Fewer things have meant as much to me as when Phil Blankenship let me co-host a 20th anniversary screening of Shocker at the New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles back in 2009. I wrestle with the notion of "guilty pleasure" movies, but for the sake of argument if such a thing exists, then Shocker is mine - I know it's got problems, and it's hardly the best Wes Craven has done, but dammit I love it anyway, and having literally worn out the soundtrack on tape (twice, but the second was bought used so maybe it was already on its way out) as a kid it felt amazing to hear those songs piping through the New Bev's speakers. This is a place that often shows Truffaut and Fellini films - and we're here listening to "Demon Bell" ("I wanna hear you SCREAM LIKE HELL!").
But it wasn't just the hosting that meant so much to me; it was a validation of HMAD, sure, but the thing that made me proudest was that it was at a theater I loved so much and consider an important part of Los Angeles' culture. I hosted screenings at a few other theaters around, and while I enjoyed them all I never felt as much of an honor as I did when I'd walk up to the New Bev stage and grab one of its mics. I first went to it a couple months after moving to LA, and while I never got to go as often as I'd like (which would be several times a week, since you can get a pretty thorough film education from its programming), I got there enough to make friends with fellow regulars, including the delightful Clu Gulager, who attended more of my screenings than just about anyone. I also obviously got to know Michael Torgan, the manager who carried on his father Sherman's legacy after he sadly passed away in 2007. In a city full of people who are selfish and care only about themselves, Michael was kind to a seemingly inhuman degree. For the past few years I don't think he's ever let me take my wallet out of my pocket (same goes for my wife when she'd accompany me), and when the Alamo did its Halloween screening there in 2012 he not only let me in to see the movie (it was a sold out event that I couldn't afford), but gave me the Ken Taylor poster they had given him for his trouble. If you've ever tried to obtain one on eBay, you'd know how amazing a gesture it is to give someone theirs for nothing.
I could probably fill up the entire post with other stories like this (such as the time where he programmed Armageddon, a request I can't imagine anyone else besides me ever made), but suffice to say he's a great guy who I have the deepest respect for, and I did my best to repay his selflessness by trying to fill up his theater once a month (or so) with a bunch of horror fans who might otherwise not attend the theater all that often, if ever (though a number of Bev regulars, like Clu, would often attend). After Phil parted ways with the theater back in 2011, Michael asked if I still wanted to host In The Mouth of Madness, which Phil had already booked as our next event, with the agreement that if it went well we'd continue to do them. I stay out of the financial side of things, so I don't know if the shows were always successful (I can almost guarantee End of Days wasn't), but I assume on the average they were or else he wouldn't have let me keep picking movies to show. For the next 3+ years we continued doing shows every month or so, and when I "quit" HMAD last year I assured him that I may be too busy/burned out to keep watching/reviewing movies every day, but that I fully intended to keep the screenings going on the same schedule. Even after we had our baby, my wife knew how much these shows meant to me and graciously allowed me to leave her alone on a random Saturday night, reducing the already minimal time she got to sleep so I could stand in front of a hundred or so horror fans and hand out DVDs before showing a junky (but AWESOME!) movie like Jason Takes Manhattan.
Ideally, I'd show movies I "discovered" via HMAD, but it would prove to be difficult to find 35mm prints of many of those (Raw Meat was one of the only exceptions), so I shifted focus and began doing movies that I never got a chance to see on 35mm, or movies I thought folks should re-evaluate (had we continued, I'd have pushed for Valentine next February). I didn't even love all the movies (including the last one, Nightmare 5), but I knew they'd be draws due to being part of a franchise (such as Jason Takes Manhattan), and thus successful for Michael and hopefully make up for a disappointing turnout like The Descent, which I just wanted to see on the big screen again but apparently few others felt the same. And we got to do something truly special - the first legal screening of the much-discussed "Producer's Cut" of Halloween 6, on a 35mm print to boot. I've been told this screening helped get the ball rolling for this month's official release of the film (via the Anchor Bay/Scream Factory Halloween collection set), something that's been desired for the past 18 years. To have a small part in something that will make so many Hallo-fans happy makes me incredibly giddy - it almost justifies how much Devin's eyes must hurt from rolling every time I submit yet another piece focused on the series for my BadassDigest column.
