Nobody likes it when people talk at theaters, during a movie.Well, talking is definitely encouraged when the movie in question is the 1959 science fiction potboiler “The Wasp Woman,” and the theater is located in the basement of the South Sioux City Public Library during one of its last-Thursday-of-the-month “B Movie Nights.”
“The audience and I try to turn this night into the ultimate version of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ experience,” library director Dave Mixdorf explained, alluding to the old Comedy Central series which featured a live host and his robotic sidekick buddies cracking wise at truly frightful cinema.The monthly “B Movie Night” program, which started more than two years ago, was inspired by Mixdorf’s teenaged memories spent watching “Creature Features” on TV with his friends.
“A bunch of guys and a few girls would come to my house on a Saturday night to watch Chuck Acri, a man who owned a local window store, host a TV show that featured terrible movies,” Mixdorf, who grew up in eastern Iowa, remembered. “It was great fun!”While Mixdorf admitted that a few quality movies made their way into these “Creature Features” — the original “Frankenstein” and “The Wolf Man,” to name but two — but the vast majority of the films were cheap, low-budget movies designed to satisfy teenagers.
From roughly the 1930s until the early 1960s, movies were classified as “A” movies — films with big budgets and stars — and “B” movies — mostly quickly shot genre pictures featuring actors who were either on the way up or on their way down in Hollywood.”Back in the heyday of the Hollywood, studios would traditionally make upwards of 52 movies a year,” Mixdorf explained. “They couldn’t all be masterpieces. B movies were designed to keep the studios hopping when they weren’t making the high-profiled stuff.”
Many of the movies of Mixdorf’s childhood, as well as those he shows during “B Movie Nights,” boast campy titles like “It Came From Beneath The Sea,” “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” or this night’s “The Wasp Woman,” which featured a no-name cast of actors and bargain basement special effects.
This is exactly the way Joyce Stone likes it. She and her husband Ed Stone are monthly regulars to the “B Movie Night” program.
“I love old black-and-white movies,” the South Sioux City woman explained, “plus I love to keep track of all of the stupid movie cliches.”
While Joyce Stone said her favorite B movie is the 1958 Steve McQueen vehicle, “The Blob,” Ed Stone prefers something classier: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic “Psycho.”
“It wasn’t a B but it was economically made,” Ed Stone insisted. “And it had a sense of humor about itself.”
The Stones admit they are movie buffs but neither can hold a candle to Markus Comer, a 21-year-old South Sioux City resident with an encyclopedic memory for movie trivia.
“Whenever we have a question about a Godzilla movie or B movies in general, Markus is our go-to guy,” Mixdorf explained.
It’s true. Comer, a regular “B Movie Night” attendee, came loaded with trivia minutes before the start of “The Wasp Woman.”
“It’s not the best movie but it’s OK,” the armchair film critic opined.
That’s a sentiment shared by Mixdorf, who has an unusual rating scale for such movies.
For instance, “The Wasp Woman” rates a solid three on his “smelly sock” system. In other words, the stinkier the movie, the higher the rating.
Mixdorf and his audience admit some movies are so bad, they’re good. While some movies are so bad that they’re, well, simply bad.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. The worse a movie is, the more comments it will get.
And, yeah, the audiences at “B Movie Nights” are funnier and more entertaining than the folks on the screen.