WHEN THE FOURSOME of horror buffs who would go on to become Exhumed Films screened its first double feature - the blood-drenched duo of "Zombie" (1979) and "Gates of Hell" (1980) - it was intended as little more than a Halloween celebration.

"We came up with the idea as a lark," Joseph Gervasi recalled of the films, directed by Italian goremeister Lucio Fulci, which were screened at a dilapidated New Jersey movie theater in 1997. "Like, 'Wouldn't it be cool if we could watch these movies on film? Maybe some people would come out to see them. What the hell, let's see what happens.' I think all of us were really surprised to get there and see that there was a really formidable line."

Ten years later, the group - Gervasi, Dan Fraga, Jesse Nelson and Harry Guerro - have realized the goal of doing shows every Halloween - and virtually every month in between.

They're celebrating that milestone with a show that will truly separate the diehards from the fair-weather fanatics: a full 24 hours of horror, at least 13 features interspersed with trailers and short films, running from noon Saturday to noon Sunday at International House.

The plan is to reserve the more extreme stuff for the late-night audience. The earlier part of the day will offer, if not exactly family-friendly fare, then at least films that, as Guerro said, "I wouldn't mind bringing my nephew to see."

The roster is being kept tightly under wraps, but unlike Exhumed's regular double- and triple-feature shows, which often team quality films with fun but less-than-classic B-pictures, the group is keeping in mind that 24 hours is a long time and promise to program accordingly.

"We want to show films that have a certain momentum," Guerro said. "We're all rabid horror films and we're not going to pick junk."

Jersey devilish

All now in their mid-30s, Fraga, Guerro and Nelson met while working together at an Audubon, N.J., video store, the ideal setting for lengthy discussions of cinematic trivia. Meanwhile, Gervasi was booking hard-core punk rock concerts with his brother and other friends.

All now in their mid-30s, Fraga, Guerro and Nelson met while working together at an Audubon, N.J., video store, the ideal setting for lengthy discussions of cinematic trivia. Meanwhile, Gervasi was booking hard-core punk rock concerts with his brother and other friends.

They all came together through the Harwan Theater in Mt. Ephraim, N.J., which later became Exhumed's first home.

Gervasi was presenting Saturday afternoon punk shows and would cross paths with Fraga, who performed as part of the cast at Saturday night "Rocky Horror Picture Show" screenings.

The group went public in 1997 when Gervasi gave up on the frustrations of booking music. "I was getting tired of dealing with all the bands and the people at the shows," he said, "and since I had such a strong interest in film, it seemed like a good idea to do something with that, but on the same grass-roots, community-based level as the music shows."

After the success of that first show, other opportunities quickly arose; their third show was a screening of "Friday the 13th Part 3-D," for which they relocated to Philly's now-defunct GCC Northeast theater. It had the silver screen essential to the 3-D process.

The film sold out, with about 100 people being turned away. It was at this point, realizing that these programs were becoming regular and sustainable, that they christened themselves Exhumed Films.

They ended up hosting nine shows in 1998 and have been going strong ever since, presenting monthly double features, retooled this year to bimonthly triple features. International House, which has been home to Exhumed since April 2005, is their fourth regular theater and their first outside of New Jersey.

Oh, the horror!

The move to Philadelphia has led to a certain slackening of turn-out, despite - or, perhaps, because of - being located in Center City, where there's far more competition.

The move to Philadelphia has led to a certain slackening of turn-out, despite - or, perhaps, because of - being located in Center City, where there's far more competition.

"There used to be a time where we could show anything and people would come out as long as it had blood in it," Guerro said. "Mothers would drop off their young daughters in their pajamas with pillowcases, and they would come in and watch 'Cannibal Ferox.' Now, we have to fight tooth and nail to get an audience."

One reliable audience member throughout has been Nick Lombardo, who attended that first show in '97 and claims to have missed no more than four or five shows since. Exhumed gets some of the credit for helping him win his future wife's heart.

"Nikki was on the fence when I first started pursuing her," Lombardo explained, "so on our first date I took her to a double feature of 'Tourist Trap' and 'Motel Hell.' You can't beat that as a first date. She must have felt the same way, since now we're married."

Stories like that, Gervasi said, explain how Exhumed has managed to stay afloat.

"One of the things that has sustained us is this sense of community we've tried to bring into the events," he said. "Most normal film screenings aren't particularly interactive. We tend to draw people back, not only because they want to see the films and have the experience, but they want to see all these other people they don't often get to see."

If we like it,

they will come

Throughout their tenure, Fraga said, their programming has largely stemmed from their own roles as fans, though concessions do have to be made.

Throughout their tenure, Fraga said, their programming has largely stemmed from their own roles as fans, though concessions do have to be made.

"This sounds conceited, but it's always been for ourselves. 'What do we want to watch that we haven't been able to see on the big screen?'

"But after 10 years of that, there are very few big titles that we haven't seen. So now it's 'What obscurity can we find that would be cool to show, and what bigger movie can we pair it with?' I'd rather shoot myself than watch 'Evil Dead 2' again, but if we show 'Evil Dead 2,' then people will come out for it, but then we can show them something else that they've never seen."

That nostalgic approach can sometimes backfire.

"A lot of times, we'll go back and watch these movies and can't believe that we ever liked them," Nelson said. "I remember we showed 'Curtains,' which I liked as a kid, but when we had it on screen I was like, 'Oh, my God, this movie is dreadful. We're going to turn people away.' "

The end is always near

It's uncertain how long Exhumed Films will continue.

It's uncertain how long Exhumed Films will continue.

Besides presenting films, Gervasi and Nelson run Diabolik DVD, which imports rare titles from around the world. Gervasi also presents events on his own, often pairing film and live music.

On Sunday at New York's Museum of Modern Art, he'll offer "The Valerie Project" - a screening of the surrealist 1970 Czech oddity, "Valerie and Her Week of Wonders," with a live score by local composer Greg Weeks.

The group is looking forward to exposing a new generation of filmgoers to the experience of seeing these films on a theater screen, which is becoming increasingly rare.

"We're at the point now where Jesse and I are both married and have kids," said Fraga. "And having done this for 10 years, my son is 5 now and he's old enough that for the October show, there's at least a few things we can do that are monster movies that you could take a 5-year-old kid to.

"To turn around and say to my son, 'Here's a cool monster movie, but on the big screen that you would never see anywhere else' - to me is one of the greatest things that's come out of this." *

Exhumed Films Presents 24 Hour Horror-thon, International House, 3701 Chestnut St., noon Saturday to noon Sunday, $20, 215-387-5125, www.ihousephilly.org.