By Will ("The Thrill") Viharo
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ell, I've gone and finally done it - I've unloaded most of my precious collection of classic B movies precariously preserved on the soon-to-be obsolete 20th Century format known as VHS in favor of re-collecting many of the same movies on the new, 21st Century format known as DVD. In fact, I began this painful process before I even had a DVD player (I have one now, thanks to "Santa" Monica). I don't know what exactly came over me, especially after months of denial, daunted by the prospect of having to re-invest in my prized movie collection all over again. I never even bothered to go Laser Disc (a good choice, in retrospect). And I always argued by the time I made the upgrade, an even newer format would get introduced and I'd have to return to square one. But so many of my collector buddies were going DVD I was forced to reconsider. What really sold me was the rampant availability of so many obscure B movie titles on DVD - often cheaper than they were on VHS. I just couldn't fight the future any longer. It had already invaded the present and made my painstaking and expensive accumulation of videotapes a thing of the past. God damn it.
Then there was the storage issue. DVDs, like CDs, are not only more durable than tapes, they are also more space-efficient. My videos were literally hitting the ceiling, and so was Monica. But I kept stocking them away like an obese squirrel overdosing on nuts. It was time to make a move - literally or figuratively. I weighed my options. VHS holds no nostalgic allure for like, say, LPs, which I also lovingly garner. Face it: VHS is the movie equivalent of music cassette tapes, with the same innate problems regarding durability and fragility. From talking to fellow collectors, I began to feel the future: VHS was not only going the way of cassette tapes, they were fast going the way of eight-tracks. If I was going to dump my videos, I had to do it right away, before they depreciated to zero value.
So with some discrimination - for instance, I couldn't let go of my '50s AIP monster movies that came out on video ten years ago until they actually re-surface on DVD, which still hasn't happened - I began boxing up my videos for that inevitable trip to Amoeba Records in Berkeley, my favorite store, which buys and trades music and movies. I was a friggin' mad man. Monica was worried about me. She knows how much I cherish my movies. And I don't just collect them - I actually watch them. Over and over. Watching B movies is one of my favorite past-times. And I want to do it forever. DVDs apparently last longer, and in any case, pretty soon it would be the dominant format. Ready or not, the time for change had arrived.
I remember when I first began collecting videos back in the '80s. It was a dream come true for the little kid inside of me who used to scan the TV Guide weekly for creature features and old movies, worrying like mad I'd miss them, and always wondering if I'd ever get to see them again once I'd enjoyed them. When videos hit the market, owning my favorite flicks went from reverie to reality. It was film geek heaven, baby. And this was long, long before I ever dreamed I'd be able to host many of my favorite flicks in their original 35mm incarnation on a regular basis. Thrillville was still years away - I was out of touch with my inner lounge lizard for much of my misspent youth. All I had for comfort was my VCR. And now here I am, in 2002 - can't wait to get rid of it. Of course, I also get laid a lot more now than I used to. But still, I have plenty of time and desire for B movie watching, and, as with sex, I crave optimum performance and reliability.
Of course, the day has not yet dawned where you can record onto a DVD. Once that technology becomes affordable, I'll be able to transfer my rare videotapes which may never come out commercially on DVD- like my wedding and reception, for instance - onto the superior format. Meantime, I'm putting off bills and floating checks to re-stock my beloved movie collection, DVD style. I've already burned through all the videos I can sell/trade. Now I have to actually buy DVDs. And I am, baby. I'm out of friggin' control. This has been my public confession. And I don't want anyone's help. I want your extra DVDs. I want enablers, not an intervention. No DVD Anonymous for me. I'm happily hooked.
Anyway, one of the best things about the 21st Century so far - and most of it has sucked outloud: more bad music, war, terrorism, recession, threatened civil liberties, and an inexplicably popular redneck dufus for president - is the continued proliferation of B movies. Not just on DVD, but everywhere - especially in Thrillville. Some of you may've noticed I am showing more and more obscure stuff and less of the "classics." I am merely returning to the original mission of Thrillville, rescuing rare cinematic gems from the bottom of the basement. I am not an aspiring stand up comedian, popular perception notwithstanding. Sure, I'm angry and I rant, but I only get up on the stage to host B movies and share my enthusiasm. I don't particularly enjoy performing per se (writing is a different matter.) In any case, I don't thrive on it. The show is a way to market stuff people might not otherwise pay any attention to. I am happy to report the success of this mission - I still can't believe how many people give up their Thursday nights to check out classic cheapies like Creature With the Atom Brain, Zombies of Mora Tau, Hillbillys in a Haunted House and Shanty Tramp. It brings tears of gratification to my jaded eyes. And there wouldn't be so many vintage B movies on the DVD market like The Brain That Wouldn't Die and Attack of the Giant Leeches if there wasn't an audience for them out there. How positively heartwarming it is to know that someone took the time and energy to transfer The Atomic Submarine and The Hideous Sun Demon and The Killer Shrews to the relatively permanent realm of DVD. Someone out there actually cares about these things. It gives one hope for the future of mankind.
