BUFFALO ‘66: Desperate times call for magical style

|Ann Romine|

Five minutes into Buffalo ‘66, Billy Brown needs to find a bathroom. To remedy this situation, he decides to return to the prison from which he was just released, a move that immediately characterizes the film’s protagonist as a lost soul. 

On a winter day in Buffalo, New York, a misty glow emanates from the overcast sky while high contrast reveals saturated colors. This scene provides the setting for Buffalo ‘66. Shot on reversal 35mm film, the effect in Vincent Gallo’s 1998 movie––both vintage and other-wordly––blurs the line between Billy’s internal struggle and his external reality. Although we can deduce the story takes place during the mid to late 1990s, the film’s sets and costumes obscure the time period in Buffalo ‘66; for example, a 1960s radio and dial phone sit on a motel nightstand, lending a dreamlike atmosphere to this darkly comic melodrama. 

The film’s narrative poses a central question: why does Billy Brown bet on the Buffalo Bills to win Super Bowl XXV, knowing the consequences of losing? Resigning himself to the reality of his situation, Billy admits, “I’m fucked. And I’m dead.”  The bet is an act of desperation rivalled only by his attempt to reconnect with his emotionally unavailable parents.

His desperation is revealed in a tableau-style dinner scene, where the recently kidnapped Layla (Christina Ricci) shines with sharp wit as Billy’s new “wife,”  inventing the tale of Billy’s success in the CIA and the story of how the young couple fell in love. Magically lit in a shimmering blue dress, Layla is a light that illuminates the dark oblivion of Billy’s home. Jan Brown’s (Angelica Huston) hilarious fanaticism for the Buffalo Bills (their home is a virtual shrine) raises  the tension of the homecoming scene while Jimmy Brown’s (Ben Gazarra) torch-light-song sung in spotlight adds an element of surrealism.

Almost an exaggeration of bully, Billy’s behavior toward both Layla and his friend Rocky (aka Goon) is cruel and abusive, but not surprising. What really stands out is how they respond to him. Layla observes Billy’s behavior and reacts to his controlling anger, but never with fear or feelings of subjugation. Staying true to herself, Layla seems to function as a mirror for Billy; her character allows the protagonist to see himself and his value.

Resisting Billy’s aggressive demands, Rocky protests when Billy calls him Goon: “I don’t want people to call me that no more, even you,” he asserts, as he refuses to help Billy locate the Bills’ kicker who missed the winning field goal, Scott Wood. “You shouldn’t go down there,” Rocky advises, “don’t go down there. Don’t do bad things.” 

In contrast, the bowling alley scene provides slow motion close ups of Billy and Layla as they settle in, creating a meditative feel and depicting a shift in the film’s mood. The feel-good scene shows Billy and Layla performing in turns––Billy, “The King,” bowls strike after strike, and Layla performs an iconic tap dance to the sad sexy song “Moonchild” by King Crimson. 

Toward the end of the film, the slow-motion and freeze-frame shots (which precede similar techniques used in The Matrix) at Scott Wood’s strip club build stylized suspense, intensified by the driving sounds of “Heart of the Sunrise” by Yes. Confronted with his ultimate dilemma, Billy’s vision of his potential future is imagined in a Dickensesque way, and he  virtually explodes with emotion in the final throes.
In the end, Billy seems to take to heart the message from the billboard towering over the bowling alley parking lot, and it’s hard not to be happy for him.

Buffalo ’66 screens at Trylon on Thursday, November 7 as part of the Volunteer Programmer’s series. The film was programmed by Ann Romine, Trylon volunteer since 2009. Find details and more info about the screening on our website.

Why Charles Burnett Turned His Back On Blaxploitation: An Interview with the Filmmaker

|Todd Melby|

Working freelance doesn’t pay much, but it does afford one time. A couple of years ago, I used my ample time to create a film podcast. I titled it The Drunk Projectionist. The name sounds cool, but when it comes to movies, I’m quite sober. My movie pod hustle resulted in seven episodes, including an in-depth interview with Charles Burnett, the African-American director of Killer of Sheep, screening on 35mm to open the Trylon’s CHARLES BURNETT’S WATTS series on Nov. 3.

I saw Killer of Sheep during its commercial, art house release. Its images of children playing underneath railroad cars, jumping between buildings, riding bicycles and hanging around adults fixing sinks took my breath away. Everything felt so real. That’s because it was a reflection of Burnett’s life. Unlike his white University of Southern California classmates, Burnett grew up in Watts. While they fretted about labor unions and sexual revolution, Burnett turned his camera on his neighborhood, spending weekends filming the story of Stan, a slaughterhouse worker struggling with depression, his children and his wife.

