Film Features

Kevin Cookman’s Carnival of Carnage: 12 Nonstop, Brain-Melting Hours


In honor of The Merry-Go-Round Massacre, a virtual horror all-nighter streaming at 6 PM PST on Halloween night, we asked four film writers to share their ideal horrorthon all-nighter schedules.

I’ll be straight up with you: I wish I could attach some larger subtext to what I’m dying to make you sit through tonight, but I’m the type of guy who hits shuffle on an album for his first listen, the type of guy to order a Cobb salad, and the type of guy to program 12 hours of movies related only in their power to melt your fucking face off. There is no overarching theme to the selections you are about to behold, it is pure fuckery and sorcery. I worship the art of film programming as much as I do DJ-ing, both trades requiring an adept social sense of reading the room and knowing when to make the room read you. It’s all about giving the people what they want, while sneaking in some curated gems that they never knew they needed. Sure, you could flex with a nonstop slew of obscurities for obscurity’s sake, a plan of action often magnanimously executed, with the goal of gifting you experiences you otherwise would’ve never touched, but that method has backfired more often than it’s rewarded in my go around the Los Angeles repertory theater bend. I appreciate your stacked knowledge of 20th century horror, Mr. Programmer, but showing a stodgy, C-tier Hammer movie during peak 11:30 PM – 1 AM hours can certifiably kill your buzz long before you’re even worried about tiring out. It’s incredibly difficult to program a successful all-nighter—many programers think they have to play a medley of rhythms, and it ultimately does make for a more fascinating cocktail of genre fare, but for my all-nighter line-up, I’m opting for a steady beat, like the Dead Kennedys powering a 12-hour-long mosh pit.

I’m here to ensure you have a good time. To laugh as much as you gasp, to sneer as much as you cheer, and to get your mind blown in ways you may have never known were possible. I’ve seen most of these films alone in my room, celebrating with none other than myself. How badly I wish I could share a room with you now to watch the looks on your sweet, virgin faces. To rejoice in horror together again. 

Welcome to Kevin Cookman’s Carnival of Carnage.

8 PM – 10 PM

CAT PEOPLE (dir. Paul schrader, 1982)

Paul Schrader’s surgically harvesting the subtle psychological suppression of Jacques Tourneur’s provocative 1942 original and bicycle-wheel pumping it into zoophile (don’t look it up), Euro-trash, body horror, step-sister fetish porn, except instead of fucking, the siblings turn into leopards and eat sex workers, all while being an aesthetic testing ground for the bravado theatrics of MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS. Paulie’s an absolute goon-and-a-half for this one. CAT PEOPLE could just as easily fry brains at 4 AM, but you want to get the crowd hyped, you want to cream some jeans in your opener, and there are few needle-drops more rise-to-your-feet triumphant than David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out the Fire)” blasting over not one, but two concluding freeze-frames. Fuck a Yerba Mate or a capsule of 5-Hour Energy: this is your buzz for the night.


10 PM – 12 AM

OPERA (dir. Dario Argento, 1987)

Okay, so things can go one of two ways at this point in a horrorthon: after a surefire barnburner to open the night, some programmers may start sneaking in the deep cuts immediately, trusting that, surely, the audience won’t abandon ship on only the second film. At Kevin Cookman’s Carnival of Carnage, I sincerely do not see the point in slowing down, so welcome to maestro Dario Argento’s OPERA, one of the most batshit slashers of all time. Stuck with his weakest leading lady, but led by his most ferociously visualized visuals, Argento thrusts the cinematography into overdrive and delivers several of the most thrilling POV shots ever committed to film—all swooping, never still. The kinetics on display are marvelous inundations of chaos anchored by precision. Everything’s going calamitously wrong, but it’s all feeling so damn right. He’s already the helmer of some of giallo’s cruelest kills, so the heavy metal score is a tad much while knives plunge into carotid arteries, but this feels like a director still working to prove his worth even after over a decade of already doing so.


12 AM – 2 AM

PETEY WHEATSTRAW (dir. cliff roquemore, 1977)

The midnight movie is the most coveted status of any cult classic. The title is a promise in and of itself of the pleasures within, like Pandora’s Box telling you that unleashing its contents will at least tickle your most depraved pleasure senses. Many commercial failures have preserved their legacy with this time slot, most notably blaxploitation legend Rudy Ray Moore, one of the most prolific, influential motherfuckers to ever do it. So, yeah, fuck it, I’m gonna make my midnight movie a tribute to a GOAT! PETEY WHEATSTRAW is made by absolute shit filmmakers who are some of the most naturally funny people who ever lived. It’s a killer combo. Kung fu fights with Satan’s servants, disco club rivalries, and time travel for good measure. I wish more people worshipped Rudy Ray Moore. Rudy Ray Moore wished more people worshipped Rudy Ray Moore. My lineup is nothing but personal all-timer heaters, but PETEY WHEATSTRAW is my personal centerpiece, the true underseen diamond in the rough that I’m desperate to put on everyone’s radar. Few films make me laugh harder, squint tighter, or slackjaw me with its outrageous attempts at bravura ambition like PETEY. If I can convert some new apostles, I’d consider this entire affair a euphoric success.

