WORDS BY IRA BROOKER
Let’s talk schlock.
While lovers of schlock cinema—or, entertainment that’s so bad it’s good—readily acknowledge the ridiculousness of the dated special effects, ludicrous dialogue, and incomprehensible plotting that often typifies their genre of choice, they’ll also point to the exuberant rule-breaking, reckless energy, and authentic excitement about filmmaking that makes a true schlock classic endlessly rewatchable.
Maybe no genre of cinema is more closely intertwined with schlock than horror. For fans of this specific strain of horror movie, the only thing more exhilarating than sitting down on the couch to watch a bizarre old monster movie or forgotten slasher is getting to share that experience with a theater full of like-minded cinephiles. This October, the Twin Cities film community is giving them plenty of opportunities to indulge that urge.
Scream Queens, Classic Creeps, and an Extremely Haunted House
The venerable Trylon upholds its reputation for some of the most diverse programming on the local scene with an ambitious mix of familiar faces and under-heralded heroines. The tucked-away Longfellow screening room gives the lie to the notion that horror movies are all misogynist garbage with a “Scream Queens” program of old-school horror movies that put women front and center.
The series kicked off earlier this month with two gems from Italian icon Daliah Lavi and rolls on with double-features starring Jessica Harper (Dario Argento’s original 1977 Suspiria and Brian De Palma’s 1974 Phantom of the Paradise), Linnea Quigley (1985’s Return of the Living Dead and 1988’s Night of the Demons), and Jamie Lee Curtis (1981’s Road Games and 1980’s Prom Night). There’s not a loser in the bunch, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better encapsulation of what schlock fans were up to in the mid-’80s than the back-to-back dose of Linnea Quigley in a pair of gory, goofy, goopy standard-bearers of horror comedy.
The rest of Trylon’s busy October is fleshed out with deep cuts from all-time horror icon Boris Karloff, including 1945’s vampiric thriller Isle of the Dead, the ghostly revenge story The Man They Could Not Hang, and the nominal Edgar Allan Poe adaptation The Black Cat, one of several cinematic showdowns between Karloff and Bela Lugosi. One or both of those fellows might turn up again in an October 27 Universal Monsters double-feature. The exact films being screened are a secret, but they’ll be shown in rare 16mm prints.
And as usual at Trylon, the month wraps up with screenings of Nobuhiko Ôbayashi’s truly indescribable 1977 cult classic Hausu, a fever dream of a film that stands alone in the “Japanese schoolgirls vs. a wildly demented haunted house” genre. Trylon film programmer John Moret notes that Hausu “almost always has two or three sellouts,” so be advised to secure your seats early.
The Parkway is something of a jack-of-all-trades among Minneapolis theaters, hosting movies, music, comedy, and theater in a variety of combinations. That reputation holds true in October with a slate of classic horror films blended with other art forms. “We always pair our movies with some kind of other entertainment, whether it’s a live performance before the movie or trivia or something similar,” says Parkway co-owner Ward Johnson.
For the Halloween season, that means pairings like The Exorcist with open mic ghost stories, The Blair Witch Project with music by The Very Bad Days, and The Lost Boys with music by Al Church. There’s also a slate of family friendly Halloween fare like Coraline, Ghostbusters, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, plus a good old-fashioned midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, complete with audience participation. To cap things off, there’s a Halloween screening of Halloween featuring a Michael Myers cosplayer who roams the theater. The movies may be classics, but that type of William Castle-esque interactivity is straight out of the golden age of schlock.
Midnight Massacres and 3-D Thrills
In St. Paul, Grandview Theatre’s ongoing Rewind screening series is embracing the season with some serious slasher action. That includes 9:15 and midnight showings of Alfred Hitchcock’s original Psycho and Bernard Rose’s original Candyman, both genre classics in their own right. From a schlock fan’s perspective, though, the crown jewel of the Grandview program has to be Friday the 13th, Part 3 presented in all of its original 3D glory.
While even people who don’t care for horror movies recognize Jason Voorhees as a lumbering hulk with a hockey mask and a machete, horror buffs know he didn’t start out as the obscured face of the franchise. “In the first two films, there’s no Jason as we know him now,” says Grandview general manager Daniel Garritsen. “The unstoppable evil, near-indestructible force— that does not show up until the third movie.” This screening gives audiences a rare chance to watch the birth of an icon and flinch as his blade comes bursting off the screen in three dimensions. “It’ll be a really fun thing for audiences to pop out and get the old-school 3D experience,” says Garritsen.