Frustrated by money problems, Stan finds respite in moments of simple beauty: the warmth of a teacup against his cheek, slow dancing with his wife, holding his daughter. The film offers no solutions; it merely presents life — sometimes hauntingly bleak, sometimes filled with transcendent joy and gentle humor.

Critic Terrence Rafferty of GQ called Killer of Sheep “one of the most striking debuts in movie history.” The film was shot in roughly a year of weekends on a budget of less than $10,000, paid for partially by a $3,000 grant, and also out of the pocket of Burnett himself. Shot on location, the film offers an episodic narrative with gritty documentary-style cinematography. Killer of Sheep won the critic’s prize at the 1981 Berlin Film Festival and was named to the U.S. Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 1990.

According to Sally Hubbard, who wrote the program notes to the film at the 10th Festival of Preservation, “Killer of Sheep was almost impossible to see for many years, and was available only on poor quality 16mm prints. This 35mm restoration was made from the deteriorated original 16mm negative, and 16mm and 35mm soundtracks.”

— Todd Melby is a Trylon volunteer. He’s writing a book about Fargo, the 1996 Coen Brothers movie. Learn more about his interpretation of Fargo here.

See the entire schedule for the Trylon’s CHARLES BURNETT’S WATTS series here.

“It’s Lonely Being a Cannibal” – RAVENOUS is a Forgotten Gem

Artwork by Betsy Midnight and Justin Midnight

|Betsy Midnight|

Flash yourself back to 1999: the shiny Clinton years had fully dissolved into scandal, boy bands couldn’t be stopped, The Matrix came out, and everyone started wearing pleather trench coats with their platform flip-flops. Into this kooky transitional period in American culture, Ravenous––a surprisingly artsy, horror Western––poofed into theaters with a smirk. Sadly, no one noticed. Looking back, it was really the wrong time for this movie to come out. But in the 20 years since its release, the film’s unique combination of gore, suspense, and humor––with an eyebrow raised to the macabre underbelly of the human condition and a decisively stylistic flourish––has established a cult following that has grown slowly but with real commitment.

The film centers on the mythological Wendigo, a cannibalistic monster of insatiable hunger, and it is wrapped in the grimy filth and fear of the isolated fringes of the American West in the 1840s. This setting, right in the middle of the bloody Manifest Destiny massacre century, yet still a full 20 years before the Civil War, calls to mind Heart of Darkness as it plunges deep into a moment in American history that was already soaked in wildness and violence, a time that was getting darker and more gruesome by the day. It’s a perfect moment in history for a cannibal tale, laced with both the desperation of The Donner Party and the grotesque giddiness of Delicatessen. 

Far from the standard hero of the American Western, all guts and adventure and justice, our protagonist in Ravenous is a coward. We know little about Lieutenant Boyd (Guy Pearce) other than that he earned his exile because he decided to lay down in the dirt and pretend to be dead rather than fight alongside his dying comrades in the Mexican-American war. This isn’t a one-time thing with Boyd either. This isn’t a story about a coward who goes through a bunch of challenges and discovers his courage. Boyd is a scared guy, through and through, who is backed into a corner with a bunch of superhuman cannibals at the edge of the wilderness, trying to figure out how to survive. He is a man of few words who spends much of the film mumbling, staring into space, or cowering; at one point, he even gets so scared he jumps off a cliff! By contrast, Robert Carlyle’s Colqhoun is spritely and spirited, with a steady gaze, polished demeanor, and predatorial physicality. He clearly has every advantage in this showdown, and when his appetites flicker like candle-lit shadows over his features from time to time, it is genuinely frightening.

Though the conflict between the two main characters is strong, the fascinating strangeness of the filmis so much bigger than strong performances from its lead actors. As a whole, the movie feels like an accidental combination of very distinct but unrelated choices, likely thanks to studio mismanagement and creative team drama going on behind the scenes. The result should be disastrous or sloppy or incoherent––but miraculously, it works. The whole that these disparate parts create is cohesive and tight. For example, the film’s prologue––which quotes Nietzsche and “Eat me,” or the memorable first scene in which dozens of soldiers chow down on bloody steaks––blends the production value of a Hollywood historical drama with a dissociative mix of sound and visuals, similar to what you might find in an experimental or avant-garde film.

