Gazing at the façade of the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, is like being transported through a black-and-white filter and entering a vision of small-town America in the 1950s – something out of a Twilight Zone episode, perhaps. Or one of the theatres the Losers Club frequented in Stephen King’s nostalgic classic, It.
It’s fitting, then, that the Colonial hosts “Blobfest” every summer – in celebration of the gelatinous monster flick from 1958 – because the theatre is one of the locations director Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. used in the film. Historic, indeed!
The Colonial’s warmly-lit marquee is an inviting beacon nestled within a quaint downtown of shops and restaurants. Even before setting foot inside, it’s easy to tell why this venue has been home to the Italian Splatterfest Film Marathon for five years running.
Walking through the big, welcoming doors consummates the time-warp experience. The lobby has red carpet, a chandelier, and a functional facsimile of an old-school concession stand; flyers for local attractions, businesses, and artisans adorn tables. Reminiscent of York’s Capitol Theatre or Philadelphia’s Trocadero, the Colonial is a 3-story building that has been well-preserved through the years (its website proclaims it “a community treasure,” and I can’t argue that).
A quick scan of the Colonial’s Facebook page shows a revolving-door lineup of current independent films coupled with classics and unconventional cult flicks. This clearly attracts a diverse crowd of film buffs who look to the theatrical experience as something more than going to the multiplex “because it’s there.” (I attended Splatterfest with my best friend, who had attended the screening of Barbarella at the Colonial several months prior.)
That’s what makes it the perfect place to host a mind- and eyelid-testing marathon of Italian horror flicks. The 5-film lineup was all over the place, which lent itself to an interesting viewing experience: first up was Claudio Fragasso’s notorious Troll 2; followed by Juan Piquer Simon’s Pieces; Michele Soavi’s contemplative and surreal Cemetery Man; Massimo Dallamano’s dramatic giallo What Have You Done to Solange? (under an alternate title, The School that Couldn’t Scream); and concluding with the gut-munching spectacle of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie.
My friend and I had splurged on a VIP pass that included a catered, Italian-themed buffet prior to the marathon. Cooked with care by Shorty’s Sunflower Café and Truckstop, menu items included homemade meatballs and sausage in red sauce, eggplant chili, and Rigatoni Frizzi. During the two 20-minute intermissions, VIPs were also given snack packs containing items as varied as almonds and olives, cupcakes, mini chicken bruschetta wraps, and chips & salsa.
Oh, and coffee…plenty of coffee. The biggest thanks in order may be to the Splatterfest gods for giving us willing fools the liquid perseverance to plow onward!
In addition to the delicious treats, the Splatterfest showrunners also had raffles for both the VIPs and regular attendees. The prizes included DVDs and Blu-rays from Arrow Video and Blue Underground, among others: T-shirts from Fright-Rags… and the periodic six-pack of beer. I was lucky enough to win a copy of the Cannibal Holocaust soundtrack on vinyl during the pre-show VIP raffle. Nobody had to leave empty-handed, though: for those looking to purchase mementoes of the event, there were great, newspaper-ad-style T-shirts commemorating the 2016 lineup (it bears noting that these sold out before the second intermission).
While I began the marathon with apprehension over whether my mind and body would stay awake for the duration, I made it through with the aforementioned liquid and food assists, not to mention the energy of the crowd. As the films progressed, the logic of the order became clear: the unintentional badness of Troll 2 gave everyone a chance to laugh and groan; but Pieces garnered the night’s greatest guffaws, due to the horrendous Spanish-to-English dialog translation. Cemetery Man’s overt strangeness, genre-jumping, and slick polish produced a mostly quiet viewing experience, which continued with Solange, easily the most serious (and stately-paced) of all the films. By the time Zombie was threaded through the projector, I think most of the audience had succumbed to marathon fatigue, though those in attendance sprung to life to applaud the film’s meatier kills.
Before the lights went down, one of the festival runners requested that those in attendance “laugh, clap, and yell – but don’t do the Mystery Science Theater 3000 thing,” which everybody respected. Say what you will about horror fans, but they enjoy a shared experience as much as anybody else, and are reverent toward the genre they love. And perhaps, with the films being projected in scratched and dirty 35mm prints (in other words, beautiful), everyone realized how special and sacred this event was.
The Colonial Theatre is certainly a community treasure, but Splatterfest is like a second treasure nesting within. For anybody in the central Pennsylvania area, I would highly suggest marking your calendars for next year’s event – where fun and thrills are included in the admission cost.
Crash Analysis Support Team:
Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) spends his days clowning around for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and writes horrific movie reviews by night. His work can also be found at loudgreenbird.com. He judges other things via antisocial media @JonnyNumb (Twitter and Letterboxd), and co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace.
Take a look at the fantastic Colonial Theatre for horror fans and cinephiles alike, and learn more about Blobfest and next year’s Splatterfest. You can also find them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
(Splatterfest 5 photo from B Movie News Vault, and Colonial Theatre photo from U Wish U Nu .)