How hardcore a cinephile are you? Sure, you occasionally take in an indie film or even head to one of the screenings of older movies throughout the Triangle. But are you prepared for a new series celebrating older films that perhaps only serious film geeks have heard of?
The Colony Theater is hoping you are with Cinema Overdrive, a new series that began in August with a hugely attended screening of the Roger Corman-produced Death Race 2000. The Frank Zappa fave 200 Motels followed, to similar audience response.
In a year that has seen the shuttering of the Varsity Theater as well as the decimation of the art-house distribution network, it's perhaps a counterintuitive time for an old-fashioned curated series of grindhouse classics to take hold.
But that's what's happened, and the sour economy is partially responsible. To create the series, the Colony's longtime manager, Denver Hill, secured the services of Matt Pennachi, a film collector and historian who had been laid off from his longstanding job as director of operations at the Carolina Theatre of Durham.
"Matt and I are both avid 35 mm collectors," says Hill, who contacted them about doing the new series. "He and Adam [Hulin] did a great job with Retrofantasma at the Carolina, and I was excited to do something with them."
The monthly series continues on Sept. 9 with Shogun Assassin, a 1980 tale of a master-less samurai who violently dismembers opponents while pushing his infant son in a booby-trapped baby cart. The film was compiled from the Japanese Lone Wolf and Cub series, which was in turn based on a popular comic that was a major inspiration on 300's Frank Miller, who illustrated covers for some 1980s U.S. reprints.
"Normally, when it's run theatrically, people go bonkers," says Pennachi, who co-created the series with Hulin. "It's extremely rare to see on the big screen—if anyone you know has seen it, their eyes will get big and a big smile will spread across their face when they see the title."
He admits, though, that not all attendees will know what they're in for: "If you're not familiar with it, you might walk out of there feeling like you've never seen anything like it before." That's the reaction viewers might have to the grindhouse-friendly lineup at Cinema Overdrive. October is a triple threat that includes Sam Raimi's original The Evil Dead, the Spanish chainsaw film Pieces (which was only released uncut in the U.S. last year) and the more family-friendly The Monster Squad, with Triangle resident Andre Gower. November features the 1982 cop flick Vice Squad, while December features the Asian ripoff flick Lady Terminator. The collective body count in these films is high enough to dam the Mississippi.
Moviegoers who pony up the $5 ticket price will not only get to view 35 mm prints of all these but also be treated to a wide variety of themed trailers. (Shogun Assassin will include a trailer for the 1974 film of the Green Hornet TV series with Bruce Lee as Kato.) "There are some films where we have no interest in showing the features—the features are probably garbage," Pennachi says. "But two and a half minutes of it? That's gold!" He quotes Hulin: "Films are most fun when they're either highbrow or lowbrow. It's when they fall in the middle that there's trouble."
Despite the closing of the Varsity in June, Hill says films like The Hurt Locker and 500 Days of Summer have given the Colony one of its best summers in the past few years. "The last few years, we were getting a lot of duds, and this summer has had some real quality movies." He's had some success doing revival screenings of more mainstream films, such as The Princess Bride with Cool Classics at the Colony, but he concedes that Cinema Overdrive is "raunchier, and more of a risk" than their screenings of better known older films.
The trick will be to see if Cinema Overdrive can prove to be a grindhouse ambassador, helping a new generation of Triangle residents discover the appeal of good old-fashioned celluloid mayhem.
Pennachi says he wants the series to appeal to "both people who love these movies and want to see them theatrically, but also their friends. We look at it as sort of both film school and church."
"You have a good time and get your money's worth, but hopefully you also come out feeling enlightened."
Or as Hulin puts it: "If this series doesn't offend somebody, we're probably doing something wrong."