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The Thrillville Beat
Waa! - Waa!


By Will "the Thrill' Viharo


April 2007 marks ten years of Thrillville. Ten years of B movies: beasts, breasts, burlesque, babes, blood, brains, blobs, bullets, bikers, beatniks, beach bunnies, blaxploitation and just plain bullshit. Ten years. That's nearly a quarter of my lifetime. Poof, gone. And what do I have to show for it?

A lot more than I thought I would.

The thing about hosting a live show is it's ephemeral by nature. Unless someone has been secretly recording my gigs with their cell phone for YouTube exposure a la Michael Richards, all of those personal appearances have disappeared into the dustbin of histrionics. All that remains are memories. And lotsa photographs, mere stills depicting a single moment in time, sans the live atmosphere that truly makes them memorable. There's no posterity in a strictly live show (that is not recorded). You do it for kicks, then it's over, like a party. But what a party. As Shatner/Kirk said at the end of Star Trek: Generations, "it!" That's an understatement. And it ain't even over yet.

The Cerrito Speakeasy has provided a whole new venue for me to hold court, giving me a booster shot of hipster heroin right in the fez, and so far the response has been terrific. I love the Cerrito, and the greater opportunities for film presentation it offers via its superior projection capabilities. I'm actually celebrating my 10th anniversary there instead of the Parkway so I can show one film that has always been denied me in Oakland: The Creature From the Black Lagoon - in 3D! Of course it's the crappy 3D process (hey, it's still Thrillville!), not the superior polarized yada yada (I am not a tech nerd, sorry), since we don't have a requisite silver screen at Cerrito either, but still, the Gill Man, with martini glass (logo created by Miles Goodrich), has been my unofficial mascot for years, and it's about time we paid him formal tribute. Cheers to you, Gill the Thrill.

Being able to program your own movie show is indeed an enviable, coveted position to maintain. There have been many frustrations but even more rewards over the years. Some highlights (and lowlights) from my first ten years of Thrillville:

*Showing Mothra in Japanese with no subtitles so the drunks improvised their own dialogue. For weeks after the show the studio kept sending the print back to us.

*For some reason I could not get a print of the original Planet of the Apes despite repeated efforts because they kept sending me the sequels instead, as if not even the distributor could make the distinction. In one of them the one word of dialogue the mute girl has was cut out.

*I was jazzed to score a print of the Elvis race flick Spinout for a personal appearance by my friend, co-star Deborah Walley, who sadly passed away a few months later. However I was very embarrassed to belatedly discover (during the show) that all of Elvis's musical numbers had been mysteriously cut from the print, leaving only his thespian talents to carry the film! (The "director's cut"?)

*Another time I showed a really rare (and badly faded) print of It Happened at the World's Fair for my annual Elvis D-Day Bash. The print was intact and I had two of the co-stars in the house - Gary "2001" Lockwood and my old pal Yvonne "Batgirl" Craig. I even sat on a Parkway couch next to Yvonne while Elvis sat on a couch next to her younger self on the screen and tried to seduce her. (That part I didn't mimic.) Neither Gary nor Yvonne had ever even seen this flick! After about 20 minutes of it both wandered back out in the lobby to sign autographs...

*Anytime I show Viva Las Vegas it brings the house down, and I've never had Ann-Margret (or Elvis) in person.

*When I showed Blood of Dracula two of the four reels were out of order and nobody noticed.

*"Uncle Bill" Longen provided me with an alleged print of Hercules in the Haunted World but we discovered on the night of the show that the middle three reels were from Hercules and the Captive Women. Fortunately Reg Park plays Herc in both. Still, the audience was pleasantly amused by the fact Herc would be in Atlantis one minute and suddenly find himself in Hades the next.

*"Shatfest: A Tribute to William Shatner" - any and all of 'em, Big Bill always packs the house and drives the fans wild, whether it's The Devil's Rain or Kingdom of Spiders. (My Holy Grail: White Comanche, in which he plays two half breed Indians, one good, one evil!). I take personal credit for reviving his 1975 serial killer stunner Impulse as a new cult favorite, thanks to the rare print I got from the (now defunct) Werepad, where I've scored many gems, kudos to curators Jacques Boyreau and Scott Moffitt. Also thanks to Paul "the Thrall" Vietzke for hepping me to this long lost masterpiece in the first place.