Perhaps the best example of this mash-up magic, however, is the film’s remarkable score, which combines the talents of two accomplished composers: Michael Nyman, famous for the emotionally sweeping orchestrals for films such as The Piano and Gattaca, and Damon Albarn, front-man of the Brit-pop band, Blur and principal songwriter for electronic/hip-hop animated band, Gorillaz.Throughout the film, a mystical motif of twangy, sparse sparks of plucked strings twinkles over layers of melodically dissonant flutes and compressed rhythms that pulse like a squeezebox filtered through a paper towel tube. This starting point flows just as easily into a goofy, Southern-style jig reminiscent of Yakety Sax as it does into the strained, tense strings of a traditional horror-suspense climax. Ravenous does both of these moves, and then it re-centers itself with a pulsing, methodical drone punctuated by twangy sparks to keep it grounded in the film’s 19th century setting. Albarn’s pop music acuity mixes with Nyman’s grandly sweeping cinematic instincts to produce an effect that is firmly planted in both Hollywood big-budget filmmaking trends and weirdo arthouse experimentation at the same time.

Thanks to a playful script and decisive direction, Ravenous skillfully nudges us to consider the allegorical implications of the hungry monster at its center without doing too much of the thinking on our behalf. Interestingly, Wendigo Psychosis is a real modern medical term grown from the myth, used to describe a condition in which a person has (and in some cases, acts on) an intense desire to murder people and eat them. Records of confirmed cases go back hundreds of years. Anthropologists and psychologists argued about whether this condition was a factual, historical phenomenon or a fabrication as recently as the 1980s. Hopefully they’ve put that argument to bed by now: whether or not you have human meat between your teeth, our species’ inclination to destroy others to feed individual appetites is definitely real. Heck, America was practically built on the idea.

Ravenous is in the same movie family as:

  • Dead Man
  • Anthropophagous
  • Deliverance
  • The Road
  • Delicatessen

… and is playing at the Trylon from October 25 to October 27. Tickets and more information are available at trylon.org.

Edited by Michelle Baroody

A Geographer’s Guide to the Hills

|Finn Odum|

Movies are nothing without their environments. A location can dictate a film’s context, its characters’ values, and the movie’s tone. As a geographer, I’m trained to see the world in terms of place. I ask questions such as, how do people come together and interact in this space? What power dynamics are in play in this location? These questions are applicable in film analysis too, where setting functions within a genre. Horror movies rely on location as one of the genre’s conventions; a specific setting informs audiences of what’s going to occur, based on the setting’s atmosphere and past trends in film.

A cabin in the woods transforms into a bloody battleground in Friday the 13th and The Evil Dead. An unsuspecting city morphs into a monster’s stomping grounds in Godzilla and Cloverfield. And then there’s one of the most recognizable horror settings: a house in suburbia. Psychotic killers haunt the home space in Halloween and Black Christmas, along with pretty much every other mainstream slasher film.

Some of the most well known slashers come from the mind of director Wes Craven. The majority of his movies take place in cities or suburbs. A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream both insert dangerous serial killers into suburbia, while his first work, The Last House on the Left, is a gory look at a suburban family’s revenge on their daughter’s murderer. This makes The Hills Have Eyes an anomaly in Craven’s filmography. The brutal 1977 cannibal film unfolds in the desert of Nevada, a far cry from the paved roads of his former films.

Unlike Craven’s other films, the audience doesn’t get the warm comfort of a home at the start of Hills. At the beginning, the director treats viewers to a wide panning shot of the titular hills. Don Peake’s opening score fills the vast desert with foreboding piano notes and coyote howls. When we finally get a sign of civilization, it’s not a picture-perfect house but a beaten-up gas station, surrounded by dust and debris.

When the Carter family, the film’s foolish protagonists, first roll up to the gas station, Fred the gas station attendant warns them it’s safer to stay on the road. Patriarch Bob Carter wants to leave the beaten path in order to find a silver mine.) While Fred is trying to protect them from the cannibals—the eyes in The Hills Have Eyes—the Carters’ first real obstacle is the desert itself. During an ill-fated attempt to find the mine, the family veers off the side of the road and crashes its vehicle. The Carters are lost in an unfamiliar environment with little food and water. The desert is dry, desolate, and foreign to the Cleveland natives.

If the Carters feel unsafe in the dry Nevada scenery, their enemies feel right at home. Unlike a home-invasion horror story, in which the killer enters the protagonist’s domain, The Hills Have Eyes leads the protagonists into the domain of the killers. The film’s cannibals have learned how to live in the desert with few supplies—albeit while eating other people—and can navigate the hills without a map. In Hills, the villains don’t just have murderous intent; they have home-field advantage.

In the Carters’ first interaction with the cannibals, brother Bobby tries to climb up a rocky hill in search of his missing dog. One of the cannibal brothers has lured the dog out and brutally beaten it. As Bobby attempts to climb the hill, his enemy scales it with ease and vanishes with nothing more than a bloody handprint. Throughout the sequence, the brother has used his familiarity with the desert to hide from Bobby. Setting isn’t just the backdrop here; it shows viewers just how vulnerable these people are.