So believe me when I say I'm devastated about the recent turn of events at the theater. I first caught wind of it when we were selecting this last screening; it was hinted that it might be the last so I toyed with the idea of doing something better (or, Shocker again) to send it off in style, but I forged ahead with Nightmare 5 in the hopes that the gods of cinema wouldn't allow the series to end on such a "meh" note, and that whatever was going on could be reversed. Alas, that does not seem to be the case, and we sadly ended with a whimper - not only is it not exactly a great movie, but our special guests bailed at the last minute and the title never even made it to the marquee at the theater (I was also running late so I didn't get a shot of the line). Clu even missed it, which almost never happens. I do not know all of the specifics of what happened there, as it's none of my business really, but I know that the theater will be closed in September and that the rest of the year's programming has already been selected. I don't technically work there, so they have no reason to keep me in the loop of what's going on - but it certainly seems like the folks that will now be calling the shots are not interested in continuing any current recurring programming series, including ones that are far more popular than my shows. I felt guilty enough doing them without Phil, but I wouldn't even consider doing them unless Michael was the one calling the shots (another great thing about him - he'd put up with me tossing out dozens of titles every month, since he was the one who'd have to locate/book the prints). I'm confident that the theater will continue to show great movies, but part of what made the New Bev so wonderful and perfect was the family atmosphere, something that cannot possibly be felt when the family who started it has been shown the door.
If you ever made it out to one of the HMAD shows, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. We only had one sell out show (Nightmare 4), so each empty seat I'd see on the other nights made me that much more appreciative of the people filling the others (for the record, they were usually around half full, which is actually good for a midnight since it's tough to get folks out that late for a movie they probably have at home). If you ever won a crappy DVD and watched it, I apologize - I made no secret that most of those "prizes" were the movies Amoeba wouldn't even give me a nickel for in trade-in value, though every now and then I'd get an extra copy of something good. I would try to get guests every time; I wasn't always successful of course, but special thanks to Wes Craven and the Shocker cast, Larry Drake, Kevin Pollak, Dan Farrands, Bill Moseley, Ken Foree, Sandy Carpenter (twice!), the Nightmare 4 cast, Brad Dourif (twice!), Patrick Lussier, Don Mancini, John Lafia, Danny Trejo, and anyone else I forgot who came to one of my shows during their free time (and at a late hour) and made those shows that much more special to me and (hopefully) the audience. Another thanks to Phil for opening the door for me there, and a very special thanks to Jacopo Tenani who designed most of the posters for the shows starting with Urban Legend - he'd spare you my dumb Photoshop jobs AND make something eye-catching and unique, with folks always asking if they could get a printed version (which we sadly could never find a way to make affordable). Please head to his site for his continued works!
To send it off, I've compiled a list of all the shows I hosted there under the HMAD name (I did a couple of other Q&As that were unrelated to HMAD, such as with Tommy Lee Wallace for Halloween III, some of which appears on the blu-ray). I THINK it's complete; I stupidly used to delete my posts once the screening had passed, so I had to go by memory and also the existence of the photoshopped posters that were still on my hard drive. If you think I missed one, let me know!
In association with Phil Blankenship's weekly midnight series:
October 2009: Shocker*
December 2009: Dr. Giggles*
March 2010: Terror Train
April 2010: Raw Meat
July 2010: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
September 2010: Maximum Overdrive
November 2010: Hatchet I/II double feature*
Feb 2011: Phantasm II**
HMAD "solo" shows:
April 2011: In The Mouth of Madness*
May 2011: People Under The Stairs
June 2011: From Dusk Till Dawn*
July 2011: Psycho II*
August 2011: Drag Me To Hell
September 2011: The Descent
November 2011: John Carpenter's Vampires*
January 2012: Psycho III*
February 2012: Silver Bullet
March 2012: Child's Play*
April 2012: Christine
May 2012: There's Nothing Out There*
June 2012: Urban Legend
August 2012: Monkey Shines
September 2012: The Faculty*
October 2012: Halloween II
(Series break due to holidays and then the exclusive run of Django Unchained)
March 2013: Final Destination 2*
April 2013: Scream*
May 2013: The Howling
July 2013: Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood*
August 2013: Nightmare on Elm Street 4*
September 2013: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (AGAIN!)
October 2013: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (producer's cut)*
December 2013: End Of Days*
January 2014: The Exorcist III*
March 2014: Child's Play 2*
May 2014: Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3*
July 2014: Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan*
August 2014: Nightmare on Elm Street 5
*Denotes special guest Q&A
**Denotes special guest that never let me speak
Thanks Michael. Thanks New Beverly. It's been my absolute pleasure.