What’s with the sudden B-movie fascination in South Florida?
Over the last several months, a handful of local theaters and art spaces have been transformed into houses of horror, screening what could be described as the anti-Hollywood film: the B-movie.
Interest in these decades-old, semi-obscure cinematic gems — stuffed with X-rated gore, cheap special effects, over-the-top villains and alternately tacky acting and plot lines — isn’t new. But the crush of screenings in South Florida certainly is.
“People are just bored with Hollywood, which is trying so hard to recapture nostalgia with remakes,” says concert promoter Mark Pollack, who along with Radio-Active Records manager Mikey Ramirez created Splatter-Rama!, a monthly double-feature showcase that started in June at Fort Lauderdale’s Cinema Paradiso. “Old splatter movies — cheesy ones with ketchup-blood — there’s a resurgence in those films right now because people are purists, and those movies are crazy, gory and not a bit insincere.”
Splatter-Rama!, modeled after the grindhouse double-features of the 1970s, is the most popular of the local B-movie screenings, drawing more than 200 people each month.
“I’m a huge horror and gore fan, and these movies were made to be low-budget-looking and funny, and didn’t take themselves as seriously,” says Pollack, whose horror series returns Oct. 31 with screenings of 1985’s “Re-Animator” and the 1986 movie, “Night of the Creeps.”
Slumber Party Cinema, a cult-film series specializing in 1980s-era movies, holds court at independent theater O Cinema in Miami.
Owner Kareem Tabsch also operates the off-and-on film series Bizarro Cinema, which returns in mid-November with a screening of martial-arts film “Miami Connection.” He credits the newfound demand for B-movie cinema, especially gory fare, as a need for “cheap, ridiculous escapism.”
“Across the board, people are having to embrace cheap alternatives with the economy. There’s a simplistic beauty in doing a lot with a little, and that’s created this huge resurgence in lo-fi entertainment,” Tabsch says. “People realize they aren’t exactly watching ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Casablanca’ here. You don’t have to switch on your brain to see a bunch of people get cut up.”
Slumber Party Cinema creator Luis Pinto, of Miami Beach, blames his gory horror addiction on a childhood diet of Godzilla, “Poltergeist” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video (and, unashamedly, some Iron Maiden album art). In September, Pinto popped in a VHS double-feature of the Coen Brothers’ “Blood Simple” and David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome.” And on Wednesday, he plans to screen “Surburbia,” about rebellious punk kids, and “Class of Nuke ‘Em High,” which concerns a radioactive monster terrorizing a high school near a nuclear power plant.
“I screen VHS tapes to recreate that kind of crappy quality with a crappy, but hilarious, movie. I’m actually shocked by some of the newer horror films,” says the 32-year-old graphic designer, whose inaugural Slumber Party Cinema, named after the 1984 cheerleader slasher film “Slumber Party Massacre,” drew a few dozen fans. “My series is supposed to expose a new audience to lost treasures.”
Several blocks south, in the Wynwood Art District, Joey Halegua operates the Gutter Film Series out of warehouse space LAB Miami. Since July, the lifelong cinephile charges free admission and screens his personal collection of mostly South Florida-set films (not including a 1977 B-movie, called “Shock Waves,” about Nazi zombies).
“Maybe it’s a bit cheesy if someone’s head gets chopped off by a wire, but I think it’s still a cool thing for me. I’m trying to respect what cult movies were trying to do, if you look past it being outdated,” says the 24-year-old Coconut Grove resident, whose audience has grown to three-dozen people.
On a recent Sunday night at Cinema Paradiso, an onslaught of zombies rampaged down the street, stumbling after a pair of bumbling police officers. The boys in blue drop a string of f-bombs as they disappear into a pile of the undead horde. An elderly zombie staggers to the police cruiser and moans, “Send more cops!” into the walkie-talkie, a hunk of ash-gray chin-flap dangling as he speaks.
In the audience at Splatter-Rama!, Fort Lauderdale horror-buff Peter Leto couldn’t remember laughing harder, though he has watched this scene from the 1985 zombie-comedy (zom-com? zombedy?) “Return of the Living Dead,” countless times before.
“I just really, really love cheesy zombies,” said Leto, 18, a cinephile ever since his older sister exposed him to “Night of the Living Dead” at age 6 (he wasn’t scarred for life). “People go to these movies out of an ironic detachment, but it’s cool to watch the special effects of a different generation, all the fake blood that didn’t come from CGI, laughing hard at a movie that didn’t intend to be funny.”
Pollack says Splatter-Rama! has screened ’60s splatter classics “Blood Feast” and “Two Thousand Maniacs!,” both directed by Fort Lauderdale schlock-horror maven Herschell Gordon Lewis.
In July, Gordon Lewis, the 83-year-old godfather of gore, visited Splatter-Rama! and sang a rousing version of the theme song to “Two Thousand Maniacs!” just before its screening.
“The one word I would not use to describe my movies is ‘classic,’ ” says Lewis, chuckling. “But if more locals want to watch my movies, well, the merrier. To be honest, I don’t think we’re in a renaissance of B-movies. The fascination never died.”