The Hills Have Eyes is made whole by its setting. Although Tobe Hooper, a contemporary of Craven, told a similar story is told in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the desert plays a heavier role in The Hills Have Eyes. The dry, barren hills drain the audience’s hope for the heroes’ survival. They also take away the comfort that the audience could get from a city or a suburban setting—or even that of a small town with more than a gas station.

The Hills Have Eyes reminds the audience that sometimes they don’t get to be comfortable. Anyone could be part of the family whose car gets stuck on the side of a deserted road. Anyone could land in an unfamiliar setting, with no resources for miles. You might not run into a family of ravenous cannibals, but you’re only as safe as where you’re standing.

The Hills Have Eyes screens from Friday, October 25 to Sunday, October 27 at the Trylon Cinema as part of a cannibalistic double feature with Ravenous. Get tickets and learn more here.

Edited by Greg Hunter.

Get Ready for BRAIN DAMAGE

Artwork by Betsy Midnight

|Betsy Midnight|

In a memorable Brain Damage scene, a junkyard security guard, quietly and unseen, observes a nice young man in ecstasy, so transported by the mind-blowing, euphoria-inducing spectacle of a dirty pile of smashed-up cars that he can’t help but proclaim his rapture to the stars.

The look on that guard’s face––a kind of delighted, hypnotized stupor––is very similar to the look I had on my face the first time I saw this movie.

Essentially a horror-comedy about addiction, Brain Damage follows Brian––a perfect prototype of a late-80s-white-guy-creature-feature-protagonist––as he navigates the complexities of his troubled relationship with Elmer––an ancient, slug-like parasite who lives in the bathtub and eats brains. Even though Elmer is a manipulative, disgusting, veiny monster whose single aim is to murder people by eating their brains, he has a couple qualities that make him hard for Brian to quit: he’s very charismatic, has a great singing voice, and has the devil-may-care attitude and friendly demeanor of your favorite uncle the game show host. And perhaps more significantly, he is the sole source of a highly addictive drug that induces such a perfect combination of body high and transcendent mind-state that Brian would rather sign on as the long-term partner of a gruesome serial murderer than get clean.

But it’s a struggle for him, and lead actor Rick Hearst really commits. Brain Damage was his first job out of drama school, his first opportunity to use his classical training to inhabit the reality of this guy Brian, who, from the moment we meet him, is under the thrall of a phallic turd monster. We don’t get to learn much about Brian, really––we know he lives with his brother, has a girlfriend named Barbara, has his own room, and might be into punk (there’s a brief shot of a Siouxsie and the Banshees poster in his apartment). Does he have a job? Is he a student? No one knows.

But the integrity with which Hearst immerses himself in Brian’s grimy, vomit-soaked, hallucinogenic reality gives the character more depth than any amount of expositional detail could. Throughout the film, Brian is caught in a psychological standoff between his conviction that murder is wrong and his desperate need to get high. This is perhaps most evident in the scene that shows Brian’s withdrawal from Elmer juice: we see him writhing on the floor, sweating blood in his own filth as he watches himself pull his own decaying brains out of his ear. It is intense, grisly stuff, not brought on by the usual horror movie culprits of haunting or demonic possession, but by plain old everyday addiction. Brain Damage,this bizarro 80s cult film, is on to something true and disturbing about humans’ overwhelming desire for pleasure, and it may make you squirm in your seat.

So it’s all the more jarring that Elmer himself is so goofy. Not because the effects are sloppy–– quite the contrary, the makeup and practical effects are fantastic––but because his entire character design is just silly. From the moment he appears, peeking out from behind Brian’s head with a friendly “Hi!,” Elmer is exactly the opposite of what you expect. With cartoonish eyes, an innocent grin, and a refined voice thick with wisdom and life experience, Elmer sings a jaunty song from his perch in the sink as Brian plunges deeper and deeper into his own personal hell. Elmer is so charming that he’s almost cute, which is extraordinary, since the film’s talented effects team were clearly emphasizing the similarities between Elmer and a poo-stained, penis-bodied leech.

