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Dismember the Alamo 2015

For a few years now, I've been lucky enough to live sufficiently close to an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema so that I don't have to get on an airplane or drive for several hours to get there. The theater in Yonkers, though, still takes around 2 hours (one way) to get to, and that Brooklyn location needs to hurry up. Since a trip to Alamo Yonkers and back can take up to five hours (more, if you have to get back late at night), I tend to reserve trips up there for special events -- AGFA screenings of movies I would never be able to see otherwise, usually, and multi-film events like Van Dammage and Dismember the Alamo.

Last year's Dismember the Alamo was super-rad -- Night of the Creeps, Basket Case, Demons 2, and Society were our films -- and I was very happy that they decided to do it again this year. I was also excited that it was happening on Halloween night, as I rarely get to do much celebrating on the actual day anymore. I'd had my ticket for around six weeks, and my only worry was that, with all the horror movie watching I'd been doing this month, I would have seen one or more of the films in the past few weeks/days. I should learn to have more faith in the Yonkers programmer.

The three-leg train/bus ride got me *almost* all the way through the 70s section of my ridiculous Musical Theater Mega-Mix. Liza was singing "City Lights" into my ears as I picked up my ticket, and I found my way to my pre-picked seat (close to dead center of the theater). On the tables, in front of each seat, were vials of "Ghost Boogers," which are basically neon yellow Nerds, and there were some specialty menu items. As always, there was stuff playing on the screen, and the stand-out was definitely the "Mummy Rap" from a movie with Billy Dee Williams called Secret Agent OO Soul (click here, if you're curious).

The programmers did an introductory schpiel, but they didn't tell us what our first movie was (or any of the movies, for that matter). It was the same way last year, and I kind of loved that they just let us find out when the title appeared on the screen. After a couple of trailers - for The Seventh Sign and Something Wicked This Way Comes - our first feature started.

dta-ladyinwhite.jpg
The Lady in White (1988)

This had been in my Netflix queue for a while, and I was happy to see it for the first time like this, but it was probably the weak point of the evening for me. Not to say that it was bad, because I ended up liking it a lot.  But it was a little long and felt really slow, and it didn't even feel like a horror movie until the last 10 or 15 minutes.  I'm very surprised to see that this film originally received an R rating (until it was taken down to PG-13 on appeal).  Even PG-13 seems a bit harsh, but there is a *little* language and I think a single mention of child molestation.  I mention the ratings because it feels very much like a family movie and it reminded me a lot, tone wise and level-of-horror wise, of Something Wicked This Way Comes.

The movie starts a few minutes before it should, frankly, as there's a completely unnecessary "present day" opening that seems only to be there so that there's something for the credits to run over.  Most of the movie takes place in the early 1960s, and the basic story is that our young hero, Frankie, is nearly killed by a person who has molested and killed ten other children over the past decade.  He survives, but he has repeated visions of a little girl who was the killer's first victim, and he's trying to solve the mystery of who was behind the murders.  The police have the janitor in custody -- surprise, it's a black man, and nearly all the community (except Frankie's father) assume he's guilty.  This part of the story felt eerily timely, and is exactly the sort of thing that would have happened in a small town at that time, but the movie might have been better (and certainly would have been shorter) without it.  (The resolution of this particular plot also infuriated me pretty hard.)

I was sad to have guessed almost immediately who the killer was (basically from the actor's placement in the credits, relative to how long it takes us to meet their character), but I'm glad I saw this.  I can see why it's an underrated favorite for a lot of people.  It also has some great actors in it.  Lukas Haas (aka the kid from Witness), Len Cariou (Broadway's original Sweeney Todd, also a West Wing guest star), Alex Rocco (Moe Greene from The Godfather) playing a much different role than I was used to, and Catherine Helmond (Mona from Who's the Boss?) as the eponymous Lady in White.  In a smaller role, there was another West Wing alum -- Tom Bower (General Barrie, who calls CJ "kitten" in "And It's Surely to Their Credit") as the local sheriff.  Weirdly (or ... you know, not), Bower's and Cariou's TWW episodes are back to back.

I guess it sounds like I'm down on this movie, but I do see why it's a childhood favorite of a lot of horor fans.  It has what is a popular conflict in horror movies -- the child who sees something that other people don't and can't get the adults to believe him.  It also has one of my favorite tropes -- essentially the Boo Radley role -- where the character everyone (or at least all the kids) is afraid of turns out to be misunderstood, sometimes has a tragic backstory, and actually tries to help.

Good movie. Would watch again. But not my favorite of the night.

**********

Before our next feature we had a costume contest, and there were about 40 people who participated.  The best costumes by far were the woman who dressed as Zed from Zardoz and the couple who came as Detective Mills and What's-In-The-Box?!?!?! from Seven (the latter of which was the clear audience fave).

