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‘Psycho’ And ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ At The Coolidge — Cut From The Same Cloth

Janet Leigh takes her fateful shower in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" at the Coolidge Theatre. (Courtesy, Paramount Pictures/Photofest)

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Ah, Halloween. Memories of running down dark streets, blessedly free from parental supervision, our costumes flapping in the chilly October wind, grocery bags filling up with candy. Our parents may have worried about razor blades in apples, but we didn’t. Even more than pennies and candy corn, apples were a disappointment, not a treat, and we tossed them away as soon as we were out of sight of the givers.

Those days of running free are gone but fortunately my adult self has other options. I can go to the movies to get my Halloween kicks, tricks, and treats.

All October, the Coolidge Corner Theatre has presented a series of midnight horror flicks they’ve dubbed “Flick’r Treats,” with haunted house films screening in downstairs moviehouse 1 and witch films playing upstairs in moviehouse 2. At midnight on Friday, Oct. 25, you can catch Tim Burton’s delightful black comedy “Beetlejuice” (1988) with Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, and a young, adorable Winona Ryder.

The “Flick’r Treats” are but a lead up to the main course: the 13th annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, that kicks off Saturday, Oct. 26 at 11:59 p.m., with a costume contest followed by the first film of the night: Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960). Is there a reader out there who hasn’t seen “Psycho,” who has never heard of Norman Bates, and who doesn’t know why generations of America women are afraid to take a shower in a hotel room alone? Now is the chance to see an American masterpiece in 35mm on the big screen with hundreds of psyched up, costumed viewers.

Gunnar Hansen in Tobe Hooper's  "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." (Courtesy, Coolidge Corner Theatre)

Gunnar Hansen in Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” (Courtesy Coolidge Corner Theatre)

After “Psycho,” comes another American classic, the most influential and arguably the scariest slasher film of all time: Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974). I scare as easily as a rabbit, and years ago, I only made it through half the film. For this article, I felt a moral obligation to see the film through to the end. I did, and it was as terrifying as I remembered.

“Psycho” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” are blood brothers. Steeped in American Gothic, they have given the world unforgettable madmen who terrorize innocent women unlucky enough to have stumbled into their insane, but all too real, worlds. The two films offer up relatively little on-screen gore. The assaults and shocks come with the buildup, the editing, and the sound, which together serve to unleash the dark powers of the viewer’s own imagination.

“Psycho’s” Norman Bates and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s” Leatherface are loosely based on the same real-life psychopath, Ed Gein, (as is Buffalo Bill from “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991). A convicted murderer, grave robber, suspected cannibal and Midwesterner, Gein was morbidly attached to his mother and after her death, longed to become a woman. Wikipedia says that when authorities searched Gein’s house, they found four noses; whole human bones and fragments, 9 masks of human skin, bowls made from human skulls, 10 female heads with the tops sawed off, human skin covering several chair seats, murder victim Mary Hogan’s head in a paper bag, murder victim Bernice Worden’s head in a burlap sack, 9 vulvae in a shoe box, a belt made from female human nipples, skulls on his bedposts, a pair of lips on a drawstring for a window shade, and a lampshade made from the skin from a human face. The crazies of “Psycho” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” are conservative by comparison.

A ticket to this Double Feature costs $15, $20 buys a ticket to all seven of the Horror Movie Marathon films, including another noteworthy offering, the Haunted House tale “13 Ghosts” (1960) filmed in “Illusion-O.” Director William Castle is himself an American classic who is more famous for the gimmicks with which he promoted his movies than for the movie themselves. “13 Ghosts” requires special glasses that allow viewers to see the eponymous ghosts or, if the ghosts prove too scary, to remove them from the picture. Filmed in “Percepto,’” Castle’s “The Tingler” (1959) (not a marathon screening) features random vibrating theater seats. Unsurprisingly, John Waters is a great admirer of Castle.

The masterminds behind all this movie madness are Coolidge program manager Jesse Hassinger and program coordinator Mark Anastassio. They program the Horror Movie Marathon and the year-round @fter Midnight program. So come November, if your appetite for horror still isn’t sated, there is always “The Wicker Man – Final Cut,” screening at the Coolidge on Nov. 15 and 16.

Another option is to cross over the Charles and take in two classic horror films with live musical accompaniment at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge. The Brattle’s “Silent Screams” program presents Robert Wiene’s “The Cabinet of Dr Caligari” (1920) accompanied by Not So Silent Cinema on Oct. 29 and George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) with an alternative live musical soundtrack by the Andrew Alden Ensemble on Oct. 30. On the Big Night, Oct. 31, the Brattle is showing a double feature, “The Haunting” (1963) directed by Robert Wise, followed by “Halloween III” (1982) directed by Tommy Lee Wallace

If, after all this, you’re still not satisfied, have an apple.

Kaj Wilson hosts The Breakfast Film Club at The Coolidge Corner Theatre. She is the former Artistic Director of The Boston Jewish Festival. Reach her at kajwilson@yahoo.com

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