Make no mistake, though, this leech is a hunter. By promising Brian hits of “his juice,” Elmer compels him to wander through the dangerous streets and back alleys of New York City during the drug-fueled crime wave of the late 1980s. This reality saturates the film, especially given the fact that most of the movie was shot in a studio built by the filmmaking team in a particularly rough NYC neighborhood. High as a kite and feeling no pain, Brian wanders through landscapes pulsating with synth beats and a maze of decaying infrastructure and forgotten corners washed over in neon light, ferrying Elmer to his next victim, whose brain he devours in increasingly creative ways.  Writer/director Frank Henenlotter didn’t have quite enough material for a full 90-minute feature, so to go the distance, he stretches out each shot, each scene, ever-so-slightly to fill the time––a technique that becomes more and more disconcerting the stranger and more demented Elmer’s attacks become. Once you see the scene in the alley behind Club Hell, I’m confident you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Strip away the layers of strangeness and the psychedelic punk-rock aesthetic that make Brain Damage so bombastic, and you’ll find an anxious downward-spiral-addiction-parable at its core that is riveting. However, Brain Damage‘s spirit is emphatically fun, almost joyful. I left the theater after my first late-night screening bubbling over with things to say, enthusiastically gushing, surprised, energized, inspired.

Not unlike Brian freaking out in the junkyard, actually.

Brain Damage movie family members include:

  • Bad Milo
  • Trainspotting
  • Basket Case
  • Valley Girl
  • Evil Dead

… and it is playing at the Trylon from Friday, October 11 to Sunday, October 13. Tickets are available at trylon.org. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy this psychedelic splatterfest in a theater with friends!

Edited by Michelle Baroody

“Werewolves Killed My Platoon”: Neil Marshall’s DOG SOLDIERS

|Justin Midnight|

Artwork by Betsy Midnight

After a director like Neil Marshall releases a critically beleaguered and problematic film like 2019’s Hellboy, he becomes a kind of pop culture punchline for a time. Of course, this is often a consequence in the game of putting yourself out there, but the wealth of negative attention can sometimes tend toward zealotry when the subject matter is known and beloved. All this is to say that I think it’s nice that The Trylon is giving us the opportunity to appreciate Marshall’s early work this October.

Dog Soldiers, which began script development in 1996 and is the product of an obvious labor of love for Neil Marshall and company, is loads of slippery, slobbery, and explodey fun. Without spoiling the plot, which has its share of spoilable moments, I’ll say it’s a very Scottish film about Scottish soldiers running a training exercise in the Scottish Highlands who end up on the wrong side of a governmental snafu and a pack of lycanthropic Scottish nasties. What initially feels like a straightforward action flick, with soldiers swapping gritty stories while gratuitously tossing guns to each other and performatively cocking them, gradually morphs into a claustrophobic creature feature with excellent practical effects and surprisingly huge pyrotechnics.

With no U.S. theatrical release, genre fans began to discover this werewolf gem on video store shelves in 2002. I fondly recall my first watch, which came highly recommended from a fellow video store employee who had scooped it off the new release wall. It was an informal practice of ours to work our way through the direct-to-video B-stuff that came in while we combed the catalogue for classics like The Last Wave and Roar. Wading through cine-sewage from the early aughts was perilous at times, but connecting with authentic independent filmmaking in a project like Dog Soldiers always made it worth the slog.

What struck me initially about Dog Soldiers was its sense of fun. It manages that rare and heroic indie horror feat of pulling you in without cheap gore, nudity, or schlock, without ever taking itself too seriously. It’s clear the cast and crew are having fun with light improv and self-aware gags, and Marshall’s canted vision of a soldier movie that also happens to feature 12-foot-tall werewolves remains focused on killer close-quarters action. They also really blow the hell out of some set pieces. I watched this DVD with a good number of friends back in 2002 and was pleased to find it held up nicely to multiple viewings.

Clever, economical storytelling and a dark sense of humor set Dog Soldiers apart from the action horror pack, and some brilliant casting choices of journeyman actors like Sean Pertwee (Event Horizon), Kevin McKidd (Trainspotting) and Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones) see to its solid delivery. This isn’t a horror flick with a couple of cheap laugh lines, it’s actually quite funny straight through the end credits. Pair this with characters who don’t pee their pants and forget their training when the baddies show up at the side door and you don’t only have a monster movie, you’ve got an all-out war with the unknown. Plus, you’ve really got to appreciate the way Sarge rallies after being thoroughly disemboweled in the first act.

A cursory glance at Marshall’s resume reveals his well-developed penchant for the “small cadre of elite something-or-others find themselves in a crazy bind” subgenre of action horror. Doomsday, Centurion, and The Descent (screening as a double-feature with Dog Soldiers) are all meditations on this concept, but it started here, and it’s never been better. Marshall’s commitment to the bit included opting to shoot in Luxembourg on 16mm so that he could stretch his 2 million dollar budget to cover the costs of excellent practical effects. One can imagine this was something of a controversial decision, and has indeed followed this film across the sea of time on message boards and reissue reviews. Sure, it’s a bit grainy in its brighter moments, but you don’t let that bother you when you watch 28 Days Later, so just relax and pretend it was shot on early digital and I promise it will all be fine––fun, even!

