by Brooke Hoffman, Contributor

In terms of horror films, 1997 had a few flicks that come back into the conversation from time to time like Anaconda, Event Horizon, Mimic, or I Know What You Did Last Summer. The year also brought us the second installment of Scream along with the fourth installment of Leprechaun. Only time really tells whether a film gets the cult following it deserves, and 17 years ago a group of friends from Jersey decided to take their love of horror, cult, and forgotten films to the big screen.

Exhumed Films aims to bring back the vibe of classic double features, drive-ins and everything that used to make going to the movies an experience. Their film programs include big classics like Evil Dead, anniversary double bills like the recent screening of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Dune, and of course the surprise discoveries shown at their 24 Hour Horror-thon, which is in its 8th year. Over the years they’ve been able to bring the cult masses hard-to-find prints and even some of their favorite writers and directors to the screenings.

Exhumed Films began their reign of terror at the now-closed Harwan Theatre in Mount Ephraim, NJ. The 70-year-old became the first of many homes for Exhumed Films’ unique screenings.

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“It had a ton of seating, a big old screen and looked like hell. It was really the perfection location. Sadly, it’s now a Walgreens,” explains founder Jesse Nelson.

Once the group finds a new theater, they seem to have a habit of closing. Nelson jokes, “It appears we have a bad track record of theaters.”

The group currently works with the very much still open International House in Philadelphia, University City. Through this partnership they’ve been able to continue their “signature event,” the 24 Hour Horror-thon.

The key to keeping Exhumed Films programming unique is providing their fans with a variety of films that will appeal to different levels of horror fans.

“We do like to show the classic films like Evil Dead and Zombie that always seem to bring out a crowd, but I think we are much happier showing oddball things that you might have missed,” says Nelson.

Their 24-hour horror and 12-hour exploitation marathon consist of a secret list of films. Just recently they held a forgotten film festival, which screened five films that have never even been on VHS in the US along with a print that was thought to be completely lost.

“You won’t always like everything, but we guarantee you will see something that you won’t forget.”

After 17 years of showing films, there are still a few flicks they are trying to track down. Apparently the 1986 horror comedy House and Hellraiser sequel Hellbound Heart has been missing for a while. Nelson explained they thought they had finally found the elusive Pinhead film, but the print turned out to be a Chuck Norris film of the same name. Sadly, they also won’t be screening the Peter Jackson favorite Dead Alive anytime soon due the prints being damaged.

The group has been able to lure a few cult celebrities to the screenings such as the infamous Bruce Campbell. While Campbell is known for making plenty of publicity appearances, Nelson found him to be one of the best guests, despite the evening’s obstacles.

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“He signed autographs literally all night and wouldn’t take any extra money from us. Plus the AC was broken in the theatre that night, but we still had almost 600 people show up for the midnight screening.”

As someone who has spent a good chunk of time devouring and sharing cult films, Nelson has seen the genre change over time. He notes VOD, DVD, and steaming services like Netflix have increased the accessibility of many films. Today it’s easier to find what Nelson calls the trinity of cult films Eraserhead, El Topo, and Rocky Horror Picture Show—in fact they all have been remastered and released on Blu-ray recently.

“This is the heyday of the nerd so I think it [cult film] has a lot different meaning than it once did. I can remember buying videotapes of movies copied from overseas video with no subtitles because there was no other way to see them, but these days it’s hard to miss a film. Once upon a time a cult film was a movie that had a rabid fan base, but it was a film that was not for everyone and likely a film that your co-worker had never heard of.”

While the films aren’t always that hard to find anymore, there is always a new fan who catches VH1’s Halloween screenings of Rocky Horror Picture Show at just the right time to make that jump to the left. There will always be someone who finds Dead Alive after binge watching The Lord of the Rings. And there will always someone ready to declare, “This is my Boomstick” for the first time.

Interested in learning about future events? Follow Exhumed Films on Facebook.

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