On November 8th, 2008 at the lovely Fox Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, a group of lucky folks were treated to a night of cinematic delights the likes of which are rarely seen outside of the bedroom of a socially awkward college student. But, it’s more than a shared experience amongst like-minded film-lovers.. It’s also a test of will. 12 hours (or so) of Grindhouse cinema in the form of hippie science-fiction, moralizing blaxploitation, 80s valley girl comedy, psycho-sexual slasher, exotic porn, and the first super-hero from New Jersey.
Those who made it through the whole night found themselves with a smug sense of self satisfaction and a greater sense of self worth. Those who failed.. well, it’s best not to speak of them.
Dark Star (1974) -John Carpenter (Halloween, Big Trouble In Little China, The Thing) and Dan O’Bannon’s (writer of Alien, director of Return Of The Living Dead) trippy student film, expanded into feature length. Obviously inspired by 2001 and Silent Running, it uses some impressive low-budget special effects, along with a goofy sense of humor, to keep things humming to a surprisingly effective climax. The highlight is the character of Pinback (played by O’Bannon) tangling with an the ship’s pet alien, realized as a beach ball with feet. A fun start to the evening.
Mystery Film (1986) – Attendees have been sworn to secrecy in regards to the title, but anyone possibly nodding off at this point were assisted in wakefulness by the distribution of noisemakers. We were instructed to let off warnings whenever a limousine appeared onscreen, or whenever a character mentioned the word “chauffeur”. Needless to say, this led to some significant squawking, which continued for several films afterward.
This one is a Mid 80s fish-out-of-water comedy about a valley girl (Deborah Foreman, star of, well, Valley Girl and the original April Fool’s Day) suddenly finding herself working at a limousine company. After some various misadventures, she finds herself melting the cold exterior of Patrick Bateman-like Battle Witherspoon (played by Sam J. Jones a.ka. Flash Gordon). It’s all plenty of fun, with small appearances by Howard Hesseman, the great E.G. Marshall, and the first film appearances of Penn and Teller. A bit uneven, but with a sharp script and an uneasy incest subplot. Hooray.
Sensations (1975) – I have to say, I didn’t know what I was getting into with this one. After the light porno comedy of Danish Pastries from the first Shock and Awe, I expected something similarly tame. I was incorrect.
Sensations is about a young American woman’s experiences with the sexual freedoms of Amsterdam, eventually finding her turned into a pillow-of-pleasure in a sometimes surreal orgy scene. This one has it all – B/G, G/G, Anal, Hook Hands, Piss, Cocaine, a rather verile 68 year old, and lots and lots of 70s hair in all the places you might imagine. There are things in this that, once seen, can never be unseen.
The Toxic Avenger (1984) – Uncut version of the Troma classic. Admittedly, my familiarity with the subject matter (or, possibly, my brain trying to escape from the memories of Sensations), had me on the verge of sleep several times.
And this was certainly uncut, as some of the montages seemed to loop a bit, going on comically long. I’ve seen numerous cut versions of the film over the years, and this was the most complete I remember seeing, including the biker’s head being run over, and the gym equipment face smashing. An appropriately fun and silly way to end things off.
Once again there were prize giveaways, appropriate goodies from the concession stand, and breaks between movies so we could slowly cower from the impending daylight. When we finally emerged from the darkned theatre at 10:30 AM, shielding our eyes from the sun, there was an audible sense of relief. We were all a little battered, but not beaten. Shock & Awe is a theatre full of diverse backgrounds and interests, but those that attend have a common love for films that exist slightly off the beaten path. One cannot help but be immediately excited for Shock & Awe #3, tentatively scheduled for June, 2009.