If it weren’t for the small group of people shivering in the half-light outside of a brick building in Pilsen, a passerby might miss the Roxaboxen art gallery entirely. Beyond the crowd, glass double doors ushered guests into a dimly lit entryway, illuminated only by the infernal glow of a satanic shrine that sat in the corner of the room. Handwritten paper signs taped haphazardly to the walls invited visitors out of this eerie interstitial space and into a cramped hallway darkened by sheaths of black fabric. But what waited for them beyond?
“Odd Obsession Presents: Roxaboxen Fourth N Final 24 Hour Horror Film Freak Fest,” put on by Bucktown movie rental shop Odd Obsession, featured twenty-four hours of expertly-curated classic and contemporary horror films. Some of the highlights included Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” the chilling 1922 masterpiece “Nosferatu” and the utterly bizarre 1973 film “The Wicker Man.”
Visitors crept down the cramped black hallway into a comparatively large room. The white walls were bare, save for a flickering projection that occupied most of the rear wall. People filled almost every inch of available space. They sat in clusters of folding chairs, perched on an assortment of well-loved couches and armchairs, or sprawled on the floor in a sea of sleeping bags.
The event was free and open to anyone who dared pass through the foreboding entryway, making for a decidedly diverse audience. Teenage hipsters rubbed shoulders with middle-aged movie-buffs. Recent Pilsen transplants mingled with veterans of the neighborhood.
“This was the perfect thing to do tonight,” noted one Pilsen resident. “It’s free, and it’s close to where I live, and they’re showing lots of great movies.”
The atmosphere within the gallery echoed that of a summer camp movie night for adults, where PBR and Sour Punch Straws were served in equal amounts. A sundry assortment of semi-strangers gathered in this intimate, casual space. Chuckling together at a film’s particularly egregious foreshadowing, they achieved comfortable cohesion beneath the projector’s flickering blue light.
The artists who organized the event used their creative flare to enhance the moviegoers’ experience. They supplemented the films’ sound effects with audio of their own, alternating between the tinny, frantic sound of woodwind instruments and a deep, guttural grumble. The chill wind that scythed through the crowd each time someone opened the front door further enhanced the drama of the experience.Unfortunately, the future of the 24-hour film festival is grim. Roxaboxen will permanently close its doors on November 1 and the property will change hands, meaning the space will be repurposed. It is only fitting that this unconventional gallery go out with neither a whimper nor a bang, but a blood-curdling scream.