Attack of the B Movies
Now Showing at: Showcase Cinema Springdale
Review by: Larry Thomas
These days, it’s heartening to see a major national corporation trying something that’s out of the everyday norm. With everything being so bottom-line oriented and mass-marketed, all stores and shopping malls seem the same.
And nowhere is the sameness more noticeable than at your nearest multi-screen movie theatre. They all show the same movies at the same time, and the only choice seems to be which one to go to. Now, there’s something just a shade different going on. National Amusements, operators of Showcase Cinemas in this area, is catering to the real movie buff. Last week, the Showcase Cinemas Deluxe in Springdale began offering a six-week series called “Attack of the B Movies,” with double features of low-budget sci-fi and horror films from the 1950s and 1960s. Some are good, some are bad, some are tacky, but they all possess the low-budget imagination and innovations that allowed filmmakers to have some fun without spending much money. Interest in these classic titles was piqued by a TV series called “Mystery Science Theatre 3000,” in which the host and a couple of puppets sat in front of the screen and made fun of the dialogue, performances, and general cheapness of these films. After the series ceased production, many people found joy in just watching old genre films for the pure pleasure of it.
In August, National Amusements did a test run in five of their flagship houses in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The films were paired up just as they might have been seen upon first release. Admission for the double feature was a mere…by today’s standards…five bucks. The theatre chain was so impressed by the results that they are expanding “Attack of the B-Movies” to twenty-two other locations in nine states. The programs began running on Thursday, September 20th, and will continue weekly through Thursday, October 25th. The added locations will get the first batch of pre-tested titles, while the Massachusetts and Rhode Island test subjects offer up twelve different films.
The films shown last week were Roger Corman’s The Wasp Woman plus Monster from Green Hell, about giant wasps in the African jungle…definitely “bee” movies. Showing this past Thursday at the Showcase Springdale were two prime examples of the different ways the independent studios offered up thrill-packed entertainment for kids and teenagers forty and fifty years ago. 1959’s The Giant Gila Monster featured hot-rod driving teenagers attempting to thwart a Kong-sized lizard in the desert. With only $130,000 to make the entire film, writer-director Ray Kellogg cheaped on the special effects by photographing a real gila monster on miniature sets in order to give the illusion of bigness. The second feature was the American release version of the 1966 Japanese monster flick Gammera the Invincible. Obviously inspired by the success of Godzilla, Gammera is a Kong-sized flying, fire-eating and –breathing, turtle, which seems determined to destroy Tokyo. And like his “cousin” Godzilla, American distributors chopped out 40 minutes of original footage to be replaced by American made army and politician shots that are badly written, shot and acted. Even stalwart character actors Albert Dekker and Brian Donlevy are unable to bring any life to the American scenes, and the English dubbing of the Japanese scenes is, as usual, laughable.
Now for the bad news: the films are being shown on the Showcase’s digital video projection unit using DVDs. All the films in the series are public domain, which means the copyright has lapsed, and anyone who has a print may copy and sell it. Most of these films find their way into the marketplace as low-quality DVDs. Using questionable source material to make multi-generational copies, these DVDs have more than their fair share of flaws. The Giant Gila Monster looked as if the image had been spread horizontally at least 20%, making people appear distorted. Gammera was a very washed out, pan-and-scan print from the original widescreen. If Showcase had good source material, the video projection would be fine. The picture size and brightness were acceptable for their big screen, and the sound, run through the theatre’s Dolby system, was excellent, although not stereo. But technical drawbacks aside, it’s still great fun to actually sit in a theatre seat and relive memories from a past age, whether you originally saw these films in a theatre or local television.
The rest of the series, showing every Thursday evening in October, will pair The Brain the Wouldn't Die with Screaming Skull; Attack of the Giant Leeches with Monster From a Prehistoric Planet; The Terror with House on Haunted Hill; and The Last Man on Earth with Devil Girl from Mars. And on Halloween night at 6, the series concludes with a four-feature marathon: White Zombie; Chamber of Horrors; Satanic Rites of Dracula; and the original Night of the Living Dead.
A Showcase manager said that, although attendance was comparatively small, the second program had double the attendance of the first one. Here’s hoping that a similar increase happens each week. While the visual quality may be lacking, the films…and the experience…are worth the trip.