The Blog (2019)

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The Art of Stink: 7 Movies Made Better With Odorama
Polyester

December at The Frida Cinema saw not one but two screenings of Polyester, John Waters’ delightfully trashy send-up of romantic melodramas.

As mentioned in December’s Frida After Dark blog, the comedy’s release marked a scent-sational innovation in the field of Smell-O-Vision. Though far from the first to imagine an aromatic theater experience, Waters made the integration of smell his trademark campy own. Rather than scented mists emitted from a theater seat, Polyester turned a simple scratch-and-sniff mechanism into cutting edge, mad scientist-worthy technology. Thus, Odorama was born, a genius gimmick that left a wave of influence rippling in its wake.

Though no “serious” films have given Smell-O-Vision a whirl since 1981, kids’ entertainment has recognized the potential for gross-out humor and low-cost interactivity perfect for their target demos. But aside from the copyright-infringing Rugrats Go Wild and the forgotten Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, cinema has yet to embrace the nuanced art of stink despite a plethora of films just begging for an aromatic update. After careful contemplation with the sheer power of Smell-O-Vision in mind, I’ve nailed down the films that would best be improved by Odorama!


Trainspotting poster

Trainspotting (1996)

Trainspotting may seem like an odd way to start out this list but hear me out.

Cinema is often meant to make you uncomfortable; immersion is among the most important elements to get an audience to truly sympathize with the characters and understand their worldview and motivations. Smelling what our protagonist smells would further bring us into their everyday lives. The trailer for Polyester said it best: “Smelling is Believing”.

In the case of Mark Renton, the decrepit drug den he and his friends inhabit would reek of decaying wallpaper, filthy carpet, and of course, heroin. On an even bigger scale than that, we’d smell the depressive struggle of the Edinburgh youth, trapped in a relapse-inducing “shite state of affairs” that no amount of fresh air can change.

In addition to helping us understand what exactly McGreggor’s character senses in the air when he says “choose life”, a scented version of Trainspotting would drive home the fact that fine film and toilet humor need not be mutually exclusive.

Suggested Scents:

Burnt Spoons

The Worst Toilet in Scotland

Club Volcano: Sweat and booze

Cigarettes

Soiled Bed Sheets

Fresh Air: A temporary relief, though in the end, it won’t make a difference.

Spilt Beer


Alice in Wonderland poster

Alice in Wonderland (1951)

While contemplating smelly cinema, I found it was actually fairly difficult to find aromatic films not centered around food. Though this is understandable since our senses of taste and smell are uniquely intertwined, there are plenty of scents that aren’t necessarily related to food.

Then, it came to me: the floral euphoria that would be Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. Though not the most obvious choice, it’s no question that Wonderland would be a trip for the nose, to say nothing of the mind.

From the opening scene in a lovely English meadow, the charming song “In a World of My Own” is heard while Alice is cradled in a bed of white daisies that surely smells as sweet as it looks. Though the fragrant delights begin even before Alice falls down the rabbit hole, Wonderland provides plenty of potential scent-sations to accompany her episodic adventures.

Key Scents:

Old Book

Daisies

Shortbread Cookie: Those “Eat Me” biscuits have always looked delicious

Little Oysters

Golden Afternoon: A Floral perfume, with a hint of Bread-and-Butterflies.

Huff of Caterpillar: Mixed Berry Hookah

English Tea

Paint: For painting the roses red


Shrek poster

Shrek (2001)

Shrek may forever be meme-ified but its inclusion on this list is no joke. I don’t think there’s a single animated flick that could utilize Odorama for gross-out purposes like Shrek could – hell, the whole franchise begins in an outhouse! Scented tie-ins would come as naturally as gas since stink is a core characteristic of who Shrek is. By not properly bringing to life this side of him when we have the technology, it does a great disservice to the world’s favorite ogre.

Though we might not be fond of all that wafts our way, there’d be some genuinely wholesome moments for your nose on the journey to Duloc, just like the film itself. Though it’d be an odor-heavy beginning and middle, the happily ever after ending would pack a pungent punch to linger in your nostrils for a good while.

Key Scents:

Shrek’s Swamp

Ogre Breath

Gingerbread: Gumdrops optional

Sunflowers

Smokey Brimstone

Shrek’s Specialty: Rotisserie weed rat

Onion Carriage


The Princess and The Frog poster

The Princess and The Frog (2009)

From one enchanted, swamp-green flick to another, The Princess and the Frog is where food really begins to shine on this list.

Naturally, a protagonist with a talent for cooking and a dream of running her own high-class restaurant makes for a lot of delicious-looking food on screen. Though Tiana is famous for her beignets, her savory dishes look just as mouthwatering. On top of that, the air of 1920s New Orleans would be especially rife with fried goodness during Mardi Gras, an entire holiday dedicated to decadence and indulgence.

The most exciting opportunity this film provides however, is an opportunity to draw from the real-life abundance of rich aromas found in folk magic. Like many other practices that are derivative of indigenous traditions (Santería, Hoodoo, Wicca etc.), New Orleans Voodoo features the power of herbs, spices, roots, and incense, which can be utilized to both heal and harm. If you’ve been to a mercado de brujas or even a store that sells tools for meditation, you know just how strong these ingredients can be.

Suggested Scents:

Spicy Gumbo

Tiana’s Beignets

Champagne: Despite taking place during Prohibition, this scent would undoubtedly be known to the characters.

Dr. Facilier’s Shop: Black powder, wormwood, patchouli, sandalwood 

Lottie’s Room: Makeup powder

Swamp Lilies

Mama Odie’s: Chiles, ginger root, parsley, and witch hazel

King’s Cake: A Mardi Gras staple

Wedding Magnolias


Willy Wonka poster

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Hands-down, Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory would be one of the most enchanting places to bring to life with Odorama. Willy Wonka even boasts the most tantalizing opening of all time, giving you the chance to feast your eyes on more chocolate than you’ll probably ever see in your non-chocolatier life. Impressively following that up, “The Candy Man” number in a sweets shop bombards us with even more sugary goodness you can practically smell already. What kind of cream is in a Triple Cream Cup? What aroma could a Squelchy Snorter or a Sizzler exude? What makes the Scumdiddlyumptious so dang scrumptious?

With endless odor possibilities, the mystery of what exactly is in Wonka’s candy that makes even adults go absolutely bonkers could only be enhanced with an olfactory addition. By aroma-fying this flick, we’d finally be able to say, once and for all, that the snozzberries do smell like snozzberries.

Suggested Scents

Milk Chocolate

Bill’s Candy Shop: Fruity gummies

Charlie’s House: Old people smell, cabbage water

Bubblegum

Cheer Up, Charlie: Laundry

Chocolate Waterfall: Chocolate milk

Everlasting Gobstopper

Wonka’s Gum: Tomato soup, blueberry pie

Snozzberries

Fizzy Lifting Drinks: Soda pop

Wonka Wash: Soap suds


The Lighthouse poster

The Lighthouse (2019)

This pick may come as a bit of whiplash from the technicolor world of Willy Wonka, but it’s undeniably justified.

The Lighthouse is miserable in every way; it’s the filthiest movie without being purely toilet-based – though it definitely spends a lot of time in that territory. After a stunning opening sequence among the ocean mist, we’re blasted in the face by unabashed flatulence and urination. Willem Dafoe is theatrically trained to fart on command and we should fully appreciate that, dammit!

It’s hard to tell whether the gorgeous use of black-and-white emphasizes the grime or makes it more palatable. What’s certainly not palatable is a mouthful of dirt or kerosene cocktails.

Unlike the previous films on this list that feature at least a moment of pleasant reprieve among the putrid, there’s no relief in sight on this rock. From the old, waterlogged wood to the constant sweat and rotting sea life debris, it’s without a doubt the crustiest, muckiest, most mud-caked film in recent memory. Hell, Winslow even cites the rancid stench as a key factor that’s driving him mad, in what is surely one of the finest roasts of the 1800s. Surely after 110 minutes of olfactory assault featuring “goddamn farts”, jissom, and “curdled foreskin”, we’d be just as ready to snap Tommy and yearn for escape amidst The Light.

Suggested Scents

Salty Sea Air

L’odeur de Wake: Farts

Calamari

Rotten Fish

Lobster Dinner

Chamberpot

“Rations”: Alcohol

Kerosene: Please don’t drink this, even with honey.

Dirt: Freshly shoveled!


Ratatouille poster

Ratatouille (2007)

If this pick for the top spot seems obvious, it’s for all the best reasons. Ratatouille is the ultimate love letter to food and certainly one of the finest installments of Pixar’s filmography. What many might have forgotten, however, is that the film isn’t just about a rat’s unique appetite – it’s about his spectacular sense of smell as well! Remy’s keen nose is what allows him to think beyond food as simple sustenance, and spurs his flavor intuition that leads him to become head chef of his own restaurant.

Two of the most iconic scenes depicting taste and memories bookend the film at its beginning and end. The famous Chef Gusteau himself describes good food as “music you can taste, color you can smell.” Furthermore, in the perfect illustration of the power of nostalgia, Remy’s ratatouille shatters the icy heart of Paris’ harshest critic, parallel to scent’s unique ability to conjure long-latent memories.

Though there’s some nasty smells that’d be typical of a rat’s point of view, this contrast makes the savory delights of French cuisine that much more divine.

Suggested Scents:

Garbage

Cheese & Strawberry

Saffron

Gusteau’s: Fresh salmon

Red Wine

Remy’s Soup: A spicy, yet subtle smell experience

Lemon Zest

Petrichor: Rainy cobblestone streets

Parisian Sewer

Home-Made Ratatouille


A few honorable mentions that may be worth a sniff:

James and the Giant Peach (1996): Peach, Peach, and Even More Peach

Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007): Mrs. Lovett’s Meat Pies, Blood, Burning Hair

Elf (2003): Pine Tree, Cup of Coffee, The Four Main Food Groups (Candy, Canes, Candy Corn, Syrup)

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Batman Returns
Batman Returns

People don’t usually associate the Caped Crusader and Christmastime with each other, but in fact they are more intertwined than you might think. One of the earliest episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, for instance, takes place during Christmas. I guess it’s understandable that most might not make this connection thanks to the seeming incongruity between the Dark Knight and the holiday season, but at least one of the movies actually brings this most unusual relationship to the big screen.

The second installment of Tim Burton’s Batman franchise, Batman Returns is interesting for a number of reasons. It really feels like a Burton movie, with the director’s affinity for Christmas on full display. Most times when we think of “Christmas movies”, we think of films filled with joy, some kind of personal growth and grateful sentimentality: basically, everything that you’d expect to see in a feel-good story. The reason I appreciate Batman Returns as a holiday film so much is because it embodies qualities that are very much the opposite of these.

The film uses all of its darkness and grittiness to subvert the audience’s expectations of the holidays and what they’re supposed to mean. Aside from the opening tree lighting scene, Burton introduces Christmas elements in a very subtle way. White and red colors are a constant presence throughout the film, as seen on the smoke stacks rising from a power plant. Snow is a repeating element in most Christmas movies and that’s one traditional Yuletide quality Burton doesn’t stray away from: we see it in the beginning landscape shots of Gotham City, which we generally don’t see much of. Burton also incorporates elements like a snow globe full of pine trees and a character named “Ice Princess”, which has an obvious wintertime ring to it.

“Burton introduces Christmas elements in a very subtle way. White and red colors are a constant presence throughout the film, as seen on the smoke stacks rising from a power plant. Snow is a repeating element in most Christmas movies and that’s one traditional Yuletide quality Burton doesn’t stray away from…”

One of my favorite scenes is the aforementioned opening scene. Max Shreck is giving a speech in front of a huge present, vibrantly wrapped in red and green, when the villains pop out of the gift and attack city hall. This scene is so over the top but undeniably Christmas that I love it. On a side note, Shreck is intriguing because, while you may not realize it at first, he can be seen as an evil counterpart to St. Nick. With his long white hair and red bow tie, Schreck is a sleazy Santa fit for Gotham City.

For taking what we expect from Christmastime and turning it on its head, Batman Returns is, on top of being an excellent superhero movie, a most unconventional but no less enjoyable holiday one as well.

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Santa Claus

Black Christmas + 2 Other Christmas Horror Movies screen Friday, December 27th

Santa Claus

Like all good things, Christmastime must come to an end but we at The Frida Cinema have come up with a fun way to keep the holiday spirit going!

Just two days after Christmas day, we’ll be holding a Twisted Christmas triple feature! Presented in conjunction with Dark Alley Productions and Ghost Party Pictures, this special event will feature drinks, vendors, and photo ops with some twisted Christmas characters. Keep an out for monsters though as they’ll be lurking in the pine trees and doing their best to give you a holiday fright. If you stay strong and brave the scares, you’ll get to see three of the most off-the-wall movies to ever grace the holiday season. On top of all this, proceeds from this event will go towards sending the Frida’s operations staff to next year’s Art House Convergence, so you’ll also be helping out a good cause by coming out for it. 

If all that wasn’t enough to sell you, take a look at the cult Christmas classics we’ll be screening that night!


Black Christmas poster

Black Christmas (1974)

Before Halloween, there was another holiday-themed horror film that left viewers on the edge of their seats with its depiction of a deranged killer stalking and murdering young women. That movie was Black Christmas, an independent Canadian production from Bob Clark. Yes, the same guy behind Baby Geniuses directed one of – if not the first – slasher movies ever, and to shockingly eerie effect no less.

Set just weeks away from Christmas, the film focuses on a group of sorority sisters who receive a series of disturbing calls as a mysterious figure (identified simply as “Billy”) kills them one by one. If the premise sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it’s based on the classic urban legend of the babysitter who receives threatening calls only to discover that they’re coming from upstairs. Although the girls don’t discover this until well into the movie, the audience knows that Billy is inside the house from the very beginning thanks to numerous scenes shot from his perspective. Shaky but deliberate, the point-of-view shots convey his skewed view and fill viewers with a sense of unease as he makes his way through the house without the girls even suspecting as much.

Adding to the terror is the fact that we mostly hear Billy rather than see him. Much of the POV footage is accompanied by his labored breathing, giving the impression of an animal panting as it pursues prey. The real chills, however, come from the disturbing phone calls and in-person remarks he makes to the girls. Alternating between making obscene comments to them and acting out conversations between himself and someone named Agnes, the killer uses a wide range of voices that speak to his unhinged nature as well as creep the bejesus out of anyone unfortunate enough to hear them. 

“…the audience knows that Billy is inside the house from the very beginning thanks to numerous scenes shot from his perspective. Shaky but deliberate, the point-of-view shots convey his skewed view and fill viewers with a sense of unease as he makes his way through the house without the girls even suspecting as much.”

This chilling story is further fleshed out by commendable performances from several surprisingly familiar faces. 2001’s Dave, Keir Dullea, appears as put-upon pianist Peter and Margot Kidder (none other than Lois Lane in Richard Donner’s Superman) steals every scene she’s in as Barb, a particularly provocative member of the sorority. John Saxon, meanwhile, follows up his iconic turn as Roper in the previous year’s Enter the Dragon with a suitably commanding performance as Lt. Fuller. The heart of the cast, however, is Olivia Hussey. Perhaps best remembered as Juliet in Franco Zefferilli’s Romeo and Juliet, she stars here as Jess, a straight-shooting heroine who serves as a worthy predecessor to female leads in later slashers. 

As others have pointed out in previous blog posts, Clark also directed A Christmas Story, and even here one can get a feel for his comedic tastes. Said tastes seem to gravitate towards the crude, with the funniest example being when Lt. Fuller finds a paper with a crude name on it and realizes that one of his subordinates cluelessly took it down when Barb gave it to him. Clark wisely lets diversions such as these remain just that, giving viewers just enough respite from the horror happening elsewhere. 

Filled with enough of Clark’s characteristic humor to make the masterfully-crafted creepiness bearable, Black Christmas makes for perfect holiday horror viewing – although you might want to watch it in the light of Christmas Day rather than during the dark of Christmas Eve. 


Dial Code Santa Claus poster

Dial Code Santa Claus (1989)

The next installment of the triple feature is also seen as a predecessor to another, more well-known film. With its premise of a young boy defending his home from an ill-intended intruder during Christmastime, Rene Manzor’s Dial Code Santa Claus would be called a shameless rip-off of Home Alone were it not for the fact that it actually came out a year before that movie. Indeed, the basic set-up is so similar that Manzor felt compelled to sue Chris Columbus and company for “remaking” his film but the truth is that there’s enough differences stylistically and narratively to differentiate Home Alone from its French antecedent.

Have you ever noticed how movies made in the early 90s still kind of seem like they’re set in the 80s? Dial Code produces the opposite effect, thanks partly to its child protagonist. With his smart-aleck attitude, penchant for inventing gadgets, and pronounced mullet, Thomas could easily be the lead in a 90s family film. The influence of the 80s is still present in the form of homages to Rambo and a synth-heavy score that appropriately switches from saccharine to sinister, yet the overall spirit of the film, with its elements of preteen rebelliousness and wish fulfillment, is very much of the following decade.

The film is decidedly un-90s, however, in its depiction of violence. Indeed, it gives us an idea of just how high the stakes are the moment the antagonist, a disturbed vagrant who disguises himself as Santa, encounters Thomas’ dog JR. Instead of JR, say, biting him in the rear end or something similarly humiliating that you might expect from a movie with a premise like this one, “Santa” stabs him, with JR audibly whimpering as Thomas helplessly watches. We already know the bum’s not a good guy at this point, but the sheer cold-bloodedness with which he dispatches JR is shocking enough to transform him from an amusingly-absurd villain to a serious threat, made all the worse by the fact that he’s deliberately targeting a kid for murder.

As far as horror villains go, the movie’s Santa is one of the most unexpectedly effective. Although he doesn’t rack up the substantial bodycount that Billy does in Black Christmas, he has a relentless quality that makes him no less menacing. Thomas snares him in one of his traps but he somehow finds a way out: the boy shoots him in the leg but he’s still able to limp after him. He’s not quite at Michael Myers levels of invincibility, but he’s either durable or just plain lucky enough that he might make some wonder if there really is something supernatural about this Santa.

A darkly comedic thriller that blurs the line between fantasy and fright, Dial Code Santa Claus is a home invasion film fit for the holiday season as well as fans of strange cinema in general.


Santa Claus poster

Santa Claus (1959)

As bonkers as Dial Code Santa Claus is, it’s an exercise in restraint and realism compared to the third and final installment of our triple feature. Innocuously named, Rene Cardona’s Santa Claus is anything but: it has a Santa who lives in outer space, robotic reindeer, and a villain straight from Hell. No really, Santa’s opponent is a devil named Pitch, creatively rendered not as a femme fatale or disembodied voice but as an impish, red-skinned humanoid who looks like he hopped off a Loteria board. Considering the movie’s Mexican origins, it’s amusing to assume that this was intentional on the filmmaker’s part.

While the obvious comparison is the far more infamous Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Cardona’s Christmas caper unbelievably manages to outdo that film in the weirdness department. As was previously noted, Santa lives in outer space – in a castle in outer space, to be more specific. Joining him in the castle are not elves and Mrs. Claus as more traditional tales would have it but the magician Merlin and a bunch of children who are there because… okay, the movie doesn’t try to explain why they’re there rather than at home with their families, so why should I? Joining them is a gaggle of interesting contraptions, including a telescope with an actual eye in it and a pair of particularly lascivious-looking lips that probably have no place in, well, anywhere, to say nothing of a family film.

There’s a lot of laughs to be had, as you probably can imagine, but what’s strange is how many of them are with the movie rather than at it. For sure, the overwhelming bulk are at the insane premise and incompetent execution of it, but believe it or not there are genuinely funny moments here that are indeed meant to be funny! Most of these moments involve Pitch and Santa, such as when the latter hears that the children of Earth think he’s too old to make his Christmas trip. Offended, Santa responds that the Devil is many centuries older than him, with his incredulous delivery given an even more humorous punch by the fact that what he says is actually very true.

On the subject of things that the movie does strangely right, I would like to bring up the dream sequence had by Lupita, one of the children on Earth. After rejecting Pitch’s advice to steal a doll she wants, he plants a dream in her head wherein she’s surrounded by presents that open to reveal dancing, human-sized versions of the doll. With the floor shrouded in mist and the presents assembled in a sort-of Stonehenge formation, it’s a surprisingly strong (and not a little scary) scene bolstered further by the unexpectedly competent choreography of the dancers and the creepy masks they wear. 

Santa Claus, on the face of it, is not a great movie. What it is, however, is a mind-boggling viewing experience unlike anything else to come out of the Christmas season, and certainly one worth seeing on the big screen where you can revel in the lunacy with other equally-baffled viewers.


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Black Christmas
Olivia Hussey in Black Christmas
Olivia Hussey in Black Christmas.

Every holiday season, one can’t help but look forward to the movies that make the season special. Whether it’s a film from our childhood or a recently discovered gem, these movies make us feel like it really is the most wonderful time of the year. The writers of The Frida Cinema have put together a list of our favorite Christmas films, including movies that deal directly with the holiday or ones that are simply set during Christmas. Regardless of which category they fall into, they make our holiday season that much merrier!


Black Christmas (1974)

Black Christmas

Trevor Dillon: Four years before the release of John Carpenter’s horror phenomenon Halloween, Bob Clark (Porky’s, A Christmas Story) quietly made the first great slasher movie with the original Black Christmas. Awesome performances from Margot Kidder and Olivia Hussey are among the best that the genre has ever produced, but it’s Clark’s steady hand behind the camera and ability to create atmosphere (with help from the holiday season setting) that steals the show. Also, the idea of phone calls from the killer (a trope that would be used throughout the 70s and 80s) is played to perfection here. This one still gets under my skin almost fifty years later. 


Olive the Other Reindeer (1999)

Olive the Other Reindeer

Isa Bulnes-Shaw: The Nightmare Before Christmas is my favorite movie period, so I don’t think of it as a Christmastime film per se. Olive, the Other Reindeer, however, is an obscure holiday special close to my heart that just oozes Christmas through and through. It’s about a dog named Olive who loves Christmas but feels out of place. When Santa reveals Blitzen is injured, he announces that Christmas might have to rely on “all of the other reindeer”, which she mishears as “Olive, the other reindeer”. Convinced that she’s actually a reindeer and that Santa needs her help, she journeys to the North Pole with a con-artist penguin named Martini and evading a Christmas-hating mailman determined to thwart her mission.

I watched it at least once every year ever since I can remember – I still remember all the songs despite not having seen it in a few years! Just looking at stills from it makes me nostalgic, taking me back to childhood Christmas seasons and reminding me of other beloved cartoon specials: SpongeBob, PowerPuff Girls, Fairly OddParents, Animaniacs, the list goes on!

What always stood out to me most was the art style, which I can now appreciate fully knowing that it’s actually three-dimensional CGI made to look identical to the unique illustrations of the picture book it’s based on. It’s also awesome to know that Matt Groening and Drew Barrymore produced as well as lent their voices to the film. The thing is wholesome on the purest level with a genuine spirit that makes me feel cozy and warm.


Jingle All The Way (1996)

Jingle All The Way

Adrienne Reese: While I know that Jingle All the Way is considered a bad movie, the 8-year-old in me knows in her little untainted heart that it’s the greatest Christmas film of all time! As a child of the 90’s that loved action hero TV shows, this movie understood me, and its portrayal of the capitalist ethos underlying Christmas toy frenzies continues to remind me of the Cabbage Patch Kids and Tickle Me Elmo crazes of my day. Arnie, Sinbad, and Phil Hartman (three actors with some of the best comedic timing in the game) star in the movie and spectacularly commit to their performances amidst the utterly ridiculous hijinks going on around them. If you do not like this movie, it’s because you’re watching it wrong – it’s a reindeer-punching, Santa-fighting, weird movie that is not supposed to be taken seriously. 

Its screwball comedic style, cheesy one-liners, and heartfelt drama all come together to make the movie lightning in a Christmas snow globe. When it’s Christmas time, that also means it’s “turbo time” for me!


Tangerine (2015)

Tangerine

Atalia Lopez: Sean Baker’s Tangerine is a somewhat unlikely pick for a Christmas movie, but I always find time to watch it during the holidays. Notable for its use of the iPhone 5S for all principal photography, Tangerine is a raw look at the city of Los Angeles from the vantage point of its protagonists, Sin-Dee and Alexandra. The two friends (who are both trans prostitutes of color) reconnect the morning of Christmas Eve after Sin-Dee’s release from a brief stint in jail. When it’s revealed that Sin-Dee’s fiancé and pimp has been cheating on her while she was locked up, Sin-Dee embarks on an odyssey across the city to track down the “other woman” in the space of one day. 

With the exception of a few short trips on public transit, the journey shows us the streets up close and we follow the characters as they navigate the city on foot. This reflects the imbalance of power that the women experience through the clear connection between transportation, power, and autonomy: the johns have cars, while the girls do not. Unlike other notable Los Angeles movies like Chinatown, Blade Runner, Sunset Boulevard, etc., the streets are not a blur that pass by in the background but are the domain of these characters.

Ultimately though, Tangerine is a film about friendship and family – both the family we have and the family we choose.


National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Christmas Vacation

Reggie Peralta: A lot of words come to mind when one thinks of National Lampoon: “wholesome” isn’t one of them. Yet somehow, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation proves to be one of the most wholesome holiday movies of the 80s, if not all time. Not in the sense that there aren’t crude jokes or profanities: there are, but the movie isn’t just a pretext for them to be made. Rather, the film has a surprisingly warm tone that contrasts with the mean-spiritedness you might expect from a Christmas comedy aimed at adults.

This is thanks in no small part to the dynamic between Clark and Ellen Griswold. Played by Chevy Chase as an everyman constantly pushed to his breaking point, Clark is a hero for the modern age while Beverly D’Angelo is a fitting foil as the supremely supportive Ellen, effortlessly defusing her husband’s rants and outbursts and standing by him as he tries to put on the best Christmas yet. The perfect blend of sentiment and satire, Christmas Vacation makes for hilarious, highly rewatchable viewing. 


Babes in Toyland (aka March of The Wooden Soldiers) (1934)

Babes in Toyland

Justina Bonilla: Among all the magical Christmas films that give me a warm and fuzzy feeling, my favorite is legendary comedic duo Laurel and Hardy’s musical comedy Babes in Toyland. Based on the 1903 operetta of the same name, the operetta gave life to the beloved Christmas songs “Toyland” and “March of the Toy Solders”. Other adaptations were made over the years such as Disney’s 1961 version starring Annette Funicello and a 1986 production featuring then-child stars Drew Barrymore and Keanu Reeves, but none speak to me the way the original does.

Babes in Toyland follows goofy toymakers Ollie De (Hardy) and Stanley Dum (Laurel), who live in Toyland with their sister Little Bo-peep and their mother Widow Peep. Though Bo-Peep is in love and engaged to Tom-Tom, the greedy and shrewd Barnaby wants Bo-Peep for himself. Despite Barnaby’s dastardly attempts to force Bo-Peep to marry him, he is outsmarted by the screwball antics of Laurel and Hardy and resorts to summoning the monsters of Bogeyland to attack Toyland. It ends up falling up to our two unlikely heroes to save the day.        

A fun musical filled with cutting edge special effects, dark fairy tale elements and hilarious slapstick comedy, Babes in Toyland is essential viewing for every Christmas in my home and will be for many years to come.


Joyeux Noel (2005)

Joyeux Noel

Sean Woodard: Based on a true story, Joyeux Noël focuses on the ceasefire between French, Scottish, and German forces on the Western Front on Christmas Eve in 1914. I believe one of the film’s strengths is the filmmaker’s choice to have each actor speak their native language rather than dub them. This language barrier makes the eventual bond over music and celebrating Mass more impactful. The contrast between the camaraderie they share for one day and the consequences the soldiers face following their unofficial truce is heartbreaking. While some may argue that the film is overly sentimental, the film reminds us that the ties that bind us together are stronger than the forces that try to tear them apart. 


Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Tokyo Godfathers

Sammy Trujillo: Tokyo Godfathers is a lovely holiday film because it takes the common tropes found in Christmas films and turns them on their head. The three wise men in the film are not kings but vagrants living on the streets of Tokyo. They are not royalty but societal outcasts in the form of a trans woman, an alcoholic, and a teen runaway. While most Christmas films have a miracle towards the finale to solve any remaining conflict, Tokyo Godfathers relies heavily on coincidences so unlikely that one must assume divine intervention is at play. Most importantly, the three protagonists have all abandoned their families and instead find comfort and love in the makeshift family to protect each other from the cruel world that mistreats them. It’s a Christmas film that wins over even the biggest of Scrooges like myself!


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Gremlins Gizmo

Black Christmas + 2 Other Christmas Horror Movies screen Friday, December 27th

Gremlins Gizmo

In honor of the 45th anniversary of the slasher horror classic Black Christmas, I’d like to take a look at five Christmas-themed films that every horror fan should see!


Anna and the Apocalypse poster

Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

A Christmas musical, Anna and the Apocalypse is filled with holiday cheer, zombies, and blood galore. A zombie apocalypse breaks out in a quaint Scottish town, with the majority of residents being infection. Schoolgirl Anna and a handful of her classmates attempt to find their loved ones and escape while also dealing with teenage struggles. A Breakfast Club meets Dawn of the Dead and White Christmas, it’s a unique cinematic experience that will undoubtedly become a horror holiday classic.


Krampus poster

Krampus (2015)

A modern take on the European Christmas folk tradition, Krampus introduces a new generation to the legendary demon. When the dysfunctional Engel family gathers for Christmas, their resentment and hatred for each other leads to the loss of the Christmas spirit. This summons Krampus, who seeks to terrorize the family and drag them all – even the children – to hell. Now, the Engels must put aside their differences and and come up with a way to beat the beast and survive the night. A great Christmas horror film, Krampus is one to watch snuggled up with loved ones.        


Silent Night Deadly poster

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

One of the most controversial and heavily protested films of the 1980s, Silent Night, Deadly Night offended family groups with its depiction of a murderous Santa in advertisements. After witnessing the death of his parents by an assailant in a Santa outfit, Billy is sent to live in an abusive orphanage. When he grows up and leaves the orphanage, Billy snaps and goes on a murderous rampage dressed as Santa. Although other movies depicting a killer Santa came out before this one, the backlash for Silent Night led the studio to pull the commercial from television and ultimately, the film itself from theaters. However, it became a cult classic beloved by horror fans to this day.


Gremlins poster

Gremlins (1984)

An unlikely horror-comedy classic, Gremlins has become more beloved with every passing Christmas. After being given an unusual pet in the form of the Mogwai Gizmo, Billy doesn’t follow the care instructions for the creature. This leads to the creation of an army of Gremlins who take over the town. It’s up to Billy and Gizmo, with a little help from their friends, to defeat the mischievous monsters. It’s a visually and musically incredible experience, as well as one that features one of the cutest creatures in film ever.


Black Christmas poster

Black Christmas (1974)

Nine years before Bob Clark directed the comedy classic A Christmas Story, he helmed Black Christmas, the quintessential holiday horror. A group of female college students throw a Christmas party at their sorority house during winter break. After receiving an obscene and threatening phone call, one of them goes missing. Soon, more sorority sisters are killed and the calls continue, leading them to suspect that this phantom killer and the phone caller might be the same person. A trailblazing film, Black Christmas established many signatures of the horror genre today with its plot twist and visual styles.


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The Irishman
The Irishman

Martin Scorsese made a name for himself writing and directing realistic dramas like Casino and Goodfellas. At first glance, one might see The Irishman as just another gritty gangster movie, filled with Scorsese signatures such as Catholic imagery, familiar actors, and intense attention to on-camera details. However, Scorsese reaches new heights with this film, examining brotherhood, family, and coming to terms with one’s own mortality. It’s a melodrama beautifully realized by Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, three titans of crime cinema.

De Niro himself described The Irishman as “…a classic story about loyalty, about brotherhood and betrayal. But a betrayal for a reason that people can understand.” Said story is based on the nonfiction book I Heard you Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, a former criminal investigator. It chronicles the life of Frank Sheeran, a union driver turned hitman for the Bufalino crime family who also, supposedly, played a key role in the disappearance of teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa.

The film opens in the 1970s as Sheeran (Robert De Niro) drives his friend Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and their wives to a wedding. The trip is accompanied by narration from Sheeran about his life with the mafia, from his chance meeting with Bufalino in the mid-50s and becoming an alleged established hitman to his complex relationship with Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Eventually they make it to the wedding when Hoffa suddenly disappears. When no trace of Hoffa can be found, everyone suspected of being involved with his disappearance either dies or goes to jail for unrelated crimes. After Sheeran is released from jail, he’s left to face the consequences of his actions as well as his own demise.

The Irishman
Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa.

In order to capture a vast age range for the film’s main cast, Scorsese and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto used CGI to de-age the actors. At first, many were concerned about how the actors would look, as other attempts at CGI de-aging in other films looked extremely fake. The moment the movies goes back in time however, you can’t help but be surprised at how much the main actors look like they did in iconic, earlier roles of theirs in movies like The Godfather Part III and A Bronx Tale. The CGI is seamless, with it making you forget at times that De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci are all in their mid-to-late 70’s. 

Seeing De Niro, Pacino and Pesci act together in a Scorsese film is a joy for many who grew up watching their films. Funnily enough, Pesci hadn’t acted in anything for 10 years when he was asked by De Niro to be in the movie. It’s very fortunate that Pesci agreed to come out of retirement for the film as it wouldn’t have been as impactful without his supporting performance. He solidifies this remarkable acting trinity with his calm yet commanding presence. Also making appearances are an array of famous comedians, including Ray Romano as the teamster attorney Bill Bufalino and cameos by Sebastian Maniscalco as Joseph ‘Crazy Joe’ Gallo and Jim Norton as the legendary comedian Don Rickles.

Thanks to Netflix funding the project and allowing Scorsese the creative freedom to make it the way he imagined, the movie gives viewers both the comfort of a Scorsese film and the experience of seeing a new creative venture. It’s already recognized by the Board of Review as the Best Film of 2019 and listed on AFI’s Motion Pictures of the Year 2019 list. Without a doubt, this movie will be nominated in several Oscar categories and hopefully win a few. 

Though the film is almost three-and-a-half hours long, it kept my attention the whole time. I was drawn immediately into the story and floored at how fast it went by, keeping me mesmerized for every minute. Filled with nostalgia, suspense, great music, relatable characters and beautiful imagery, The Irishman is sure to be remembered as one of Scorsese’s best films ever.

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Batman Returns
Batman Returns

When the weather outside is frightful, what could be better than curling up and watching a movie? As an avid movie-watcher, I believe one of the best ways to celebrate Christmas is to delve deep into the holiday’s expansive catalogue of films. While Christmas is here to bring good cheer, some might need a respite from the festive, hokey, and downright cheesy movies typically associated with the season.

To me, movies that explore depression, loneliness, or the effects of capitalism are much more true to the Christmas spirit than movies about elves, angels, finding true love, and the like. Some movies use Christmas themes in unconventional storylines or even use the holiday only as a backdrop: they may acknowledge the time of year but they do not necessarily leave that sugary sweet taste of Christmas cheer in our mouths. Below are 12 movies that I think embody the spirit of alternative Christmas cinema best.


Trading Places

Trading Places (1983)

Loosely based on the Prince and the Pauper story, Trading Places stars two of cinema’s best comedians at the height of their game and the movie’s themes of race and class differences feel even more relevant as time goes on. It’s not centered on Christmas but Christmas is the perfect setting for the issues that the movie confronts. Highlighting the woes often experienced by the poor during the holiday, the film contrasts their state with the seemingly carefree life of the rich. It might be a tad cringeworthy due to the racial boundaries it crosses but it’s otherwise a funny movie, with an iconic scene of a haggard Dan Aykroyd having an epic meltdown in a Santa suit.


Tangerine poster

Tangerine (2015)

No, not the Christmas cartoon classic The Tangerine Bear: Sean Baker’s Tangerine is the newest addition to alternative Christmas movies. Centered around transgender women working as prostitutes in LA, the movie subverts typical holiday stories yet has familiar themes of isolation, love, and unity. It has a poignant and haunting scene where one of the friends, Alexandra, sings “Toyland” in a nightclub, strengthening the film’s Christmas motif. It has a raw style where its characters deal with their harsh LA environment: Christmas is acted out more than authentically experienced and the audience only knows it’s the holiday season because the characters say so.


Bad Santa poster

Bad Santa (2003)

A grumpy Santa and his little helper spend the holiday season robing malls in this unconventional classic. The movie turns the idea of Santa Claus as a wholesome figure on its head, with Billy Bob Thorton playing Santa as a filthy, foul-mouthed antihero. However, the character has a redemption arc where he rediscovers his heart and humanity through the care of a young boy who has a pure and innocent love of Christmas. Though a kid is in it, Bad Santa is definitely not a family movie. It’s a cringeworthy dark comedy meant for grown-ups that has definite shades of A Christmas Carol; perfect for lovers of both Christmas and uncensored hilarity.


Lethal Weapon poster

Lethal Weapon (1987)

A suicidal, widower policeman and a cop who is “too old for this sh*t” become partners on a case to catch drug traffickers. Lethal Weapon set the pace for subsequent buddy-cop films, weaving classic Christmas themes of unity and forgiveness into its storyline. Featuring a heated gun battle set in a tree lot and a heartfelt final scene of the pair sharing a wholesome Christmas dinner together, it’s a fun, kickass, and overall great movie that makes it easy to forgive all the sexy saxophone playing.


Eyes Wide Shut poster

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

What happens at the Christmas orgy, doesn’t stay at the Christmas orgy. Stanley Kubrick considered this film to be his greatest work, and though that view may not be shared by his fans, Eyes Wide Shut is nevertheless a great alternative Christmas movie. Exploring a subculture where the rich engage in sexual occultism, the movie has a Christmas in New York backdrop and has all the elements of a holiday movie – love, family, and flawed, lonely characters. It is disturbing and overtly sexual, but has real substance in its portrayal of marriage, fantasy and desire, with it also touching upon the objectification of women, the undeserved power of the wealthy, and the nature of the holiday season itself.


Children of Men poster

Children of Men (2006)

Alfonso Cuarón’s sci-fi masterpiece Children of Men hit theaters on Christmas Day 2006, which is fitting since it could be read as a modern day retelling of the nativity story. Set in a world where women have become infertile and the end of man seems in sight, a miracle in the form of a child restores hope, faith, and peace on earth. Also, like Mary and Joseph, the mother must make a perilous journey in order to find a place for her child to be born. The movie’s cinematography is beautiful and the story symbolizes faith as the modern world inches closer to the dystopias that were once fiction in films.


Rare Exports poster

Rare Exports (2010)

I stumbled upon this hidden gem one Christmas while surfing Hulu (where it is still streaming, in case you’re curious.) Set in the snowy mountains of Finland, this movie is sure to send a Christmas chill up your spine: a father and son deal with the fallout of archeologists unearthing the body of Santa Claus, who as it turns out, eats children and not cookies. Rare Exports is full of suspense as it has Christmas folklore meeting the modern world head on with comedic results.


Kiss Kiss Bang Bang poster

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

A comedy of errors wrapped in a sheath of mystery, this movie is from Shane Black, who apparently loves Christmas enough to use it as a setting in The Long Kiss Goodnight and Iron Man 3. Black is skilled at marrying dark happenings with comedic timing and incorporating signature Christmas ideas of redemption and family in order to ground isolated and lonely characters. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is alt-Christmas fun, using the bright lights and domestic peace of Christmas as a contrast to his dark, and violent crime narrative.


Batman Returns poster

Batman Returns (1992)

It’s Christmas in Gotham City, and bats, cats, and penguins are on the prowl! This movie amply demonstrates auteur Tim Burton’s love of Christmas settings, displaying his unique ability to portray poetic and tragic characters while crafting beautiful worlds with characters in ugly situations. Despite its Christmas setting, Batman Returns is more of an anti-Christmas movie than an alt-Christmas one, ending on a rather pessimistic note with little redemptive or hopeful feelings for the Gotham or its inhabitants. It does, however, have a memorable opening scene where the Penguin attacks a tree lighting ceremony and also an unforgettable Christmas conversation: Batman says, “Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it,” to which Catwoman replies, “But a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.”


In Bruges poster

In Bruges (2008)

A pair of hitmen are stranded in Belgium for Christmas, but it’s not your typical “I’ll be home for Christmas” movie. Witty dialogue, brutal violence, and some of the darkest comedy to ever grace film, In Bruges becomes more depressing as it unfolds. It’s a character driven movie that follows multiple redemption arcs, touching on common holiday themes of love, judgement, and forgiveness. An existentially-minded movie, the characters try to navigate the circumstances that brought them to Belgium in a story that is dark, funny, and heartfelt all at once.


Die Hard poster

Die Hard & Die Hard 2 (1998 & 1990)

Yippee ki yay mother… Christmas-lovers! One of the most contentious entries in the Christmas movie subgenre, Die Hard‘s status as a holiday film is controversial thanks to its pronounced use of machine guns, hostage situations, and marital troubles. Though Bruce Willis has said that the film is not a Christmas movie to him, a good argument could be made that it is. It has Christmas themed one-liners, a great Christmas-y music score, and if it weren’t Christmas Eve in the movie, his character wouldn’t even be in LA. Nor would Hans and his posse have the window of opportunity needed to attempt their heist, a second plot point that serves as a catalyst for the movie’s story. The film’s sequel, Die Hard 2, also continues the Christmas backdrop, with its everyday action hero going up against a group of bad guys on Christmas Eve… again.


Brazil poster

Brazil (1985)

The Ministry of Information invites you to participate in enhanced interrogation this holiday season! Terry Gilliam, one of the greatest contributors of weird but brilliant film and cartoons, created a bleak and Kafkaesque dystopian society and set it against a cheerful Christmas time period, resulting in one of the greatest movies ever. When Christmas is usually about hope and looking forward to the upcoming new year, Brazil is a depressing look at the future that brings us back to reality, though it is heavily steeped in fantasy and satire. It’s George Orwell’s 1984 but set during Christmas and injected with Gilliam’s trademark humor and social cynicism. On a side note, it’s the source of one of my favorite scenes ever, which you can see below!


These movies will not air on Hallmark or Lifetime anytime soon. However, they are Christmas-y without having cliché holiday-centric plots and tell their stories without glossing over the tragedy that occasionally afflicts people during the season. Compared to the non-diverse, formulaic nature of typical Christmas films, alternative Christmas movies buck manufactured cheer and tell authentic stories, with there being no better way to truly appreciate the season than celebrating unconventional cinema.

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John Waters
John Waters

Celebrate this holiday season with a dash of filth courtesy of John Waters, the Prince of Puke and our Director of the Month!

From a young age Waters was attracted to the strange and macabre. His desire to be in show business started following a guest appearance in the “peanut gallery” on the classic children’s television show Howdy Doody. While most children might become disillusioned when seeing how their favorite television show functions, Waters saw this and wanted it to be his life. At the tender age of ten he put on local puppet shows, enchanting the neighborhood children. Then at sixteen, his grandmother gave him his first camera, starting Waters’ early experimentation as a director.

Despite being kicked out of NYU film school, Waters was not deterred from his passion for film. With the help of a loan from his parents and the participation of his band of misfits, including the shockingly glamorous Divine, Waters created Pink Flamingos, an underground masterpiece described as an “exercise in poor taste”. This unexpected hit catapulted Waters career, establishing him as a godfather of both modern social satire and American indie films. 

Waters uses film to criticize social norms with tongue-in-cheek humor, whether it’s a cult favorite from his Trash Trilogy or an upbeat musical like Hairspray. He fought film censorship and forced audiences to question their beliefs, stances that took on further significance in light of Waters’ status as a gay man. Using his platform for gay rights and pride, he became an important voice for LGBT cinema and culture in America at a risky time when being gay was demonized and even criminalized in many jurisdictions.

Today, Waters is a pioneer of cinema along such giants from his generation as Martin Scorsese and George Lucas. All hail the Duke of Dirt for making filth look so fabulous!


Polyester

Polyester (1981)

December 6

Catch a whiff of “Odorama” with Polyester, a comic classic from the Pope of Filth!

Hefty housewife Francine (Divine) and her extremely dysfunctional family, are the black sheep of their middle upper-class Baltimore suburb. With her adult movie theatre owner husband cheating on her, their delinquent teenage children running amok, and her cocaine-sniffing superficial mother constantly berating her weight, Francine turns to alcohol. Suddenly, her life and family begin to turn around as she starts a romance with the dashing Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter), but is this new romance really all it’s cracked up to be?

Presented with scratch-n-sniff Odorama cards, Polyester is truly a film experience unlike anything you’ve ever smelled!

Written by Justina Bonilla


Desperate Living poster

Desperate Living (1980)

December 18 & 19

Live a little with Desperate Living, the second installment in Waters’ Trash Trilogy!

Wealthy housewife Peggy Gravel and housekeeper Grizelda Brown are on the lam after murdering Peggy’s husband. After the pair are arrested and assaulted by panty-sniffing policeman Turkey Joe, they find themselves in a town called Mortville where they get entangled with the sex-change-seeking wrestler Mole McHenry. All the while, the town’s tyrannical ruler Queen Carlotta continues to terrorize her subjects, with Peggy and Grizelda now in the thick of it.

Widely considered a staple of the queer horror genre, Desperate Living is a hilariously twisted offering from Waters.

Written by Isa Bulnes-Shaw


Pink Flamingos poster

Pink Flamingos + Female Trouble Double Feature

December 29-30

Wrapping up this month’s holiday filth-tacular is a double feature of Waters’ funniest and filthiest films, Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble.

An infamous celluloid counter-culture explosion, Pink Flamingos stars regular John Waters collaborator and legendary drag queen Divine as an exaggerated version of her outrageous self. In this case, she’s a trash-talking hedonist who fancies herself “the filthiest person alive” and lives in a motor home with her mad hippie son Crackers, her “traveling companion” Cotton, and her infantile mother Edie, who spends her days gorging on eggs in a giant crib. When Baltimore locals Connie and Raymond Marble – “two jealous perverts” who sell heroin to schoolchildren and kidnap and impregnate female hitchhikers – decide that they themselves are “the filthiest people alive,” this sets off an epic battle of wills that culminates in a shocking climax and a most infamous final scene.

Divine returns in Female Trouble, her second shamefully side-splitting collaboration with Waters. This rollercoaster adventure follows the life of bad girl teen Dawn Davenport (Divine), who only wants a pair of cha-cha heels for Christmas. When she doesn’t get them, Dawn runs away, gets pregnant, and falls into a life of crime with her high-school pals Chiclette and Concetta. Through a series of comedically deplorable events including an acid attack to the face, Dawn becomes a model for two deranged salon owners, playing into her notion that “crime and beauty are the same.”

Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble are both rated NC-17. No one under 17 will be admitted and viewer discretion is strongly advised.

Written by Justina Bonilla

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December Frida After Dark
December Frida After Dark

Ho ho ho! Tis December once again and The Frida Cinema is celebrating the most wonderful time of the year in style! Frida After Dark’s programming continues to bring fan favorites, cult classics, and obscure oddities into the spotlight but with all the jingle bells and whistles to make things merry and bright! Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, or nothing at all, the hilarity and madness this month is non-denominational – and as diverse as the holiday season itself!


Polyester

Polyester (1981)

December 6th

The lack of olfactory stimulation in movies was an area in which the innovative director John Waters saw great potential. Creating his very own “Odorama” technology, Waters’ efforts culminated in the aroma-fied version of his 1981 film Polyester. As the first part of our Director of the Month series, we’re presenting this interactive experience in full Smell-O-Vision, controlled by your very own scratch-and-sniff card!

The comedic classic follows the hefty housewife Francine – played by the iconic queen of filth Divine – and the trouble that lies in suburbia. With a cheating husband, hoodlum kids, and an overbearing mother, she turns to alcohol to cope. Just when all seems lost, Francine becomes romantically involved with a handsome man named Todd Tomorrow – but does something smell fishy about him?

There’s a strangely long, rich history of scent as enhancement of the theater experience. The most notable example is probably the 1960 film Scent of Mystery, which had a script designed with smell in mind and even provided important clues to the audience via smell. But with Odorama, rather than a mist released from your seats, you’ll be in complete control – which is something you might find merciful! It is a John Waters film we’re whiffing after all, so it’s far from just a trip to the perfume department. With each scent being a mystery until inhaled, it’s akin to the gross suspense and curiosity we have with gross-flavored jelly beans and other forms of food roulette. 

Fun fact for 90s kids: If you grew up in the early 2000s and were into Nickelodeon, you may remember Rugrats Go Wild, the 2003 theatrical crossover between popular properties Rugrats and The Wild Thornberries. The movie’s most memorable aspect was the tie-in scratch-and-sniff cards, which even sported the phrase “Odorama”. This led to a bizarre lawsuit from Waters on the basis of trademark infringement, motivating Nick to change the name of their film’s scent-based gimmick to “Aroma-Rama” instead. Small world!

Presented with scratch-n-sniff Odorama cards, Polyester is truly a film experience unlike anything you’ve ever smelled!


The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

December 13th

Another month brings another stellar production of Jim Sharman’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the original interactive midnight movie! This month, we’re treated to a snowy, tinsel-clad version of Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s castle! Thanks to the ever talented K.A.O.S. shadow cast who constantly turn out the choreography and lip-syncs for the gods, the jolly spirit of Rocky Horror is sure to jingle your bells in all the right ways. It’s twice the pleasure as well, as this month’s show lands on Friday the 13th, making it an amalgamation of cheer and campy horror unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Rocky Horror is a mish-mash of campy science-fiction, brilliant songs, cheesy wordplay, and unapologetic sexuality that just might awaken something in you. Along with being fun and wild, these screenings are about community and the freedom to be yourself! Costumes are always deeply encouraged, so put on the best Transylvanian duds you’ve got, and get ready to feel goodwill towards your fellow men, women, and everyone between and beyond!

Don’t forget to bring cash to buy your prop bags before the show! For just a few bucks, you can have plenty of ammo to throw, while also supporting K.A.O.S. in helping improve their costumes and stage gear. If you’re a Rocky virgin, don’t get hot and flustered! Check out this classic guide for what to expect when going all the way with us at midnight.

Pro tip: specially themed shows tend to sell out, so get your mitts on your tickets as early as you can! Also, half the fun is in the pre-show, so don’t skip the foreplay!


The Room poster

The Room (2003)

December 14th

Right after cleaning up all the confetti and popcorn from Rocky, we’re making a mess all over again with our monthly interactive screening of The Room, an absolute masterpiece of failure! Shaking things up a little for the holidays, the walls of this room will be fully decked, and the eggnogg (hopefully) spiked.

Unlike Rocky Horror, The Room is not a musical. Instead, it is a film so terrible in every conceivable way that it’s hard to believe even while watching it. Perhaps that’s simply the genius of the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau: director, writer, actor, producer, casting director, etcetera, etcetera.

Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) works as a successful banker in snowless, stock-footage San Francisco with his fiancee, Lisa (not Tommy Wiseau). Despite their engagement, Lisa is unhappy in her relationship and seduces Johnny’s best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). Despite the simple premise, there’s several dozen unrelated subplots that make things worthy of a monthly cult classic celebration and holiday revamp.

As a wise man once said: “If you don’t like the Christmas, that’s okay! ‘Cuz spirit will guide you”! It’s all about spirit here, and the collective bonding over bizarre dialogue and the pelting of plastic spoons. Wiseau unites us all this season, regardless of kin, creed, or class. Just be good, dress the tree, and mark your calendars for Saturday, December 14th! ‘Til then, tide yourself over with a Christmas surprise from Tommy himself.


Nightmare Before Christmas poster

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

December 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, & 26th

Though only a moderate sleeper hit upon its release, the iconic The Nightmare Before Christmas is now held up as one of the most beloved animated movies of all time. With a phenomenal soundtrack from the legendary composer and rockstar Danny Elfman, character designs taken straight from Tim Burton’s picture book of the same name, and stunningly innovative stop-motion animation, it’s no wonder that the film’s popularity has endured to this day. Who wouldn’t be charmed by the Pumpkin King’s skeleton grin or a simple world where the macabre melds with the cheery?

The film chronicles the journey of Jack Skellington, the Master of Fright from Halloween Town. After another successfully scary October 31st, Jack finds himself longing for something new and more fulfilling. During his lament, he discovers the portal to Christmas Town, immediately enamored and eager to share the new holiday with his people. While Jack decides it’s his turn to play “Sandy Claws”, the citizens of Halloween Town turn Christmas into another night of tricks and frights, with disastrous results that put Christmas in peril.

Seeing how that all worked out, Frida After Dark is taking notes from Jack and making Christmastime our very own! The 8:30 screening of Nightmare on Friday, December 20th will be frightfully delightful: we’re going grim for the holidays and we encourage you to come see the movie in your favorite goth and Burton-esque attire!

Whether it’s a film you know by heart or one you’ve yet to see, its pep and holiday spirit are so contagious, you’ll find yourself singing along. Take a trip to Hot Topic if you need to blacken your wardrobe, but don’t be late, or you just might miss that magical place where holidays collide. 


Twisted Christmas poster

Twisted Christmas Triple Feature

December 27th

If the kid-friendly spooks of The Nightmare Before Christmas aren’t gory enough for your tastes, December 27th might just be the present you’ve been waiting for!

Dark Alley Productions and Ghost Party Pictures are sleigh-ing it this year, bringing you not only a killer triple feature celebration but food sponsors, horror-related vendors, and an entire holiday scare floor to frighten you right out of your boots! You’ve never been to a Christmas party like this one!

We’re celebrating twisted Christmas tales from around the world, beginning with Bob Clark’s 70s slasher masterpiece Black Christmas! This Canadian flick is one of the OG Christmas-themed horror films, taking the sorority slasher format but giving it a festive spin. Inspired by the urban legend of the babysitter and the man upstairs, Black Christmas would go on to inspire John Carpenter’s own holiday-themed hit, Halloween.

After a short break for sustenance and scares, 10pm rings in Dial Code Santa Claus, a French film allegedly knocked off just a year later with Chris Columbus’ Home Alone. Instead of the bumbling Wet Bandits, the home intruder in 3615 code Père Noël is a violent vagrant dressed as Santa Claus, or “Père Noël”. The young and wide-eyed Thomas, who tried to contact Santa and even stayed awake just to meet him, is horrified when the man coming down his chimney brings not gifts but murder. Full of rage and seeking revenge, Thomas straps up and buckles down, using his home-made tech and Rambo-esque weapons to protect his family and home, regardless of who the man in red is supposed to be.

Keeping the international gems rolling, the final midnight movie of the night comes from our sister to the South, Mexico! Santa Claus, also known as Santa Claus vs. the Devil, is a film from 1959 starring the jolly ol’ Saint Nick we know and love, but going toe-to-toe with Satan himself! The naughty list is far from the worst place for kids to be, as one of Lucifer’s minions returns to Earth during the Christmas season to tempt children into sin. Also, Merlin the Wizard is buds with Santa, and the North Pole workshop is in space!

With all that going on, it’s no wonder the 1960 English dub (the version we’ll be showing) was featured on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Christmas episode of 1993. Notably, the riff of this film may be the origin of the term “nightmare fuel”. If that doesn’t describe the spirit of the season, I don’t know what does!

Doors open at 7:30pm, so get there early and cozy up with some hot cocoa and your favorite ugly sweater!


