I have always enjoyed watching movies. I am a fan of the horror movies. When I started to college in 1980, it was a great time for fans of horror movies. “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” had been recent successes and many of the film studios and independent producers tried to piggyback off of their success. Some of the films they made were good but many of them were bad. This was not a problem for me since I am also a fan of bad movies. A friend and I formed a group called the “Bad Cinema Club”. This was an informal group. Anyone who happened to be going with us when we went to see any horror movie was considered a member. Most of the time, we would go to movies on Tuesday evening. This was bargain night at the local theatres. We had no idea before we went to these movies if they were any good or not. Their potential for badness was based on their titles. Like many of the fraternities on campus, we decided to have a “Spring Formal” event. It was going to be a weekend when we decided to go see as many bad movies as we possibly could. At that time, you could pick practically any weekend and see at least one bad horror movie. We picked out the perfect weekend for this event.
We started at the local drive-in theatre. They were showing a triple feature of films with the word “House” in the title. They were showing, “The Last House on the Left”, “The House by the Lake” and “The House that Dripped Blood”. I know we arrived late and there wasn’t very much memorable about these movies. They paled in comparison to the films we planned for later in the weekend.
The next film on our list for the weekend was George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”. It was the midnight movie offering at our local theatre that weekend and we decided to see it immediately after the triple feature. We went back to campus, dropped off the people that didn’t want to stay with us, picked up a few new people and headed out to the theatre.
To appreciate this story, you have to know a little bit about the film. It is a sequel to Romero’s classic “Night of the Living Dead”. This sequel was made 10 years after the original. In both the movies, the dead are coming back to life. In the sequel, a group of 5 people, land a helicopter on the roof of a shopping mall, manage to clear the mall of zombies and lock the doors with only one of them getting bitten but not dying. They have the keys to all of the stores in the mall and are have access to everything they need. Then a motorcycle gang busts into the mall, letting the zombies in and mayhem ensues. The motorcycle gang crashes their bikes, pies are thrown in zombie’s faces, bikers kill zombies, zombies kill bikers and the people in the mall try to kill everyone. I had never seen this film before and I had no idea what was going to happen.
It’s also important to this story to know a little bit about how films are shown. The films weren’t contained on one huge reel. They are contained on a series of reels. Each reel would contain approximately 10 minutes of film. When you see an old movie on television, you will occasionally notice a round circle that shows up in the upper right-hand corner of the frame before a transition in the film. Usually you will see one a few seconds before and then another right at the transition. This is a sign that there is a reel change in the film. In this film, there is a scene where the people in the mall have been celebrating settling in and everything seems to be ok. Then there is a shot showing the mall in the foreground with the sun rising behind it. You can hear the motorcycles in the distance but cannot see them. This is the Dawn of the Dead. It is also a place for the reel change.
When the reel changed, we didn’t see the motorcycle gang approaching the mall like you do when you are usually watching this movie. This reel ran upside down and from the end of this section of the film to the beginning. So we were immediately thrown to gang members hopping on their bikes and going backwards and pulling pies out of zombie faces. We saw bikers and zombies being “unkilled”. This was totally unexpected and we were totally confused. We had no idea that there were even going to be bikers in the film and suddenly here they were in the mall. Where did they come from? How did they get in the mall? Why did they let the zombies in? And more than anything else, why was everything going backwards? We were having a great time. Imagine a theatre full of college kids (many of whom had had a few drinks before going to this show) watching this. The theatre was crazy. We were all laughing. We were shouting. We found out later that there was no one in the projection booth at the time. The two employees were hanging out in the lobby. By the time they found out what was going on, there was film all over the projection booth. They turned off the projector and the film wound down to a stop. The backwards sound slowing to a stop as the crowd roared in a huge cheer. We sat in the theatre in the dark waiting for the film to start back. It didn’t and people started going to check. The crowd decided that since we hadn’t seen the entire movie, we should get our money. Never mind that what we got to see was more entertaining than most movies. I don’t know who was communicating with the staff but we were told that they were working on the movie and would have it going in a little bit. Since this was a midnight movie, it got harder to keep ourselves entertained. Soon we moved to the lobby. The lobby didn’t provide much more entertainment. After a while we decided that it wasn’t worth sticking around. But we also felt that some souvenirs of the evening were in order. Someone in our group came home with a “Superman II” poster. And for about a week our fraternity house had a cardboard cut-out advertising the movie “On the Right Track” starring Gary Coleman.
The second night of the Bad Cinema Club formal couldn’t hold a candle to the first but did have a few highlights. We started the night by watching something called “Happy Birthday to Me”. The best thing about this movie is the title. The second best thing is this text that appears at the bottom of the movie poster:
“Warning: Because of the bizarre nature of the party, no one will be seated during that last ten minutes… PRAY YOU’RE NOT INVITED.”
After that, we watched our last movie of the weekend, “The Hand”. It was directed by Oliver Stone and stars Michael Caine. Caine plays an artist who loses his hand in a bizarre automobile accident. The “hand” comes back to life and kills people and causes problems (or is it really the hand doing it?). This was an opportunity for our group to start cracking “hand” jokes. “You’ve got to hand it to him!” “Let’s give him a hand!” “He’s pretty handy!” This started during the opening credits and continued until the usher (really just the guy running the snack bar) came down the aisle with a flashlight and pointed it in our direction. I think someone had complained about us. After a while, the movie got so bad that we started back with our comments and everyone else joined in.
The Bad Cinema Club continued at least until I graduated. It seems there were never as many bad horror films to watch as there was that first year. And we never had another experience like with did with “Dawn of the Dead”.
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