The Lighthouse

2 AM – 4 AM

the lighthouse (dir. robert eggers, 2019)

2 AM is where things start to get choppy, where you can either own or rue the night. Three horror movies deep, your audience is likely desensitized to the predictable ebbs and flows of the genre, so giving them traditional fare this late can lead to a legion of yawners. To combat an auditorium of sleeping beauties, I’ve opted for assaultive, physical psychedelia starring two men you desperately want to rail. THE LIGHTHOUSE is rigid in style, its moist imagery imprisoned in the Academy ratio, yet still feels like a movie with no rules. The list of midnight movies is thousands deep, but Eggers’ latest is 3 AM delirium, just absolute crusty, cummy chaos. Easily a top-tier contender in the “phallic canon,” drink along with these motherfuckers and sputter your way into repressed blonde lumberjack fantasies while fucking any inaninimate object with meat and a wet hole. 118 different types of ugly, we watch two of our best all-time actors engage in the full spectrum of debauchery at full intensity. A gift. The great thing about watching critical darlings after their hype cycles have died out (may they rot), is that critics at film festivals opting to spoil these exhilarating dramatic experiments beat-for-beat in lieu of actually critiquing them (may they be sacrificed to the sea gods) aren’t really swirling around in the atmosphere anymore. Even if an Indiewire Best of 2019 list got you to watch this surrealist fever dream, there’s a solid chance your subconscious blocked out some of the most arresting imagery. Good luck scrubbing it out at 3:30 AM. This is a film you’ve likely seen, but never how it was intended to be shown, how it was intended to be felt.

All the Colors of the Night

4 AM – 6 AM

all the colors of the dark (dir. sergio martino, 1972)

The 4 AM – 6 AM slot is a crucial spot: this is often where you lose up to 50% of your crowd, the weaklings opting for a bullet train to a shitty night’s rest instead of finishing what they started. And if they don’t leave before the film starts, then they’ll base their decision off of how the first 10 minutes of the next feature hooks them in: enter ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, an Italian sleazoid essential that opens with one of the most ballistic nightmare sequences ever captured on film. “Too hazy and sensually overwhelming to pinpoint exactly how it’s misogynistic, but it definitely be hating women somehow” is a subgenre that the Italians do best, baby. It is a mistake to ingest this soberly; on the brink of exhaustion with too many stimulants in your body is peak form for Sergio Martino’s demon-summoning, psychedelic foray into soul sacrifices and serial murders. It’s perfectly visualized slime that runs a train on humans, puppies, and God herself. Best of luck dozing off while the chorus of wailing angels (or are they demons?) fiendishly gnaw at your fried brain like maggots on a Republican’s corpse.

Day of the Dead

6 AM – 8 AM

DAY OF THE DEAD (dir. George A. Romero, 1985)

At the beginning of the United States’ COVID-19 outbreak, digital rentals for CONTAGION skyrocketed; call it cheeky, call it coping, but I was pretty struck by the morbid directness of the mass’ interest in how the next few months would play out. Luckily our virus is less agonizing than Soderbergh’s, but not by much, yet I never found too much peace in this slick cynicism. I quickly turned to satirists, the ones who could tell me what to do in a pandemic without ever calling it a pandemic. I turned to one of George A. Romero’s many masterpieces, DAY OF THE DEAD, a chronicle of bunker-barricaded scientists and laborers pushing against the crushing oppression of a fascist, authoritarian regime gravely underestimating the plague on surface ground. It’s a case study in the demise of the military-industrial complex, punishing its participants with some of the most graphic on-screen deaths ever committed to screen. Little did I know that this zombie movie of my youth would harden me for the ills of 2020. In March, it was a prophecy. In October, it’s a trip down memory lane of the horrors we’ve been forced to reckon with for the majority of an entire calendar year. Call me a bring-down bummer, I know, but the final piece to an all-nighter is crucial to the whole: what statement will you leave your devoted audience on? No one’s looking for a good time anymore. They’re looking for an end, for some clarity after 12 bleary hours in the dark. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to wake people up with a stone-cold classic. DAY OF THE DEAD is incredibly dour up until the genuine reprieve of its sun-soaked, sandy-cheeked finale. All was Hell, but organization and community amongst the liberators will lead to greener pastures. Well, as long as there’s fuel in the chopper. It’s the essential doomer-brain horror movie. You’ll exit DAY OF THE DEAD 72 hours away from Election Day 2020. Good morning. The cotton candy stands dismantled, the Ferris wheel disassembled, and the circus tent collapsed and loaded into the truck. Welcome to the final days.

Kevin Cookman
Kevin Cookman is a Film Editor for Merry-Go-Round Magazine. Deserted in a video store as an infant, Kevin was raised on Fulci, Tarantino, Kubrick, and Whoppers. Now he's a graduate of Chapman University who acts as editor for Merry-Go-Round on the side: what a success story.

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