Speaking of Rays of Hope, last month I shone the spotlight on special effects genius Ray Harryhausen (and will do so again later this year, stay tuned, you stop-motion ani-maniacs.) This month I swerve the spot onto another Ray of Sunshine in this dim universe, the one and only B movie king Ray Dennis Steckler! And the beauty of it is, I will host the man himself IN PERSON!! Many of you missed Ray when he was at The Parkway a couple of years ago with his masterpieces RAT PFINK A BOO BOO and LEMON GROVE KIDS MEET THE MONSTERS (both 1966), so you will be happy to know I am reviving this same exact double feature with Ray in person at the Fine Arts Cinema in Berkeley on February 12th and 13th (see SCHEDULE link for details.) These pristine prints are right from Ray's Vegas vaults, too. In case you don't know, Rat Pfink a Boo Boo is Ray's outrageous, low-rent version of Batman and Robin, combined with a quirky film noir type thriller. The title is as infamous as the flick - the "a" was supposed to be "and" but the guy doing the credits forgot to put in the extra two letters and Ray couldn't afford to fix it, and the rest is legendary. Vin Saxon and Titus Moede play the dynamic dunces. This flick just has to be seen to be believed. It was written by rockabilly pulp icon Ron Haydock, who also sings the theme song. Kogar the Gorilla is in there, not to mention Ray's sexy ex-wife, Carolyn Brandt, who also appears in Lemon Grove Kids, Ray's home movie style tribute to his childhood idols, The Bowery Boys. In this one, Ray himself appears, under his acting alias, Cash Flagg, doing his Huntz Hall impersonation. Again, this just has to be experienced - no description can do it any justice. And the auteur will be there himself to help you figure it all out. You just can't miss it. It's that simple.
Likewise, you can't miss VALENTINE'S DAY WITH RAY DENNIS STECKLER at The Parkway on February 14. This double thrill-bill features his best known classics THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES (1963), the first "monster musical; and THE THRILL KILLERS (1965), the first (and only, I believe) modern slasher Western. I've shown both at The Parkway before, but not with Cash Flagg to present them live on stage. Yes, Cash stars in both of these psychotronic milestones, and of course we'll have someone in a monster mask running around scaring the shit out of people (probably me again), just like Ray did back in the day. Another one of the actual "Thrill Killers" will be in the house, too - Herb Robbins! No better way to kill time than in Thrillville with The Thrill Killers - in person!! Ray and Herb love to talk, have plenty of wacky stories to share, and Ray is very generous when it comes to hocking his wares - he will bring loads of cheap videos, lobby cards, posters and press kits to sell at all three shows. Come on out and give Ray the love he deserves - he's driving all the way from Vegas, taking a week off from his own video store, to see us and share his incredibly strange films. What better way to impress your Valentine date?
Funny thing is, Las Vegas is home to yet another B movie icon from that era - Ted V. Mikels, whom Monica and I finally met in person when we were there last October to appear in a French documentary about Vegas. As I have already reported, we visited the amazing cardboard-and-Christmas-light spaceship set of Mark of the Astro Zombies, Ted's long awaited sequel to his best known flick (see the Scenes link, page 7 for a shot of us on the set.) Astro Zombies starred the durable and deadly drive-in goddess Tura Satana, of Faster Pussycat fame, who reprises her role in the sequel, but these aren't the only movies she's made with Ted. Back in 1973 there was THE DOLL SQUAD, which also co-starred Ray's pally, Herb Robbins. Funny thing is, I've heard reliable reports that Ray and Ted, though they live and work mere miles apart, do not get along at all. I haven't asked either one about this because I don't want to get in the middle of this mysterious feud, plus I am showing THE DOLL SQUAD at The Parkway on February 28, a rare 35mm print right from Ted's own warehouse. Many people claim this movie - all about a gang of voluptuous assassins hired by the CIA to infiltrate and bring down some foreign rocket saboteurs - was totally ripped off by Charlie's Angels for TV, and I agree. So does Ted, but he never did anything about it. He's still too busy churning out those classics and their sequels - like Corpse Grinders 2 - to bother. Come see for yourself whether he's got a case, it's well worth it. This steamy action tale of espionage co-stars Michael Ansara and Francine York, with lots of gun battles, cat fights, cleavage, feathered hair and good old-fashioned ass-kicking, Tura style. Once again, you can't afford to miss this, even though many of Ted's movies are now on DVD. Nothing will ever replace actual 35mm film on the big screen. Plus Ted doesn't make a dime off many of those DVDs - he got screwed on the rights to many of his own flicks. Consider this a fundraiser for an influential independent filmmaker. No one else makes movies like these anymore.
And Ray's films? He's got them all on video, but none are on DVD yet. Make sure you see the films - and Ray - in their original forms, before they vanish from the vapid wasteland of the 21st Century forever. Delivering to you these mad mavericks and their offbeat, unique and increasingly obscure movies is what the mission of Thrillville is all about.
NEXT MONTH: YOUTHFUL ANGST AND HIPPIE KUNG FU!
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