Jingle All The Way poster

Jingle All The Way (1996)

December 28th

When it comes to the realm of so-bad-its-good, no podcast picks ‘em like our friends over at BOMBS AWAY! Join our hosts as we watch the horrible hit Jingle All the Way, and then proceed to roast it for a live podcast episode like it’s chestnuts on an open fire.

If you’re craving pure 90s schlock this winter, Jingle All the Way is the best of the worst. A comedy starring Arnold Schwarzenegger? Not a great start. Is he supposed to be an endearing figure, or is he really just a bad father? Candy cane nunchucks? Reindeer chases? Little person Santa getting punched in the face and flying across the room? You betcha!

Among the madness, however, there’s genuine hilarity to be found. There’s the conversation at the telephone booth that became a now-vintage meme (that still slaps), and Sinbad as a competitive mailman is just what you never knew you needed– and so is the line, “I work for the post office, and I’m unstable”.

So, get ready to laugh your stockings off and come see Schwarzenegger caught in a consumerist nightmare as he tries desperately to get his son the most popular toy of the season on Christmas Eve! Make sure to get there early to join the festive, 90s throwback pre-show!


Frida After Dark is awesomely weird this month, and we can’t think of a better way to wrap up the year! Thanks to our staff, volunteers, and guests, The Frida Cinema is going into the new decade with high hopes and all-new thrills for this eclectic late-night series. Though celebrations this time of year may come in different forms, we hope through it all, that you can spend some time with those that feel like home to you.

Season’s greetings and a happy New Year to all – we’ll see you back here in 2020!

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The Color Purple

The Color Purple screens Sunday, December 1st through Tuesday, December 3rd


“Oh Celie, unbelief is a terrible thing. And so is the hurt we cause others unknowingly.”

Alice Walker, The Color Purple
Leonardo VOTM pic

December starts Sunday, and with it the countdown to Christmas! Also starting that day is The Frida Cinema’s three day run of Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey! Based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, the movie tells the story of young Celie (Goldberg) as she navigates racism and domestic abuse in the Deep South.

A smash hit upon its release in 1985, The Color Purple raked in a staggering $142 million against a $15 million budget and earned 11 Academy Award nominations. Considering the significant place the film occupies in American cinema, it’s definitely worth revisiting, something our December Volunteer of the Month Leonardo Ostergren has made possible by selecting it as his programming pick! Working Rocky Horror, Halloween night, and everything in between, Leonardo is always ready to help out and jump on anything that needs to get done around the Frida. Plus, he’s got great taste in movies, as I learned in my interview with him about The Color Purple!


How did you find out about The Frida Cinema?

I found out about The Frida Cinema just by living in the area. Seeing some of the films offered that weren’t being played at other cinemas was reason enough to come check it out.

What made you want to volunteer here?

Because of some of the films that the Frida does! They have an exclusive programming list of stuff that you can’t find at other places, so there’s definitely a uniqueness to it, a niche if you will. One of the other things that I really appreciate is that the patrons of the Frida are all like chill vibes and good energy. I think that people that come here are also appreciative of what the people here do.

Tell us a little bit about The Color Purple.

Well that’s a tough one Reggie, where to begin with that! One of the things that stands out to me is back in the day when it was first released on videotape – some people might know that as VHS – it was one of the first films that was offered in letterbox format and that was kind of a big thing at the time. See, it was frightening to some people to have black bars at the top and bottom of their screen. I remember we were selling the Star Wars letterbox gift set and we had someone come in saying they were all upset because they had a huge screen with black bars on the screen and the guests were falling asleep so they blamed us for it! 

The Color Purple
Whoopi Goldberg and Margaret Avery in The Color Purple.

I found it amusing, but aside from the technicals of it, it’s got a great cast. It’s got Whoopi Goldberg, it’s got Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Laurence Fishburne, and just an amazing supporting cast also. I think that we can each identify with different aspects of the struggles and challenges that different characters have in the movie. That’s another reason I appreciate it because while the main character Celie is our focus, it’s good to see the arc and redemption that come to some of the other characters as well.

What were your other choices for your Volunteer pick of the Month?

One that I really wish that we had been able to get and I hope will come up in the future was my answer to last month’s volunteer board question, which was “Which film are you most thankful for?” One of the titles that I’m really thankful for is a documentary called Celluloid Closet, which by chance also includes Whoopi Goldberg. It’s narrated by Lily Tomlin and has Tom Hanks and just a lot of other actors that are relevant today even though the movie came out 20 plus years ago. The movie looks at how the Catholic Church’s influence over the studios kept the studios from really giving different kind of people, i.e. homosexuals, a voice, so the studios had to find ways to kind of play around that. Now, the landscape is very, very different in 2019 than it was when it first came out, but back at the time it was really amazing to experience it because it pointed out that we go to movies to empathize but also to identify with characters and when you don’t see characters like yourself in cinema it leaves you feeling left out.

But also, being a big Tim Burton fan, I also had Batman in there, the ’89 one! That and Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, those were my other ones!

What is your favorite Frida memory?

I had never been to one of the Rocky Horror Picture Show experiences and I came to the 5th anniversary, which was a great and fun experience just altogether. KAOS told us that different members from different areas had come to help out and they had at least two different actors for some of the main characters so it was fun to see different interpretations of the material. It was really a great experience to come to, it had a great and fun energy and I can see why they almost always sell out. Just a lot of people with a great energy and looking to have fun!

If you could program any movie here, what would you pick?

Wow, you might want to pause for a minute! That’s just too much, let me try to zoom in on something. Xanadu might be my joke answer…

I’m going to say The Breadwinner. I really love where that left us, with that last impactful line, “Raise your hearts, not your voice. It is rain that makes the flowers grow, not thunder.” I really like the message that was taught with that story. 

Well, that or Cloud Atlas! I knew something else would come to me, and that’s the one!

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The Last Temptation of Christ

The Irishman screens Wednesday, November 27th through Thursday, December 12th

The Last Temptation of Christ
Willem Dafoe in The Last Temptation of Christ.

Whether it’s about the long-awaited debut of The Irishman or controversial comments he made about the Marvel movie franchise, it seems impossible for Martin Scorsese to stay out of the news cycle. Not that this is a bad thing: on the contrary, it’s nothing less than heartening to see such an accomplished filmmaker and his work getting so much attention.

From early ventures like Mean Streets to modern epics like The Departed, it’s understandable that many viewers would associate Scorsese primarily with gritty gangster films. This isn’t an unearned association – this is the man who directed Goodfellas after all – but it is a bit reductionist. Having helmed biopics, novel adaptations, and even a musical (New York, New York in case you’re wondering), Scorsese has a wide palette of works that establish him as much more than a teller of crime stories. With that in mind, I’d like to discuss five of his greatest movies that don’t focus on gangsters or crime.

Now, any top Scorsese movie list is bound to be controversial, so I’d like to clarify what I mean by “great”. By “great”, I don’t mean the most ambitious or technically proficient. The Aviator and Kundun, for example, are excellent films that are both more ambitious and technically impressive than some of the entires in this list, but they suffer from issues ( a tendency to hew to biopic conventions in Aviator‘s case and minimal characterization in Kundun‘s) that keep them from reaching the heights they could have. Rather, “great” is used in the sense that a film set out to do something specific and did so with aplomb.

Having established this, let’s talk about five of Scorsese’s greatest non-gangster movies!


Taxi Driver
 
 

Taxi Driver (1975)

It’s an obvious choice but no list of the best Scorsese films, non-gangster of otherwise, would be complete without Taxi Driver. Equal parts penetrating drama and psychological thriller, the film demonstrates Scorsese’s ability to synthesize elements from disparate sources and influences into compelling cinema that is distinctly his.

Written by fellow auteur Paul Schrader, the movie takes the audience on a deep dive into 1970s New York. Our guide is Travis Bickle, a disturbed Vietnam vet who works as – you guessed it – a taxi driver. Played with masterful precision by Robert De Niro in the performance of a lifetime, Travis is a brilliant character in no small part due to the ease with which he courts (and wins) viewers’ sympathies, making them his co-conspirators as he describes his fantasies of violence and revenge to them. Mixing raw charisma with an unmitigable sense of menace, one can understand why Travis remains a hero to misguided young men even today (or so a friend who got a mohawk in high school after seeing the film tells me.)

De Niro acts opposite a veritable powerhouse of supporting actors (including Cybil Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, and of course, Jodie Foster), but the real co-star of the film is the city itself. Grimy and mist-ridden, the movie portrays New York as a sleazy hellhole deserving of the bloody retribution Travis dreams of inflicting on it. Extended scenes of Travis driving alone late at night serve to not only convey the terrible loneliness he feels but make viewers feel like they’re experiencing it themselves. Driving home the sense of overwhelming alienation is Bernard Hermann’s affecting score, which is anchored by two recurring themes: a wistful, almost mournful piece associated with Cybil Shepherd’s Betsy and variations of a deliberate, threatening theme associated with Travis himself.

“Mixing raw charisma with an unmitigable sense of menace, one can understand why Travis remains a hero to misguided young men even today…”

Embodying the most anti-social sensibilities of the 70s, it’s practically a miracle that the movie still feels fresh well over 40 years after its initial release. It may be dark and moody but it’s eminently watchable and lends itself well to repeat viewings. I myself have watched it God knows how many times and I still find something new with each viewing. I’ve seen Travis ask Betsy if she felt the connection he felt when he first laid eyes on her countless times, but I never felt truly felt the power of that particular conversation until I watched it here at the Frida, literally gasping aloud when Betsy answered that she wouldn’t be talking to him if she didn’t. 

Cited as an influence on Todd Phillips’ Joker and, more infamously, as an inspiration for would-be Reagan assassin John Hinckley Jr, Taxi Driver remains a captivating gaze into the human abyss that, for better or worse, speaks to something deep within ourselves.


The King of Comedy poster
 
 

The King of Comedy (1983)

As if I haven’t showered enough praise of Taxi Driver, I have to add that I absolutely love its tag line: “On every street in every city, there’s a nobody who dreams of being a somebody.” The funny thing about this tag line though is that it could just as easily be used for The King of Comedy, another NYC-set film that stars Robert De Niro as a social reject who wishes to be something more.

With a combover, a split mustache, and some incredibly tacky suits, Rupert Pupkin is about as far from Travis Bickle in terms of cool as Bozo the Clown is from James Bond. A self-styled comedian hampered by his cluelessness as to how the business works, Pupkin seeks a spot on talk show host Jerry Langford’s (Jerry Lewis) show in the belief that doing so will launch his career. Whereas Travis seeks vengeance against his peers, Rupert seeks validation from his, coming across as hopeless rather than threatening. Deploying dramatic hand gestures, forced laughter, and an unflappable obliviousness to others’ impatience for him, De Niro portrays Pupkin as a pathetic little man who just might be desperate enough to get what he wants. 

Though the film doesn’t delve into outright surrealism, it does feature a number of scenes depicting Rupert’s fantasies of being a successful comedian. Most are easy to spot (i.e. him getting married on Jerry’s show after receiving an apology from his old principal for not having faith in him) but others are plausible enough that you believe they might actually be happening until the scene cuts and the illusion is revealed. The most effective such scene, however, has to be one where Rupert stands in front of a portrait of Jerry’s audience, the camera pulling back as he regales them with his material and imagines the sound of their laughter. It comes a bit early in the film, but the combination of the imagery and sound make it the best demonstration of the gulf between Rupert’s delusions and reality.

The most effective such scene, however, has to be one where Rupert stands in front of a portrait of Jerry’s audience, the camera pulling back as he regales them with his material and imagines the sound of their laughter. It comes a bit early in the film, but the combination of the imagery and sound make it the best demonstration of the gulf between Rupert’s delusions and reality.

While the movie is indisputably De Niro’s, the rest of the cast get their own opportunities to shine. Jerry Lewis steps up to the occasion as Langford, playing the straight man to De Niro’s fool in a way that will make you ask yourself, “Isn’t this the guy who played the Nutty Professor?” Yet as entertaining as the interplay between De Niro and Lewis is, it’s the interplay between the two of them and Sandra Bernhard that is comedy gold. Appearing as Rupert’s unstable pal Masha, Bernhard’s character has the dubious honor of making him look rational by comparison, flinging herself at Jerry at the movie’s start and spending the rest of it arguing with Rupert as they stalk him. At least, she does before carrying what has to be one of the most wince-inducing “seduction” scenes to ever be put to film. 

As likely to make you blanch as as it is to make you laugh, The King of Comedy is a progenitor for both today’s cringe comedy and the black comedic sensibilities of later Scorsese films. 


Last Temptation of Christ poster
 
 

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

The funny thing about this entry is that although many know the story around The Last Temptation of Christ, not many seem to have watched it themselves. This was very much the case with the film’s fundamentalist detractors when it came out, with many calling for the movie’s destruction without having seen so much as a frame of it. In their zeal to halt distribution of the film, some even went as far to claim that it would incite anti-Semitism. Amongst who they wouldn’t say, as the protestors were apparently more than happy to let the producers read it as the not-so-veiled threat that it was.

The irony, as countless commentators before me have relished in pointing out, is that virtually none of the heavy lifters behind Last Temptation were Jewish. Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of the book it was based on, came from a Greek Orthodox background, screenwriter Paul Schrader was raised as a Calvinist, and Scorsese, it goes without saying, was Catholic. It perhaps says a lot about the film’s Christian enemies that they couldn’t imagine any of their own making such a movie, but it also says a lot about the movie and its treatment of Christianity that the principals reflected such a wide swathe of the religion. 

Working off of Kazantzakis’ fiction rather than the accounts told in the Gospels, Scorsese and company took it upon themselves to explore a side of Jesus we don’t see or hear much of: his human side. A far cry from the stoic, almost alien figure portrayed in more traditional depictions of the Christ story, Scorsese’s Jesus agonizes and despairs long before the Romans march him out to Golgotha. Tormented by voices in his head and wracked with doubt, desire, and guilt, he questions why he has to be the Son of God and not just another son of man. It is through this novel take on the character of Jesus that the audience is able to connect with him, relating to him as a real human being instead of an abstract icon.

On that note, it’s not a little strange that out of all the people in the world to make Jesus a real human being, Willem Dafoe ended up being the one to do it. Coming off of Oliver Stone’s Platoon, Dafoe was years away from being typecast as troubled weirdos when he signed onto Temptation, but the funny thing is that said typecasting would have actually helped, not hurt, his portrayal of Jesus. As mentioned before, Jesus is depicted as struggling with his divine purpose, and the film doesn’t shy away from showing him as the loud-mouthed rabble rouser he probably was. Yet through it all, through duty and disobedience and through faith and disbelief, Dafoe’s Jesus believes in the truth of every word that comes out of his mouth, right up to the moment he looks up to the heavens and declares, “It is accomplished!”

“…through duty and disobedience and through faith and disbelief, Dafoe’s Jesus believes in the truth of every word that comes out of his mouth, right up to the moment he looks up to the heavens and declares, ‘It is accomplished!’”

Supporting Dafoe is a bona fide bevy of talent. Barbara Hershey tempts Jesus as Mary Magdalene, David Bowie appears briefly as Pontius Pilate, and Harvey Keitel moves as Judas, reimagined here as Jesus’ most loyal disciple rather than the traitor the Gospels claim him to have been. The stand-out supporting performance, however, has to be Harry Dean Stanton as Saul/Paul. Fantically preaching the message of Christ’s death and resurrection even after Christ elects not to go through with either, Stanton plays the former Pharisee as a dark counterpart to Dafoe’s messiah (an anti-Christ, if you will), claiming with a straight face that Jesus didn’t survive the crucifixion right after Jesus himself says otherwise. Even as he cops to “creat[ing] truth” to advance his agenda, there’s an inexplicable conviction in Stanton’s delivery that makes Paul disturbingly sincere in his intent and demeanor. 

Shot in the North African country of Morocco, the film nevertheless takes great pains to stay true to its ancient Near East setting. The sight of animals being butchered for ritual sacrifice and mere commerce as well as the sound of ceremonial chanting and ethereal wailing serve to remind believers whether they like it or not that the story of their savior took place in the Middle East, during a period of occupation by a militaristic foreign power no less. On the subject of sound, Peter Gabriel (who, coincidentally, was once frontman for the biblically-named Genesis) provides a stunning original score that befits the movie’s deconstructionist approach. Mixing Middle Eastern textures and tones with experimental sensibilities, Gabriel’s soundtrack is driving at times, contemplative at others, but awe-inspiring all around.

Whatever one’s faith background or lack thereof, viewers would be wise to watch The Last Temptation of Christ with an open mind so they can receive it as it was meant to be. That is, a sacred epic for a secular age and that most rare of religious films: one that makes unbelievers want to believe. 


After Hours poster
 
 

After Hours (1985)

Remember how I said that The King of Comedy was a progenitor for the dark humor in future Scorsese films? Expanding on that metaphor, if The King had a first-born child, it would be After Hours. Previously included in a list I made of underrated 80s movies, this film takes the black comedic instincts of The King and takes them up to 11, 12, and all the way to 6AM.

One of Scorsese’s most underrated films, the movie features, fittingly enough, the terribly underrated Griffin Dunne. Best remembered as Jack from An American Werewolf in London, Dunne shines here as Paul Hackett, a word-processor who, looking for a little excitement after work, visits a girl who gave him his number at a coffee shop. Lacking guns and the power to perform miracles, Paul is simply a mundane man trying to navigate his way through a series of trials and tribulations over the course of one night. Expressing the amount of bewilderment and frustration you’d expect someone going through everything Paul is to, Dunne is a relatably vulnerable everyman who everyone who has ever found themselves lost in an unfamiliar environment can sympathize with. 

Keeping Paul from getting home is a neighborhood that might as well be the NYC equivalent of Wonderland. There’s a lot going on but the streets are empty, people disappear and reappear at inopportune times, and they adhere to a logic that only other residents of the neighborhood understand. An unwritten rule of said logic seems to be that though a character can offer aid or moral support to Paul, they can’t help him in a way that will actively help him get home. This leads to bartenders offering him change for the subway only for the cash register to get jammed and ladies letting him use their phone only to interrupt him as he tries to dial another number.  

“Keeping Paul from getting home is a neighborhood that might as well be the NYC equivalent of Wonderland. There’s a lot going on but the streets are empty, people disappear and reappear at inopportune times, and they adhere to a logic that only other residents of the neighborhood understand.”

Among the people alternatively helping and hindering Paul is a gaggle of artists, thieves, and S&M enthusiasts. There’s Marcy (Rosanna Arquette), the flirtatious girl who draws him out to the area in the first place only to reveal that she has a boyfriend. There’s Tom (John Heard), the friendly bartender whose cash register gets jammed. And then there’s Julie (Teri Garr), the amorous waitress whose odd behavior and retro style would fit right in a David Lynch movie. Though none of them ever threaten to upstage Paul, they are all effective at moving the narrative forward even as they derail his efforts to get home.

Based on a script by Joseph Minion (which in turn was adapted without permission from a monologue by radio performer Joe Frank), much of the movie’s humor stems from the bizarre interactions and conversations Paul has with the other characters. From Marcy telling him about an ex who used to shout “surrender, Dorothy” during sex to robbers Pepe and Neil (Cheech and Chong in bit parts) resolving that “the uglier the art, the more it’s worth”, there are some real choice bits of dialogue to quote here.

From the moment the faux neon title card flashes and Mozart’s Symphony, K. 95 swells, it is clear that After Hours is a very different kind of Scorsese movie: by the time the bruised and battered Paul sits down at his desk and the symphony resumes, it’s clear that it’s one of his best. 


Who's That Knocking At My Door poster
 
 

Who’s That Knocking At My Door (1967)

This last selection is a bit of a dark horse, and perhaps understandably so. Scorsese’s very first full-length film, Who’s That Knocking At My Door started as a student film, a fact that’s not hard to deduce at all. The black and white cinematography, the unconventional editing, and the restrained tone all point to the production’s indie roots, while the hip soundtrack and reference-heavy dialogue peg Scorsese as the insatiable young connoisseur of culture that he was. 

Where the movie differs from other indie films is how authentic it is. The formal qualities mentioned above feel like considered directorial decisions instead of pretentious gimmickry, and Scorsese’s quoting of John Wayne movies and “Shotgun” comes across as the earnest gushing of a convinced fan rather than the contrived name-dropping of a poser. The scene where Harvey Keitel’s J.R. meets Zina Bethune’s Girl (no name given, she’s just the Girl), for example, hits many of the same beats as similar scenes in countless indie productions that followed (“Oh you know Movie X? No way, have you seen Movie Y?”) but there is an honest energy to this one that most others lack. A big part of why the scene works so well is the fact that much of it occurs in one take, giving it a sense of immediacy and realness that sticks around well after the camera finally cuts to a close-up.

“The black and white cinematography, the unconventional editing, and the restrained tone all point to the production’s indie roots, while the hip soundtrack and reference-heavy dialogue peg Scorsese as the insatiable young connoisseur of culture that he was.”

The other major component is the performance of the two stars in general and Keitel in particular. Decades away from his graphically violent roles in Bad Lieutenant and Reservoir Dogs (and indeed years from his turns in Taxi Driver and Last Temptation), Keitel is unexpectedly endearing as J.R. Although he still possesses the hard features and gruff presence we’ve come to know and love him for, Keitel somehow manages to harmonize these qualities with a surprising boyishness. Contrasting the working-class New Yorker’s irresponsible interactions with other men and the soft, sweet side he shows with the Girl as the film does, it’s no small achievement that Keitel is able to strike a believable balance between the two sides of JR’s personality. 

This makes the story all the more tragic as we see that even though JR isn’t a bad guy, he buys into toxic ideas and assumptions that harm his relationship with the Girl. He holds what he sees as her putting herself in vulnerable positions against her yet sees nothing wrong with getting drunk with his friends, brawling with other men, or (in an experimental scene set to The Doors “The End” a full 12 years before Francis Ford Coppola famously used it in Apocalypse Now) fantasizing about having sex with the very same “broads” he derisively describes to her. Of course there are moments where he seems to pick up on the errors and incongruities of his values and lifestyle – such as when he goes on a hike with his friends and stares pensively at the sky and land before him while they complain and wonder what they came all the way out there for – but ultimately he proves to be too invested in them to make room for the values and lifestyle that sustaining a relationship with the Girl would entail. 

Some may dismiss it as a prototype for Mean Streets but judged on its own terms, Who’s That Knocking At My Door holds up as an impressive blend of experimental filmmaking and a heartfelt story, to say nothing of holding up as Scorsese’s feature film debut. 

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Volunteer of the Month Paul Hernandez on Paprika

Paprika screens Monday, November 25th through Wednesday, November 27th

VOTM Paul Hernandez

November at The Frida Cinema is exciting enough with Martin Scorsese as Director of the Month, but it’s made all the more exciting by the fact that we’re also playing Satoshi Kon’s Paprika! The last feature film to be made by the anime innovator before his death, it’s as thought-provoking as it is mind-bending, with many citing its heady sci-fi story as an antecedent (or, as others contend, an uncredited inspiration) for Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

This won’t be the first time we play Paprika, but it will be the first time that many (including myself) get to see it on the big screen! For that, we have our November Volunteer of the Month Paul Hernandez to thank, as it was his top pick to see here! A one-time patron who became a volunteer, Paul works hard but is funny and personable, qualities that really came through in my interview with him about Paprika and his time at the Frida. Not only that, but I learned that him and I see eye to eye on playing one particular movie here!


How did you find out about The Frida Cinema?

I used to drive by this place a lot. I didn’t pay it much mind but one day I saw that you guys were showing a film, one of the older ones that I did want to see. So I got some friends together and when we got here we looked at the calendar. It turned out that there was also an indie film I wanted to see and then I just kinda kept coming very frequently after that!

What made you want to volunteer here?

There used to be a manager here who would give a little intro before the movies started and he would always mention that volunteering was an option. I thought to myself “I really love this place, I’m enjoying it a lot. Unfortunately, I can’t donate money being a poor college student, but I can donate time since I have certain days off.” So eventually I just spoke with him and figured out something that worked with my schedule and I was able to start volunteering.

Tell us a little bit about Paprika.

So it’s Satoshi Kon, which hopefully I’m pronouncing right! I actually came and saw Perfect Blue here, which was my first time watching one of his animated movies. I know he did a lot of other animes for TV and I’ve seen some of those, but that film was kind of like an iconic one since it inspired so many people. When I saw it, I really enjoyed it and loved both the animation and story style. I’m a really big fan of animation and I’m also one of those guys who believes that animation doesn’t have to be just for kids. It can be more adult without being raunchy and it can actually deal with more cinematic things. 

Paprika
Dr. Chiba and her alter ego Paprika.

I first heard about Paprika when I was a kid and never saw it but kept coming across clips of it from time to time. I really like surrealist things and found that it’s Satoshi Kon so I knew I would love the animation even without knowing the story. What I like about the surrealist elements is that you can do them better in animation than live-action. When you see special effects in a live-action film, you go “oh, CGI,” and it ruins the immersion, but in cartoons everything is animated and it helps you get more immersed in the surrealist element. At any rate, I’ve always wanted to see this movie on the big screen instead of a small television so I finally thought, “Well, I’ll pick that one and see if it gets chosen,” and it did!

What were your other choices for your Volunteer pick of the Month?

Well, Volunteer of the Month was kind of sprung on me really quickly so I had to whittle down a long list of movies to a few choice selections! Other than Paprika, which was my first choice, I also chose Shaun of the Dead just because I really enjoy it and I actually have a friend who hasn’t seen it so I was just like, “Okay, well I’m going to choose it and we’re going to see it if it gets picked!” I also chose Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story just because this year has seemed to be the year of music biopics and that one is just the best satire and parody of them. I felt like “I need to watch this in a theater and I need other people to see this,” because it really underperformed when it first came out!

What is your favorite Frida memory?

I strangely really enjoyed a deep clean we did once! We were done with the day and it was like “Okay, people are leaving, the last movie ended early, we’re going to repaint the sound booth in Theater 2!” We also had carpet cleaners and these deep-clean vacuums that me and a bunch of other volunteers went whole hog with. It wasn’t even their normal night, they just showed up and were like “Oh yeah, we’re all going to do this,” and I thought “I’ve got extra time, I’ll stay and help out,” and that’s what I did! I’m a real big fan of behind the scenes, inner workings of places and liked that we were able to do it without having to close the auditorium and play only one movie at a time for a while. We did it in one night and I think we ended up finishing somewhere between 12 and 2 AM, but like I said, I enjoyed being with fellow volunteers and being part of the improvements that make this place look and work better for patrons.

If you could program any movie here, what would you pick?

There’s a a long list of movies I’d love to see on a big screen and see here but this hearkens to a Frida memory back when I was just coming as a patron. That gentleman who got me into volunteering would always joke in his spiel and say “Alright, we’re all here for Goofy Movie right?” and I actively was like “Hell yeah, I would gladly watch The Goofy Movie in a theater with people, I’m so down!” I actually debated choosing it as one of my volunteer picks but I knew we probably wouldn’t be able to get the rights from Disney so I went with my other selections. But, if I could, Goofy Movie hands down!

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Adam Green

An Evening with Adam Green on Saturday, November 16th

Adam Green

Horror icon and short film auteur Adam Green will be gracing The Frida Cinema with his presence for a double feature of his splatter classics, Hatchet (2006) and Frozen (2010)! But wait, there’s more: in addition to joining us for the movies, Mr. Green will regale veteran fans and Greenverse newbies alike with commentary on his life and the trials and tribulations of his career that took him from Holliston, Massachusetts to Hollywood, California! In anticipation of this special event, we are celebrating his career in word-form.

Halloween has passed, but Green is a director whose work keeps the spooky spirit alive year-round. Every year for the last 20 years, Green and his loyal crew have released a new short movie in celebration of the Halloween season in addition to producing The Movie Crypt podcast and other various horror-focused internet shows. Green has also built a filmography of over 10 feature-length films under ArieScope Pictures, the production company that he cofounded.

