October First Saturday Horror Series Draws Community Around David Cronenberg

Since 2012, the First Saturday Horror Series at Frank Banko Alehouse Cinemas has offered movie-goers a monthly horror film selection. Pulling from a deep well that includes both well-loved classics and lesser-known gory gems, the programming highlights the diversity of form, subject matter, and aesthetic style that exists underneath the horror umbrella. Every October, the Horror Series expands from one showing per month to three to celebrate the Halloween season. Co-curators Adriana Gober and Lauren Tocci choose a guiding framework to focus their selections such as a theme, a subgenre, or a single filmmaker. In previous years, the duo has taken up the figure of the vampire and the works of Vincent Price. This year, Gober and Tocci honored David Cronenberg—nicknamed the King of Venereal Horror for his focus on sexuality—in celebration of his eightieth birthday. 

Pictured (Left-Right): Frank Banko Alehouse Cinemas entrance with screens for Videodrome and Rabid

The Horror Series taps into a devoted audience, both during and outside of the spooky season. For co-curator Lauren Tocci, this corner of the programming serves as a reminder of horror’s importance to the arthouse cinema. “There is no film fanbase that is as passionate as horror fans,” she says. “Horror fans not only uniquely know their stuff deeply, but they also love it deeply and they show up for it.” In her role as a curator of the series, Tocci has interacted with a spectrum of audience members from a devoted core that show up every month no matter what to those that are piqued by a particular title or director. She is delighted by the size of the local horror film community and the conversations that come up on their facebook page when she and Gober share their selections for the series. 

For Tocci, screenings will always be valuable because they give viewers a chance to experience a film with a screen and sound system calibrated to optimize the work of art. “To me, personally, nothing will ever replicate watching a movie with a group of strangers in a dark theater and hearing reactions, whether that’s gasps of horror or the relief of laughter,” she says. “There’s nothing like that instant community. When you are sitting near people and you’re feeling their reactions—there’s something very transformative about how you watch the film.” 

Beyond the mechanics of enhanced appreciation, film nights are an opportunity for us to gather together as a community invested in the arts. Tocci views the horror film culture of Bethlehem as both an extension of the scenes in Philadelphia and NYC as well as its own unique presence. “When you show up to a film at Frank Banko Alehouse Cinemas—which is in the shadow of an icon of Bethlehem, the Steelstacks—it’s a shared experience.” For Tocci, seeing this locally instead of traveling to another city is essential. “It says that the Lehigh Valley cares about the films they are watching and cares about gathering around that kind of film.” 

This year, October meant a chance to explore the import of Cronenberg to the horror genre. While he was initially chosen because of his birthday, Videodrome (1983) offered another anniversary to celebrate as it has been forty years since the film was first released. Tocci reflects on the filmmaker’s ongoing relevance: “as cliche as it sounds, [he] was really ahead of his time, predicting our relationships with technology, the relationship between technology and sexuality.” Like many of Cronenberg’s films, Videodrome transgresses social mores in ways that remain surprising four decades later. The movie follows Max Renn (James Woods) as his obsession with a channel purportedly airing real snuff films catapults him to the very edges of the boundary between the human body and its recording technologies. Creating space for Videodrome today allows alternative ways to confront the rapid changes brought about by advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning. In the midst of calls from educational institutions and corporations to embrace these new technologies, there is something especially cathartic about sitting together with strangers to hear that famous, repeated refrain: “Death to videodrome! Long live the new flesh!” 

Whether you’re a die-hard fan of the genre or a more casual, horror-curious viewer, you will find something to love in the First Saturday selections. This could be a film, or maybe a group of unexpected friends. As Tocci puts it, when people get together for these strange and horrifying stories, “we’re all sharing the same kind of weird. There’s something very cool about that, and it’s important to the Lehigh Valley community to celebrate how much we all love art and how much we all love creating that art.” It’s easy to be fooled by Bethlehem’s exterior as Christmas City, but for many in this town, Halloween is the favorite holiday. And the Horror Film series is the perfect way to celebrate all month long. 

Audiences that come out for the Horror Series will find it is just one of the many curated film series that make up the vibrancy of programming at Frank Banko. Others include Black Film: Then and Now, the Fem in Film Series, Cinema Significa, The Lehigh Valley LGBTQ+ Film Series, and the Saturday Night Anime Series. Collectively, these programs are capable of filling up any dedicated film buff’s calendar. They also highlight the Lehigh Valley’s investment in film culture, something further evidenced by the ongoing success of events like the Southside Film Festival and the Greater Lehigh Valley Filmmaker Festival. These curated series allow community members to gather around the movies that they love, forming connections with one another through the shared experience of rewatching a favorite film on the big screen or discovering a new work they never would have encountered. 

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