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AMC shows its love of horror movies with 'Monsterfest X'

Hal Boedeker
The Orlando Sentinel

What a guest list: Dracula, Chucky, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, the Phantom of the Opera, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. (The Invisible Man is here, too, although, how can you tell for sure?) That's just a smattering of the iconic figures gathered in AMC's "Monsterfest X."

The festival starts at 8 EDT tonight with the original "Halloween" and continues through Oct. 31.

"It is AMC's No. 1 event of the year and has been since 1996 since we began it," says Tom Halleen, AMC senior vice president of programming and acquisitions. "This is far more than we've ever done."

Last year's festival ran 200 hours; this year's has grown to 232. AMC lined up major franchises such as "Friday the 13th," "Hellraiser," "Halloween" and "The Exorcist."

The original "Exorcist" from 1973 holds special meaning for Halleen. He calls it "the scariest movie I've ever seen" and began this year's schedule with it. "The Exorcist" will air at 8 p.m. Saturday. Halleen says he has tried to put the strongest performers in prime time.

Posters of "The Mummy" and "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" decorate Halleen's New York office, a reflection of his respect for horror films.

"I don't think there is another genre out there of film that can trigger such a primal response in people," he says. "It's a core emotion: fear. When you watch a flat screen and have the deepest emotion triggered, it's very powerful. It's like a roller-coaster ride. The thrill is afterward: `I made it through.'"

Halleen also is thrilled to have the original "Dracula," "Frankenstein" and "The Wolf Man" in the mix with "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th." This "Monsterfest" stretches from the 1930s to this century, which is represented by 2002's "Halloween: Resurrection" and 2003's "Gothika" with Halle Berry.

Viewers won't see all the violence in the films. AMC, a basic-cable channel with advertising, will present edited versions.

"We're not going into the TV-MA realm," says Halleen, referring to the mature-audience rating. "We need to make trims, but we try to keep them to a minimum. Generally, we take TV-edited versions from the studios. Rarely will we go in to make edits."

AMC passed on other movies because Halleen feared editing would ruin the viewing. He cites "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" as an example.

"What is left in that movie if you trim out the graphic elements?" Halleen asks.

AMC has found that men and women watch "Monsterfest" almost equally.

"We've noticed there's a lot of couples watching together," Halleen says. "How often do we sit there and say, `I want to watch "The Exorcist" by myself?' Perhaps that goes to the nature of the horror-movie viewing. It's more of a collective experience. It's fun to watch with friends."

One thing might frighten movie lovers: "Monsterfest" will come with AMC's usual load of commercials. Halleen defends the advertising with a fierceness the Phantom of the Opera would admire.

"Commercials are an important part of AMC now," Halleen says. "Over the last four years, with commercial integration, we've seen record audience delivery. More people are coming to AMC than in the entire history of the network. The audience has been responsive to our programming."

___

MONSTERFEST X

Cast: Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, the Fly, a possessed Regan of "The Exorcist," many others.

Where and when: The film festival starts at 8 EDT tonight on AMC with "Halloween" and continues through Oct. 31.

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