Really Bad Movies
Monday, September 5 2011
With the cinema studies syllabus dominated by names like Goddard, Truffaut, Kurosawa and Bergman, Melbourne University students could be forgiven for thinking that film was exclusively a form of high art. But if they were to take a stroll down to some of the city’s premier movie hotspots late on a Friday or Saturday night, they might find themselves immersed in a very different brand of cinematic culture. From robot monsters to human centipedes, the past few years have seen a resurgence of the cult film screening in Melbourne. Audiences gather together in the dead of night to celebrate the absurd, the abject and sometimes the downright awful.
Cinema Nova in Carlton is already the number one stop for art-house films in Melbourne and its proprietors have recently delighted audiences with ”Cult Cravings”. This series showcases a variety of so-called cult films, including the D-grade monster movie Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, the stomach churning horror flick The Human Centipede and their piece de resistance, Tommy Wiseau’s legendarily awful The Room.
Nova general manager Kristian Connelly explained the success of this program. “The social appeal is key,” he told Farrago. “Many of the films we screen as part of Cult Cravings can be viewed on DVD, so people come to the cinema to enjoy these films with others.”
Initiatives like Cult Cravings are reminiscent of a lost period in Melbourne’s cinematic history. Most of us are too young to have experienced late nights at the Valhalla theatre in Northcote in the 1980s, where rowdy crowds watched niche favourites like The Blues Brothers or The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Audience members would dress up as their favourite characters, quote dialogue, or shout jokes and jibes at the screen. The Valhalla has long since been absorbed by Palace Cinemas, but the spirit of cult cinema that once roamed its art deco lobby is alive and well in cinemas all around the city.
At the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Federation Square, every Friday is “Freaky Friday”. According to its website, this program shines a light on “the maverick, the oddball, the creepy and just plain kooky from the classic and newer canons of cult”. The folks at The Astor theatre in St Kilda have taken things one step further, bringing in comedians Geoff Wallis and Janet A. McLeod once a month to provide live commentary on some of the worst films ever made, as part of the aptly titled “Cinema Fiasco”.
In a fitting turn of events, the custodians of the former home of cult film in Melbourne have also re-launched their late night schedule. Every Friday at 11:30 pm, the staff at the Palace Westgarth—once the Valhalla—unlock the “Cult Vault”, screening a combination of old classics, modern mind-trips and schlocky genre favourites that all conform to a monthly theme. In July, audiences were treated to a barrage of Bruce Lee Kung Fu movies, while September promises a retrospective on the films of Italian gore-master Dario Argento. In October the vault will celebrate its first birthday with an all-night movie marathon of classic and recent horror films.
Cult Vault curator Zak Hepburn explains the appeal. “I’ve always been a huge fan of genre/exploitation cinema,” he says. “Being able to bring back the movie marathon to the old Valhalla is a dream come true.”
Of course when it comes to the modern age of late night screenings, there is one film to which none other can compare: The Room. Written, directed, produced and starring the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau, it has been embraced by audiences around the world for its almost indescribable badness. Although it is an earnest attempt at high drama about a banker whose fiancé is having an affair with his best friend, at some point during production things went horribly, hilariously wrong. Conversations go around in circles. Dubbed dialogue doesn’t sync with the actors’ mouths. Subplots about breast cancer and botched drug deals crop up, and then disappear. At one point, one character disappears only to appear again later in the film played by a totally different actor. And all this is to say nothing of Wiseau’s incomprehensible line delivery.
And yet the final product is pure cinematic alchemy. In the eight years since its release, The Room has played in late night weekly screenings all around the world, including Cinema Nova since February of last year. Every Saturday night crowds gather, hurl insults at the characters, openly mock the nonsensical plot, and pelt the screen with plastic spoons. It’s an intense, occasionally scary but always entertaining experience, one that’s just perfect for uni students who want a break from their no doubt otherwise intellectual pursuits.
“The film has gradually found a younger following over the past 18 months,” says Nova’s Connelly. “He [Wiseau] has threatened to visit us at Nova more than once, and we’d love to have him.”
Zak Hepburn adds, “A great cult film experience is equal part filmmaker and audience.” Personally, I’d be hard pressed to disagree with him. Watching Troll 2, Robot Monster or The Room on your own would be a hellish experience, but with a loud, passionate audience determined to have a good time, films like these can transcend their own atrociousness and attain a status that is truly great.
So if you’re fed up with art films and substandard blockbusters, why not take a chance on some good old-fashioned movie cheese? Get a group of friends together; toss back a few drinks, maybe pick up a bag of plastic spoons and head on down to one of Melbourne’s many homes of the bold, the bloody and the bizarre.
More information on upcoming cult and niche film screenings can be found at www.cinemanova.com.au; www.palacecinemas.com.au; www.acmi.net.au/freaky_fridays; www.astor-theatre.com.
You can read Tom’s film reviews at www.cutprintreview.com.