*Chasing "Cash Flagg" around the theater with a plastic axe while wearing a mummy costume! Becoming friends with this cult movie icon (better known as Ray Dennis Steckler) is a major accomplishment of mine. Ray, a Vegas resident these days, personally brought rare prints of all of his films to the Bay Area for various shows we did at both the Parkway and the defunct Fine Arts Cinema in Berkeley, including The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies, the Thrill Killers, Rat Pfink a Boo Boo and Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters. Often cohort Herb Robbins ("The Worm Eaters") would show up and entertain the audience. Historic stuff, B movie-wise.

*Annual Film Noir Fests. I was programming film noir fests for the Parkway and having my pal and Noir City mayor Eddie Muller co-host them for years before the Castro stole what little thunder I could muster out here in the boonies of Oaktown.

*"Creature Features" Reunions - both Bob Wilkins and John Stanley have appeared in Thrillville many times over the years, again long before the Castro jumped on the bandwagon. KTVU, the Oakland station where "Creature Features" was broadcast circa '71-'85, never bothered to cover these hugely successful events. Their loss. I grew up with Doc Shock out of Philly, but I began hearing about Bob and John almost as soon as I moved to the Bay Area in 1985, and I consider it a great personal achievement to have mounted the first Bay Area "Creature Features" live revival show at the Parkway back in 2000, replete with a recreation of Bob's old set. It established a long running tradition, cut short by Wilkins' affliction with Alzheimer's, sad to say. (Unless Bob is faking he doesn't remember me, that would suit his sense of humor)...Special thanks to Tom Wyrsch, Doug Jones and Bob Shaw for helping to make these annual Halloween specials happen. The fans are eternally grateful. Cheers to you, Bob and John.

* Of course I must mention my infamous "Ocean's 11" remake protest, the hysterical reaction to which still blows my mind when I think about it. It was a crash course in how the muckraking media works, really busting my cherry as a "public figure" (which was also news to me). As an experience it was fun, edifying, painful and stupid in equal measure. As a result Thrillville got massive worldwide exposure, positive and negative, wanted and unwanted, and Monica I were featured in a French documentary about Vegas, juxtaposed with Soderbergh! Cool, but I'll never put myself in the spotlight like that again, especially for something so trivial. Not worth the aggravation.

*Thanks to Dennis Lancaster and Dennis Yee for their contributions over the years, wearing their Godzilla/Mothra/Gamera/random monster costumes to the show and really making 'em extra special. Ditto to my good pal Gorilla X (Mig Ponce). I know such cool people.

*Thanks and kudos to my frequent co-hosts and reliable crowd pleasers Mr. Lobo and the Queen of Trash, now bona fide celebrities since his Cinema Insomnia program went from local favorite to a syndicated phenom.

*Special thanks to Sci-Fi Bob Ekman, a longtime loyal contributor to Thrillville of both films and prizes, and producer of his own popular Psychotronic Film Show. Also thanks to Bob Johnson and the gang at Bay Area Film Events ("Godzillafest" etc.) for their support and contributions over the years.

*Our annual Halloween shows up at Copia in Napa are always a treat, no tricks. Thanks to Richard Miami for encouraging us to promote our brand of cheese to the wine country.

*Michael Schlesinger, formerly of Sony Rep, is the greatest friend a film programmer could have.

*Thanks to Kelly Vance for all that ink in the Express. Also a nod of the fez to Cheryl Eddy and Johnny Ray Huston of the Bay Guardian, and Peter Hartlaub and Joe Brown of the SF Chronicle for helping to spread the B movie gospel around the Bay Area.

