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Music Box Theatre not scared by pandemic

Chicagoland horror fans may have missed some of the fun frights that come with the month of October, but the Music Box Theatre figured out a way for audiences to enjoy some Halloween scares right in the comfort of their own car. The theatre recently ended its month-long horror movie marathon at Chitown Movies drive-in, which may become a forerunner for the future of the movie theatre industry.

The Music Box Theatre has a history of running a 24-hour horror movie marathon, screening hidden gems of horror, while also bringing together a diverse community of film aficionados. Due to the pandemic and the devastating losses theatres are experiencing, the Music Box Theatre shifted its indoor traditional marathon plans for this year’s 31 Nights of Terror film festival to ensure Chicago’s horror fans were able to enjoy some Halloween fun.

With current capacity restrictions only allowing 50 people inside, the theatre reached out to ChiTown Movies drive-in, located at 2343 S. Throop St. in Pilsen, to rent their space for this festival.

While most people in Chicago are practicing social distancing amid the pandemic, it has been difficult to find activities to enjoy from a safe distance.

To enforce social distancing, the general manager of the Music Box Theatre, Ryan Oestreich said the day before the show attendees received an email with the parking maps, rules for social distancing, mask requirements, concession and restroom information and their arrival time.

The theatre showed films every night all month long, with double features shown every weekend night, with a different theme for each showing like Grindhouse Fridays, Rip-Off Saturdays and Sequel Sundays. Some titles that were shown included – “Blacula,” “Carrie” and “The Omen.” Oestreich said Shudder, a ‘horror only’ streaming app that is owned by AMC Networks, sponsored the event.

“The ticket process was straightforward, you go online to, pick the showtime you would like, followed by a ticketing page which tells you how to pick your preferred spot,” Oestreich said.

The ticket pricing was dependent on whether individuals chose a single feature priced at $30 per car, or a double feature at $40 per car, with discounted tickets for Music Box members going for $25 per car for a single feature and $35 per car for a double feature.

People without cars interested in attending were still able to purchase tickets the same way on the Music Box Theatre’s website.

The theatre community may be able to take a cue from the Music Box Theatre as to how the movie theatre industry can survive after taking a beating during the pandemic.

“It’s been devastating — for most theatres, it’s just not practical to program indoor screenings and it doesn’t look like it’s about to get better in the future,” said Peter Hartel, associate professor in the Cinema and Television Arts department at Columbia College Chicago. “One can only hope these companies can somehow weather the storm.”

Hartel said the Music Box Theatre’s shift to a drive-in model was good, and anything that can be done safely with a communal experience is terrific. However, he added that we are coming into the winter season which lasts about five months, and this disallows these businesses to do anything that involves congregating groups of people. Because of this, Hartel predicts bad prospects for the theatre business in the coming months.

“People are motivated and often forget that our largest dollar volume industry within America after aerospace and defense is entertainment,” Hartel said, referring to his view on where theatres will go from here. “There’s a big financial incentive to figure out a way to innovate as far as creating and distributing content, but unfortunately, theatres aren’t in a very good position.”

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