Last weekend I had one of the most uniquely satisfying theater-going experiences of my life. The Historic Artcraft Theatre in Franklin, Indiana was hosting a two-day film fest featuring seven science fiction horror films. With two films screening Friday night and the other five screening Saturday, it was the perfect opportunity for me to become acquainted with the theater.
The Artcraft is a beautiful Art Deco theater on Main Street in Franklin, Indiana. The theater was built in 1922 as a silent movie theater and Vaudeville house. It was renovated in 1936 and again in 1948. In 2004, Franklin Heritage Inc. purchased it and began screening classic films. Today the theater proudly screens its movies on 35mm film using a dual 35mm ‘change-over’ projector. For when a film print isn’t available, the theater has digital projection capabilities, though film is always the priority. The theater seats 625 people and is listed on the Indiana State Register of Historic Places.
The Artcraft’s two day Sci-Fright Frenzy marathon included screenings of the original Godzilla (1954), War of the Worlds (1953), locally produced Gila! (2012), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Forbidden Planet (1956), Planet of the Apes (1968), and Night of the Living Dead (1968).
You can read my thoughts on the event below. If you’re interested in what the Artcraft will be screening in the future, check out their website. There you can also find information on the theater’s many different membership options and opportunities for sponsorship.
October 9th, 2015: Sci-Fright Frenzy – Day One
The event began with an on-stage introduction and prizes given to the audience. Members of the audience answered along as Rob Shilts (executive director of Franklin Heritage, Inc. & the Artcraft) introduced the theater and the marathon. Rob made special mention of the volunteers working the event and told us that the theater staff was made up completely of volunteers, which in turn helps keep the ticket prices low.
The highlight of the concessions at the Artcraft is the popcorn, which is locally grown (and internationally known!) at Norton Farms in Franklin, Indiana. After hearing that, I made sure to get popcorn for the second screening. It was delicious!
After giving out the theater’s “long distance award” prize to a member of the audience from Florida, the marathon was ready to start. First up was Godzilla but first the audience rose from their seats and sang the National Anthem along to a 35mm film print of the song with patriotic imagery.
This is a tradition for the theater and was repeated before every film throughout the marathon. Sandwiched between the National Anthem and the films of the marathon was a classic Looney Tunes cartoon. These were delightful and brought out tons of nostalgia for me. Throughout the event there were a variety of cartoons played before each film. Personally, I was more partial to the Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner cartoons. However, they were all great.
I was worried going into the marathon that the theater would be screening the 1956 edit of Godzilla featuring Raymond Burr. Fortunately, this was the original Toho Produced film.
Seeing Godzilla at the Artcraft reminded me how much I loved the movie the first time I saw it a decade ago. The film is still an effective monster movie with effects that are anything but the cheesy “man in a lizard suit” stereotype for which the Godzilla franchise would be known. The destruction and havoc wreaked upon Japan in this original film is extensive.
The subtext of nuclear arms proliferation, escalation, and mankind’s priority for weaponization over science is what endears Godzilla as a magnificent film. Hearing a Geiger counter rapidly beep around a child following an attack in this postwar Japanese film is heartbreaking. Godzilla is more than a monster movie as it deals with themes that are not just specific to Japan, but to humankind itself.
This was my first time seeing The War of the Worlds and I enjoyed it for the most part. The acting was consistently over the top and the ending was abrupt and left a lot to be desired. However, the special effects of the Martians and their weaponry held up surprisingly well. The set design showing the worldwide destruction was something to marvel at as well.
October 10th, 2015: Sci-Fright Frenzy – Day Two
Day two of the Sci-Fright Frenzy Marathon started early and was a massive success. I live 34 miles away from the Artcraft and since the first screening began at 1:00pm, I decided to leave early.
I got to the theater around 12:15pm and didn’t leave until a few minutes after midnight. Between each screening, the audience was asked to go to the lobby so the staff could quickly clean the theater. This gave everyone a chance to stretch their legs, refill their refreshments (FREE REFILLS ON POPCORN AND SODA) and write down their suggestions for future screenings in the lobby.
After the first screening, Jivy’s BBQ was also in the lobby serving pulled pork nachos, pulled pork sandwiches, and cookies.
All the concessions (as well as Jivy’s BBQ) were very reasonably priced and delicious.
The first screening of Day Two was a movie produced in Franklin, Indiana. Gila!‘s co-writer and producer Bill Dever was in attendance and helped introduce the movie.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Gila!, and actually considered skipping that screening and getting an extra hour or two of sleep before I drove down to the theater.
Fortunately, I went to the theater early and watched the movie. It was a spectacular throwback to cheesy 50s monster movies and showcased the wholesome feel of Franklin, Indiana extremely well. Set in 1950s Franklin, Gila! takes the viewer on a ride through the town populated by incredibly likeable characters as a giant mutated Gila monster wreaks havoc.
The smooth animations of the Gila monster were really impressive but the standout was the sound design. The monster’s scale is demonstrated well, but its power is showcased in the loud and threatening roars it expels throughout the movie.
Gila! looks like it was a lot of fun to make and that translates seamlessly into a movie that’s a lot of fun to watch in a crowded theater.
The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a powerful rumination on the nature of paranoia and fear. The way the movie slowly unfurls its tension by polluting its atmosphere with “pod people” heightens the suspense and engages the audience deep in its characters’ struggle.
In addition to the film’s depiction of paranoia, the rationalization employed by characters who don’t believe Kevin McCarthy’s Dr. Bennell takes root in the viewer’s subconscious and keeps you on the edge of your seat.
I watched Forbidden Planet for the first time a couple of months ago at home late at night after a long day at work. Seeing an aged 35mm print of the movie at the Artcraft was a much better way for me to experience this sci-fi classic.
Seeing Forbidden Planet projected onto a theater screen highlighted the vastness of Altair IV as well as the breadth of the shots exploring the inner workings of an ancient laboratory late in the film. This loose retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest with the mysterious Dr. Morbius at its center is an immaculate sci-fi film that holds up very well.
Obsessive Viewer Grade
I reviewed Planet of the Apes last year in my Apes Franchise Review series. I also reviewed Night of the Living Dead as part of my Decade Review series.
Both films screened really well. Being part of a packed theater watching a 35mm print of Planet of the Apes and cheering in unison as Charlton Heston says his iconic “damn dirty apes” line was such an amazing experience.
Closing the marathon with Night of the Living Dead was perfect as it helped me decompress a little before heading outside and driving home. By the end, I was tired but still felt enthralled by the overall experience. And the staff of the Artcraft kept their energy up throughout the event incredibly well.
The event was handled so well by the staff and volunteers of the Artcraft that I was actually surprised to learn that this was only the Artcraft’s fourth movie marathon event. In 2012 and 2014, the theater hosted Alfred Hitchcock marathons and in 2013 they held a Universal Monsters marathon. I regret that I missed out on those marathons (especially the Hitchcock ones!) but I’m looking forward to visiting the theater again in the near future.
The theater’s schedule for the rest of the season can be found on their website. Tickets for the theater’s Christmas screenings of Elf, A Christmas Story, White Christmas, and Christmas Vacation are currently on sale and going fast.