*The many live acts and special guests that have really put the Thrill in Thrillville is a great source of personal pride, especially since most have become close friends as well. Their performances often compensated for the film. To name a few, in no particular order and straight off the top of my head: the Devil-ettes, Robert Silverman, Pollo del Mar, Project Pimento, Mr. Lucky, Connie Champagne, Sprocket Ensemble, the Twilight Vixen Revue, Diamond Daggers, Hot Pink Feathers, Apocalypso Now, the Phenomenauts, Dane's Dames, Cherry Malone, the Atomic Lounge Show, Kitten on the Keys, Clandestine, the Wigglin' Wahines, Cari Lee and the Saddle-ites, the Maikai Gents, Robert Ensler, Frank Noviki of APE, Otto Von Stroheim, Raven de la Croix, Bill Winckler, John Michael McCarthy, Barry Gifford, V. Vale, Mike Weatherford, Rock 'n' Roll Ray, Ms. Monster, Son of Ghoul, Adam Trash, August Ragone, Dr. Goulfinger, Chuck Jarman, the late great Julie Parrish and of course my very own stepmom, , Anne Helm (Follow That Dream, The Magic Sword).

*Thanks to ace artists Strephon Taylor, Miles Goodrich, and Aaron Farmer for all of their very cool posters, which, as is often the case with exploitation, are often better than the shows they advertise.

*All of my thanks, love and worship to my beloved, devoted wife and patient stage assistant, Monica Tiki Goddess, just for putting up with me. She's a great dramatic actress so the Thrillville gig doesn't come close to showcasing her talents, but she gives it her all anyway. As she likes to say, she's seen the first 10 minutes of every bad movie ever made. (She sleeps through the rest, soon after spinning the Big Wheel.) I'd be nothing without her.

*Lastly, but not leastly, thanks to my tireless and talented web master Michael DeWeil. Couldn't have done it without you, pal.

Writing this column has been one of my favorite things about Thrillville. Up until my old friends and Speakeasy Theaters founders Kyle and Catherine Fischer asked me to create and host a live midnight cult movie show, back in 1997, right after the Parkway opened, I fancied myself a writer, not a performer. I still feel that way. This is how I best express myself, and the forum in which I feel most comfortable and secure. I'm not a stand up comic, and I can't sing or dance. I'm just a wiseass with a curious fashion sense and odd tastes in cinema that are apparently shared by a loyal local audience. I'm not fooling myself with delusions of grandeur. Thrillville is no big deal in the scheme of things. It's a glorified hobby which I am happy to share with others in a public arena. Ten years of Thrillville is mainly a personal milestone. I never thought I'd be doing it this long. It's so fundamentally silly. And yet, it's still fun, and even necessary, in its own limited way, since my goal is the resurrection and preservation of a bygone era of entertainment. I think of it as a unique, minor public service as well as a personal creative platform. I'm grateful to have had this opportunity to make a fool of myself, and I will continue to do so until I think of something better to do. Or you do, whichever comes first.

The three main P's that have comprised this column over the years have been Personal, Pop Culture and Politics. I suppose it is human nature to want to express yourself to others, even total strangers, hence the proliferation of blogs all over the internet. Everyone acutely senses their mortality and wants to believe their brief stay here has been worth something to someone other than themselves. We cling to some semblance of meaning via establishing our individual identities amid the faceless masses. The hard truth is immortality is a manmade myth, any way you look at it. For one thing, people of any stature are being forgotten quicker and sooner in this age of instant, frivolous fame, readily replaced by the next star rising, shooting then fading in our fickle firmament. Dead celebrities of any stripe or era cannot enjoy any of the perks they had while living, like getting a good seat in a restaurant. It seems many famous people are obviously unhappy, based on their publicized behavior (which ironically only adds to their grief), while so many relatively unknown people (like me) are very happy. Sure, I have a lot of dreams that haven't come true (yet), a ton of unfulfilled youthful ambition that still haunts me in the wee small hours. But overall, I have what I've always wanted - a family. My wife Monica Tiki Goddess and my two cats, Chungking and Tiki, are really the ultimate bingo prizes. It would've been nice if I could've become a successful novelist, my lifelong aspiration to which I dedicated much of my early adulthood, but since most people don't read anyway, I guess it doesn't matter, and it's no great loss to the culture of the planet. Christian Slater recently re-optioned my one published novel Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, I think for the fifth time, and it that ever actually becomes a movie, it may reinvigorate my literary aspirations. Or maybe I'll become a screenwriter. I don't know. I'm fine for now.

