I didn’t used to be very busy. Then I graduated a film major and had to start doing something real, so that probably explains a lot. One thing I used to be able to do, before I was taking challenging, time-consuming classes during weeknights and doing homework along with trying to find time for my own writing on the weekends, was go to the cinema. Most of last year (which saw an influx of tougher English classes and more rigorous girl interruptions) I was lazy and went to the multiplex closest to me. A multiplex that never ran good films and mostly never hooked up the sound and picture well on their crappy films. If I wanted to watch obscure or independent films I watched them on DVD. But the time before that, that was the golden era of Boston’s independent theaters and I.
For my first couple of years in the area I was a card-carrying member of the Coolidge Corner Theatre (no really, they give you a card when you sign up) and frequently attended special events at The Brattle in Cambridge. Not only did I get to see some incredible first run movies that I would have had to wait for disc if I were not in such a great area (95% of the country is stuck with Shrek 4 while we get Let The Right One In and No Country for Old Men in their limited runs) but I also got to see some really strange films that most people never have the chance to see projected (three or four years ago I saw a double bill of Shanty Tramp and Troll 2 at the Brattle).
So when I heard that The Brattle was going to be hosting a series of films curated by Lars Nilsen of the Alamo Drafthouse, I was flung into a fit of deep dark depression and self loathing when I came to terms with the fact that I probably wasn’t going to make any of the films. Then I looked at the lineup and did the modern day equivalent to swearing an oath to Oden: I swore on behalf of Michael Caine that I would attend at least part of this series.
Tonight, Saturday, was the night I picked to attend (and when I say “picked” I mean “only night I could attend”). That’s when things got messy. I had told my best friend (awwww) that I would go out to dinner with him, his girlfriend, our friends and his family. Remembering this late Friday, I begin to sweat bullets. When will dinner be? Where? Will I miss a film? Two?
Lucky for me, dinner was scheduled for 6 (the first film started at 8) and the restaurant decided on was half way to the theater anyway. Afterwords the adults went back to their hotel and the rest of the kids (a misnomer at this point, we’re grown humans) decided to go to Cambridge to bowl at one of our favorite hangouts (Lanes and Games, an amazing time-capsule of a place: complete with wood paneling, carpeting on the walls and Ms. Pacman). I took the train with them, where they preceded to try and convince me to go bowling instead. I was having none of it. My resolve would not be weakened. I’d gone to (many)films alone before, and I’d do it again.
Long story short, I plopped myself down into my seat right as Lars Nilsen was taking the stage to introduce our first film, The Velvet Vampire. Nilsen is a great speaker, and his affinity for obscure, neglected and maligned genre films is downright inspiring. I don’t know if the majority of the audience knew what they were in for, but I think after some of the initial shock value wore off that the virtues of the films were not lost on the crowd.
Director Stephanie Rothman’s The Velvet Vampire (1971) was completely unknown to me going into it, and after watching it I’m baffled as to why it hasn’t attained at least a smidgen of a cult following. It’s a neat pre-Near Dark “vampires in the desert” flick that relocates the Dracula story to America and changes the sex of the vampire. Starring Michael Blodgett(who played the gold-digging Lance in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) and Celeste Yarnall as the seductress bloodsucker Diane. Velvet is good dirty fun and Rothman conjures some great images despite the movie getting quite slow and silly sometimes.
Second up was Jean Rollin’s third film Shiver of the Vampire (1971). I’m mildly familiar with Rollin’s work, and my interest in seeing this film was the driving force in attending this screening. It was totally worth it. Shiver is a psyched out artfilm in sheep’s clothing. Expecting the unexpected is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Rollin (well, that and naked French girls). Seeing this film projected in 35 mm (imperfections and all) probably made the most difference on the big screen vs. the small crappy one.
Rounding out the night was a 12 am showing of Lady Terminator. Nilsen prefaced the film by saying (hope I don’t misquote him too badly): “I genuinely believe that those first two films were legitimately good films. I see them as personal artistic statements smuggled into the system under the camouflage of genre films. Lady Terminator is not like that.”
And so begins an hour and a half of the most amazing world cinema I’ve ever seen. Conceived as Indonesia’s answer to James Cameron’s film, Lady Terminator is a mishmash of laughable dialogue, insane plot developments (instead of being from the future, this “Terminator” is created by a magic eel that slithers into her vagina!), and jaw dropping stunts and special effects. There are several winning scenes that make this one worth tracking down (I believe it’s out on disc from Mondo Macabro, which makes it even weirder that I have not seen it/don’t own it) but the best is probably Lady Terminator’s rampage through the police station. It’s a ten minute long squib-fest that culminates in the un-manning of an elderly gentleman using a machine gun.
The moral of the story of my night is: friends are great, but Lady Terminator is better.
Well, that was my night. Thank you Lars Nilsen for picking such great films and thank you to The Brattle theater for being an amazing venue. I resolve to be a better patron and show up more often.