Dalliance with Debauchery
If there’s one local brand indelibly affiliated with premium schlock, it’s Trash Film Debauchery. Theresa Kay’s showcase of cinematic detritus has been giving local audiences a walk on the weird side for nearly two decades—she’s undeniably the beloved dignitary of the Twin Cities bad movie movie scene—and her tradition carries on with October’s offering. 1993’s Champagne and Bullets is one of those inexplicable passion projects that cult cinema fans
would’ve passed around on VHS tapes a few decades ago, a bizarre mix of crooked cops, Satanic cults, and self-indulgence.
“This guy John de Hart made this film that he wrote, directed, stars in, does all the music, and everything else for,” Kay explains. “After it came out he re-edited it and re-released it under the title Road to Revenge. Then he did it again to cut out a lot of gratuitous sex scenes and violence and released it again as GetEven.” That’s the kind of weird dedication that marks a real cult classic, and the inclusion of reliable B-movie maniacs Wings Hauser and William Smith in the cast doesn’t hurt, either. Audiences get a rare chance to catch a big-screen showing of the original cut October 19 at Trylon.
Tim Holly is another name that looms large on the local schlock scene. As the brilliant curator of the always eclectic Tape Freaks surprise movie screening series, he’s been unearthing deep cuts for fans of dubious cinema for the past decade. One of his several current projects, Cinema of the Macabre, is drawing schlock-seekers to the Emagine in suburban Willow Creek, proving that cinematic weirdness is not just for city folk. Mixed into the theater’s October schedule alongside familiar titles like Beetlejuice, The Thing, and Candyman are some trashy treasures that are rarely screened with an audience.
“We’ve got a nice wide range of haunted houses and Bigfoots and monsters and witchcraft,” says Holly. That includes screenings of anti-classics like Michael and Roberta Findlay’s indescribable Yeti murder mystery Shriek of the Mutilated, the cult-favorite Lance Henriksen vehicle Pumpkinhead, and the Satanic Mexican slasher Grave Robbers. The macabreness culminates on Halloween with Halloween III: Season of the Witch, far and away the wildest entry in the franchise (and, arguably, the most purely entertaining).
Holly says capturing the spirit of the season was a key goal in programming this block. “Nobody else is probably going to play these, but they all have a bit of a fall vibe to them. A movie like Pumpkinhead—that one doesn’t ever really get screened, and it’s such a classic. It feels so fall and so perfect for this time of year.”
Holly also had a hand in programming an upcoming outdoor Halloween event at Utepils Brewing, featuring a screening of the Brat Pack vampire classic The Lost Boys alongside a market of seasonally appropriate vendors. Among those vendors is online retailer Cemetery Man Vintage, one of the Twin Cities’ largest repositories of movies and memorabilia for the discerning schlock-hound.
“We have VHS tapes, which is a huge thing with collectors, especially with horror films,” says Cemetery Man co-owner Tom Rostamo. “We have clothing, Halloween decorations, vintage masks and costumes, just about anything you can think of that’s kind of old, campy, or kitschy. A lot of it is vintage from the ’90s, ’80s, and ’70s, and we have some books and masks going back to the 1930s.” (Incidentally, schlock fans might presume the shop’s name comes from the Rupert
Everett cult classic Cemetery Man. It’s actually taken from a song written by Smith, but he says he and his wife/business partner Sandra are fans of the film.)
For those more inclined toward brick-and-mortar, Heroic Goods and Games on Minnehaha prides itself on being a one-stop schlock spot. Owner Paul Zenisek keeps the shelves stocked with the latest Blu-Ray releases from Vinegar Syndrome and Arrow Video, two of the biggest names in trash films and genre obscurities. To give you an idea of Heroic’s schlock bona fides, the store’s current best-sellers include 2013’s WNUF Halloween Special, a straight-faced indie horror parody that follows a TV host investigating a haunted house, and a restoration of 1994’s Tammy and the T-Rex, a gore comedy in which Denise Richards dates a robot dinosaur housing the brain of her dead boyfriend Paul Walker.
Heroic also does a brisk business in VHS tapes, but horror fans may need to be on their toes if they want to take home any choice titles. “VHS is booming bigger than ever right now,” Zenisek says. “Specifically, the horror section is small because I’m really good at selling them. They don’t last long. We get horror tapes in and they leave in hours these days. We’re always buying and selling VHS at a rate that I would never have expected.”
That broad array of Halloween activities should be evidence enough that the local schlock scene is thrumming along at a stronger clip than ever. Sure, some people might come out to these events with the intention of laughing at these movies and their outmoded sensibilities, but ironic appreciation only goes so far. The sheer breadth of schlock-adjacent screenings and merchandise on display here shows that there’s a healthy base of Twin Citians who live and breathe this stuff, and plenty of exhibitors and vendors who are delighted to be able to scratch that itch.
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