The twisted brilliance of the Cinefamily’s ‘United States of Horror’ series

ABBY (1974), plays in 16mm on 10/11, and perhaps never again after that.

Every night this month, leading up to Halloween (natch), L.A. repertory cinema the Cinefamily is screening a different horror movie at midnight, in a series memorably dubbed “The United States of Horror.” Each film has been chosen to represent a different U.S. state — not only because of where each flick happens to be set, but also for the way many of the movies exemplify low-budget regional filmmaking at its most pungent and idiosyncratic.

Not to get too hifalutin,’ but the series could make a case for low-budget horror movies as outsider art. The inspired capsule writeups on the Cinefamily site convey the sense that however twisted the visions of these movies might be, they’re a self-taught filmmaker’s deeply personal twisted vision. No corporate franchises here; even “grindhouse” might be too tony a description for some of the freakish curios the Cinefamily has dug up for the series.

Drive-in horror, from 1976: the "Georgia" entry in the series. (And believe it or not, the poster artist is actually paying homage to Gustav Klimt here.)

Not surprisingly, most of the titles date from the early ’70s into the ’80s, just before the horror genre went comparatively mainstream, with bigger budgets and slicker production values. Not coincidentally, the era of horror film represented here also predates political correctness — a certain scuzz factor or seaminess at work in the more out-there titles may be inseparable from their fiendish inventiveness. (The series as a whole makes me daydream about an underground cinematheque where the films skirt legality, in both their production and screening.)

From 1977: The director reportedly made this while on a meth binge.

You owe it to yourself to read the summaries for each night’s movie — my hat is off to the erudite carny barker who wrote up these pitches. Some of the descriptions will make you laugh; be sure to listen to Patton Oswalt’s rant about Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, playing on 10/13.

A couple of the movies, on the other hand, sound so bizarre as to seem made up, and one of them, 1977’s Last House on Dead End Street (screening on 10/18), creeped me out just from the writeup. It’s bracing to read about films that are almost unfathomably obscure, even in 2013, and which horror fans may never have the opportunity to see on a big screen again.

“The United States of Horror”: that title could sum up our current political situation, but I digress. What would it be like to attend all 31 midnight-movie showings? I wonder if your sense of daytime reality wouldn’t become significantly altered after a week or two. If anyone does attend all 31 nights of the series, I hope they’ll write about what the experience is like. Happy Halloween!

Click here for upcoming showtimes and descriptions.

Click here for the movies that have played in the series since 10/1.

Documentary about the early career of a Tea Party representative.

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