After finding his footing in Hollywood in the early 2000s, Green would find himself standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow gore-horror directors, with the lot of them being dubbed “The Splat Pack” for their propensity to indulge in gore. Green always takes it one step further than the others, adding laugh out loud comedy and fun to his unique films – unsurprising, seeing as he did stand-up in the early 2000s alongside other then up-and-coming comedians like Andy Samberg, Chris Romano, and Eric Falconer.

Hatchet
Amara Zaragoza in Hatchet.

Though Green began his feature-length film career in 2000 with Coffee & Donuts, a comedic self-portrait that is sadly out of print, he soon found a following with his 2006 offering Hatchet, which introduced audiences to his creepy character Victor Crowley. The film spawned several sequels and left a great impression on audiences and critics with these silly-style slashers. Green would also go on to direct and produce critically acclaimed surprise festival favorites, such as Spiral at the 2008 Santa Barbara International Film Festival and Grace at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. 2010’s Frozen wound up being the project that launched him into global success, following it up with the The Movie Crypt and the fan-favorite TV show Holliston. Of course, he would return to feature filmmaking with his mockumentary Digging Up The Marrow and a surprise fourth installment to his Hatchet series simply titled Victor Crowley

As he has steadily built his universe of horrifying and hilarious characters, Green continues to show that he has more up his sleeve. In his own, wise words: “Try something different. Make something that doesn’t make sense. Take risks, fall down, and get hurt a bunch on the way. You’ll heal and it will be OK. In the end, you just might find yourself holding the best thing you’ve ever created in your very hands because it is within your own pain that the stories worth telling actually exist.” Green is a filmmaker of the people, offering much of his work to audiences at no cost but their time and appreciation while remaining accessible to fans over the course of his career.

A hard-working, screen splattering, side-splitting, Halloween-loving visionary, Green is the director that no one asked for but Hollywood definitely needed. To commemorate the honor of hosting him for an evening, let’s revisit 10 of his must-see shorts at the links below!

1.

Driving Lessons (2012)

2.

Jack Chop (2009)

3.

Oh Sherrie (2001)

4.

A Holliston Halloween (2017)

5.

Fairy Tale Police (2008)

6.

The Tiffany Problem (2007)

7.

Columbus Day Weekends (1998)

8.

Downloading and You (2011)

9.

Don’t Do It (2016)

10.

King in the Box (2006)

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Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese

With the limited theatrical release of the highly-anticipated new Netflix film The Irishman coming up, we proudly pay homage to one of the most accomplished directors in all of cinematic history, Martin Scorsese

As a child, Scorsese suffered from debilitating asthma, with the only activity accessible to him being watching movies at the local movie theatre. In that darkened theatre, the four-year-old Scorsese became mesmerized by the images, sounds, and words emanating from the giant silver screen. This became his “unintentional film school”, feeding his desire to learn everything about movies.  

Scorsese owes his raw yet sophisticated film style to a multitude of film and personal influences, among them the Golden Age of Hollywood, French New Wave, his Italian heritage, Catholicism, and close attention to detail. He creates flawed but relatable characters trying to survive in a world that can be as loving as it is cruel. A typical Scorsese film is an homage to classic film but featuring twists like realistic stories and experimental techniques.

As such, it’s an honor and privilege to screen not only The Irishman but four other cinematic masterpieces from Scorsese as part of our month-long celebration of his work. 


The Irishman

The Irishman (2019)

November 27-30 & December 2-5

The wait is finally over for Scorsese’s long-awaited gangster epic, The Irishman!

This biographical crime thriller follows Frank Sheeran as he recalls his past years working for the Bufalino crime family. Now older, the WWII veteran once again reflects on his biggest hits and considers his involvement with one of the country’s most enduring mysteries, the disappearance of his good friend Jimmy Hoffa in 1975.

Garnering all kinds of awards hype and starring Oscar winners Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel, The Irishman finds America’s greatest living filmmaker once again working at the top of his game!

Written by Trevor Dillon.


Raging Bull

Raging Bull (1980)

November 4-5 & 9-10

Brace yourself for Raging Bull, a hard-hitting biopic about champion boxer Jake LaMotta.

Before his brief reign in the 1940s boxing world, LaMotta had two lessons he learned early in life: to steal and to fight. Channeling this tough upbringing into the ring, LaMotta directs his deep-seated anxieties and emotional fears into a visceral aggression towards his opponents. His violence and rage lead him to the top as a prizefighter but that same temper ultimately destroys his life outside the ring.

Starring Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, and Joe Pesci, Raging Bull is an unflinching depiction of LaMotta’s rise and fall.

Written by Adrienne Reese.


Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver (1976)

November 11-12 & 16-17

Catch the next cab to Taxi Driver, Scorsese’s exploration of alienation and toxic masculinity.

Based on a screenplay by Paul Schrader (Raging Bull), the movie follows Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a Vietnam veteran and loner who takes an overnight cab driving job to deal with his insomnia. Over a short period of time he comes in contact with a local politician running for office, a beautiful woman working for his campaign, and a young girl who is forced into prostitution. These interactions and Travis’ growing paranoia build toward a startling conclusion of urban violence.

Featuring a sonorous score by Bernard Hermann and strong supporting performances by Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, and Albert Brooks, Taxi Driver remains a classic of contemporary cinema with themes that remain urgently relevant.

Written by Sean Woodard.


The King of Comedy poster

The King of Comedy (1982)

November 18-19 & 20

Robert De Niro gives a humorously surprising turn in The King of Comedy, the original cringe comedy!

Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) dreams of being a stand-up comedian and thinks his big break has come at last when he meets with the famous talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). When numerous attempts to get on Langford’s show fail however, Rupert becomes increasingly desperate and resorts to extreme tactics to get the validation he thinks he deserves.

Bolstered by a talented supporting cast, De Niro creates an unnerving portrait of the effects of loneliness on a deranged mind.

Written by Sammy Trujillo.


Goodfellas

Goodfellas (1990)

November 25-26 & 28-29

Grab some wise guys and catch Goodfellas, playing in celebration of the film’s 29th anniversary!

Based on the unbelievable true story of the rise and fall of Henry Hill, the film documents the notorious mobster’s life from childhood onward. Despite being half-Irish, Henry ingratiates himself to the local Italian mafia and rises through its ranks. After leading the largest cash robbery on American soil, he becomes reckless and his friends turn against him. With both the FBI and his fellow mobsters after him, the question facing Henry is should he snitch or face the business end of the barrel?

Listed by the American Film Institute as #2 on its Top 10 Gangster FilmsGoodfellas is a sharp crime drama with snappy dialogue and memorable performances.

Written by Justina Bonilla.

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Frida After Dark November
Frida After Dark November

Though October is dead and gone, there’s no need to despair! The thrills and chills never stop at The Frida Cinema thanks to our most spook-tacular series, Frida After Dark! A dedicated celebration of all things cult classic and crowd-pleasing, weekend nights every month bring you all the bizarre mind-benders, macabre slashers, and zombie gore you crave all year-round.


Little Monsters

Little Monsters (2019)

November 1st, 2nd, & 3rd

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a failed musician, a children’s television host, and a kindergarten teacher and her students walk onto a zombie-infested farm…

No? Well, you’re in luck! Abe Forsyth’s Little Monsters is just the kind of oddball delight we love to screen here at the Frida. And no, this isn’t the 1989 kids movie starring Howie Mandel as a horned trash-ghoul living under a tween Fred Savage’s bed (though that would be a good fit as well.) Forsyth’s film is a brand new, international co-production between the US, the UK, and Australia starring Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o, who’s steadily becoming a queen of the horror genre.

With a film that’s been dubbed “Zombieland meets Kindergarten Cop”, it’s hard not to be intrigued. If you’re a fan of gore, rom-coms, and black comedy, this film is a triple threat! The Hulu original follows the lovely teacher Miss Caroline (Nyong’o) and Dave (Alexander England), a failed musician on the rebound, as they take a group of kindergarteners on a field trip to a nearby farm – a simple task made dire when flesh-eating zombies escape from a nearby government test facility. Surviving a zombie invasion is already stressful enough without a gaggle of children, so it’s up to Caroline and the others to keep the kids (and themselves) from becoming zombie-chow with, hopefully, as little trauma as possible. Even the biggest of zombie lovers can admit that the latest apocalypse flicks can be pretty predictable, which is why Little Monsters is such a treat. It not only surprises but leaves the cockles of your heart just a little more full and your frown turned upside down.


The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

November 8th

Another month brings another stellar production of Jim Sharman’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the original interactive midnight movie! We’re always delighted to host the very talented and dedicated K.A.O.S. shadow cast as they turn Friday nights up with their lip-syncs, sexy costumes, and performances that bring you right into the exhilarating world of Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s castle.

Rocky Horror is a mish-mash of campy science-fiction, brilliant songs, cheesy wordplay, and unapologetic sexuality that just might awaken something in you. Along with being fun and wild, these screenings are about community and the freedom to be yourself! Costumes are always deeply encouraged, so put on the best Transylvanian duds you’ve got and bring along your friends for an awesome night out.

Don’t forget to bring cash to buy your prop bags before the show! For just a few bucks, you can have plenty of ammo to throw, while also supporting K.A.O.S. in helping improve their costumes and stage gear. If you’re a Rocky virgin, don’t get hot and flustered! Check out this classic guide for what to expect when going all the way with us at midnight.

Special note: last month’s encore October performance was completely sold out, thanks to all of our fang-tastic party guests’ support and continuing Rocky spirit! If you missed it and are feeling the withdrawal creep in, make sure to get your tickets early and join us over at the Frankenstein place!


The Room poster

The Room (2003)

November 9th

Right after cleaning up all the confetti and popcorn from Rocky, we’re making a mess all over again with our monthly interactive screening of The Room — an absolute masterpiece of failure.

Unlike Rocky Horror, The Room is not a musical. Instead, it is a film so terrible in every conceivable way, it’s hard to believe even while watching it. Perhaps that’s simply the genius of the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau: director, writer, actor, producer, casting director, etcetera, etcetera.

Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) works as a successful banker in stock-footage San Francisco with his fiancee, Lisa (not Tommy Wiseau). Despite their engagement, Lisa is unhappy in her relationship and seduces Johnny’s best friend Mark (Greg Sister). Despite the simple premise, there’s several dozen unrelated subplots that make things far more entertaining and worthy of a monthly cult classic celebration.

Think you know how bad it is? You don’t! It’s much worse, and live screenings are all the better for it! There’s truly nothing like being in a theater full of strangers, bonded together by the same bizarre dialogue and pelting each other with plastic spoons. So what are you waiting for? Grab a football and make a date for Saturday, November 9th — just make sure to close the front door on your way out.


The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue

The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974)

November 22nd

Didn’t get your zombie fill for the month? Good news! Picking right back up with the blood and guts after our monthly interactive screenings is Jorge Grau’s cult classic, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. Presented by our dear friends over at Horrible Imaginings (responsible for the yearly summer genre film festival and the newest October short film showcase), we’re celebrating the underrated horror flick’s all-new, glorious 4K restoration!

Grau’s take on the living dead genre is not to be confused with an installment in the iconic Living Dead series. Aside from its original Spanish title, No profanar el sueño de los muertos, the film has also been released under more than 15 titles internationally, including Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and Don’t Open the Window.

Regardless of what you call it, it has a clear, compelling premise. A vacation to Manchester goes wrong for the young George and Edna, who find themselves in the midst of a murder investigation. The trip goes far beyond inconvenience and into a fight for survival when a new pesticide alternative device’s ultrasonic radiation resurrects the dead. Soon the couple (as well as the police) are in a race through the surplus supply of crypts, morgues, and graveyards surrounding them to get out with their guts intact.With campy yet solid practical effects and a funky 70s soundtrack to boot, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is the perfect opportunity to see a classic undead flick in all its magnificence.


Santa Sangre

Santa Sangre (1989)

November 29th, 30th and December 1st

This year, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s provocative odyssey of blasphemy turns 30! So of course, we’re wrapping up November and bleeding into December with Santa Sangre’s all-new 4K restoration that presents every hauntingly beautiful frame crystal-clear.

How would one describe Santa Sangre? Jodorowsky’s drama-thriller-slasher plays like a Buñuel remake of the entire Psycho tetralogy with the ambiance of Tod Browning’s Freaks and is truly the stuff of Freud’s dreams.

The film follows the life of Fenix, a young man born and raised as a performer in a macabre Mexican circus. The son of an adulterous knife-thrower and cult-leader aerialist, the boy’s life is filled with violence and misery, which comes to a head with the bloody loss of his mother’s arms. As the years go by, the two become partners in act and in crime and grow far too close, leading Fenix to lose himself to her in more ways than one.

Though a Mexican and Italian co-production, Santa Sangre is in English, with the dubbed audio and slightly off lip movements only adding to the film’s ensnaring eeriness and unsettling aura. It’s definitely a film not to be spoiled beforehand, so come see a marvel of avant-garde filmmaking for yourself on the big screen — if you’re not faint of heart, that is!

As 2019 wraps up, there’s only one more Frida After Dark left before the decade ends! Check in next month for a whole new line-up of too-hot-for-daytime screenings. Stay tuned, and see you then!

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Dolemite

Dolemite Is My Name screens Friday, October 25th through Thursday, October 31st

Dolemite screens Saturday, October 26th through Thursday, October 31st

Halloween’s right around the corner but let’s take a break from the spooky fun to appreciate the fact that The Frida Cinema has not one but two blaxploitation-themed movies opening this weekend!

Dolemite
D’Urville Martin’s Dolemite.

While many people are familiar with the idea of blaxploitation, not that many have actually seen any films belonging to the subgenre. Conventional wisdom seems to dismiss them as enjoyable but crass attempts by cynical producers to cash in on the increased mobility and visibility of African-Americans after the success of the civil rights movement, and indeed this was the perception of many black critics. Activist groups charged the movies with feeding into racist stereotypes about African-Americans, with the National Urban League, the NAACP, and Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference even going as far as to organize a coalition to combat what they saw as the films’ malign influence.

Yet for all the detractors’ protests, they weren’t able to stop African-American audiences from turning out in droves for blaxploitation features. Instead of catering to the respectable, socially conscious tastes of the activists, these movies offered both urban fantasy and frank commentary on race relations for viewers craving to see both. They also provided many African-Americans shut out of the existing Hollywood system the chance to work on productions of such scale for the first time, paving the way for blacks to direct, produce, and star in their own projects. Filmmakers as diverse as Do The Right Thing’s Spike Lee and Boyz n the Hood’s John Singleton have drawn from blaxploitation even as they poke fun at it, but its most visible proponent has to be Quentin Tarantino, with his crime drama Jackie Brown being a long love letter to the subgenre.

Though it spread out into genre-bending variations of Westerns with The Black Bounty Killer, horror with Blacula, and general weirdness with The Black Gestapo, we’re just going to look at five titles that serve as a good beginner’s guide to blaxploitation.


Dolemite

Dolemite (1975)

The irony of D’Urville Martin’s Dolemite is that as often as it’s held up as a prime example of blaxploitation, most people don’t realize that it’s supposed to be a parody of the genre. In fact, the film was written as a vehicle for Rudy Ray Moore’s most famous stage persona, a boastful pimp given to crude language and rapping. As such, to criticize it for being outrageous is to miss the point of the film and what it’s trying to accomplish.

Now, that isn’t to say that the movie isn’t outrageous! Not at all: from the clownish outfits the male characters wear (one can’t help but wonder how much of the film’s budget went to Mr. Moore’s wardrobe in particular) to the shamelessly contrived story, it’s clear that Moore and Martin knew they weren’t making Citizen Kane. Sprinkle in comical kung-fu choreography, eyelines that are almost allergic to matching with each other, and most notoriously, repeated boom mic intrusions and you’ve got a recipe for ridiculousness befitting the film’s B-movie status.

Where the movie shines is how much it believes in its own craziness, overcoming its low budget and inexperienced crew with a cockiness that makes viewers buy into the nonsense unfolding before them. This quality is personified by Moore himself, who carries his portly self around with the self-assured swagger we’ve come to associate with pimps. Between impressing ladies with his bodacious dad bod, free styling for oohing onlookers who are never seen again, and literally ripping out enemies’ livers, it’s tempting to think of Dolemite less as a character in a blaxploitation parody than an urban superhero who improbably but surely saves the day.

“…it’s tempting to think of Dolemite less as a character in a blaxploitation parody than an urban superhero who improbably but surely saves the day.”

As for the rest of the cast, they get in on the over-the-top action to varying degrees as well. Made up largely of Moore’s friends and associates, the supporting players’ lack of acting experience shows in their hammy, often imprecise delivery of their lines, adding another layer of hilarity to what is already a pretty funny movie. While all the characters engage in this exaggerated manner of acting, it is especially pronounced (perhaps purposefully so) in the white characters, who have to be some of the goofiest antagonists in blaxploitation history. The two detectives who try to frame Dolemite, for example, are virtually impossible to take seriously even as they hurl threats and racial slurs at him and it’s hard to view the corrupt mayor as anything other than a strange combination of Steve Buscemi and Jon Polito who wandered in from some forgotten Coen Brothers’ film. 

On the subject of slurs, the movie drops n-bombs and other obscenities like there’s no tomorrow. This is consistent with the genre’s general disregard for political correctness in favor of what is presented as raw authenticity, but Dolemite’s excessive use of them seems to put it in line with the Lenny Bruce theory of desensitization: that is, using obscenities over and over again will eventually take their power away. Whether that’s correct is a whole other can of worms we won’t get into, but it’s not a stretch to say the spirit of Bruce is at work in the film’s subversive use of offensive language. 

With an intrepid energy that complements both its star’s ambitions and the unlikely story of its production, Dolemite overcomes its many technical flaws to present a courageously comedic send-up of the movies whose footsteps it followed in.


Super Fly poster

Super Fly (1972)

Going back three years before Dolemite, Gordon Parks, Jr. offered a very different take on blaxploitation with Super Fly. Transformed into an irresponsible celebration of pimps and drug dealers by people who likely only know it by reputation, Parks’ crime drama is as far removed from the way the public remembers it as it is from the antics of Rudy Ray Moore.

Right off the bat, the production value is leagues above Dolemite, with any possible shortcomings reaching nowhere near the level of that film. The involvement of Warner Bros. certainly had to help, but the film was still financed largely by Parks and his partners, making the movie’s comparatively polished look all the more impressive. More impressive, however, is the end to which the filmmakers used their modest resources.

Despite protests by the NAACP and the Congress for Racial Equality that it promoted criminal behavior and negative stereotypes about African-Americans, the movie is straight and unflattering in its portrayal of prostitution and the drug trade. The characters engage in their illicit activities and get paid for them but it’s shown to be a job like any other, with responsibilities, inconveniences, and the ever-present worry you’ll have to answer to somebody else if you mess up. Nobody takes the work lightly, and almost everyone acknowledges that what they are doing is not only dangerous but probably wrong as well.

“The characters engage in their illicit activities and get paid for them but it’s shown to be a job like any other, with responsibilities, inconveniences, and the ever-present worry you’ll have to answer to somebody else if you mess up.”

No one feels this more strongly than Youngblood Priest, played by Ron O’Neal (who some might remember as the Cuban commander in Red Dawn.) A pusher on top of his game and on top of his world, Priest has come to the shocking realization that there’s more to life than profiting off other people’s addictions. What exactly he isn’t sure, but he knows that whatever it is has to be better than pimping and pushing. Given a dignified, almost regal authority by O’Neal, Priest is equally believable undergoing an existential crisis as he is exchanging blows with disrespectful subordinates and crooked cops.

Priest’s weariness is mirrored in the film’s drab color palette. Awash in grays and browns, Super Fly errs on the side of subdued in contrast to the bright pastels and primary colors of Dolemite. Also adding to the overall atmosphere of loneliness are the long scenes of the characters walking the mean streets of Harlem. Combine these with ambient shots of night-time New York traffic and it’s almost hard not to expect Priest to bump into Frank Serpico or Travis Bickle.

Though it may lack the hilarity of Dolemite and other similarly silly blaxploitation titles, Super Fly is an unexpectedly potent reflection of the frustration felt by many in the post-civil rights era, with its message of disaffection resonating with viewers to this day.


Shaft poster

Shaft (1971)

Another movie with a markedly different approach from Dolemite is Shaft, a film that not only came out a year before Super Fly but was also directed by Gordon Parks, the father of that film’s director. Often credited with singlehandedly saving MGM from bankruptcy, Shaft was a smash hit when it came out as well as one of the first true blaxploitation movies.

As one of the earliest examples of the subgenre, the movie owes more to other genres that preceded it than it does the tropes and conventions commonly seen in later blaxploitation entries. Namely, it lifts formal and narrative elements straight from classic noir, which is hardly surprising considering the story was adapted from screenwriter Ernest Tidyman’s detective novel of the same name. Characters are shrouded in dark and shadow, the soundtrack employs strained brass and tight percussion, and the basic set-up of a private investigator being asked by a dubious party to investigate a disappearance all speak to noir’s influence on the production. 

Even when it invokes traditional blaxploitation conventions, it uses them in ways not often seen in later films. Instead of depicting drug lord Bumpy Jonas (played with menacing refinement by Moses Gunn) and his associates as bungling gangbangers, the movie shows them to be the threateningly competent members of an African-American organized crime family that clearly exercise power far beyond what is seen onscreen. Furthermore, the movie’s dialogue is shockingly clean compared to the two films previously listed, with there being exactly one n-bomb and one f-bomb said throughout its runtime. This isn’t to say that it detracts from the movie, but it surely does make for a safer viewing experience for old ladies and guilty white liberals.

“Characters are shrouded in dark and shadow, the soundtrack employs strained brass and tight percussion, and the basic set-up of a private investigator being asked by a dubious party to investigate a disappearance all speak to noir’s influence on the production. “

All that being said, the movies lives but never dies by its hero. The theme song tells us he’s a black private dick who’s also a sex machine to all the chicks and that’s certainly cool, but Shaft’s personality is the most beguiling thing about him. In contrast to the loquacious bravado of Dolemite and the elegant power of Youngblood Priest, Richard Roundtree is charmingly slick as the turtleneck-clad PI. While he is more than capable of handling himself in the physical arena, Shaft is shown to prefer using his wits and powers of observation to get by and do what he needs to. From the trivial like trading barbs with unfriendly cops to the serious like faking an amorous phone call to trick mobsters, Shaft is a refreshing variation on the quick-thinking hero who would rather use brains than brawn to solve problems.

While some critics at the time panned it for hewing too closely to the conventions of older detective fare, Shaft has been vindicated as an effective and entertaining neo-noir as well as one of blaxploitation’s finest films.


Sweet Sweetbacks Baadasssss Song poster

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)

But as distinct from one another as Dolemite, Super Fly and Shaft are, they might as well be carbon copies of each other when compared to Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

Released the same year as Shaft, Sweetback endeavors to achieve much more than the comparatively modest goals of that film. Frustrated by Hollywood’s predilection for portraying African-American characters as little more than servants and passive victims, Van Peebles took it upon himself to make a movie about, as he bluntly put it, “a brother getting the Man’s foot out of his ass.” The opening dedication explicitly states as much, offering the film to “all the Brothers and Sisters who had enough of the Man”.

With a message like this, it’s little wonder that no studio would touch the project, forcing Van Peebles to direct, act, and fund it all on his own. Despite having to switch between helming the project, performing his own stunts, and participating in simulated and unsimulated sex scenes alike, he was able to complete filming in 19 days, an amazingly short amount of time to shoot a feature. What Van Peebles did with the footage he shot is just as remarkable: coming down from the high of the late 60s, the film looks very much the part, with colored filters, unusual camera angles, and deliberate jump cuts creating a dreamlike atmosphere in what is otherwise a sober, straightforward story. 

“…coming down from the high of the late 60s, the film looks very much the part, with colored filters, unusual camera angles, and deliberate jump cuts creating a dreamlike atmosphere in what is otherwise a sober, straightforward story.”

Contributing to the overall sense of unreality is the innovative sound design. Believing sound to be just as important a dimension to film as dialogue and visuals, Van Peebles combines Earth, Wind & Fire’s (yes, that Earth, Wind & Fire) soundtrack with characters’ lines and sound effects to assemble an auditory collage that emotionally emphasizes the beats that the formal narrative strikes. When police question Sweetback’s biological mother about him, her matter-of-fact answer that she “might have had a LeRoy once, but I don’t rightly remember” loops like a sample in a song, while his attempt to evade the authorities is intermittently punctuated by an a cappella chorus singing lamentations at the oblivious fugitive. Making sense on a subconscious level, the end result bears more resemblance to a surreal music video than it does any of the other movies on this list.

As for the titular character, Van Peebles is convincing as the soulful-eyed whorehouse performer without saying as much as five full lines of dialogue. Sweetback’s silent nature works to the film’s advantage, underscoring the idea that he is not a unique individual so much as a stand-in for African-Americans collectively fed up with their country’s mistreatment of them. Indeed, the real star of the movie is, as the opening credits helpfully point out, “the Black Community”, with the raucous performers Sweetback works with and the unhelpful friends and associates he approaches while on the run all fleshing out the movie’s interpretation of the black experience. 

Bolstered by its groundbreaking mix of an experimental aesthetic with Black Power ideology, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is a cinematic triumph that is as radical today as it was in 1971.


Coffy poster

Coffy (1973)

The subject of this last entry isn’t as revolutionary-minded as Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song but it does differ from all of the films listed above in a very significant way: it has a female protagonist! Along with fellow 1973 release Cleopatra Jones, Jack Hill’s Coffy helped kickstart a sub-genre within the sub-genre of blaxploitation features with strong female leads who go head to head with men and kick butt.

And kick butt she does, as Coffy actually has a shocking amount of violence compared to any of the aforementioned movies. It’s hard to explain why this is the case, but one might speculate that the filmmakers felt they could get away with more with a female protagonist than they would a male one. Yet even without taking this double standard into account, the intensity of the violence really stands out. This obviously makes for a more exciting picture what with cat fights, car crashes and all, but at least one of these scenes is a little too visceral for comfort.

The scene in question involves two mobsters carrying out a gangland execution by tying a rope around a black character’s neck and tying the other end to the back of their car as they drive. The subtext (or simply the text, since it’s so upfront) is lynching, and the kinetic action of the car moving and the body flaying around behind is real enough to be disturbing.

“Not afraid to use her feminine charm to make her enemies’ let their guard down, [Coffy] is as alluring as she is badass, with the righteous fury she unleashes on the pushers being quite the sight to behold.”

Thankfully however, our heroine is more than able to hold her own against the brutes responsible for this horrific act! Portrayed by Jackie Brown’s very own Pam Grier, Coffy is a kind-hearted nurse who becomes a shotgun-toting vigilante after her sister becomes addicted to heroin. Not afraid to use her feminine charm to make her enemies’ let their guard down, she is as alluring as she is badass, with the righteous fury she unleashes on the pushers being quite the sight to behold.

Standing in the way of Coffy’s quest for justice is a city-wide conspiracy of gangsters, politicians, and police bringing drugs into the city, with two figures filling the role of foil to her dogged moralism especially well. The first is Howard Brunswick, a corrupt city councilman played by Booker Bradshaw, and the second is Omar, a sadistic mob enforcer played by Sid Haig. While Omar is obviously the more intimidating of the two (there’s just something deeply unwholesome about hearing Captain Spaulding say the n-word), Howard is actually worse because not only does he betray her, he betrays the black community to enrich himself at their expense. Needless to say, it’s deeply satisfying when Coffy finally corners him and he isn’t able to sweet-talk his way out of it.

With violence that is real enough to be unsettling yet extreme enough to be engrossing, Coffy is an unforgettable revenge film that deserves to be seen by anyone who can handle it. 


