, prepping them for a full night of on-screen terror. According to Yanc, the order in which the films are shown is purposeful and that light-hearted, funny horror movies are essential to the “slumber-party atmosphere”.
“We have found that it’s most effective to put two very fun, kind of campy movies at the beginning,” Yanc said. “They’re very fun and get people very festive.”
Following the slumber-party model, the second film was only slightly scarier than the last: "Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors," an old classic from another American horror franchise.
The special effects were about as good as 1980s special effects get, and the recurring Dungeons and Dragons jokes made light of the film’s darker undertones. The audience seemed to appreciate the sub-par cinematography, laughing at scenes that were likely meant to be scary at the time.
Yanc called it one of the best movies in the franchise, noting that the theme song, "Dream Warriors" by the American heavy metal band Dokken was one of its more redeeming qualities.
“How many horror movies have theme songs by Dokken?” Yanc said after the film screened.
The night continued with the Japanese supernatural psychological horror "Ringu" — lesser known than the Hollywood remake "The Ring," but scarier according to Yanc.
“It’s scarier to me because it’s kind of a low-key, slower horror film and you’re dreading the anticipation of what’s going to happen,” Yanc said.
Yanc joked about “the well girl” in the movie, calling her “the worst child ever.”
“I say this is the movie that caused Blockbuster to go out of business,” Yanc said while introducing the film.
A good portion of the audience hadn’t known that the famous remake had its origins in Japan. Raven Encines has attended the last six horror marathons the Loft has hosted, and was most excited to see this movie that night.
“'Ringu,'” Encines said. “I haven’t seen the original so I’m really excited for that one.”
Next came a newer supernatural horror, "The Autopsy of Jane Doe," in which a father-and-son coroner duo experience some haunting phenomena the night they examine an unidentified woman with unexplainable wounds.
Yanc compared the movie to something Edgar Allen Poe might have written “if Edgar Allen Poe was addicted to bath salts instead of opium.” The movie was made to be generally unsettling with frequent, eerie portrait shots of Jane Doe lying on the autopsy table in a morgue that made her seem more alive than any corpse should be.
The audience was excited to see this movie too, many of them having missed its theater screening in 2016.
“If you’ve spent any time in a mortuary or fallen in love with a corpse, you’ll love this movie,” Yanc said during its introduction.
The movies got progressively scarier, peaking with the conventional, 2005 British horror "The Descent," which follows six adventurous women on a caving expedition that gets out of hand.
“This movie is going to be your worst nightmare,” Yanc said, almost predicting the sea of jittery audience members that left the theater for the well-lit lobby for a moment after the movie ended.
The movie was packed with everybody’s worst fears: tight spaces, heights, the dark, the possibility of being buried alive, humanoid cave creatures and plenty of jump scares and a healthy dose of gore. Yanc even took several moments to wonder why anybody would choose to go caving, marveling at the stupidity of such a decision.
“I’ve seen 'The Descent' before,” Encines said. “I know that one is going to scare the shit out of me.”
As the morning drew closer, more people cocooned themselves in pillows and blankets to watch the next two horror flicks.
"Slumber Party Massacre," a classic 1980s slasher film, calmed nervous audience members’ nerves after the terror induced by "The Descent." According to Yanc, the laughable script and obligatory female nudity was welcoming after a scary horror film.
“That script is awesome. It’s just the girls saying all the other girls’ names,” Yanc said.
The marathon concluded with "The Beyond," an Italian horror film from 1981 with an ending too confusing for Yanc to explain.
The movie was chosen for its exceptionally gory body horror which earned it a cult following in the 1980s. The Loft staff even passed out barf bags for those with weak stomachs.
While watching the older movies, the metallic hum of 35-millimeter and 70-millimeter celluloid film projectors could be heard overhead.
“We always find films on actual celluloid film to show,” Yanc said. “With horror, the films are often beat up and junky and I think that’s part of the appeal, that it looks older and grimy.”
The Loft is the only theater in Tucson that still shows movies on old film. The entire industry converted to digital film projectors six or seven years ago, according to Yanc, but The Loft utilizes both.
“I love the sound of the wheel turning and the film running through the gate because it’s very tactile,” Yanc said. “There’s a real art to projecting film that’s different than running digital and that’s part of our mission here, to remind people that film has a technological history.”
Yanc and The Loft staff are continuing to teach the public about the art and history of filmmaking with a new annual marathon starting June 30, the Sci-Fi Slumber Party.
Inspired by the long-running success of the Scream-O-Rama, the Sci-Fi Slumber Party is an all-night event showing 12 hours of new age and classic science fiction film.
“Sci-fi is a genre that is really built to be seen on the big screen because so much of it is based on the special effects and the experience of being immersed in the film,” Yanc said.
This year’s marathon features six science fiction films, including the original "Planet of the Apes," the "Flash Gordon" remake and "The Edge of Tomorrow" with Tom Cruise, among others.
The Sci-Fi Slumber Party begins at 7 p.m. and ends at 7 a.m. Tickets are $17 at the door, $15 in advance and $13 for members.
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