After a couple more trailers - Seed of Chucky and Firestarter - we saw the only film of the night that I'd seen before.


The Funhouse (1981)

I wrote about this movie here back in 2010, so I won't rehash too much, but this was something I was happy to see on a big screen in 35mm.  I had forgotten how awesome this film's score is, and I love that people applauded for William Finley's name in the credits.  This movie didn't wow me as much as it did a few years ago, but it's kind of like if you ride a roller coaster or you go through some funhouse attraction and you love it and have a great time and tell everyone you know about it ... but then you ride it or experience it again a few years later and the shine has worn off.  That's kind of what this felt like to me.  I still have to give props to Tobe Hooper for nailing the creepy, skeazy traveling carnival vibe, though.  And weirdly, Elizabeth Berridge's super-flare-y sleeves were less intense on the big screen (also, on film it becomes apparent that it is *not* chambray, as I'd formerly thought, which makes me feel slightly less bad about her fashion choices).

**********

For our third film, we were told that were going to outer space.  The programmers encouraged us to shout our guesses, confident that we weren't going to guess the actual film.  I shouted out Lifeforce before I remembered that that is also a Tobe Hooper film and we were unlikely to get double the Hooper in one night.

Two trailers later (Star Crash and Humanoids from the Deep) and we clapped eyes on...


Mutant (1982)

I'm pretty sure I don't want to see this again, but this was a fun experience and certainly the most grotesque offering of the night.  This was produced by Roger Corman and for some reason was ultimately released under the title Forbidden World (which is like 1000 percent less plot-relevant as a title than "Mutant").  One of the multitude of Alien rip-offs, this one centers on a professional space "troubleshooter," who is sent to a research station on a desert-like panet.  The research team has been looking into ways to solve a galaxy-wide food shortage.  They have all these animal specimens in their lab, but one of these specimens has escaped its cage and killed all the other test specimens they had.  Eventually it is revealed that this deadly specimen is a hybrid of human DNA and a synthetic DNA strain that has tremendous growth speed (because they're trying to grow food as quickly as possible).  The creature mutates again and again throughout the movie, and when it kills a human it injects them with the synthetic DNA which removes all the differences between their cells, transforming them into a jello mold from hell which then becomes the creatures food source.

Something I loved about this movie is that, after an unimpressive first couple of minutes, the movie gives us a quick and dirty glimpse of the rest of the movie, as if to say "hang in there, folks - I know it's kind of boring right now, but keep watching and you'll see blood and horror and sex and boobies!"  Oh yes, bee-tee-dubs, this movie is objectifying as heck.  There are two female research assistants (ladies don't get to be real scientists in the future, I guess), and they both wear these ridiculous clear plastic high-heeled shoes, which are super impractical and very likey unsafe in the conditions they have to work in.  The movie also gives us ample shots of their posteriors and wastes no time in getting them naked.  One of them delivers every line, even if it's scientific data, like a come-on.  And of course our hero gets freaky with both of them.

This movie is very entertaining, though.  I love that the solution is to give the creature cancer and let it replicate the hell out of those cells, killing itself from the inside in mere moments.  The synth music is also hilarious (especially the strange vocals), and at the end of the movie someone started the slow clap to it and I was instantly transported to the legendary BNAT screening of Kick-Ass, where we did the same to "November Rain."  I didn't recognize any of the cast except for Michael Bowen (who most people now probably know best as Jack, Todd's murdering psychopath uncle in Breaking Bad, but will always be Buck from Kill Bill to me).  I'd just recently seen him in Night of the Comet, which he was in two years after this, and it's nice to see him as a cute, relatively normal guy.

This also had some hilariously great dialogue.  The word "dingwhopper" was thrown around quite a bit.  My seat neighbor really loved the line "can't tell a gene from a jellybean."  And our programmer wants to make t-shirts that say "Can we coexist? Please stand by."  (The scene with that last line, by the way, is probably the best in the film and is one of the few moments of genuine non-ironic tension.)

**********

For our final film of the night, I knew there was no way they were going to top last years closer, Society, but I was still happy with this year's final film.  What I loved the most about the whole lineup is that these aren't films that have had screenings really anywhere in recent years, even at other Drafthouse locations.  So these were unique experiences (I almost typed "very unique," but then President Bartlet's voice rang in my ear reminding me that unique means "one of a kind," so something cannot be "very unique").  These were not films that I would necessarily have sought out, and the one film that I'd seen before had been a few years ago and even seeing that on a movie screen was a rare opportunity.

I just love the Drafthouse, you guys, and the Yonkers programmer is excellent.

Anyway, it was time for the last film, preceded by two more trailers (The Good Son and The Howling).  Applause for baby Elijah Wood and still-in-his-heyday Macaulay Culkin in TGS.  Nice tie-in for Dee Wallace Stone in the feature with The Howling.