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10 Mexican Horror Films Every Horror Fan Should See

A brand-new, 4k restoration of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre starts Friday, November 29th at The Frida Cinema.

Mexican horror is one of the most unique and distinctive voices in international horror cinema. Initially inspired by early American horror and German Expressionist films, Mexican horror filmmakers combined these foreign influences with their Catholic traditions and indigenous folklore, resulting in a veritable treasure trove of gothic and fantasy stories.

Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre (1989)
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre (1989)

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017)

This international cross-over film from Issa Lopez has a fantasy feel yet brutal visuals, revealing that it is children who pay the highest price in the Latin American drug wars. Its success has both revitalized interest in Mexican horror as well as further established women as directors.     


Cronos poster

Cronos (1993)

Long before he became an Oscar-winning director, Guillermo Del Toro made his debut with Cronos, establishing himself as a horror writer and filmmaker. Reinventing the traditional vampire tale, Cronos examines the undying love and bond between a grandfather and granddaughter in spite of the horrors of vampire life.


Poison for Fairies poster

Poison for Fairies (1993)

The last film directed by Carlos Enrique Taboada, an influential director, writer, and cult-figure in Mexican horror films.  Though initially resembling a lighthearted made-for-television movie about the friendship between two little girls, it quickly turns into a dark thriller of witchcraft and terror.


Alucarda poster

Alucarda, Daughter of Darkness (1997)

The most controversial film from influential director Juan Lopez Moctezuma, Alucarda, Daughter of Darkness caused quite a stir upon its release due to its explicit scenes of murder, sex, and demonic possession within the walls of a convent.  Because of the controversy, Alucarda is often compared to Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971).   


The Mansion of Madness poster

The Mansion of Madness (1973)

After working as a producer for avant-garde director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Fando and Lis and El Topo, Moctezuma made his film directorial debut with The Manson of Madness.  He intertwined his love of classic horror with influences from Jodorowsky’s take-no-prisoners style, creating a surrealist nightmare of mental patients running the asylum.


The Curse of the Crying Woman poster

The Curse of the Crying Woman (1963)

Directed and produced by Golden Age of Mexican cinema veterans Rafael Baledon and Abel Salazar, The Curse of the Crying Woman brings the traditional folk tale of Llorona back from the dead. Considered by film historians to be a classic of Mexican horror, the movie combines folk traditions with stylized black and white terror. 


Santo poster

Santo vs. the Vampire Women (1962)

With the massive popularity of wrestling in Mexico, many wrestlers transitioned into movies and television, with the most notable being the iconic El Santo. He starred in over 50 films that pit him against a variety of foes, including gangsters, demons, martians, and most notably vampires in Alfonso Corona Blake’s Santo vs. the Vampire Women.


The Witch's Mirror poster

The Witch’s Mirror (1962)

An eccentric talent, Chano Urueta combined multiple horror subgenres and experimental special effects to create art-house chiller The Witch’s Mirror. Paying visual homage to the cinematic styles of Eyes Without A Face and Frankenstein, the movie also draws considerable influence from RKO producer Val Lewton’s signature style of horror. 


Macario poster

Macario (1960)

Though considered a fantasy film, Roberto Galvadon’s Macario has a definite horror feel with its story of making a deal with and then cheating death. Visually stunning, this movie has the honor of being Mexico’s first nominee for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. 


The Vampire poster

El Vampiro (1957)

Inspired by the success of the Universal Monster films, Abel Salazar collaborated with Fernando Mendez to set the traditional Dracula story in Mexico with El Vampiro. The success of this surprise horror masterpiece started a vampire craze in Mexican monster cinema. It also revived cinematic depictions of Dracula one year before Hammer Studios released their first vampire film, Horror of Dracula (1958).  


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Universal Monsters Triple-Feature

The name “Universal Monsters” is a fitting one. The entire planet knows the iconic images of Karloff and Lugosi, the familiar lines, and the names of those fascinating and frightening creatures. Something special happens when you sit down in a theater and the cool flickering on the silver screen starts up to transport you to those dark gothic worlds of gods and monsters. Yes, these movies are the pioneers of horror on film, but they are special for so many more reasons.

Dracula poster

Maybe you saw these movies for the first time at a drive in, or on lazy Sunday-afternoon TV. Maybe an older relative showed them to you, or maybe you sought them out after seeing their likeness in Bugs Bunny cartoons, or parodies like Young Frankenstein. Whatever the case, these movies hold a different place for everyone. Some of us who saw these movies at too young of an age were genuinely terrified of them, like those original 1930s audiences who had never before seen this kind of blasphemous terror invade their complacent lives. For those of us, these movies burrowed into our psyches as something elemental and dangerous, a sociological thunderstorm. Every shadowy staircase and pale moonlit night brought a procession of dark imaginings from the recesses of our minds, scaring us back under the covers for fear of what lurked in the night.

“No one tells Dracula what to do”

Yet for others, these monsters are a new paradigm of badassery; they’re beholden to no man’s rules, inflicting their unstoppable will on the world. No one tells Dracula what to do, they just fear him and run. Born into the world as aberrations of power, these monsters are subversive idols for every misfit, delinquent, and rebel. For whatever wrong they do, whatever horrors they inflict on the foolish mortals who barge into their domain, they are eternally cool pillars of raw power. Those of us who have no problem with the darkness find these monsters on our side as icons of rebellion, strength, and danger, cocking their heads back at the moon and screaming “I am the thing to be feared in the dark!”

Dracula has a few vulnerabilities and aversions… mirrors, garlic, and especially Bugs.
Frankenstein poster

But then there is also a contingent of people who celebrate these monsters as campy mascots of a bygone era. The thrill and shock of yesteryear has worn away into the simple fun of seeing these creatures stomp around with unabashed flair. Maybe they’re not as scary anymore, certainly not as scream-inducing as whatever new horror movie came out last month, but they are the originals and they represent something more. A higher echelon of pop culture relevance that leaves hulking slashers and pale ghost girls in the dust. There are some of us who can see past the monstrousness of these creatures to the humanity within; however appalling they appear, these creatures are just as alive as you and me, deserving of understanding and dignity.

You could see them as inherently evil, or you could just see beings who happened to be born with gills, or of corpse parts and electricity. Their mere existence seems to be enough for society to shun and condemn them to death. Any one of us who has ever felt like an outcast or reject, who has ever had to hide a part of ourselves for the sake of fitting in, simmering on the fear of getting found out for being whatever it is society deemed unacceptable, we all know that feeling. We can see the fearful and angry faces of the townsfolk lit by torch light for the real terror that they are. And just as deft as the artistry of these movies, we can see our suffering turn into something beautiful.

Creature from the Black Lagoon poster

“Born into the world as aberrations of power, these monsters are subversive idols for every misfit, delinquent, and rebel.”

So when you come out to celebrate these iconic monster movies, celebrate yourself and what these creatures mean to you. Whether as icons of fear, power, pop culture, or pride, the appeal of the Universal Monsters is just that: universal. Those directors like James Whale and Todd Browning could not have known they were creating cultural touchstones that would last for centuries to come, but they did know how to conduct the orchestra of fear that practically invented cinema horror. And they did it with impeccable style.

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Camp Frida 2019: In the Wake of the Witch

Triple, triple popcorn butter dripple,
Silver Shamrock gleam and ripple.
One rec room, a graveyard too
Camp Frida brought one eve to thee,
By the power of three times three,
Threequels, witches, and Halloween fright.
Were you able to survive the night?

Thank you, Campers!

Your favorite spooky-filled, twelve hour movie marathon has done it again! Thanks to our campers, counselors, staff, and volunteers, Camp Frida: The Season of the Witch was the biggest and best campout yet!

In honor of Camp Frida’s third year, there were three themes within the night. So along with anything surrounding the occult, any film taking place on Halloween night or the third installment in a film series was fair game. We saw witches of all ages and shapes, films with whimsical and comedic tones, and threequels from a variety of horror-filled franchises that made it a magical time for everyone.

Of course, Camp Frida is far from just the surprise screenings. The Frida was transformed into a delightfully dreadful campground, complete with Jack-O-Lanterns, bats in flight, weathered tombstones, and even a witchy display of Sanderson Sisters’ infamous Book of Spells (photo op included). Along with their own rations, pizza and cocktail-filled blood bags—with a BAC off the charts—were available for a special treat to really get comfortable for a long night in those onesies.

Our hosts this year were not zombified campers, but instead the very alive Jonathan and Tyler of Bombs Away fame. They too had to survive the night, and did so with the appropriate vintage short-shorts, costume changes, and proud sponsorship by Silver Shamrock Novelties (with no affiliation whatsoever to the one you’re thinking of, thank you very much).

More campers than ever stayed through the night this year, each leaving with a little charm to protect them until they come back next year.

See you then, Campers!


All photos by Ree Han

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The Omen

A new 4K restoration of Richard Donner’s The Omen screens tonight, October 8th, with encore screenings on Friday, October 10th & Saturday, October 11th

A version of this article was originally published in Drunk Monkeys Lit + Film; reprinted with permission.

The Omen
Harvey Stephens as Damien, a very naughty boy.

Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976) remains one of the seminal religious-themed horror films to have been released in the wake of Rosemary’s Baby (Polanski 1968) and The Exorcist (Friedkin 1973), cashing in on the socio-political and religious hysteria of the 1970s.

I first saw The Omen when I was in a teenager. It was perhaps the first horror film to truly scare the shit out of me. For many years, I considered it my favorite horror film. Not only did the film’s credibility increase due to the presence of actors such as Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, and David Warner, but it was also genuinely scary.

Aside from some gruesome deaths, the film gets under your skin through suggestion—challenging your rational mind through suspension of belief. For me the scariest moment of the film is when Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw) appears in Katherine Thorn’s hospital room with the most hellish expression on her face. That image stays with me to this day and produces a shudder through my body every time I rewatch the film.

The Omen’s most terrifying aspect is Jerry Goldsmith’s score, for which the composer won an Academy Award.”

As a young Catholic, the film made an indelible impression on me, especially how its story—where an American ambassador and his wife unknowingly raise the alleged Antichrist—appears to be scripture-based. Many years later and through careful analysis, I learned how blatantly the Book of Revelation and other Biblical texts are misconstrued and blown out of proportion for the sake of the film’s plot mechanisms.

However, The Omen’s most terrifying aspect is Jerry Goldsmith’s score, for which the composer won an Academy Award. While the score haunted me upon my first viewing of the film, hearing it in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound in a theater during college made me feel as if the Devil was in the auditorium.

At left: Opening theme of The Omen (1976)

For the sake of space, I will limit my exploration to the film’s main theme, Ave Satani, and apply not only my catechesis of the Catholic Church, but also my background in Gregorian Chant to its analysis.

Before settling properly into the film’s narrative, Goldsmith’s score sets the tone during the opening credits. We first hear a lone piano phrase over low, dissonant strings. The bass descends before striking up a rhythmic pattern, emphasizing beats one and three. Moments later a chorus enters. On screen, red lighting frames a boy-like figure, his shadow casting the outline of an upturned crucifix.

“We drink the blood. / We eat the body. / Raise the body of Satan. / Hail, hail the Antichrist. / Hail, Satan!”

If this isn’t enough to set viewers on edge, a close examination of the chorus’s text might. When composing the piece, Goldsmith was inspired by Gregorian Chant and decided to invert phrases from the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Also known as the Tridentine Mass, the form was celebrated in Latin for centuries until the 1960s. The liturgy is still allowed to be used by certain religious orders today, although the Novus Ordo (the vernacular Mass of Pope Paul VI) became the more common form celebrated following the Vatican II council.

Goldsmith was assisted by a choirmaster, who had a background in Latin. The text reads as follows:

“Sanguis bibimus. / Corpus edimus. / Tolle corpus Satani. / Ave, ave Versus Christus. / Ave Satani!

The lyrics translates into English as:

“We drink the blood. / We eat the body. / Raise the body of Satan. / Hail, hail the Antichrist. / Hail, Satan!”

While one can argue the correct declension of Latin phrases, the intent is quite clear: to invoke the horror that is the antithesis of portions of the Roman Rite, in service to the film’s narrative. The lyrics not only inverts the Transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, but also portions of the Mysterium Fidei (Mystery of Faith) and the prayer, Ave Maria (Hail, Mary).

When the chorus enters, the vocalists sing in unison, the Latin phrasing and rhythm inducing the flow and solemnity of Gregorian chant. As the piece continues, the voices split into a homophonic structure (where harmony supports the main melody). The bass and tenor voices constitute the chanted phrases, while the alto and soprano voices fill in the harmony. Occasionally, the women interject the phrase “Ave Satani” in an manner that resembles a wail as they slide between pitches.

At right: Dies Iræ

Goldsmith also appears to insert another reference to plainchant through his use of strings. While Goldsmith is quick to mention how John Williams’s score for Jaws (Spielberg 1975) was a big influence on The Omen’s score—especially in terms of projecting fear through the use of a few notes—I would argue that the strings reference the medieval chant hymn, Dies Iræ.

Most viewers may recognize the chant repurposed in other films like The Devils (Russell 1971) and The Shining (Kubrick 1980). Electronic composer Wendy Carlos quotes the opening melody over The Shining‘s opening sequence.

At left: Opening theme of The Shining (1980)

Goldsmith also quotes the opening phrase, specifically the first four neumes, or notes. Rather than quote the musical phrase as written, Goldsmith reverses it, while retaining the rhythmic pattern of the trochaic meter (where a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable). This inversion of the quotation acts as a driving force for the satanic chant and creates a sense of foreboding.

The hymn is compiled in the 1962 Roman Missal and is usually performed as a sequence during a Requiem Mass. It’s text depicts the Last Judgement, which the Christian church believes will signify Christ’s Second Coming. Sections of Christ’s ministry in the Gospels refer to the Last Judgement (such as in Matthew 7:13-25); however, most depictions of the event are inspired by the apocalyptic imagery within the Book of Revelation.

Goldsmith’s use of trumpets also recall the Day of Wrath. Revelation 8-9 depicts calamities upon the earth following trumpet blasts by seven Angels. 1 Corinthians 15:52-53 also depicts the sounding of the trumpet, when the dead shall be raised and be made incorruptible; this text has been popularized in Handel’s Messiah. In contrast, Goldsmith’s use of trumpets—in combination with the strings which invert the Dies Iræ’s opening phrase—appears to instead welcome the Antichrist into the world.

At right: Trailer for The Omen (1976)

By adapting quotations from musical sources and inverting liturgical texts, Goldsmith effectively instills a sense of dread within the first minute of The Omen. While Goldsmith incorporates further musical techniques to differentiate between normality and rising hysteria throughout the course of the film, his theme Ave Satani stands out for its musical structure. In effect, Goldsmith’s score differentiates The Omen from dime-a-dozen religious-themed horror films and elevates it to one of the scariest films of all time.

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Samantha Robinson is The Love Witch

Tammy and the T-Rex + Q&A with Stewart Raffill screens Thursday, October 10th at 8:30pm

“Horror is a lot like comedy, you feel whether it’s working or not.” — Ari Aster

Samantha Robinson is The Love Witch
Samantha Robinson is The Love Witch (2016)

Whether it be David Gordon Green directing a Halloween trilogy, John Krasinski directing a sequel to A Quiet Place, or Jordan Peele remaking Candyman, the Hollywood trend of comedic filmmakers transitioning into horror shows no signs of stopping. With the R-Rated release of the 1994 horror-comedy film Tammy and the T-Rex coming to The Frida Cinema this Thursday, let us look at some overlooked films in the horror-comedy genre.


Dude Bro Party Massacre III (2015)

Based on a 5-second sketch from the appropriately named troupe 5-Second Films, Dude Bro Party Massacre III plays as a wonderful homage to campy, slasher films, following a frat party at a cabin in the woods and a bro-hunting serial killer who proves to be a real fun-slayer. With a supporting cast including Greg Sestero (The Room) and Patton Oswalt (Ratatouille) and cameos by Larry King and Andrew W.K., 5-Second Films creates rapid-fire comedy, packing a dizzying array of laughs into the film’s brief run time.


Murder Party poster

Murder Party (2007)

From the director of Blue Ruin and Green Room, Jeremy Saulnier’s directorial debut, Murder Party is surprisingly similar to his later films. Following a loner parking officer who gets invited to a “murder party” and ends up being hunted by a group of pretentious art students, Murder Party started a trend of protagonists on the run from a violent group of murderers. While Saulnier’s later films are presented as deeply serious, Murder Party portrays its violence with slapstick humor, making no attempt to create empathy for its pathetic hero. Saulnier fans will love seeing the early stages of his filmmaking prowess.


The Love Witch poster

The Love Witch (2016)

The Love Witch was a personal passion project for its director Anna Biller, who also wrote, edited, and scored the film as well as designed the film’s production and costumes. Shot to match the 1960s technicolor aesthetic and written to embrace the camp of 1960s horror, The Love Witch follows recently widowed Elaine as she uses potions and spells to seduce men in her desperate search for affection. The film’s spellbinding technicolor is bolstered by a universally lauded performance from Samantha Robinson who deftly balances the film’s tone of horror and comedy.


One Cut of the Dead

One Cut of the Dead (2017)

Since the 2004 hit film Shaun of the Dead, zombie comedies have become commonplace in American film, but none of the post-Shaun films hold a candle to Shinichiro Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead. It is best to go into this high-concept film with as little knowledge as possible, so if you plan on watching this film do not watch any trailer or read any plot summary. Just know that the film breathes life into the zombie comedy genre with its delightful gags and plays as an homage to zombie films and to cinema as a whole.


Tucker and Dale vs Evil

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2011)

Fans of backwoods horror will revel in Eli Craig’s riotous directorial debut Tucker & Dale vs Evil. As seen in the recent Netflix film Little Evil, Eli Craig has a talent for turning established horror tropes on their heads—with hilarious results. In Tucker & Dale vs Evil, the titular brothers build a cabin in the woods hoping to have a quiet and peaceful retreat. When a group of awful teenagers breaks onto their property, the brothers attempt to be friendly, but blunder into frightening the teens into a series of gut-busting bloodbaths.


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Interview with the Vampire

The Lost Boys runs October 23rd–25th at The Frida Cinema

Say it. Out loud… Vampire. Yes, that’s right, cinema’s best-known monster and arguably its oldest has gone through quite an evolution since it famously graced theater screens in F. W. Murnau’s 1922 silent classic Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. From bat-like humanoid in a drab frock to beauty-incarnate—and sometimes even sparkly—the vampire has been re-imagined in nearly every movie it appears in (Judas Iscariot in Dracula 2000, anyone?). Ironically, this character cannot appear in mirrors yet the vampire is an uncanny reflection of the society that sits in its audience; it is a snapshot of the times, in monster form. As fears and anxieties change, this enduring cinematic character remains fluid in motivation, sexuality, and aesthetics in order to suit the interests of current popular culture.

The Lost Boys
The Lost Boys (1987)

Vampire lore has inhabited the psyches and nightmares of humans very nearly since the dawn of written history. Fun mythological fact: Adam had a wife before Eve by the name of Lillith. She is said to have been a rebellious succubus and an entity who displayed vampiric characteristics according to ancient Sumerian myth. Lillith is often used as a progenitor figure in vampire narrative (i.e. the sexy vampire series, True Blood and 30 Days of Night: Dark Days), but the figure most responsible for vampire folklore is Vlad “The Impaler” Dracula. A Romanian prince from the 1400s, Vlad lost his father to the Ottoman War and infamously developed an insatiable blood lust; he is said to have enjoyed impaling his enemies on stakes and was even rumored to have eaten their flesh and drank their blood.

Also fueling rumors of vampires in eastern Europe were people who had begun to notice that the deceased were displaying unusual characteristics such as receding skin exposing the teeth and blood dripping from around their mouths as if they had exsanguinated some poor creature while no one was looking. In the late 1800s, Bram Stoker took the legend of The Impaler and villager lore and created, in essence, the definitive vampire story, Dracula—a novel about a nobleman named Count Dracula of Transylvania, upon whom most cinematic adaptations are based.

Bela Lugosi in Dracula; Christopher Lee in Horror of Dracula; Max Schreck in Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931); Christopher Lee in Horror of Dracula (1958); Max Schreck in Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)

From Less-Than-Humble Beginnings…

Although Dracula was not the first vampire novel and Nosferatu was not the first time the immortal character had appeared on the silver screen, these works were landmark masterpieces that reflected human activity and fears at the turn of the century. The third great pandemic landed at the doorsteps of eastern Europe towards the late 1800s and persisted into the 1900s. Octavia Butler’s 2005 novel Fledgling implicitly addresses the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its relationship to vampires. In writer/star/producer Naomi McDougall Jones’ 2019 film Bite Me, she relies on donors to get her blood fix, asking one donor about his most recent HIV test.

In Nosferatu, Count Orlock, played by Max Schreck, has a rodent-like face and hands because rats are typically carriers of diseases. Orlock is followed by rats in the film and he has the ability to spread the plague, exposing the psyche of an early 1900s society obsessed with a fear of death by pandemic. After this unlicensed feature (Stoker’s widow tried to have all prints destroyed) came Bela Lugosi’s iconic performance in Dracula, a close adaptation of Stoker’s novel and one of Universal Pictures’ earliest classic monster movies. Continuing in the same vein as Nosferatu, this adaptation reflected a fear of both the plague and the foreigner, with Lugosi’s thick Hungarian accent lending itself to this dark and fearful portrayal.

As we move into the late 1950s through the 1970s with Hammer Studios’ depictions starring the tall and imposing Christopher Lee, we begin to see more overt sexuality, a sign of the times as ideas of free-love infiltrated the zeitgeist of mid-century society. Mostly thanks to Hammer Studios, we see the rise in the telling of lesbian vampire narratives, ultimately based upon Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novella Carmilla which predates Stoker’s vampiric depiction, and of which we famously see a heavy influence in Tony Scott’s chic and cool 1983 erotic-thriller The Hunger.

David Bowie and Ann Magnuson in The Hunger
Ann Magnuson serves herself up as David Bowie’s main course in The Hunger (1983)

The ’80s: Bloodsucking Teens

In the 1980s American cinema there came a sudden need to tell teen-oriented stories. Movies starring the Brat Pack dominated the industry as the rise of the teenager as a consumer helped shape 1980s pop culture. Thank Lillith it did, as it made a space for Joel Schumacher to sink his teeth into the vampire genre with arguably his best film, 1987’s The Lost Boys, which the Frida Cinema will be showing October 23rd-25th. This movie celebrated youth, style, and eternal beauty and, along with another teen vampire movie out of 1985, Tom Holland’s Fright Night, provided commentary on the ills of suburban life. Though Buffy the Vampire Slayer was more of a teen Van Helsing figure, the movie, and even better Joss Whedon’s TV series of the same name, continued along these lines of youthful depictions of vampire lore for the MTV age of society.

Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire
Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire (1994)

The ’90s: No Honey Butter for Bella

Hey, it’s the ’90s babe, when fashion, tech, wealth, and self-expression were at the forefront. Getting back to a more sleek and stoic characterization of vampires, Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles was adapted to film, the first and most famous of which was 1994’s Interview With the Vampire, starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, and Antonio Banderas. Depicting vampires at the height of their wealth, accumulated knowledge, and unearthly beauty, this film has homoerotic undertones and is at times as painful as it is beautiful. Conversely, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez created a much more gritty vision of vampires with their 1996 film, From Dusk Till Dawn, a violent and sexy monster bash that tested audiences’ growing desensitization to gore and guts—we passed that test and vampire movies became more and more violent.

The Underworld series, about a war between eternal enemies—vampires and Lycans—came out in 2003, while America was mired in its own perpetual state of war. But just as audiences were beginning to enjoy a return to the classic horror aspect of vampire cinema, adaptations of young adult literature began dominating the movie industry in the mid-2000s, much like in the 1980s. Twilight was the result of this with its vegan vampires and more human sensibilities, but there were also some great film/television YA novel adaptations as well, such as True Blood which was as gory and sexy as it was political in its exploration of law, discrimination, and power.

Dracula reflected a fear of both the plague and the foreigner, with Bela Lugosi’s thick Hungarian accent lending itself to this dark and fearful portrayal.”

Vampire cinema goes ‘wing and hand’ with our history. As socio-cultural ideals, demographics, and anxieties evolve so too does this versatile subgenre of horror. There are hundreds of movies about vampires—so many that I did not get to discuss their historical reflection and societal impact for the sake of brevity. Below are but a few honorable mentions and their socio-cultural relevance in this regard, that bare mentioning (and viewing, if not already seen):

  • 30 Days of Night—fear of un-tamable sociopath reflected in psychopathic vampires
  • Let the Right One In—fear of isolation in an increasingly lonely world
  • Vampire’s Kiss—the height of capitalistic playboys and perhaps the greatest meme’d film
  • Dracula: Dead and Loving It—It’s Mel Brooks, just watch it
  • Thirst—growing Christian ideals in South Korea centered around a love affair; dark, sexy, self-reflective, and heartfelt
  • Daybreakers—rise of research science in the new millennium fueled by a need to save themselves from their own doing of misusing their natural resources (ring any bells?)
  • What We Do In The Shadows—mockumentary film culture
  • Martin—both blood lust and the lust of the 1970s on full display
  • Blade—do-gooding vampires in the rise of comic book adaptations in pop culture
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night—One of my personal favorites, this atmospheric modern-day black and white film had the social commentary on drug abuse, female independence, and anti-misogyny
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Curse of Frankenstein

Few studios have had the distinction of their style of filmmaking constituting an entire sub-genre of cinema. While some like Disney for animation and Japan’s Toho for kaiju movies may spring to mind, the seminal example of this phenomenon is Hammer Film Productions, or Hammer Horror as it is colloquially known.

Peter Cushing in Curse of Frankenstein
Peter Cushing in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

True to its nickname, the British company pumped out a series of horror films that terrified audiences around the world throughout the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Breaking sharply from the stagy, black and white paradigm established by Universal’s Monster Movies, Hammer breathed new life into the genre with a flashy style that can best be described as Technicolor Gothic. This novel approach not only brought the studio international success and profits during its heyday but influenced—and for that matter, still influences—viewers to this day. Kate Bush paid tribute to the company’s films with the song “Hammer Horror”, Edgar Wright conceived Don’t, the fake trailer he directed for Grindhouse, as an affectionate parody of them, and filmmakers as disparate as Tobe Hooper, Dario Argento, and Tim Burton have all cited their movies as major influences on their work.

Entire books have been written about the studio’s bountiful filmography, so let’s consider five movies that serve as a good intro to the sensuous style of Hammer Horror.


Horror of Dracula poster

Dracula (1958)

From the stone eagle perched on the castle tower to the overly-saturated blood dripping on the title character’s coffin, the opening of Terence Fisher’s Dracula (released in the US as Horror of Dracula) tells the viewer everything they end need to know about the Hammer method of horror. It’s gaudy, it’s gory, and it’s Gothic to the point that one worries it might get up and sack Rome.

Making little pretense of following Stoker’s novel, Hammer’s Dracula forsakes the predominantly English setting of Universal’s version in favor of an Eastern European neverland where the towns have German names, the background characters dress like Russian peasants, and the main characters speak in the King’s English. Further betraying the production’s British identity is the Victorian (or is it Edwardian? I’m not quite sure) dress so preferred by Dr. Van Helsing and his upper-crust peers, with the good doctor alone flawlessly donning everything from fur-lapelled overcoats to red velvet blazers over the course of the film.

“It’s gaudy, it’s gory, and it’s Gothic to the point that one worries it might get up and sack Rome.”

Brought to life by the expressive gaze and dispassionate delivery of company favorite Peter Cushing, Van Helsing follows in the vein of Sherlock Holmes with his use of deductive reasoning and command of the facts, inspiring just as much confidence in viewers as he does in supporting characters. Filling the Watson role is Michael Gough (who would go on to play Alfred in Tim Burton’s Batman films) as the book’s Arthur Holmwood, depicted here as a noble who is initially skeptical of Van Helsing’s claims of vampirism but comes around and faithfully aids him once the evidence becomes undeniable.