Dog Soldiers is in the same movie family as:

  • Predator
  • Jarhead
  • The Thing
  • Cabin in the Woods
  • The Final Terror
  • Severance

and is screening at the Trylon Microcinema on Friday, October 4, 5, and 6 with Neil Marshall’s The Descent. Tickets available at trylon.org.

Edited by Michelle Baroody

A 10th Anniversary Reminiscence

|John Moret|

From the moment I first walked into the Trylon nearly 10 years ago, I was enamored with it. It screamed a love of movies more than anything else. At the time I was working for a corporate movie theater chain, and the Trylon was refreshing in every way. Ticket prices were low and there was no upsell on concessions. But the real reason I loved the Trylon from the get-go was that it was about movies. There was  no bar or restaurant. There were no shot glasses with the Trylon logo on them. The volunteers, projectionists, and patrons were all talking about movies! The Trylon was everything I was hoping to find. 

I began going to the Trylon every chance I got. Because I was working in a movie theater and had to work during some of the best stuff, I missed so much during those first few years. The only film of the 1970s Jack Nicholson series that I caught was THE LAST DETAIL, which blew my mind. I completely missed the race car series, Color Me Gone—VANISHING POINT on 35mm included. I regret to this day that I didn’t quit my job to make time for that one. 

When I started volunteering, it was mostly so that I had a reason to be there as often as possible. With a shift to cover, I could make twice as many screenings, most of which were Trylon Premieres, expertly programmed by Kathie Smith. Though the new movies weren’t really my passion, I knew that whatever I saw would be excellent. And, indeed, I caught some unforgettable films. One that has really struck me and comes to me sometimes in my dreams was LEVIATHAN from 2012. It was a little seen “documentary” that put you in the bowels of a commercial fishing ship, punished by the waves and bludgeoned in the cleaning room. It was a bloody, wet, sensory overload. I could never have seen it without sitting in that little room with a few other fortunate souls—all of us stunned by the experience. 

After being hired as film programmer, there have been so many unforgettable, indelible moments I have had a hard time choosing which ones to point out. Fragments of moments stand out—a silent crowd at a sold out show of TOKYO STORY, the crashing of wood as we took down the old screen surrounded by dedicated volunteers, the sound of the projectors changing over, my 3 year old boys running in the dirt pit that would become the bottom half of the auditorium, secret moments of devastation shared with Barry during construction, the excitement of reopening… the list goes on. 

In celebration of the last ten years, it seems appropriate to share a few in detail. 

In September of 2012, I had a rare Friday off and my wife was out of town. It was warm and I was busy with something or other and was not paying attention to the time. I looked up and saw that it was 6:40pm, just barely enough time to make it to the 7pm show of LIFE OF OHARU (1952)—a film I’d been looking forward to seeing for a long time. I remember that I felt I didn’t have enough time to put on socks, so I went without—which I find repugnant and do not recommend. Coming in from the heat, the cold temperature of the auditorium was refreshing, reminding me I had no socks on. It was a tiny crowd and I sat in Terry’s blue seat and leaned against the pole. The lights went down and I was very excited. Hoping to see a small masterpiece and treasuring the experience by myself, I was wrapped up in the moment. Though the pacing was plodding, the 35mm print was gorgeous and I was enthralled. I left the auditorium moved and struck, stepping into the now cool evening and thought of the film the whole way home, not even minding the sockless shoes.

A different but memorable movie-going experience was the first film in the short-lived All-Star Video series—a product of a small group of friends programming a series that took place late-nights after Trash Film Debauchery. We went with only shot-on-video oddities from the video store era—films that never had a proper release (including home video in some cases) but found themselves on the shelves and seared into people’s minds anyhow. The first film in this series was SLEDGEHAMMER (1983). We were determined to make it a special night with playbills, essays and the like. The show was sold out and I’ve never laughed so hard before. My chest hurt at the end of the show. I was weirdly proud of introducing all those people to that little movie, it was as if I had shown them all HALLOWEEN for the first time. 

One particular film experience that continues to stand out in my mind is a screening of THE HIRED HAND from April of 2018. This is a film that I care deeply about and was within a series of films I had put together on Warren Oates. I was incredibly proud of the series and had high hopes. Unfortunately, admissions-wise, it turned out to be one of the bigger flops. Minneapolis was on the verge of the biggest April snowfall in years. It was “snowmageddon” coming for us. I was determined to see that print that I had been so excited about. When I arrived it was a small crowd. I found a friend who was there and had never seen the film. We sat in silence, the anticipation of the film and the snowstorm looming created a unique kind of excitement. The print came on-screen and it was lovely, with beautiful color and in great condition. That Bruce Langhorne music washed over us and I was transported. As the film ended on a melancholy note, I wandered out into the falling April snow and was in the perfect place. 

