I Attended the First Psychorama Sleepover and Became a Fashion Icon

At the Alamo Drafthouse in Winchester, VA our faithful correspondent survived twelve nonstop hours of retro exploitation.

Psychorama Banner
Faye Guerra/Alamo Drafthouse

Mental and physical preparation for a movie marathon is as essential as it is fruitless. To enter the arena without properly priming your body for sleep deprivation would result in a catastrophic morning after, but don’t think you’ll skate by without any signs of exhaustion. A solid week adjusting your bedtime will get you through the event, but it’s not enough to escape the insufferable cinematic haze that coats your brain days later. Locking yourself in a theater for 12+ hours is an absurd endeavor looked upon as ridiculous by the un-obsessed and worth less than a merit badge in their outside world. A week of prep, a week of recovery, a day of total bliss. You get it or you don’t

I am constantly chasing this environment, attending festivals when possible, joining as many local film clubs that will have me. Living in the Washington D.C. area offers several options, but few are as inviting as the weekly Psycho Cinema events held at the Alamo Drafthouse in Winchester, Va. Moderated on a volunteer basis by Faye Guerra, Psycho Cinema is a celebration of cinematic carnage that often highlights new indie delights but truly revels in the cult classics. Come for Starship Troopers, stay for Kickboxer From Hell.

Over the last couple of years, Guerra has gathered her ghouls for a series of three-day festivals called Psychorama, but after the last one, she was feeling a tad disheartened. Under the stewardship of film programmer Andy Gyurisin, the Alamo Drafthouse in Winchester has fostered a mighty colony of filmgoers which in turn allows space for their bi-annual Lost Weekend as well as the Genreblast festivals. Guerra enjoyed Psychorama but felt like its format was too similar to these other recurring events. “I wanted something that felt more like Psycho Cinema, which I don’t know what that means exactly,” she told the crowd on Saturday night. “Something weird, something uncomfortable. I wanted to do something different.”

Psychorama Crowd

From this desire came the Psychorama Sleepover. For $30 attendees gained entry to the seven-film marathon that began at 10:00 PM and did not wrap up until noonish the next day. We were encouraged to bring blankets, pillows, and pajamas. For the person who came dressed in the most outlandish or elaborate costume, a Fashion Icon trophy awaited. Say no more. Into the back of the closet, I went, yanked out my trusty Godzilla onesie, and raced to participate in the revelry.

The theme of the evening was “Hot & Slaughtered” with Guerra selecting titles designed to usher in the Summer season as well as maintain our sleepless stamina. The Alamo Drafthouse provided round-the-clock service complete with a specialty menu of Psycho Popcorn, Zombi Fries, and Crypt Omelets. We were assured that the noble waitstaff volunteered for this madness, but we were also encouraged to tip graciously to honor their sacrifice. I took advantage of the perpetual coffee delivery system, prolonging a full bladder to secure wide-awake status.

When it came time to get into the business of watching movies, I was well-rested, caffeinated to an extreme level, and plotting runtimes for strategic naps. I was comfortable missing snippets of familiar films but did not want to miss a second of those new to me. Before each movie, Guerra provided contextual intros and asked audience members to signify whether or not a film was new to them by the raising of hands. There was a strong contingent of first-time viewers and that only increased my excitement; suddenly audience reaction to movies like Hard Ticket to Hawaii and Sleepaway Camp became as exhilarating a watch as the films themselves.

Hard Ticket To Hawaii

10:00 P.M. Hard Ticket to Hawaii

Andy Sidaris built an empire on the three Bs (Blood, Bullets, and Boobs) a.k.a. the lifeblood of Psycho Cinema. The producer/director, who invented the honey-cam, left a career in sports television to marshall a filmography of cheesecake adventures that practically gave Skinemax its cheeky moniker. Hard Ticket to Hawaii is his fourth feature and exemplifies his leering tastes. While it’s not the film you want to watch with grandma on the couch, it’s the perfect flick to slap a crowd awake and prepare them for a night of something weird, something uncomfortable, and something different. Abandon all hope if film number one fails to get your blood pumping.

Of course, most of the audience was packed with well-established Psychos aching for this particular kind of entertainment. The theater screamed howls the moment it revealed that Agents Donna (Donna Spier) and Taryn (Hope Marie Carlton) must be on the lookout for a snake infected by deadly toxins from cancer-infested rats on top of the usual run-of-the-mill frisbee-loving henchmen. Hard Ticket to Hawaii avoids being The Room-level bad thanks to its self-aware nature and the knowledge that its spectators genuinely hunger for its T & A morality. Not a film for a polite or evolved society, but a confection baked to satiate a shameless one.

12:15 A.M. Zombi 2 

Emboldened by the success of Dawn of the Dead (entitled Zombi overseas), the Italian film industry demanded a sensational sequel minus any creative connection to the American production. Directed by gorehound Lucio Fulci, the pseudo-sequel exhibits almost zero connection to the Romero film outside of flesh-eating ghouls. Fulci returns voodoo as a catalyst to the undead, explaining these hungry zombies as the byproduct of an island curse. Plot only exists to move characters from one outrageous, violent effect to the next.

Tonally, Zombi 2 is quite the shift from Hard Ticket to Hawaii. Here is where I inserted a few strategic naps to bolster me through the night, waking up to experience the audience’s awe towards the infamous (real) shark vs. (real stuntman) zombie and their long, groaning howls as Olga Karlatos‘ eye is slowly plunged into a splinter of wood. Entering a microsleep to the thrumming beat of Fabio Frizzi‘s glorious, despairful score certainly tampers with your mood. Here is the personification of 2019 dread; make it the presidential anthem already.

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Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.