Ironically, Dracula appears only briefly but fellow Hammer regular Christopher Lee does enough in the limited screen time he has to distinguish his portrayal of the character from Bela Lugosi’s. Presenting a facade of aristocratic charm similar to Lugosi at first, Lee quickly discards this persona like a disguise that’s no longer useful and spends the rest of the movie lurching and hissing like the monster his character really is. The count’s animal-like behavior conveniently complements the sensual tone courted by the film, insinuating that some of his female victims might not mind his illicit late-night visits to their bedrooms.

Whereas later adaptations like Bram Stoker’s Dracula try to hew more carefully to the source material while others like Nosferatu the Vampire take Stoker’s story to unprecedented artistic heights, Hammer’s Dracula aims and attains the more modest goal of giving audiences a stylishly original take on the classic tale to sink their teeth into.


The Curse of Frankenstein poster

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Released a full year before Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein features many of the same characteristics and players its predecessor. Terence Fisher also serves as director on this production, and the dynamic duo of Cushing and Lee stars in this one as well. While it features Cushing in the role of the human protagonist and Lee in the role of the monster once again, it offers a very different take on the relationship between the two.

Deviating about as far from Mary Shelley’s novel as Dracula does from Bram Stoker’s, Victor Frankenstein is re-imagined here as Baron Frankenstein, a brilliant scientist whose ambitious obsession and weak moral compass leads him to kill and endanger others in his quest to create life. Played with ruthless resolve by Cushing, the baron is a suitably sinister counterpart to the actor’s Van Helsing.

“…a strange creature with heterochromatic eyes, blotchy white skin, and, impressively, a mop top at a time when Paul McCartney had just started playing rhythm guitar for a little band called The Quarrymen.”

Yet as removed from Shelley or even Universal as Cushing’s version of Frankenstein is, Lee’s iteration of the monster is out of left field enough to be straight up weird. The square head, neck bolts, and green (or yellow, depending on who you ask) face paint we’ve all come to know and love are gone, replaced by a strange creature with heterochromatic eyes, blotchy white skin, and, impressively, a mop top at a time when Paul McCartney had just started playing rhythm guitar for a little band called The Quarrymen. Funnily enough, with its black overcoat and pale skin, the monster bears more resemblance to Max Schreck’s Nosferatu than Boris Karloff’s monster. Despite the best efforts of Frankenstein and others to convince us the creature is evil by nature, Lee taps into the spirit of the Universal film and suggests the monster, while obviously a menace, is yet another victim of its creator’s hubris.

With regard to art direction and set design, Hammer’s trademark bright colors are present in the fanciful garments worn by Frankenstein and the liquids contained within the flasks in his laboratory. For that matter, the baron’s laboratory pretty much codifies the way a mad scientist’s lab should look and sound, with bubbling beakers, whirring machinery, and the water tank in which his unconscious creation is stored (The Rocky Horror Picture Show parodies this last item, as well as uses Hammer filming location Oakley Court, as part of its loving homage to the studio). It’s stimulating imagery like this that makes The Curse of Frankenstein an excellent, energetic example of Hammer horror.


The Abominable Snowman poster

The Abominable Snowman (1957)

Val Guest’s Himalayan horror The Abominable Snowman is an interesting offering for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s in black and white, giving it even more of a B-movie feel than Dracula and Frankenstein. It stands in stark contrast to the lurid Technicolor of the preceding entries, but it lends itself well to the snowy landscape the film is set in.

Based on a teleplay by Nigel Kneale, the movie shows its BBC origins with its sparse setting. Most of the drama takes place on sets constructed by the crew, with doubles filling in for all of the principal actors when the plot required scenes be shot on location. The film’s limited violence also speaks to the project’s television background (as well as its differences from the studio’s later films), with there being next to no blood, if any, seen for the 91 minutes it runs.

“…the titular monster barely appears onscreen, but its presence is felt throughout—enough to make a certain viewer run screaming out of the room and leave him scarred for life when he first saw it in the 4th grade.”

Instead, Guest emphasizes the psychological aspects of Kneale’s story, depicting the toll taken on the characters’ by their search for the elusive Yeti and suggesting they pose more danger to themselves than any snow-dwelling simian ever could. In fact, the titular monster barely appears onscreen (not, for a change, unlike the aforementioned movies), but its presence is felt throughout—enough to make a certain viewer run screaming out of the room and leave him scarred for life when he first saw it in the 4th grade.

Anchored by Kneale’s imaginative story and convincing performances from the ubiquitous Mr. Cushing and Western TV regular Forrest Tucker, The Abominable Snowman is an early indicator of Hammer’s ability to craft films that are as intelligent as they are chilling.


Paranoiac poster

Paranoiac (1963)

Loosely adapted from the 1940s crime novel Brat Farrar, Freddie Francis’ Paranoiac might be a contentious entry for this list. One of several “mini-Hitchcocks” put out by the company, the film mainly draws inspiration from thrillers like Psycho and Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques but it nevertheless bears key features of the Hammer Horror aesthetic.

Though set in the present, the inter-familial intrigue, the old dark house in which the principals live, and the prim, proper costumes they wear point to the Gothic tradition that the film (and Hammer as a whole) owes so much to. Additionally, the movie’s suggestion of ghostly presences illustrates its tendency to dip its toes into straight horror without plunging all the way in. Not to say that there aren’t frightening moments: on the contrary, there’s a couple appearances by a mysterious figure who is ghastly enough to make anything that even begins to approach it in Dracula or Frankenstein look quaint by comparison.

“Seamlessly alternating between cruel but collected calm and frantic derangement, [Oliver] Reed captures and conveys the full spectrum of his character’s madness.”

Also conspiring to set the mood is Elisabeth Lutyens’ diegetic music (with a child’s singing to the accompaniment of an organ used to especially unsettling effect) and the remote, seaside village setting, which is removed enough from civilization to feel like anything could happen there. Topping it all off is a memorable performance by Oliver Reed as the conniving son of the Ashby family. Seamlessly alternating between cruel but collected calm and frantic derangement, Reed captures and conveys the full spectrum of his character’s madness.

While it lacks the colorfully gory flavor of Hammer’s better-known movies, Paranoiac wears its black and white look to beautiful effect and charts a mind-bending road of its own.


Quatermass and the Pit poster

Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

Another potentially-controversial entry is Roy Ward Baker’s Quatermass and the Pit. Released in the US as Five Million Years to Earth, the film is an adaptation of the final installment of the BBC’s Quatermass serials, a science fiction series penned by Nigel Kneale that influenced everyone from Stephen King to Stanley Kubrick (to say nothing of a time-traveling doctor who shall not be named). As such, its inclusion might be even more questionable than Paranoiac, but there’s a strong case to be made for considering it a proper Hammer horror.

Though the movie has a decidedly sci-fi premise in the form of workers discovering a rocket surrounded by ancient apelike skeletons in the London Underground, the pacing and atmosphere are classic Hammer. When the authorities prove unwilling to consider alternate explanations of the rocket’s origins, it falls to Professor Quatermass and his colleagues to find out the true significance of the strange ship, with Andrew Keir’s Quatermass nicely serving as a sci-fi stand-in for Cushing’s Van Helsing. Spending much of their time in the pit where the rocket was found, there’s a consistent sense of claustrophobia that contributes to the vague yet unshakable dread that the movie cultivates.

But what really cements the film’s status as a Hammer Horror is the way it weaves in supernatural elements, skillfully blending paranormal phenomena and demonic imagery into the modern, reason-based world it takes place in. With an electrifying climax that will forever change the way you look at cranes, Quatermass and the Pit is a tense, thought-provoking production that leaves a burning, lasting mark on viewers’ memories.

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Black Sunday

Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond starts Thursday, October 3rd

Away from Murderer’s Row where American werewolves, hockey-masked serial killers, and vampires reside side-by-side in their haunted houses with white picket fences stained pink from blood is a dark alley that few horror fanatics dare to venture down. The lucky few who follow it—and survive—are shown such sights of terror and repulsion by their Italian horror counterparts; horror that’ll make even Alfred Hitchcock, the “Master of Suspense,” squirm in his seat.

Black Sunday
Barbara Steele in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960)

From the 1960s to the early 1980s, the horror genre experienced a boom in Italy. While auteurs like Michelangelo Antonioni and Fellini made socially-conscious films that garnered accolades, other directors dove straight into churning out genre cinema—often in response to American cinema tastes—that reveled in heightened levels of violence, sex, and stylistic excess,

Three of the most prominent Italian horror directors are Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci—filmmakers the Frida Cinema will feature this month. From Gothic chillers to supernatural thrillers to extreme exercises in gore, these horror legends paved the way for countless others to imprint their own ghastly visions of horror into celluloid.


Mario Bava

Mario Bava

Mario Bava’s vast filmography showcases his creativity as a horror auteur. Equally focused on efficient storytelling and colorful lighting for his visual palettes, he moved from atmospheric black-and-white Gothic chillers like Black Sunday to arguably creating the murder-mystery giallo subgenre with The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace.

Clip from Black Sunday (1960) a.k.a. The Mask of Satan

Each of these films exhibit the master stroke of a painter and inventive murder set pieces. Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of a Death Nerve) arguably inspired the wave of American slasher films in the late 1970s and early 1980s.


Dario Argento

Dario Argento

If Mario Bava invented the giallo, then Dario Argento codified the elements that would essentially define the popular subgenre—a black-gloved killer, elaborate murder set pieces, hyper-violent scenes and sexuality-charged images—with his debut, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. His masterpiece Deep Red is often considered the quintessential giallo film.

Trailer for Suspiria (1977)

Following Deep Red, Argento experimented with supernatural thrillers (Suspiria and Inferno) before returning to the genre he helped pioneer with 1980s classics Tenebre and Opera. While the quality of his films have declined since the 1990s, his influence on modern horror filmmakers remains undisputed.


Lucio Fulci

Often considered the “Italian Godfather of Gore” by his contemporaries and horror fans, Lucio Fulci experimented in multiple genres over the course of his career. Although he directed successful Spaghetti Westerns and giallo films, including A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and Don’t Torture a Duckling, he is mainly known for his splatter pictures that feature extreme gore and outrageous visuals.

Trailer for The Beyond (1981)

From Zombie (a rip-off of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead) to his loosely connected “Gates of Hell” trilogy—City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and House by the Cemetery—Fulci remains a prominent figure in Italian horror cinema.


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Latin America's Trailblazers

The Frida Cinema celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month by honoring the Hispanic and Latino heritage in film. In this series of blogs, we’ll be highlighting Hispanic/Latino talent both in front of and behind the camera, and the impacts of these individuals on—and legacy in—film.

Latin America's Trailblazers
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973); Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017); Jorge R. Gutiérrez’s The Book of Life (2014)

Part 5: Latin America’s Trailblazing Directors

Concluding our Hispanic Heritage Blog series, we look at three directors from Latin America, each in a special class of their own. Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jorge Gutiérrez, and Issa López are trailblazing directors whose respective styles are immediately recognizable. Chilean avant-garde director Alejandro Jodorowsky uses a “take no prisoners” approach to his violent yet mystical imagery, challenging viewers to look beyond the traditional aspects of film for meaning. Mexican animator and director Jorge R. Gutiérrez created a revolutionary style of animation combining Mexican folk and pop culture with American influences. Mexicana director and writer Issa López jumped from the security of writing and directing romantic comedies to directing and writing the critically acclaimed gritty genre-bending horror film Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017). Through their films they challenge the status quo, creating visuals that surprise and enchant us.


Alejandro Jodorowsky

Alejandro Jodorowsky

Reggie Peralta: A Hispanic with a Slavic surname, Alejandro Jodorowsky makes for an interesting entry in this list even without taking his avant-garde cinematic offerings into account. The son of Jewish-Ukrainian immigrants, the Chilean director’s unique cultural background is an excellent example of the complexity and fluidity of Hispanic identity. It’s not a stretch to say that this diverse heritage reflects the colorful, multifaceted nature of his work. Take, for instance, the fact that he originally started out not as a filmmaker but as a theatre performer, working for a circus as a clown after dropping out of college. Indeed, Jodorowsky wouldn’t make his debut as a filmmaker until he moved to France, alternating between there and Mexico for much of his career (not unlike Luis Buñuel, another Hispanic director with surrealistic sensibilities).

Clip from The Holy Mountain (1973)

It was in Mexico that Jodorowsky produced El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973), a pair of phantasmagorical romps replete with dreamlike narratives and occultist symbolism that are considered by many to be the first true midnight movies. The films’ fans have included such noted creatives as David Lynch, Dennis Hopper, and even two Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison (with their manager Allen Klein even acting as a producer on Mountain). While his later movies didn’t achieve the iconic counterculture status that these two films did, they still speak to the director’s diversified talent and mind-bending tastes. Santa Sangre (1989) is his sexually-charged take on the slasher genre while The Dance of Reality (2013) and Endless Poetry (2016) are both attempts to tell the story of his life through the kaleidoscopic view of his filmmaker’s lens.

To go into the rest of Jodorowsky’s prolific œuvre—including his other films, comics, and something he calls “psychomagic”—would require a much longer blog post, but the five movies mentioned above earn him a place on this list many times over.


Children who survive wars on their own are, sadly, a universal thing. So, a version of this could have happened at many points in history and can absolutely happen in many places in the world now. Actually, there has been some discussion about the possibility of a remake.

Issa López
Issa López

Issa López

Darren Cassidy: Film scholar/writer/director Issa López began her career writing and directing episodes of Plaza Sésamo (the Mexican Sesame Street) and writing for a few of those sMexy telenovelas. Following her tenure teaching screenwriting at the Writing Studies Center of Televisa, she wrote the screenplay for Ladies’ Night (2003), the first Mexican film to be produced by a major Hollywood studio (Disney). Ladies’ Night was one of the highest-grossing films of the year in Mexico and it went on to win the Best Screenplay Award at the Cyprus International Film Festival.

In 2006, López wrote and directed her first feature Efectos secundarios (Side Effects), which satirizes high-school reunions in a rather extreme way. It was the first Mexican film produced by Warner Bros. and is currently the 15th highest-grossing film in Mexican history. López’s directorial debut was also nominated for 12 Diosa de Plata (Mexican Film Press) Awards including Best Director and Best Picture.

Clip from Vuelven (2017)

López also wrote and directed Casi Divas (2008), another highly-successful Mexican-American co-production. She also saw her screenwriting finding success and accolades throughout the 2010s.

2017 brought López’s most well known film Vuelven (Tigers Are Not Afraid) before a wide international audience. Her film has won universal acclaim since its release; she took the Best Horror Picture Director award at Fantastic Fest—the first woman and the first Mexican to do so—and her film was nominated for 9 Ariels (Mexican Oscars). Vuelven won the very vocal praise of such luminaries as Stephen King; Neil Gaiman; and Guillermo Del Toro, who announced at the 2018 Guadalajara Film Festival that he will produce the next Issa López film.


Jorge R. Gutiérrez

Jorge R. Gutiérrez

Isa Bulnes-Shaw: Though not a household name to the average movie buff, the work of Jorge R. Gutiérrez is instantly recognizable to any fan of animation. Though only a director of one feature film so far, his experience spans the 2000s to the present, across multiple forms of media as a painter, writer, character designer, producer, illustrator, and all-around bombastic creative force.

Born in Mexico City and relocated to Tijuana at nine, Gutiérrez’s love and passion for Mexican and Chicanx culture radiates from everything he does; it’s not influence, it’s simply him. From unique, intricate character designs to the worlds based on real ancient and modern places in Mexico, his work is a “cultural collision” that reflects his upbringing as a child who crossed the Tijuana border every day to attend school in the U.S., who early on had a love affair with the imagery of bootleg mashups, Luchadores, and much more. Even throughout his career as a student of Experimental Animation at the California Institute of the Arts, Gutiérrez’s films were stories rooted in Latino imagery and life, as was the case with his Student Emmy Award winning film, Carmelo.

Trailer for The Book of Life (2014)

Those who grew up in the 2000s know him as the co-creator and co-producer of the multi-Annie and Emmy Award winning Nickelodeon cartoon series El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera (with wife and muse Sandra Equiha), one of the very rare instances of Mexican characters in children’s animation at the time. His directorial debut and lifelong dream project, however, wouldn’t be realized until 2014 with the release of the Golden Globe Best Animated Feature Nominee, The Book of Life (2014). He had pitched for fourteen years and was rejected by every major animation studio under the declaration that a Mexican story was not universal, had no commercial market value, or that audiences simply did not want to see something so explicitly Mexican/Latinx; it would later be produced by Guillermo Del Toro and feature the talents of Diego Luna and Zoe Saldaña. Development took another half decade due to its intricate and unique designs, almost identical to the concept art, with the figures crafted to look like handmade wooden figures existing in folk-art during post-revolution 1910 Mexico, and with a third of the budget of the most popular animated films from the biggest studios.

Jorge R. Gutiérrez is an animation darling for a reason. Despite decades of resistance, he’s made a career not only by telling his own personal, distinctly Mexican stories at a time when it was very rare, but ultimately elevating the best of both the U.S. and his homeland. His work speaks to a new generation of Latinx folks with mixed ethnic backgrounds and influences, who can be assured that who they are is not only normal, but to be celebrated.

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Frida After Dark
Firda After Dark; October 2019

To honor our favorite holiday of the year, Halloween, Frida After Dark is presenting films filled with tricks and treats. Along with our monthly staple The Room, we have as a very special treat of not one, but two electrifying K.A.O.S. shadow cast performances of the most fun you’ll ever have in a theater, The Rocky Horror Picture Show! Not to mention all of the tricks in our cult and foreign horror films that will make you up and scream. Celebrate Halloween all month long with us!

Night Train to Terror

Night Train to Terror (1985)

Directed by John Carr, Phillip Marshak, Tom McGowan, Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, & Gregg G. Tallas

October 4th & 6th

Get ready to go off the rails with the cult 1980’s horror anthology Night Train to Terror.

A group of teenagers pass the time on a train partying and dancing, unaware that the vehicle is destined to crash at dawn. Meanwhile, God and Satan contemplate three stories of human nature and bicker between themselves as to who will take the teens’ souls. Who will prevail when dawn comes around and the music stops?

Bloody and outlandish, Night Train to Terror is a low-budget film that could only have been made in the 80’s. Possessing a certain arresting absurdity, it’s little wonder that some have compared it to Plan 9 from Outer Space.

The Wizard of Gore

The Wizard of Gore (1970)

Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis

October 11th & 12th

American Genre Film Archive presents The Wizard of Gore, a magic-themed offering from splatter master Herschell Gordon Lewis.

Montag the Magnificent is a reluctant magician whose grisly stage mutilations become real just hours after the audience leaves the theater. As the mesmerist’s illusions become bloody reality, spellbound audience member Sherry (Judy Cler) gets him on her daytime TV show, Housewives’ Coffee Break. When Montag agrees, he stares into the camera and hypnotizes the viewing audience, planning to immolate them…

One of Lewis’ most thematically audacious works, The Wizard of Gore makes extensive use of the director’s love of illusion to weave a uniquely disturbing tale.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Directed by Jim Sharman

October 11th & 25th

Celebrate October with TWO performances from our amazing, award-winning shadow cast troupe K.A.O.S. and their fantastic monthly live presentation of 1975 cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show! Friday, October 11th… with an ENCORE PERFORMANCE on Friday, October 25th!

Head on down to see our costumed cast bring Rocky Horror to life before your eyes! Sing and dance along to the journey of Brad and Janet, two virginal small-town lovers whose car breaks down in the shadows of a creepy old castle, home to faithful handyman Riff Raff, his sister Magenta, and of course, the maniacal Dr. Frank-N-Furter!

An adaptation of Richard O’Brien’s 1973 stage musical, director Jim (Don’t squeeze the…) Sharman’s cult classic stars Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon as Brad and Janet. They encounter an odd collective of “unconventional conventionalists” gathered to witness transvestite scientist’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s latest creation – a muscular man named Rocky.  As their innocence is lost, Brad and Janet meet a houseful of wild characters, including tap-dancing Columbia, and rocking biker Eddie. Sing-along (and shout-along!) to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a classic that still packs houses almost 50 years since its release!

The Room poster

The Room (2003)

Directed by Tommy Wiseau

October 12th

Bust out those plastic spoons! Frida After Dark is bringing back Tommy Wiseau’s The Room on Saturday, October 12th at 10pm!

Wiseau’s peerless magnum opus finds the auteur who shaped a generation taking on the arts of acting, writing, directing, and more. What’s even more remarkable: he’s mastered them all. The multi-talented director stars as Johnny, a big-time banker working in gorgeously shot San Francisco. His fiancée Lisa, seemingly a happy part of a successful relationship, has wandering eyes… for Tommy’s best friend Mark. Cinema has never witnessed such betrayal! On top of that, their friends and family members have close calls with everything from drug dealers to cancer, building up to an unexpected conclusion that will shock audiences to their core!

An intense, sensual thriller, The Room is an intricately knit web of sweet secrets and bitter lies that interrogates the very form of drama itself as well as a truly unforgettable piece of cinema.

Next of Kin

Next of Kin (1982)

Directed by Tony Williams

October 18th–20th

Commonly referred to as “Suspiria Down Under”, Tony Williams’ Next of Kin is an unsung gem of Australian horror cinema.

The film follows Linda Stevens (Jackie Kerin), a young woman returning to her hometown twenty years after her mother’s death. Bequeathed her rural childhood estate, Linda finds it was converted to a nursing home for the elderly before her mother passed. When going through old diaries, Linda discovers a mysterious string of deaths within the residence as well as an eerie sensation of being watched from the shadows.

Equal parts giallo, haunted house tale, and murder-mystery, Williams crafts an Ozploitation flick that is somehow both derivative and ahead of its time.

Dark Water

Dark Water (2002)

Directed by Hideo Nakata

October 25th & 26th

Check your nerves because Hideo Nakata’s J-horror shocker Dark Water is coming this October.

Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki) is forced to move out of her home and rent a rundown apartment for herself and her young daughter, Ikuko (Rio Kanno), after her marriage ends in a contentious divorce. Soon after moving into the unit, the two notice a leak in the ceiling that seems to be growing larger day by day. As Yoshimi wrestles with frightening visions and memories of her traumatic childhood, she begins to unravel the mystery of their apartment.

A worthy follow-up to Nakata’s Ringu (The Ring), the film adds eerie, psychological elements to a story that’s a family drama at heart.

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Hispanic Heritage in Film: Spain's Art House Directors

The Frida Cinema celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month by honoring the Hispanic and Latino heritage in film. In this series of blogs, we’ll be highlighting Hispanic/Latino talent both in front of and behind the camera, and the impacts of these individuals on—and legacy in—film.

Spain's Art House Directors
Víctor Erice’s El Espiritu de la Colmena (1973); Luis Buñuels L’Age d’Or (1930); Pedro Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)

Part 4: Spain’s Art House Directors

Pedro Almodóvar, Victor Erice, and Luis Buñuel are all critical to the evolution of Spanish art house cinema due to the artistic and political significance of their films. Luis Buñuel began in the infancy of the Spanish art house culture following World War Ⅰ—when the world was definitely ready for an artistic liberation. European artists of the Dadaists and Surrealist movements saw film as another avenue of expression, giving birth to avant-garde cinema. One of the most notable works of this era is Buñuel’s collaboration with surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog). Sadly, this era would be cut short by The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), The dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1939-1975), and World War Ⅱ.

Under Franco, films were subjected to severe government censorship or made into pro-government propaganda. Tragically, many pre-civil war films were lost or destroyed. In 1962 the era of the New Spanish Cinema began. Young filmmakers like Victo Erice, with anti-Franco sentiments, fought government censorship and the possibility of their films being banned. Erice’s film El Espiritu de la Colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive), heavily critical of the government, barely passed censorship standards. It became one of the greatest films in Spanish cinema.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

After Franco’s death in 1975, Spain became a democracy and loosened censorship, resulting in a flood of new and edgier talent. Pedro Almodóvar emerged in the counterculture movement of La Modovida Madrilena (The Madrid Scene). Sophisticated melodramas like Women of the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown challenged many social norms. Across generations, each director shows the continuing strength in Spain’s art house culture as it continues to thrive—currently in the horror genre.


Luis Buñuel

Luis Buñuel

Reggie Peralta: A cosmopolitan who worked at various points in France, Mexico, and his native Spain, it might come as a surprise to some that Luis Buñuel originally hailed from Calanda, a small town in the backwater province of Aragon where, as the director would later quip, “the Middle Ages lasted until World War Ⅰ.” Even more surprising—or perhaps telling—is the fact that the director, an avowed atheist, was deeply religious for much of his youth, participating in Mass and Communion every day well into his teens.

These provincial and parochial influences would, ironically, serve him well over the course of his 50 year career. Also of great service was his college friendship with Salvador Dalí. While Bunuel’s relationship with the avant-garde artist would eventually fray, the two would collaborate on Un Chien Andalou, a surrealistic short film meant to evoke a Freudian dream. Crafted with the specific intention of insulting the cultural intelligentsia he so hated, the filmmaker was flabbergasted when the movie ended up as (and indeed remains to this day) a favorite of the very class whose members’ sensitivities he set out to mock.

Trailer for Un Chien Andalou (1929)

It is this desire to pour scorn and poke fun at social and cultural elites that unifies much of Buñuel’s filmography. From early experimental films like The Golden Age (L’Age d’Or) to more conventional comedies like El Gran Calavera, there are few directors who have taken as much delight in skewering the chattering classes as Bunuel did, and even less who have done it as inventively.

Though a committed leftist, he also refused to buy into the fallacy that being poor or underprivileged necessarily made one noble. The young protagonists of his social realist drama Los Olvidados, for example, are hoodlums who rob and brutalize those weaker than them, while the beggars taken in by the angelic title character in Viridiana wind up taking advantage of her in the truest sense of the phrase. 

For his efforts to reconcile his scathing social critiques with powerful visuals that make sense on an intuitive rather than logical level, Buñuel was able to influence everything—from the way music videos are edited to other filmmakers like Woody Allen, Guillermo del Toro, and Gasper Noe—a remarkable feat that deservedly secures him a place on this list.


Victor Erice

Victor Erice

Sean Woodard: Spanish director Victor Erice’s approach to exploring the intricacies of childhood in The Spirit of the Beehive and El Sur is simply magical. In both films he uses cinematic language to replicate the fantastical imaginations of children and contrast them with the traumatic realities of life. His closest peer in this respect may be Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. The Spirit of the Beehive also manages to capture how cinema can be a visceral, life-changing art form.

Trailer for The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)


Pedro Almodóvar

Pedro Almodóvar

Adrienne Reese: Pedro Almodóvar’s influence transcends film, delving deep into the very personal faculties of human existence. As a director, screenwriter, and producer, he is not only an influential figure in Spanish-language cinema, but his contribution to film history worldwide cannot be overstated; he has explored everything from LGBTQ themes, horror, the drama and comedy of life, freedom and captivity, and identity, His distinct and impactful way of portraying women and femininity in his films is inimitable.

Almodóvar is a true auteur. To me, his films play out like Spanish manifestos—providing an education on the life of Hispanics in the diaspora. The beauty and pain he captures in these creations are relatable to viewers who exist both within and outside of that community.

Watch Pedro Almodóvar direct a scene in The Skin I Live In (2011)

Having directed, to name a few, such cult classics as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), All About My Mother (1999), and The Skin I Live In (2011), Pedro Almodóvar’s very specific voice has garnered him multiple Academy Awards for both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay, as well as international recognition for his celebrated filmography: 21 titles and counting.