Though there are too many other memories to share—seeing HUSBANDS, STRAIGHT TIME, 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER, SECRETS AND LIES and HARAKIRI on 35mm—and those torturous, and amazing, Horrorthon nights…

It’s worth pointing out that these past ten years have been possible because of the many lovely people who have put their blood and sweat into this place. Barry Kryshka, our Executive Director, worked for free for 9 years and is the bedrock of the organization. Nikki Weispfenning, our lead projectionist and theater manager, is as professional and thoughtful as people come. You’ve seen so much of her work on screen and can attest to it as well. Nicole Pamelia is our incredible designer, who has spent countless hours laying out our programs, working on our website and organizing poster designers. Mark Sherman and Kathie Smith, both amazing projectionists in their own right, have volunteered their time every other Saturday night to project films for the last 10 years. Beyond that, our box office volunteers have been so incredible. 

This is a personal thank you to all of you. You have made this place so special and it means so much to me. 

I’ll leave it at this: I can’t wait to share the next ten years of memories with you. See you at the movies.

Edited by Olga Tchepikova-Treon and Michael Popham

Are You Gonna Be There (At the Slime-In)

|Jesse Lawson|

Artwork by Dan Murphy

Around 1994, at age fifteen, I discovered a CD called Monster Rock ’n’ Roll Show, which compiled horror- and sci-fi-themed novelty songs––“Monster Mash” and the like. Mostly from the fifties and early sixties, the songs were joined by brief radio trailers for films of the same era (The Haunted Strangler, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein). To a ‘90s teenager like me, this was the time of “Oldies But Goodies,” an affirmative era of American culture that was square enough to make WEIRD an electrified buzzword on comic book covers and other pulp artifacts. Terrifyingly quirky encounters between humans, vampires, purple people eaters and more are the life-blood of Monster Rock ’n’ Roll Show, whose overarching sentiment is perhaps best expressed by Buchanan & Goodman’s cutup record “Frankenstein of ’59.” After a tumultuous showdown with the entire U.S. Army, Count Dracula, and Tom Dooley, Frankenstein (the creature, of course, not his creator) crashes American Bandstand. All is well, Goodman assures us: “It seems all the monster wanted to do was dance with the teenagers.”

However, The collection included a few tracks that were outliers both from the era and the sentiment, still fun but decidedly more unhinged. Among these was the theme song to the 1968 Japanese-American coproduction The Green Slime, written by composer Charles Fox and sung by Ricky Lancelotti. Fifties sci-fi films may wear their atomic anxieties on their sleeves, but Lancelotti’s delivery––imitating a soul singer transforming in mid-verse to psychotic street corner evangelist––is convincingly adamant that the End is Nigh, and its cause is GREEN SLIME.

What can it be, what is the REA-son?

Is this the end to all that WE’VE done?

Is it just something in your… head?


Fox and Lancelotti pay lip service to collective humanist ambitions only to reveal their culmination in Green Slime. Chilling theremin, groovy drum fills, and fuzz guitar join the singer to move the atomic sci-fi apocalypse needle into the 1968 red.

I must confess that, for years, I thought the singer of “The Green Slime” was a black man. Perhaps I was supposed to think this. Regardless, I imagined that the vocal was a day job for someone working by night for the Panthers. That whole humanist project was white supremacy all along, and the voice expressed delight in its demise, having formed a silent pact with Green Slime. As it was, Ricky Lancelotti was a New Jersey Italian American, and I have no idea what his politics were, if any. A cartoon voice artist (he did work for Hanna Barbera’s The Banana Splits) and occasional Frank Zappa collaborator, he experienced at least two notable car accidents: driving a Porsche off a cliff that was caught by a tree (a sort of calmer, more beneficent Green Slime), and, less miraculously, the one that caused his death at 35. If his voice is not a call for action against the ongoing racial disparity and social inequality in the United States, it nonetheless expresses a kind of conviction, a force of chaotic life.

Slightly more plausibly, one can see The Green Slime as muted revenge for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Its North American cast is the object of numerous bloody burns and electrocutions by the titular menace (strong stuff for one of the first G-rated movies––several YouTube commenters report childhood nightmares). James O’Neill’s Terror on Tape claims, apparently incorrectly, that the Japanese title translates as Death and the Green Slime. This would have made sense, as the best parts in the film are when people die. After all, the people in this movie, which not only lacks nonwhites but is tragically deficient in teenagers to dance with, are awful; the film’s actual dancing scene, in which smug mission Commander Jack Rankin (Robert Horton) manhandles Dr. Lisa Benson (Luciana Paluzzi), is among the film’s most repellent. Dr. Hans Halverson (Ted Gunther), who discovers information crucial to containing and defeating the Green Slime––that is, that they consume energy anywhere they can find it so that they can multiply and spread themselves evermore––meets his demise because he wants to study rather than destroy the creatures. All of this makes the humanist project look totally not worth it.