I still dream of living in Hawaii someday, that's probably my biggest remaining reverie, though the fact is Monica would probably not enjoy living there as much as I would, growing old and getting fat on Mai Tais and malasadas. She's a great actress and needs to have access to a thriving theater scene and I'm not sure she'd get that in Oahu. She wants to live on the island of Manhattan which is the exact opposite of where I want to spend my golden years. For some reason she thinks the Big Apple is the same as it's depicted on the 60s sitcom That Girl, despite my efforts to enlighten her contrarily. (Of course, I still see Hawaii as the land of Don Ho and Elvis and Jack Lord and Martin Denny, so we all concoct our own fantasies to sustain us.) Not that I have anything against New York, the cultural center of the Universe. I was born right across from Central Park and raised in South Jersey, and I am sometimes nostalgic for the languid, humid summer nights, the fleecy clouds in a vivid Springtime sky, the explosive colors of a tree-lined street in the Fall, and sometimes, though not often, the coziness of a snowy Christmas season, all typical sensory experiences of life on the East Coast. But for me, it represents the past, while Hawaii, where I don't know a soul, is a future full of potential - to do nothing. Just relax. Maybe we can maintain homes in both places (are you listening, Mr. Slater?) but I'm too much of a homebody to divide my world into two wildly separate geographic locations. I'm too lazy and I hate traveling. My home is wherever my family is anyway, and currently that's the island of Alameda, which boasts the greatest tiki bar in the world, Forbidden Island, so I'm close enough to paradise for now.

I've written a lot about politics in this column, just because I could. No one pays me to write it, it's my personal "blog" and I can say whatever I want. Ultimately I don't see what good it does anyone, though. The bottom line is I don't trust anyone in our Government and question all of their motives, Democrat or Republican. I do admire Barrack Obama, he seems like a good man (though I hope he isn't corrupted by the political process) and I strongly believe he would make a great leader, though I lost faith in the citizenry of this country long ago. I don't think the United States as a whole is cool enough to elect someone like Obama, to be brutally frank. I hope I'm proven wrong, and if I am, my faith may be somewhat restored. People in this nation freak me out - all the religious fanatics, the ideologues, the fascists, the bigots, the warmongers, the cultural morons, the willfully ignorant. Sure, there are a lot of fair-minded, good-hearted, intelligent people out there too, but either they're choosing to remain a silent majority, or they really are an endangered species. An amoral, stubborn, confused and culturally retarded idiot like Bush should never have been allowed to piss our country's rep down the sewer like he has. But it's not just his fault - he was enabled by this fear-gripped nation. We can't say we were totally duped - W's ignorance and arrogance have always been on massively obvious display. Not only was he elected to office - twice (conspiracy theories notwithstanding, he's there) - no one in a position to do so has really moved to stop him, and that includes the electorate. This is why I hold Democrats accountable as much as Republicans for the mess we're in, on so many levels. When it comes to Congress, no matter who's "in charge," it's all bumbling bluster, self-serving cold-blooded careerism, posturing and posing for the sake of remaining in power. And it's all very depressing. If you let it get you down. I'm learning to enjoy my personal life even while I remain socially aware as a responsible citizen of the planet Earth and a reluctant member of the human race (nationalism be damned, it's as much to blame for our woes as religion and all the other fabricated subcategories insecure people exploit as excuses to divide us from each other. I proudly proclaim I am not a patriot, just a person.)

So I speak out because I have a self-appointed platform and silence=apathy=surrender=oblivion. You gotta speak your mind, it's your duty, and your right, as a homo sapien, whether - or especially if - others disagree with your stance. But then once I've had my say I head for the tiki bar and chill out with my peeps 'n' homies, who come from all kinds of backgrounds and affiliations, bound by our common love for good music and cocktails. Oftentimes it's the only sane reaction to the madness engulfing us.

See ya there.

Thanks for ten years of cheap thrills, and here's to ten more, even if eventually I'm only sending 'em out into cyberspace from my private hammock on the remote end of Waikiki Beach.

Aloha, Will.

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