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Maverick Directors

The Frida Cinema celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month by honoring the Hispanic and Latino heritage in film. In this series of blogs, we’ll be highlighting Hispanic/Latino talent both in front of and behind the camera, and the impacts of these individuals on—and legacy in—film.

Maverick Directors
Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk till Dawn (1996); George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968); Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit (1981)

Part 3: Maverick Directors

America has historically been a major trailblazer to technical and artistic innovations in film. While Hispanics/Latinos had some on-camera representation during the Golden Age of Hollywood, their opportunities behind the camera were minimal;  Only a few names are known today: Gabriel Figueroa (The Fugitive and Night of the Iguana), special/visual effects artist and stop motion pioneer Marcel Delgado (King Kong, The Wizard of Oz, and Mary Poppins), and assistant director Francisco Day (The Ten Commandments, Samson and Delilah).  

The 1950s and early 1960s saw a rise in studio A and B classic Hispanic/Latino-American films such as Giant, Requiem for a Heavyweight, and West Side Story. The studio culture of the time, however, heavily restricted Hispanic/Latino directors’ access to real directing work. Undeterred by the mindset of the major Hollywood studios, Hispanic/Latino-American directors began to emerge in late 1960’s with the rise of independent film directors like George A. Romero. In the late 1970s/early 1980s, more groundbreaking Hispanic/Latino-American films and directors, telling stories with distinctive creative styles, emerged—including playwright Luis Valdez. The 1990’s saw a boom of Hispanic/Latino talent in entertainment, such as action filmmaker Robert Rodriguez.


Robert Rodriguez

Robert Rodriguez (Mexican-American)

Trevor Dillon: Robert Rodriguez is important to the careers of many filmmakers for three simple letters: DIY. In the early 1990s, when the independent film boom was happening, Rodriguez was at the very forefront (with contemporaries Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith, and good pal Quentin Tarantino) telling young kids to go do it themselves; get out there and make the movie YOU want to make. Even if it means you have to do the writing, directing, producing, shooting, editing, and scoring on a movie. It worked out pretty well for him: Rodriguez’s debut film, El Mariachi, was famously made for $7000 without a single film permit. It spawned two sequels: Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, essentially cementing the idea that he made a whole franchise from nothing.

Clip from Sin City (2005)

I could list off his entire œuvre, like how he directed Sin City or the extremely underrated Sci Fi/Horror film The Faculty (obviously a personal favorite of mine), but Rodriguez’s legacy remains in the filmmakers he inspired rather than the movies he’s made. He resides now in Austin, Texas, where he has his own aptly named studio: Troublemaker. He has his own cable network: El Rey. This “one man film crew” has done quite well for himself.


George A. Romero

George A. Romero (Spanish/Cuban-American)

Justina Bonilla: “The Father of the Zombie Film,” best known for starting the modern zombie era, scored his first official directing job in the least likely of places—Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Public television’s beloved Fred Rogers believed in a young George A. Romero enough to give him a credible platform to cut his teeth as a director. Later, Romero co-wrote and directed his first full length, low-budget film Night of the Living Dead (1968). The film captured the fear of the turbulent 1960s, commenting on the brutality of the Vietnam War and social revolution. Initially the film did not intend to focus on civil rights or race issues, but in casting an African American as the leading man/hero—during the civil rights era—and releasing the film months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Romero unintentionally created a strong commentary on civil rights.

Clip from Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Despite major studios rejecting Night of the Living Dead due to its intense violence, the film’s independent release shocked audiences. It ignited an artistic revolution which led to a slew of zombie and horror films including Romero’s sequel Dawn of the Dead (1978). This film commented on the zombification of consumerism. Romero went on to become a “Godfather of Horror,” directing other zombie films, co-creating the horror television series Tales from the Darkside, and collaborating with Stephen King in the beloved horror anthology movie Creepshow (1982).

Night of the Living Dead is credited as one of the most important horror films and independent films in film history. Despite the film’s initial rejection, Romero’s vision of zombies is now the standard, as seen in The Walking Dead and World War Z.


Luis Valdez

Luis Valdez (Mexican-American)

Justina Bonilla: Before the “Father of Chicano Theatre” directed some of the most important films in Chicano, Mexican-American, and Hispanic/Latino-American film history, Luis Valdez was born to migrant farm workers in a labor camp. Growing up in this environment, Valdez experienced the unjust exploitation of farm workers at the hands of wealthy land owners (he worked in the fields since the age of six). Finding his passion for writing and theatre, Valdez strove to use his art to entertain and advocate for his fellow farm workers. In 1965, working with civil rights leader and co-founder of the National Farm Workers Union Cesar Chavez, Valdez developed the small acting troupe El Teatro Campesino (The Peasant Theatre). They entertained and educated the striking farm workers though small play productions, boosting morale during the long strikes. This small acting troupe later developed into a professional production company in San Juan Bautista, California.

Trailer for La Bamba (1987)

In 1979, through his experience with theatre, Valdez wrote and directed the musical play Zoot Suit in Los Angeles to critical acclaim. It was the first Chicano-written play to open on Broadway. Soon after, in 1981, Valdez wrote the screenplay for and directed Zoot Suit, his first feature film. It explored the topics of media sensationalism, ethnic identity, and systemic racism. He broke into mainstream America with La Bamba (1987), his biographical film of pioneering Mexican-American/Chicano rock ‘n’ roll star Richie Valens. The film was a box office smash, proving that Hispanic/Latino stories and Hispanic/Latino-led films can succeed in mainstream America. In 2016, Valdez was awarded the National Medal of the Arts by President Barack Obama for his contributions to film and theatre.

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still from Mandy

Panos Cosmatos’ instant classic Mandy returns to The Frida Cinema Friday, September 27th through Sunday, September 29th

February, 2018: I’m sitting in the freshly-fallen snow of Midway, Utah at a yearly art house conference scrolling through Film Twitter. Sundance is happening less than 20 miles from where I am, and I’m curious to see the reactions to the new films that debuted the day prior. The previous year, sitting in the same spot, I read about how horrific Ari Aster’s debut Hereditary was. That film ended up getting picked up by A24 and going into wide, big-box release—not something that that we’d typically play in our theater.

Linus Roache in Mandy
Linus Roache in Mandy

Helping out with programming at The Frida Cinema means always having to have my eyes on what new and exciting genre films are going to be hitting the circuit later in the year. The goal is to catch a “cult classic” in its prime. I know this doesn’t make a lot of sense, seeing as cult classics, by definition, are films that don’t do well on their initial release and then later, with time, find their audience. In the 2000s, these kinds of films have been rare. Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs the World and John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch spring to mind, but overall… not a ton.

Andrea Riseborough in Mandy

Then I saw it. A review hit my timeline for the new Nicolas Cage movie Mandy. When was the last time a Nicolas Cage movie played Sundance? I was, of course, immediately intrigued. Then I saw the name Panos Cosmatos was attached to it and I remembered that he had directed what some people could consider a cult classic (Beyond the Black Rainbow) in the 2000s. The reviewer immediately dubbed it it the “cult movie not to miss this year.” That’s all I needed to know. Well… that and the fact that the plot revolved around Nic Cage taking revenge on an LSD biker gang that killed his wife.

On Cultivating a Cult Classic

I was only helping with programming at the time, so our full-time programmer (and Executive Director) Logan Crow can attest that at least two to three times a month, I asked him how we were looking on Mandy. “No word yet” was the response for many months, as Mandy was searching for the right distributor. RLJ Films—a relatively new distribution company to my knowing, finally picked up the film, giving The Frida a real shot at landing it. We did. And the rest, as we know it, is history.

Nicholas Cage in Mandy

Thanks to RLJ Films’ confidence in us, we were the first theater within many, many miles to play Mandy. On opening night, Nic Cage fans from all walks of life descended upon our little theater in Santa Ana to give it a shot. Even hundreds of people from Los Angeles drove here to see it. If you know film fans from LA, they rarely have to leave their city to see anything good, so this was especially satisfying to see them not only showing up, but complimenting the theater. We even had critics showing up and mentioning us in their reviews! The theater was totally packed for two weeks straight. When the lights finally went down, and King Crimson’s song “Starless” boomed over the opening credits, I knew the film would be something special.

“What the hell is going on over there? The numbers are off the charts. We’re doing well in certain areas, but nothing like Orange County!”

Mandy ended up being our the most successful film we’ve ever played here by threefold, totally fulfilling its promise to be the biggest cult hit of the year. It’s rare that a movie with that much hype pays off so well both commercially and critically. It’s a movie about Nic Cage killing bad people with a stylish axe while an amazing score by the late, great Jóhann Jóhannson plays in the background. It should work. It does work. It did work.

Linus Roache in Mandy

The screenwriter of the film, Aaron Stewart-Ahn, reached out to me directly on Twitter and essentially asked “What the hell is going on over there? The numbers are off the charts. We’re doing well in certain areas, but nothing like Orange County!” I didn’t have a great answer for him, other than knowing that fans of genre film are always looking for that next communal thrill to share with each other. If he didn’t already know, I let him know that the film he wrote was just that: a cult classic. I also told him we’ll drop the “cult” around here and just refer to it as a “classic.” The film he wrote really boosted our theater to the next level, from what I could tell.

We are screening Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy this weekend in honor of the one-year anniversary of its debut at The Frida Cinema. If you saw it, come back and see it again—it’s still a lot of fun! If you haven’t seen it, don’t wait another year to get a glance of it on the big screen. Trust me on this one.

still from Mandy
Nicholas Cage in Mandy
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Mexico's Golden Three

The Frida Cinema celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month by honoring the Hispanic and Latino heritage in film. In this series of blogs, we’ll be highlighting Hispanic/Latino talent both in front of and behind the camera, and the impacts of these individuals on—and legacy in—film.

Mexico's Golden Three
Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (2017); Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (2018); Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman (2014)

Part 2: Mexico’s Golden Three

In 2013 history was made at The Academy Awards as Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón became the first Latin American to win the Oscar for Best Director. Since then, five out of the six wins for Best Director have been Mexican born directors—two wins each for Cuarón and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, and one for Guillermo Del Toro. This Mexican trinity of talent has created a strong ethnic presence in a major Oscar award category, with Best Cinematography also seeing a rise of winners and nominees from Latin America. The whole world is now seeing the wide range of talents Hispanics/Latinos have to offer. These three directors (AKA “three amigos”) represent a new wave of talent with more to come.


Guillermo Del Toro

Atalia Lopez: An iconic and visionary director of contemporary horror and fantasy, Guillermo del Toro is an easy choice to make when thinking about essential figures in Mexican cinema. With his origins in the film industry coming from makeup and special effects (he studied under the legendary Dick Smith), Del Toro’s mastery of the macabre is matched only by his ability to instill humanity in the monsters he creates.

As a director, Del Toro’s œuvre reveals an obsession with monsters, ghosts, and supernatural beings, both sinister and misunderstood. In his directorial debut Cronos (1993), Del Toro incorporates a perspective that will become fruitful territory for him: children navigating and interacting with supernatural beings and creatures. His use of the Spanish Civil War in The Devil’s Backbone (El Espinazo del Diablo, 2001) and Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno, 2006) shows the interplay between children and the supernatural, all against the backdrop of broader historical battles against fascism.

Clip from The Shape of Water (2017)

His comic book adaptations Blade II (2002), Hellboy (2004), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), and giant-monsters-vs-giant-robots blockbuster Pacific Rim (2013) put the director at the helm of big budget franchises. But it is The Shape of Water (2017), Del Toro’s most acclaimed and personal film, that brings together all of the hallmarks of the filmmaker’s style and sensibility, with an intentional celebration of old Hollywood (both its iconic monsters and its iconic love stories). Winning Best Director and Best Picture at the 2018 Academy Awards, The Shape of Water is a truly original piece of cinema, a film where dual love stories (between woman and monster, filmmaker and films) reveal that we cannot choose who we fall in love with any more than we can choose our true calling – for Del Toro, making films that reach beyond our understanding of what is monstrous is his calling.


Alfonso Cuarón

Sammy Trujillo: In 2003, Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón stated he left Mexico “for artistic survival. If I had stayed, I would have been forced by the government, who control the movie business, to direct TV shows or commercials or infomercials for the government.” Cuarón’s frustrations with government censorship in Mexico arose from a lawsuit he filed over the government’s 18+ rating of his 2001 film Y Tu Mama Tambien. Facing adversity had become commonplace for Mexican filmmakers, who relied almost entirely on government funding to finance their projects. Before that, the government limited the distribution of his first film, Solo con Tu Pareja and blocked funding for other projects.

Born in Mexico City in 1961, one could see how skepticism of authoritarianism serves as a recurring theme in his films. When he was 9 years old, the government launched attacks on a student protest in Tlateco. When he was 10, the government recruited young men to slaughter a slew of protesters in the Corpus Christi massacre. The PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) controlled Mexico as a one-party state and would continue to do so until 2000. Despite this, none of Cuarón’s films have an overt political agenda. Instead, Cuarón examines the political turmoil of Mexico and finds beauty in the mundane. To an unfamiliar audience, Y Tu Mama Tambien is a simple road trip film, with only brief allusions to the PRI’s political collapse. Yet, the changing political landscape of Mexico surrounds even the most apolitical shots of the film.

Clip from Roma (2018)

After the critical and commercial success of the 2013 film Gravity, Cuarón turned down many offers to direct blockbuster films. Instead, he returned to Mexico to film the semi-autobiographical Roma. The film, in many ways, serves as an olive branch to repair the burned bridges with the Mexican government. As a love letter to his upbringing in Mexico, Roma spares no expenses when criticizing the government, including a jaw-dropping recreation of the Corpus Christi massacre. But the film’s real beauty lies in the long shots and deep focus of casual life in the suburbs of Mexico City. Accompanied by diegetic music, Roma‘s intimate portrait of Cuarón’s childhood reflects on his most important memories as a young boy, the abandonment of his father, the witnessing of a forest fire, and attending the films that shaped his cinematic vision. By framing these memories from the perspective of a poor, indigenous housemaid, Cuarón acknowledges the racial, classist, and gendered wounds hidden in Mexico that may not have been apparent to him in his upbringing.

The Mexican government also appears to be willing to mend fences with Cuarón, having made Roma their official selection for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Perhaps the decision came from a recognition of Cuarón’s influence on Mexican cinema. After becoming the first Mexican director to win the Academy Award for Best Director for his 2013 film Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón launched a trend in which 5 of the past 6 Academy Awards were won by Mexican directors.


Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu

Alejandro González Iñárritu

Trevor Dillon: Ever since his debut film in 2000, Alejandro González Iñárritu has cemented himself as one of Mexico’s finest filmmakers. The beginning of his career saw the trilogy of Amores Perros (2000), 21 Grams (2003), and Babel (2006). All are hard-hitting emotional feats that garnered Iñárritu great reviews and tons of acclaim. They all tell international stories about the human condition, mostly focusing on the misery of life.

Clip from Birdman (2014)

Just when we thought his ambition couldn’t be topped, in the mid-2010s he released the extremely difficult one-two punch of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and The Revenant. For these Iñárritu won the Best Director Academy Award two years in a row, becoming the first to do so in over 60 years. Where he will go from here with his career is something film fans wait on bated breath for. How will Alejandro González Iñárritu close out this second magnificent trilogy?

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Hispanic Heritage in Film: Pioneering Actors

The Frida Cinema celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month by honoring the Hispanic and Latino heritage in film. In this series of blogs, we’ll be highlighting Hispanic/Latino talent both in front of and behind the camera, and the impacts of these individuals on—and legacy in—film.

Mural of Dolores del Rio
Mural of Dolores del Rio by Alfredo de Batuc. 6529 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA

Part 1: Pioneering Actors

Hispanics and Latinos have been involved in American cinema since the silent era. However, many of the early Hispanic/Latino characters were predominantly negative Mexican stereotypes—violent male villains, sexual immoral women, and the dumb and/or drunk peasant. These images were seen as propaganda against all Hispanics/Latinos, prompting a massive backlash. Hispanic/Latino communities across America boycotted these films and their studios. Latin American governments abroad proposed boycotts. The issue became so heated that President Woodrow Wilson intervened, telling the Hollywood studio heads to “Please be a little kinder to the Mexicans.”

As a result, Hollywood created more diverse and positive images for Hispanic/Latino actors—the “Latin lover,” Latin comedians, and the strong-willed Latina. Names like Ramon Navarro, Lupe Vélez, Anthony Quinn, and Rita Hayworth were immortalized on Hollywood sidewalks. Along with these stars rose three multi-talented actors whose impact would heavily influence film and American pop culture.


Dolores del Río

Dolores del Río (Mexican)

Darren Cassidy: Marlene Dietrich called Dolores del Río “the most beautiful woman who ever set foot in Hollywood.” Nonetheless, along with Greta Garbo, Mae West and Katherine Hepburn, del Río found herself added to the infamous “Box Office Poison” list. This and her breakup with Orson Welles figured large in her decision to return to her native Mexico and “stop being a star and become an actress.” Upon arrival, she met director Emilio “El Indio” Fernández. The pair made four highly successful and influential Spanish-language films together including Flor Silvestre and María Candelaria, the latter becoming not only the first Mexican film to be screened and to have won the Grand Prix in Cannes, but the first Latin American film ever to do so. Her staggering success during Mexican cinema’s Golden Age led to renewed interest from Hollywood.

Clip from María Candelaria (1944)

Actually casting del Río, however, was impossible; too many of the the wrong people in the United States suspected her of being a Communist, in part because of her close association with artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The later part of her career saw del Río branching out into production and theater. In 1957 she became the first woman to sit on the jury at Cannes and in 1966 she founded the Society for the Protection of the Artistic Treasures of Mexico. In 1978, she was finally recognized by President Jimmy Carter as a Cultural Ambassador of Mexico in the United States, and publicly acknowledged as one of the many victims of McCarthyism.


Ricardo Montalbán

Ricardo Montalbán (Mexican)

Justina Bonilla: Ricardo Montalbán was first discovered by MGM studios through his starring roles in Mexican films. He became famous as the handsome “Latin Lover” in the musicals and lighthearted comedies of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Wanting to show the full range of his acting abilities, Ricardo acted in dramatic roles in B-films and supporting roles (both American and Foreign), Broadway, radio, and television.  Through television he would establish his two most iconic roles—the mysterious Mr. Rourke on Fantasy Island and the villainous Khan Noonien Singh in the original Star Trek series.

Clip from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Later, Montalbán would star in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and become one of the most menacing villains in movie history. In 1970 he co-founded Nosotors, a non-profit organization for promoting positive Hispanic/Latino talent in the entertainment industry, both in front of and behind the camera. Ricardo Montalbán is beloved for his iconic roles and his determination to help uplift and reshape the images of Hispanic/Latinos in media.


Sammy Davis, Jr.

Sammy Davis, Jr. (Afro-Cuban American)

Justina Bonilla: The multi-talented Sammy Davis, Jr. was a singer, musician, dancer, actor, producer, vaudevillian, and comedian who did spot-on celebrity impressions. In 1954, after years of touring with The Will Mastin Trio, he was featured on TV’s The Colgate Comedy Hour, establishing himself as a solo performer. A year later, in January of 1955, Sammy released his debut album, Starring Sammy Davis Jr., to success and praise. He then acted in a series of successful lead and supporting film roles, including Anna Lucasta, Porgy and Bess, Ocean’s 11, and Robin and the 7 Hoods. Davis became a member of the famous Las Vegas “Rat Pack” group (which included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford), who in the 1950’s where the epitome of cool and talent.

Sammy Davis, Jr. Impersonates His Peers.

During his career, Sammy was politically and socially controversial for his open stance against segregation, his conversion to Judaism, and his marriage to May Britt, a white actress. After the era of the Rat Pack ended, Sammy continued to act, sing, and be politically active. Sammy Davis Jr. is known for so many things, but will always be loved as simply “Mister Show Business.”

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The Films of Pedro Almodóvar
The Films of Pedro Almodóvar

In anticipation of the upcoming 70th Birthday of one of our favorite filmmakers, and in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, The Frida Cinema is proud to present a Lobby Art Show, and six classic films, by Spanish auteur Pedro Almódovar.

Born in the remote town of Calzada de Calatrava on September 25, 1949, Pedro Almodóvar Caballero attended a religious boarding school before discovering his true passion, the art of cinema. As soon as he was eligible, he went to Madrid and sought to enroll at the National School of Cinema. Unfortunately, the country’s dictator Francisco Franco decided to shut the institute down, forcing Almódovar to teach himself the art of filmmaking.

It was an education that clearly paid off, as Almódovar has become one of the world’s most celebrated filmmakers. A winner of two Academy Awards and five British Academy Film Awards, he has also received four prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as honorary doctoral degrees from Harvard and Oxford.

With their fearless approach to such issues as faith, family and sexuality, it’s easy to see why Almódovar’s films have captivated critics and audiences alike. We are proud to honor this uncompromising voice in cinema with our retrospective!


Atame! /
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
(1989)

September 11, 12, 15

The Frida’s Almodóvar retrospective starts with his controversial film Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

Having just been discharged from a mental facility, lonely orphan Ricky (Antonio Banderas) fixates upon Marina (Victoria Abril), an actress with whom he once had a one-night-stand. He goes to meet her, but she doesn’t remember their encounter and dismisses him. Desperate, Ricky abducts her in the hope that she will eventually fall in love with him. As Marina’s worried sister Lola (Loles Leon) searches for her, she starts to develop feelings for him. Will Lola ever find Marina? If she does, will Marina want to leave Ricky?       

Notable for being one of the first films to receive an NC-17 rating, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! also has the distinction of introducing star Banderas to American audiences for the first time.


Volver
(2006)

September 18, 19, 22

Our Almodóvar retrospective continues with Volver, a decorated love letter to the director’s childhood in Spain and a warm homecoming for fans of his early work.

Hard-working mother Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) lives in suburban Madrid with her husband Paco and daughter Paula. After a familial altercation results in Paco’s murder, Raimunda must handle the disposal of his body along with supporting her sister Sole (Lola Dueñas), running a restaurant and grieving after the death of their beloved Aunt Paula (Chus Lampreave). As if that all weren’t enough, Raimunda’s late mother is believed to be spotted in town.

Despite dark themes as death, murder, incest, and rape, Volver is a spirited slice-of-life with a distinctive feminine presence. Penélope Cruz gives a wonderfully honest performance in the lead role which earned her an Academy Award Nomination for Best Actress.


La piel que habito /
The Skin I Live In
(2011)

September 25, 26, 29

The third selection in our Almodovar retrospective is The Skin I Live In, a genre-bending entry from the Spanish director.  

After his wife dies in a horrific car crash, renowned surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) resolves to create a “perfect skin” that is impervious to burn or injury. To carry out his research, Robert imprisons a woman called Vera (Elena Anaya) and conducts his experiments on her. As his plan grows closer to fruition, his obsession and infatuation towards Vera grows as well, culminating in a volatile and explosive relationship where both prisoner and captor must grapple with their sanity.

Loosely based on the novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet, The Skin I Live In is a twisted thriller that gets under the skin with its disturbing and intense plot.


Hable con ella /
Talk to Her
(2002)

October 16, 17, 20

No retrospective of Almodóvar would be complete without the provocative Talk to Her —considered by many to be one of the finest films of the 2000s. 

After an encounter at a local performance of Café Müller, male nurse Benigno Martín (Javier Cámara) and travel writer Marco Zuluaga (Darío Grandinetti) find their lives remarkably paralleled when they meet again in the same hospital ward. The two men quickly transition from strangers to friends, even through the shocking discovery about one of the patients that draws them apart.

Like much of Almodóvar’s filmography, the movie boasts numerous accolades such as the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. An understated approach for the director, Talk to Her delves into the dynamic of love and unrequited infatuation.


Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios /
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
(1988)

October 21, 22, 26

Our celebration of Almodóvar continues with his 1988 screwball comedy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

Loosely based on the play The Human Voice by Jean Cocteau, the film follows actress Pepa (Carmen Maura) as she attempts to cope with a sudden breakup with her boyfriend Ivan (Fernando Guillén). While Pepa frantically attempts to reach Ivan and contemplates suicide in response, she is interrupted by her friend who also is also suffering from her own relationship problems. As the day goes on, an unlikely string of visitors arrive at Pepa’s apartment and set in motion a deranged farce of odd connections and frustrated passions.

Women on the Verge brought Almodóvar, already well known in Spain, international fame with its manic humor and rich visuals. The film marked a turning point in his career, departing from urban black comedies to this dreamlike vision with a lighter touch that shows the absurd ways women hurt for love and the hilarities that arise from this desperation.


ATodo sobre mi madre /
All About My Mother
(1999)

October 27, 28, 29

The Frida’s Almodovar retrospective ends on a fitting note with the touching drama All About My Mother.

Manuela (Cecilia Roth) is the perfect mother, working hard as a nurse to build a comfortable life for herself and her teenage son. Yet one tragic day Manuela sees her only son die as he runs to seek an actress’ autograph on his birthday. With her world completely shattered, Manuela returns to Barcelona in search of her son’s father only to encounter a colorful group of characters that begin to treat her like family.

Garnering Best Foreign Film at the Oscars and Best Director at Cannes for Almodovar, All About My Mother is an existential film that thoughtfully deals with feminism, faith, and redemption.

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ART HOUSE THEATER DAY 2019!: Reggie Peralta's 5 Favorite Frida Cinema Memories

Wednesday, September 18th is Art House Theater Day 2019! Launched by our friends and fellow art house cinemas of the Art House Convergence, this annual celebration of art house and indie theaters is celebrated by cinemas and communities across the nation, who band together to bring you special screenings and exceptional cinematic experiences – this year, the brand new 4K Restoration of Robert Downey, Sr.’s legendary 1969 satire Putney Swope, and an opportunity to experience Peter Strickland’s highly-anticipated follow up to The Duke of Burgundy, the “killer dress” giallo homage In Fabric!

In celebration of Art House Theater Day 2019, Reggie Peralta – a Frida Cinema volunteer since 2015, contributor to film collective LA Arts Society, and recent addition to our Staff as our trusty Content and Newsletter Editor – gives us his own Top 5 Favorite Frida Cinema Memories!


Gojira (Godzilla)
May, 2014 / June, 2019

One of my first memories of the Frida is five years ago, when they were brand new, when I watched the original Japanese Gojira (Godzilla) with my brother in an auditorium that was, save for one or two other people, entirely empty. Funnily enough, one of my favorite memories is when we screened it again with Los Angeles Arts Society last year. A lot had changed since that lonely screening of Gojira: there was at least 100 people the second time around, and they were all excited as could be. It was hectic on my end since I was helping run the event but even so I could tell how happy these people were simply because we were playing a Godzilla movie, much less the original. Making it all the more memorable was the post-film Q&A with Godzilla experts Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski, who both had an incredible amount of knowledge about the movie and the series it inspired to share with our guests. I don’t know if any of us working that night were prepared for that level of enthusiasm from the audience, but it was certainly worth it for this lifelong Godzilla fan to see so many people sharing in the same excitement I felt watching these movies as a kid.


Electric Dreams
+ Q&A with Virginia Madsen, Lenny von Dohlen, & Rusty Lemorande
September, 2019

Before The Frida screened Electric Dreams, I admittedly had never heard of it. So you can imagine my surprise when I showed up that day to see 160 people had shown up for FlickrHappy’s presentation of it. Going in with only the knowledge that Candyman’s Virginia Madsen was in it and that it never received a US DVD or Blu-ray release, the film blew me far and away with its electro-pop, punchy dialogue, and shockingly touching story. As if getting to watch this rarely-seen movie wasn’t enough, stars Virginia Madsen and Lenny Von Dohlen, and screenwriter Rusty Lemorande, showed up for a Q&A afterwards! The discussion was both informative and entertaining, but the fun didn’t end there because all three stuck around to meet and greet with absolutely everyone who wished to – literally for like four hours. It was a special night filled with good vibes for everyone there, and one that reminded me of what a magical space The Frida is.