Q.E.D., GREEN SLIME! We know who to root for. Yet this is hard to do, because the creatures resist our anthropomorphizing tendencies. However silly looking, they also don’t look quite like anything––a child’s papier-mâché project; big ruby eyes in bloody lip lids; a mass of teeth seemingly frozen in a grin; tentacles waving up and down with a loopy, let-it-all-hang-out lassitude. The creatures make noises somewhere between a miserable infant’s cries and a delighted porcupine eating a pumpkin. The Man in the sixties might have thought he saw hippies: dazed freeloaders, wasting resources and contributing nothing to society but wanton destruction and debasement. But really, these creatures are pretty sui generis. No one refers to them as slime in the movie, only to “creatures”; meanwhile, the U.S. poster declares that they, the green slime, are coming. From one––or, let’s say, from “some slime”––many. What answer does the Eagle on the U.S. Seal have to that?

In narrative terms, The Green Slime sadly restores the status quo. Yet it begins and ends with its title song, which describes a different outcome. We’ll believe it, when we’re dead.

Artwork by Jesse Lawson

Edited by Michelle Baroody

The Green Slime screens at the Trylon Cinema from Sunday, August 25 to Tuesday, August 27. For tickets and more information, see the Trylon’s website.

The Unsung Legacy of Dan O’Bannon and DARK STAR

|Zach Jansen|

During his thirty-five-year career, screenwriter (and sometimes director) Dan O’Bannon (1943-2009) had fewer than a dozen screenplays produced. But a quick check of his IMDb page shows more than thirty writing credits to his name, mostly due to one script: Alien (1979).  Director Ridley Scott and creature designer H.R. Giger get the bulk of the credit for the Alien franchise’s success, but O’Bannon’s screenplay remains the basis for every Alien film, video game, comic book, or toy. He is the connective tissue that binds more than forty years of genre cinema, from the 1979 film to the upcoming third Alien prequel.

O’Bannon launched into filmmaking alongside iconoclastic director John Carpenter, with 1974’s Dark Star. Dark Star started as a 45-minute student film, budgeted at $65,000 (about $312,000 in 2019). In addition to writing Dark Star, O’Bannon also designed the special effects, edited the film, and appeared in front of the camera as Sergeant Pinback. In addition to directing, Carpenter scored and co-wrote the project. When shopping for distribution, the novice filmmakers faced an obstacle: the movie was too long for a festival short and too short to release as a feature. Instead of shelving the project, the duo decided to increase its runtime, adding a subplot about an alien creature pursuing Pinback.

After brainstorming how to depict the alien without putting someone in a rubber suit, O’Bannon and Carpenter landed on the idea of painting a beach ball red and affixing a pair of rubber reptilian feet to it. O’Bannon loved the design because it fit with the mundane absurdity of the film’s plot. Carpenter embraced it because it discouraged viewers from psychoanalyzing the creature.[1] The id-based alien does what it does because that’s what it was made to do.

This approach to Dark Star’s alien also put it in line with the film’s themes. The crewmembers of the scout ship Dark Star have traveled the galaxy destroying planets for twenty years. They carry out their mission because, at this point, it’s all they know. Then there’s Bomb 20, a thermostellar device that realizes it only exists to explode. On screen, these elements could easily have come across as disconnected, even arbitrary. Instead, they come together to create a [wry, sometimes hilarious] film about accepting one’s purpose in life.

In O’Bannon’s next film, he fully developed the concept of an id-driven being. Writing about Dark Star, he remarked

This movie is a comedy. I wanted to be sure and clarify that right up front, because when the film was first released to the paying public they didn’t seem to realize it was supposed to be funny.… My second film—Alien—was basically Dark Star made scary. I figured, “If I can’t make them laugh, maybe I can make them scream.”

There would not be Alien (or its numerous imitators) were it not for Dan O’Bannon. But first, his bizarre sense of humor resulted in Dark Star and its unknowable, unstoppable, laughable “monster”: a beach ball with claws.

[1] Jason Zinoman, Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror (New York: Penguin Books, 2012) 58.

Edited by Greg Hunter

Dark Star screens as part of Trash Film Debauchery on Wednesday, August 21. Get tickets and learn more on the Trylon’s website.