Cult classics bring unique horror to Shocktober

By Lillian Barkley

There may not be a late-night double feature at the Art Theater this weekend, but there will be a time warp.

Illini Student Musicals (ISM) will be performing “The Rocky Horror Show” at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday as part of Shocktober, a month-long horror festival at the Art Theater Co-op at 126 W. Church Street in Champaign.

“This year, they were actually planning on canceling the show until we reached out to them,” said Lauren Brooks, treasurer for ISM and sophomore in LAS.

The organization decided to perform as a fundraiser for “Godspell,” their featured production later in the semester.

“We decided that a shadow cast would be a reasonable way to get a taste of “Rocky Horror” without using all of our resources,” Brooks said.

A shadow cast is when the cast performs a pantomime in front of the actual film.

“That’s something our audience have asked for in the past,” said Alicia Kozma, assistant manager at the Art Theater and graduate student in Communications, about the live cast. “The last time we did it, we had to turn a lot of people away the first night.”

The cast only had four weeks to rehearse, but ISM performed “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” March 14, 2014, at the Canopy Club, so some of the cast already had experience.

For the most part, however, Brooks said the cast was not used to the shadow performance method.

“You don’t have to worry about projection or singing, which is interesting. It’s all about appearances,” she said.

The combination of film and live theater lets the audience and cast interact with each other in a way that is unique to the cult-classic film.

“You always have the audience yelling out random lines throughout the movie, and sometimes they’ll have props and be throwing things at us, so that’s fun to look forward to but a little scary at the same time,” Brooks said.

Audience props often include throwing rice and unbuttered toast, though the Art has requested that audience members refrain from this to keep the theater clean.

The cast makes the show their own by swapping out on-screen props and doing a pre-show beforehand with the audience.

“We’ll label the “Rocky Horror” virgins with a “v” on their forehead, so if you’ve never seen a live show before, we pull them out and play some games with them,” Brooks said.

Tyler Whitfield, sophomore in LAS, is seeing the show with a live cast for the first time this weekend, though he has seen the film in a theater before.

“If you’re seeing it for the first time, it’s not what you’d expect it to be,” he said. “It’s just so overly dramatic and ridiculous and funny.”

Whitfield learned about the performance after he saw “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” at the Art. The film, which is the only restoration made from the original 16mm reels, was showing as another part of Shocktober.

He said the month-long event is interesting because “it gets all these cult people together to watch all their favorite movies.”

Kozma, who is also a member of the Late Night Committee that organizes Shocktober, said providing cult film screenings is one of the goals of the event.

“We are showing a mix of classic as well as new horror films,” Kozma said. “In the past, we’ve just stuck to the classics, but we’re focused on showing some more underrated and lesser-seen horror films that aren’t usually shown in theaters.”

Some of the lesser-seen films are “Martyrs” and “The Descent,” which have more in common than their genre: they are both focused on women.

“We wanted to highlight the fact that women can work in horror movies and there are horror movies about women just to show more diversity for our audience,” Kozma said. “They don’t get a lot of attention; their films don’t get a lot of attention, but they’re amazing films and we want them to be seen.”

The Art Theater has been focusing on females in film since it began the “Women on Top” series over the summer, Kozma said.

“It’s in line with our commitment to showing not only a diverse range of films, but a range of films that highlight cultural producers and directors that aren’t usually shown in theaters,” she said.

Shocktober began with a free event on Oct. 1, which included screenings of TV shows like “The Twilight Zone” and “Tales from the Crypt.”

“We like to kick off Shocktober with a free event not only to get people excited about it, but to thank people,” she said. “We know they’re going to be making an investment in coming back for the movies for the rest of the month.”

The events get even larger as Halloween gets closer.

“We don’t often do month-long genre programming,” Kozma said. She added that Shocktober is one of the theater’s largest events of the year, and the Late Night committee begins planning for it in May.

“We like to do something with the month-long block we set aside for Shocktober,” she said. “We want to make sure we still involve the community in that process.”

This year, in honor of Shocktober’s featured film, “Carrie,” the committee teamed up with the Central Illinois Blood Bank. Anyone who donates blood will receive a free popcorn coupon. Other events include an all-night horror marathon, which runs from 10 p.m. to around 4 a.m. and includes two secret screenings, as well as a memorial screening of “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “They Live” to honor Wes Craven and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.

“We are both showing these classic horror films but also honoring the contribution these two men made to the genre,” Kozma said.

Audiences can purchase tickets on the Art Theater’s website, and Kozma encouraged students to come to the events, even though the theater is off campus.

“We do really keep in mind the student population that is into horror movies and who like celebrating Halloween,” she said. “The more students who come out and get to see these movies, the better.”

[email protected]