Popcorn (1991)

"There's more social relevance in Police Academy 5 than in all of Ingmar Bergman's cinematic smorgasbord." - an actual line in this movie that got the biggest applause of the night.

I was all ready to say that, like last year, all our films were 1980s movies, but this is from 1991.  That being said, everyone who was alive at the time knows that 1991 was still basically the 80s.  This came out at a time when the slasher movie was pretty much dead, but Scream and its self-aware send-up of the genre was still a few years away. Popcorn may have, in fact, been a subtle inspiration for Scream and feels very much like its campy older sister.

This was definitely my favorite of the night.  Probably the movie geekery puts it over the top.  I think I may even like this more than Scream (yeah, I said it).  I vividly remember seeing the box art for this movie at many a video rental store.  And even though this is not quite as gobsmackingly awesome as Socety, it had a similar late 80s/early 90s sheen that reminded me of it.  The movie's main character is Maggie (Jill Schoelen, who played the daughter in The Stepfather), a film student and aspiring screenwriter. She's been having strange dreams which, when she wakes from them, she describes in as much detail as she can into her tape recorder, planning to eventually turn these thoughts into a screenplay.  Meanwhile, her film studies class is putting on a fundraiser to keep their course going -- a B-movie festival, with loads of William Castle gimmicks and tie-ins -- and that's where the second half of the movie takes place.

After setting up and decorating the theater (complete with a MONTAGE), thanks to items donated by a guy (played by Ray Walston) who runs a film memorabilia shop, they find among his boxes a film canister marked "DO NOT OPEN."  This being the kind of movie it is, OF COURSE they open it, and what's inside is a short reel of film which they decide to screen.  It's kind of an avant garde thing, with long close-ups of an eye and mouth, but parts of it are scarily similar to the dreams Maggie has been having.  Their instructor explains that the film was made fifteen years before by a guy named Lanyard Gates, who, at the film's only screening, killed his own family in a live performance of the end of the movie, and set the theater on fire.  (This drew a lot of laughter from the audience, because dude, surely an event of that magnitude would have been all over the news and a story that everybody already knew about, ESPECIALLY PEOPLE WHO ARE SUPPOSED TO KNOW A LOT ABOUT MOVIES AND FILM HISTORY - why does their professor have to explain this to them?! I mean, besides for the audience's benefit.)

During the film festival, strange things keep happening and people start dying, and Maggie becomes convinced that Lanyard is there (his body had never been conclusively identified, so there's a chance he might still be alive).  I'm not sure why this film festival was supposed to have drawn him out, but not only does Maggie suspect that he's behind the strange occurences and wants another chance to finish his movie, she also realizes that her dreams are not actually dreams, but memories, and that she is in fact Lanyard's daughter Sarah.

Two things make this movie a stand-out for me.  First, the fake movies.  The film festival consists of three B-movies that are sort of spoofs of real movies, and we get to see a good bit of them.  They also set up a lot of William Castle-esque stunts for the in-movie audience, like a giant mosquito that flies over the audience, and seats rigged to "shock" audience members (and of course having people sign waivers, in case they "die of fright" during the movie).  The other thing that makes this a stand-out is a truly great performance by the late Tom Villard, one of the few actors who was openly gay in the early 1990s and who died of AIDS in 1994.  I mainly know him as cuter-but-dumber Stork Brother in One Crazy Summer (a movie I have watched more times than I'd like to admit), and he was the hippie guy in Vada's poetry class in My Girl.

Fun fact: This movie was shot entirely in Jamaica, which explains why there is a Jamaican reggae band that plays at a few points in the movie.  (I also recall that reggae was kind of a Thing in the late 80s/early 90s.)  It doesn't, however, explain how they were able to play electronic instruments during a power outage.

Speaking of inexplicable, there's a moment where Dee Wallace Stone's character walks up to the theater after hours and the letters on the marquee inexplicably start flying off.  No person or entity in this movie has supernatural powers, so I'm not sure what that was about.  Was she dreaming?  The movie did have a lot of development problems, so maybe there was originally supposed to be more to this that just never got filmed.

**********

Great night, and a great way to spend Halloween.

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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
mrs_bombadil
Nov. 2nd, 2015 07:48 pm (UTC)
Did you apply for BNAT17? And, if so, will you pretty please be sharing your application?
connielane
Nov. 2nd, 2015 11:12 pm (UTC)
No BNAT for me this year. There's just no way for me to do it. I started writing answers the questions anyway, just because it's always a fun questionnaire, but I didn't finish. It kills me that I didn't get to do the pic/video submissions, because they were both based on Phantom of the Paradise, which I love.

I *am* doing a "MeNAT" at home, though.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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