Lisztomania
February, 2019

A monthly tradition at The Frida is for the Staff to name a Volunteer of the Month, and invite them to program a film. When I was named Director of the Month in February, I didn’t hesitate to select one of my favorite films by Ken Russell, the eccentric, avant-garde director behind Tommy (and a filmmaker that I hope to see make another one of The Frida’s monthly traditions one day — Director of the Month!)

A spiritual sequel to the aforementioned rock opera, Lisztomania takes the seemingly dry subject of classic music history and somehow outdoes its predecessor in absurdity. Packed with outlandish prog-rock, phallic imagery, and totalitarian iconography, it’s been a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine for years and made for a very interesting viewing experience in a theater filled with friends, family, and curious strangers. Fortunately for me, the audience had just as much of a blast as I did, alternatively guffawing and busting up at the inane insanity occurring before their eyes. The movie even got a stirring round of applause at the end and I got quite a few people thanking me for picking it on the way out! If this is anything to go by, maybe there’s hope for Ken Russell Month after all!


Stop Making Sense
May, 2017

When I first saw Stop Making Sense, I knew that it just had to be seen on the big screen. Putting aside my shameless love for Talking Heads, Jonathan Demme inventively directs the movie in a way that elevates it beyond a mere concert film and makes it a truly great piece of cinema. Luckily for me, I wasn’t the only one who thought so because the Frida ended up screening it not once, not twice, but thrice! — with me catching it two out of those three times!

Making use of darkness as much as light, Stop Making Sense is that rare kind of movie that actually feels made for the big screen, with its blacks and shadows blending in well with a dimmed theater. The fact that there were other people watching the film also lent itself to the material much better than viewing it at home by oneself might, furthering the impression that the audience was actually at a Talking Heads concert. Plus, the performances by the band are really just that good, with there being few concert films I’ve seen that have anything as powerfully raw as David Byrne feeling the spirit as he sings “Once in a Lifetime”.


Apocalypse Now / The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2
September, 2015

If you’re a Frida veteran like me, you might remember way back when the theater presented Apocalypse Now and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 along with other titles as part of a series in celebration of the great Dennis Hopper. The films were scheduled in such a way that one could make their own double-feature of it if they wanted to – and well, I certainly thought the experience would be epic. I have to admit I felt a bit apprehensive going in — Apocalypse Now was already close to 3 hours, so how would I be able to sit through it and another movie?

Well, perfectly fine as it turned out. I sat through Apocalypse Now as hooked as I was all the other times I had seen it before, and then hopped right into the other theater for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. Adding to the experience, I realized the two have something in common besides Hopper and unadulterated violence- namely, an overwhelming sense of momentum that, whether the viewer likes it or not, grabs them and takes them along for the ride. Kudos to The Frida for cooking up this crazy but awesome would-be double-feature, because Lord knows I sure wouldn’t have!

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American Psycho

It’s been a while, but Los Angeles Arts Society is on its way back to the Frida with American Psycho on Friday, September 27th! Believe it or not, it’ll be the first time the movie has played at our theater (a distinction it shares with the last film LA Arts Society screened, Shin Godzilla), and it couldn’t be more topical. Much attention has been paid to the film’s treatment of such timely issues as toxic masculinity, mindless conformity and plain old nihilism, but it’s important to remember that as thought-provoking as American Psycho is, it’s also a very fun movie!

American Psycho
How ’bout some Huey Lewis and the News?

It does take place, after all, in the ‘80s, an era skewered for its vapid consumerism and spiritual emptiness by some like American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis and remembered for its vibrant arts and culture by others like me who were too young to actually be there. Of course, this perception is shaped in no small part by the movies of the time, with films like Ghostbusters, The Goonies and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (to say nothing of a certain Netflix original series) making the decade feel real to viewers born years after the wall came down and shoulder pads went out of style.

That being said, there’s a lot of ‘80s movies that easily rival (or even surpass) the best of John Hughes and yet draw confused looks when you ask friends, family, or the cute girl/guy in the bar if they’ve seen them. Rev up your DeLorean because we’re going to take a look back at five nostalgic classics that nobody remembers!

Less Than Zero (1987)

Less Than Zero poster

Another film based on a Bret Easton Ellis novel, Less Than Zero was hated by the author upon its release due to, among other things, the producers swapping out the book’s despairing, barebones narrative for a more fleshed-out and sentimental story. Ellis would eventually come to appreciate the film, and watching the movie all these years later it’s easy to see why.

Nominal leads Andrew McCarthy and Jami Gertz perform well enough but end up playing second fiddle to the dynamic (and very young) duo of Robert Downey Jr. and James Spader. Downey Jr. shines and breaks hearts as the doomed drug addict Julian and Spader, almost unrecognizable save for his voice, steals every scene he’s in as the cold-blooded pusher who bedevils Julian. It’s a conventional story but it has sensitivity and style thanks to Marek Kanievska’s direction, with an unexpectedly moving original score and some of the most strikingly colorful lighting I’ve ever seen in a film, ‘80s or otherwise.

True Stories (1986)

True Stories poster

If you went to a video store in the ‘90s, you probably remember the box art for a movie with a slick-looking man in a cowboy hat and sunglasses reading a newspaper. That movie is True Stories, a film that LA Arts Society had the honor of screening earlier this year as well as an under-appreciated gem of weird cinema.

Seeing how as it was directed by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne however, it would be surprising if it wasn’t at least a little weird! Forgoing a linear plot, the film simply follows Byrne as he narrates the going-ons in the small town of Virgil, Texas in the days leading up to its sesquicentennial Celebration of Specialness. Mixing Byrne’s deadpan delivery with the eccentric behavior of the town’s citizens (two of whom are played by Spalding Gray and John Goodman), the movie nevertheless avoids outright mean-spiritedness and instead presents a respectful homage to small-town Americana. Throw in a rocking soundtrack by Byrne’s bandmates and you’ve easily got the makings of a nostalgic ‘80s classic.

After Hours (1985)

After Hours poster

With the decade bookended by Raging Bull and Goodfellas, it’s perhaps understandable that the rest of Martin Scorsese’s ‘80s fare often gets overlooked. It’s certainly unfortunate because these films are not only some of his best but some of his most unusual as well: titles like the cringe comedy classic The King of Comedy, the revisionist biblical epic The Last Temptation of Christ, and the one that came out smack dab in the middle of them all, After Hours.

Starring An American Werewolf in London’s Griffin Dunne as Paul Hackett, this strange adventure sees the word-processing everyman end up way in over his head after getting lost in an unfamiliar NYC neighborhood. The people who want to help him are useless and the people who don’t want to help him want to kill him, forcing Paul to navigate baffling situation after baffling situation as he tries to find his way home. Punctuated by a hypnotic score from Howard Shore that unsettles without descending into stock creepiness, the movie wears its Kafkaesque influences on its sleeve (to the point that it directly parodies the surrealist author’s parable “Before the Law” in one scene) and doubtlessly deserves to be better remembered along with the rest of Scorsese’s ‘80s titles.

Creator (1985)

Creator poster

Even by the standards of this list, I have to say that Ivan Passer’s Creator is especially obscure. A sci-fi-flavored romantic comedy about artificially creating romantic partners, it had the misfortune of coming out the same year as John Hughes’ similarly-premised Weird Science. While both are hardly perfect films, Creator has a couple things that Science does not.

For one thing, it has Peter O’Toole. A far cry from his roles in such weighty historical dramas as Lawrence of Arabia and Beckett, O’Toole nevertheless refrains from condescending to the material: instead, he brings a sassy weariness to the character of Harry Wolper that is waggish but endearing. It also has Rumble Fish’s Vincent Spano and Candyman’s Virginia Madsen (who, incidentally, came to The Frida for our screening of Electric Dreams recently), acting opposite each other in what has to be one of the decade’s sweetest on-screen romances.

Lastly but not least, it has interesting sexual politics and religious themes. With conversation surrounding such matters at the time largely confined to either puritanical conservatism and wishy-washy relativism, the film seems to seek a balance between the two. The two lovers engage in premarital sex for instance, but also plan to get married and hope to have kids someday. Wolper frequently invokes God as he goes about his plan to clone his late wife, meaning he would have to play God himself to bring her back. It’s a rom-com at the end of the day, but Creator certainly gives viewers more to ponder than others from that period.

American Pop (1981)

American Pop poster

Ralph Bakshi might be most associated with the counterculture of the late ‘60s, but there’s a lot more to the adult animation innovator’s work than just Fritz the Cat. He also ingeniously melded science fiction and fantasy together with Wizards, adapted The Lord of the Rings into a successful animated film, and told the story of popular music with American Pop.

Following the immigrant Belinsky family over the course of several generations, the film creatively parallels and traces the country’s musical development. The animation may lead some to assume otherwise, but it’s not family-friendly viewing; it starts off with a pogrom in the family’s native Russia (a whole five years before Don Bluth did the same thing with An American Tail) and doesn’t shy away from sex, drugs, and rock & roll (particularly the latter). However, these elements are treated more seriously here than they are in Bakshi’s earlier films.

On a purely aesthetic level, the film is a wonder to behold, with the director’s provocative rotoscoping complementing a soundtrack that includes such iconic songs as “Purple Haze”, “California Dreamin”, and, in what is easily the highlight of the film’s musical sequences, “Sing, Sing, Sing.” All in all, it’s a vividly heartfelt reflection on the American dream, the American reality, and the place where the two meet.

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Frida After Dark

Another month means another killer film lineup for our most eclectic series: FRIDA AFTER DARK. Dedicated to celebrating cult classics and crowd-pleasing hits alike, weekend nights at The Frida Cinema this month are guaranteed to satisfy your craving—epic explosions, titillating musicals, raunchy gore, and even existential dread. Whatever your vice, we at The Frida Cinema take pleasure in hosting screenings you won’t find anywhere else—and this month is no exception!

Rambo Double Feature poster

Rambo Double Feature: First Blood (1982)
& First Blood Part II (1985)

Directed by Ted Kotcheff, George P. Cosmatos

September 6th, 7th, and 8th

Join us as we kick this September off with a boom! With yet another installment in the Rambo film franchise set to hit theaters, it’s only right to return to what started it all. 

Sylvester Stallone is a powerhouse in his iconic role of John J. Rambo, a veteran Green Beret who wanders into a small town after traveling to visit an old army friend. Much to his misfortune, Rambo is captured and tortured under the barbaric force of local sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy) and must escape using the wits and knack for weaponry he utilized years earlier in Vietnam’s war-zone. Now restored in beautiful 4K high definition, First Blood and First Blood Part II are bigger and better than ever. TWO BLOCKBUSTERS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE means double the thrills—and no torturous cliffhangers in-between! This dynamic film duo is an action-packed evening you don’t want to miss.

KAOS Rocky Horror 5th Anniversary

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Special 5th Year Anniversary Show!

Directed by Jim Sharman

September 13th

Frida After Dark isn’t complete without our monthly presentation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show—the original interactive midnight movie we all know and love. The Frida Cinema is celebrating FIVE WHOLE YEARS of doing the Time Warp with our incredible, award-winning shadow cast troupe K.A.O.S.! Ever talented and dedicated, they continue to turn Friday nights out with their lip-syncs, sexy costumes, and characters that bring you right into the world of Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s castle.

Rocky Horror is a mish-mash of campy science-fiction, brilliant songs, cheesy wordplay, and unapologetic sexuality and that just might awaken something in you. Along with being fun and wild, Rocky Horror screenings are about community, where you’re free to be yourself! Costumes are always deeply encouraged, so put on the best Transylvanian gear you’ve got. Don’t forget to bring cash to buy your PROP BAGS before the show! For just a few bucks, you can have plenty of ammo to throw, while also supporting K.A.O.S. in helping improve their costumes and stage gear. If you’re a Rocky virgin, check out this classic guide for what to expect when going all the way with us this Friday the 13th!

The Room poster

The Room (2003)

Directed by Tommy Wiseau

September 14th

Right after cleaning up all the confetti and popcorn from Rocky, we’re making a mess all over again with an interactive screening of The Room—an absolute masterpiece of failure.

Unlike Rocky Horror, The Room is not a musical. Instead, it is a film so terrible in every way conceivable that it’s hard to believe even whilst watching it. Perhaps that’s simply the genius of Tommy Wiseau: director, writer, starring actor, producer, casting director, etcetera etcetera.

Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) works as a successful banker in stock-footage San Francisco with his fiancee Lisa (not Tommy Wiseau). Despite their engagement, Lisa is unhappy in her relationship and seduces Johnny’s best friend, Mark. Despite the simple premise, there’s several dozen unrelated subplots that make things far more entertaining.

Think you know how bad it is? No—it’s much worse—and live screenings are all the better for it! There’s truly nothing like being in a theater full of strangers—bonded together by the same bizarre dialogue—pelting each other with plastic spoons. So what are you waiting for? Grab a football and make a date for Saturday, September 14th—just make sure to close the front door on your way out.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell

September 20th, 21st, 22nd

Get ready to rock to the musical stylings of Hedwig and the Angry Inch—a local band lead by the gender-fluid Hedwig Robinson (John Cameron Mitchell) from East Germany. She’s a struggling songwriter and frontwoman, an outcast even in the dingy diners where she plays gigs. Despite her past failed relationships, Hedwig dreams of finding her other half, the soulmate meant to complete her. Her own music illustrates her life, desires, and how she got to where she is through uninhibited, pure punk rock and heartfelt ballads. It’s a film that can make you laugh, make you cry, and have you streaming the soundtrack by the time you get back home from the theater.

Help us celebrate Hedwig’s all-new 4k restoration and Criterion Collection release by indulging in this unconventional, coming of age love story. P. S. The art of drag is always appreciated at The Frida Cinema—and a Hedwig and the Angry Inch screening is all the more reason to take your new wig out of the box and into the night.

Mandy poster

Mandy (2018)

Directed by Panos Cosmatos

September 27th, 28th, & 29th

With one of Nicholas Cage’s best performances of the decade, 2018’s Mandy is a psychedelic throwback to the films of the 1980s era in which the film takes place. An instant cult classic, this film truly feels alive with its near fauvist use of colors and unique effects, making it a film you definitely want to see with theater quality picture and sound.

Logger Red Miller (Cage) and artist Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) live a quiet life in their secluded cabin among the lush woods of the Shadow Mountains. Comfortable and happy with one another, they grow together as people through past traumas while making an honest living and creating fantastical art. Of course, everything changes when the precious forest and home is invaded by members of a sadomasochistic hippie cult and the couple’s lives are set ablaze. 

The chilling, revenge-driven tale is one you definitely don’t want spoiled, so do yourself a favor and just come on down and see it on the big screen for yourself.

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Horrible Imaginings Film Festival 2019
Horrible Imaginings Film Festival 2019

Labor Day weekend is in full swing, which means the annual Horrible Imaginings Film Festival is back! As always, this weekend-long fest celebrates the beloved art of genre films, as well as the people who love them. In honor of this special year, The Frida Cinema would like to give an extra special congratulations to HIFF on an entire decade of bringing all kinds of people together through thrills, chills, and community.

Since its founding in San Diego in 2009, HIFF has screened over 700 horror, sci-fi, and fantasy films from diverse new voices in cinema to over 8,000 guests. With its emphasis on acceptance and engagement, this event features an opening night party, discussion panels, a closing awards ceremony, and networking opportunities with featured filmmakers and special guests. Here’s a quick summary of what you can expect this weekend.

Day One

Day one kicks off with the Youth Cinema Showcase featuring the work of six young filmmakers in partnership with Creating Creators. This program is dedicated to encourage young people from 4th to 12th grade by augmenting and aligning the lessons in the classroom with the entrepreneurial, creative, and collaborative rigor of film making and 21st century skills.

This evening’s short film block entitled “This Mortal Coil.” It features ten titles, as well as the first of three performances by the talented Leigh Purtill Ballet Company of Sweet Sorrow: A Zombie Ballet.

This year’s opening night feature film is Satanic Panic by Chelsea Stardust, which follows Sam, a cancer survivor working as an underpaid delivery person. Her latest pizza order leads her to a affluent home of some not-so average customers, who turn out to have much more than a simple hunger for Italian food. The full day’s schedule, along with details about each short, can be found on the HIFF website.

Friday night concludes with an Opening Night Party at The Frida Cinema, open to all 2019 pass holders, special guests, and Horrible Imaginings volunteers! Be sure to have your pass and be ready for more ghoulish goodness in the coming days!

Day Two

The “Shock to the System” short film block is just the thing to wake you up Saturday morning, running from 11am to 1pm. After a short break until 1:40pm will be the first panel of the day: “Horror for Humanity—Real-Life Anxieties Through a Genre Lens,” followed by the related short films exploring subjects such as conversion therapy and the loss of autonomy.

Starting at 3:40pm, the rest of the night will be made up of feature films.

Swing Low by Teddy Grennan will make its California premiere, telling the story of a woman who fights to be believed after she’s escaped from the Watchatoomy Valley. Dismissed by the police and written off as a crazy junky, finds herself still in danger.

After you get your sustenance during the dinner break, Reborn by Julian Richards will hopefully settle your stomach. In it, a stillborn baby is revived and adopted by a morgue worker using electrokinetic power. Fast forward to her sweet sixteen, when the girl is determined to meet her birth mother—by any means necessary.

After three more short films (Always Listening, Creaker, and Wally and His Hideously Malformed Wart) comes an extra special screening of The Tingler (1959), starring Vincent Price. In honor of its 60th anniversary, we’re bringing back the original, electrifying 4D experience. This innovation, created by director William Castle, features theater seats with vibrating motors which will “shock” you in tandem with the victims in the film. You won’t find that in any IMAX theater!

Day Three

The final day of Horrible Imaginings 2019 begins in the woods, the fictional past, and apocalaypse in our “Monsters, Sci-Fi, and the Beyond” short film block from 11am-1pm, immediately followed by the “Long Form” showcase.

Antrum—The Deadliest Film Ever Made is the first feature film of the night. Deemed cursed, this film from the 1970s is the common thread among the deaths of several film fest programmers, riots, and the death of 56 moviegoers after the theater playing Antrum burnt down in 1988 Budapest. With only one copy of the film tracked down for public release by Else Films, this might be your only chance to see what some believe would be the final film you ever watch.

Which would be a shame, as after the planned dinner break is Porno by Keola Racela, which tells the tale of a group of teens who unleash a succubus upon themselves in their small, pious town.

Finally, at 10pm, will be the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival Awards Ceremony, honoring the slew of hard work and talent that makes this festival what it is.There are passes still available for Friday Night, Saturday, Sunday, and all 3 Days still available. Don’t miss out!

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Daniella A
Volunteer of the Month Daniela Anguiano

The Frida’s August Volunteer of the Month movie is Hairspray, chosen by Daniela Anguiano! This 1988 cult classic from provocateur John Waters is certainly the director’s most mainstream film, but still has plenty of edge and unforgettable dialogue. Here’s what our volunteer of the month says about her pick:

“John Waters’ quotes are ridiculously over the top and constantly referenced amongst my family. Any quote that includes any mention of roaches are my absolute favorite. This includes Amber’s endless “That girl’s got roaches in her hair” or “Tracy Turnblad is a human roach nest” throughout the film. Another favorite line is when Penny and Edna are watching Tracy’s debut on the Corny Collins Show and Penny yells to the TV “Hi Tracy! It’s me, Penny!” Edna just looks at Penny and tells her “She can’t hear you!?” It’s absurd but makes me laugh every time.

I’m glad I grew up watching Hairspray. I feel like it made me who I am today! Tracy is a chubby hair hopper on the poorer side of town, supporting integration. She’s essentially the underdog and the cards are against her.  Despite this, she shows nothing but support and has fun dancing, which leads to her winning the auto show and dating hot guy Link! 

The soundtrack and dance scenes also gave me a reason to revisit the film and become obsessed with the charming and fun Hairspray. As a child, I watched the film so many times I memorized the dance sequences! Sadly, I’ve forgotten the dances over the years but I still have the memory of rewinding the VHS to learn the Madison Time with my older sisters.”

Hairspray

More About Hairspray

Featuring accurate recreations of dances from the ’60s, Hairspray mines the era’s aesthetic and culture for campy humor while also telling a heartfelt and winning tale of a teenager who succeeds against all odds through her force of personality. And although not as openly provocative as some of John Waters’ other works, the movie’s portrayal of teenage life and racial segregation is still quietly radical. While moments like Tracy being placed in special education for her hairstyle are played for laughs, they also capture the unique cruelty of what it feels like to be a teenager rebelling against ridiculous adult rules. The dark moments also shade the triumphant notes of the movie with an unbearable excitement, and these emotional ups and downs still ring true for viewers watching the movie long after its release. In the world of Hairspray, both racial segregation and local dance competitions become equally urgent missions for its characters, while also being blatantly satirized for the viewer. But no problem is too big to be overcome by the winning Tracy Turnblad, who prevails through the irrepressible pleasure of music and dance. For both young and old, those looking for nostalgia or something new, Hairspray has plenty of joy to give.

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Video Game Movies

Sonic the Hedgehog 2020 is currently “under adjustment”—and a Mortal Kombat reboot might be looming in the near future. This month, Nostalgic Nebula looks back at 5 seminal video game movies in anticipation of their August 22nd presentation of Street Fighter (1994) at The Frida Cinema. Miguel Núñez Jr. and Andrew Bryniarski will be on hand for a Q&A.

Video game quarter slot

Additionally, On September 10th, a 15th anniversary screening of Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)—featuring a Q&A with actor Razaaq Adoti—will drop at The Frida.

Nostalgic Nebula’s Top 5 Video Game Movies

Street Fighter poster

Street Fighter (1994)

The fictional country of Shadaloo is fractured by a civil war and Allied Nation forces, led by the determined Colonel Guile (Jean-Claude Van Damme), are taking advantage of the chaos in order to eliminate Shadaloo’s powerful and insane dictator, General M. Bison (Raul Julia). This film is packed with action, one-liners, a decent amount of fan service, and best of all—Gomez Addams himself—Raul Julia playing a villainous dictator like no other!

Video Game Movies: Resident Evil

Resident Evil (2001)

A deadly and mutagenic virus is unleashed in a secret underground laboratory owned and operated by the massive Umbrella Corporation and the workers and inhabitants have been killed by the building’s central artificial intelligence. Now, a team of Umbrella operatives descend into the Hive to discover what happened, but the once-dead facility just might not let them leave with their humanity. The first film in a series that would go on to gross over 1.2 billion dollars, Resident Evil captures some of the feel of the game it was based upon. While it does not feature characters from the game series, it stands alone as an entertaining thriller.

Video Game Movies: Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

Immediately following the events of Resident Evil (2001), the T-Virus created by the monolithic Umbrella Corporation has ravaged Raccoon City, turning its inhabitants into the walking dead and unleashing mutant horrors among the population. Umbrella has walled off the city in an attempt to contain the effects of the T-Virus and now Alice, the last of two survivors from the Hive, and a group of paramilitary agents must find a way to escape before the Umbrella Corporation can eliminate all witnesses. This was the first film in the series to include characters from the games including fan favorite Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), Oded Fehr from the Mummy franchise and the monstrous N.E.M.E.S.I.S.

Video Game Movies: Super Mario Bros

Super Mario Bros. (1993)

Two plumber siblings (John Leguizamo, Bob Hoskins) from Brooklyn find themselves in a parallel dimension as they attempt to rescue archaeologist Daisy (Samantha Mathis), daughter of the deposed king of Dinohattan, from the evil king Koopa (Dennis Hopper). Koopa is hell-bent on merging the two dimensions and ruling over both worlds. This was the first test for the “video game movie” and was ultimately rejected by both fans and critics, though in recent years it has garnered a large cult following and an extensive archive of photos and behind the scenes information.

Video Game Movies: Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat (1995)

Arguably the most true-to-the source video game movie, Mortal Kombat is as action-packed and satisfying as one could hope; A select few warriors and martial artists are called upon to defend the realm of earth from otherworldly invasion in a tournament known as… Mortal Kombat. The film features many favorite characters from the game series. While not particularly gory, there’s plenty of violence and top notch stunts that pleasingly recreate the intensity of the game franchise.

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Blue Velvet
Blue Velvet

Since its release in 1986, much has been written about Blue Velvet’s depictions of sexual abuse, blend of irony and sincerity, Freudian themes, and portrayal of darkness that lies at the heart of American suburbia. The film is full of references and imagery that invite interpretation and speculation—Dorothy Vallens is an allusion to The Wizard of Oz; Sandy talks about a cleansing vision of light while framed by stained glass windows; Jeffrey Beaumont is an alter ego for David Lynch himself; and on and on in a claustrophobic spiral of meaning. But every time I watch Blue Velvet, I always find myself rejecting thematic explanations and focusing instead on the visceral qualities of the film and how it disorders sight, sound, and touch in ways that defy rational explanation.

Blue Velvet

The film announces this ambition from the start. The song ‘Blue Velvet’ plays over the opening credits, beginning with lines that are written in synesthetic metaphors—“She wore blue velvet/Bluer than velvet was the night/Softer than satin was the light/From the stars.” In the lyrics, the touch of velvet turns into color, and the quality of light becomes the feel of satin. Meanwhile a crushed blue velvet curtain waves slowly in the background as if it is breathing, suggesting a woozy romanticism that sets the tone for the shadowy fantasy world that will reveals itself in Jeffrey’s hometown.

Blue Velvet

As Jeffrey begins his investigation, the senses are first presented separately: the ear, which is discovered cut off in a field, and the eye, which watches from inside Dorothy’s closet when Jeffrey holds his stakeout. But as Jeffrey discovers more secrets, the senses begin to blur in moments of heightened emotion and tension. When Frank Booth sheds a tear at the nightclub, he watches Dorothy on stage, listens to her sing, and clutches a strip of velvet from her robe, the three senses joining into one ecstatic moment. It also happens later when Jeffrey is dragged to Frank’s party and watches Ben lip-singing to ‘In Dreams.’ It’s only clear after Ben has stopped moving his lips while the recording continues to play that he isn’t actually singing, but for a split-second I almost believed that Ben continues to sing even though the image on screen says otherwise.

Blue Velvet

These are the sorts of moments that create the most lasting images in the film for me, like the scene of Dorothy singing at the nightclub. As Dorothy sings the opening lines “she wore blue velvet” onstage, the spotlight clothes her in blue light as if her voice has summoned it. Maybe the moment is too obvious, but David Lynch is going for maximum effect. To me, this confusion of sense is an argument against too much interpretation, to prefer the pure experience of the film over some sort of retroactive explanation. The disruption and merging of sensation is what makes the underbelly of Lumberton so perverse but also so enduring. It creates a world where desire can produce real flames or people disappear in an instant. To be sensorially disorientated is a familiar feeling, so the fantasy feels both alien and familiar at the same time.

The 2019 4k restoration of Blue Velvet, supervised by director David Lynch, starts Friday, August 16th at The Frida Cinema.

Blue Velvet
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Lucha Cinema

Lucha Cinema is a unique movie genre which offers b-movie cheese injected with theatrical wrestling matches every 15 minutes.

Lucha Cinema
Cassandro el Exotico and Mini-Cassandro

As we at The Frida Cinema prepare for the opening of Marie Losier’s documentary Cassandro, the Exotico (August 9th–15th), let us look back at the history of lucha cinema on the silver screen.

Mil Mascaras (1969)

Lucha Cinema: Mil Mascaras (1969)

The cinematic debut of one of the most influential luchadors of all time, Mil Mascaras is an important film for those looking to be introduced into the world of lucha cinema. The film follows Mil Mascaras, an orphan adopted by scientists who put him through a rigorous regimen of diet and exercise, turning him into a superhero.

What makes Mil Mascaras a great entry in this genre is that the movie’s plot centers around the world of lucha libre. As a result, the film features some of the best in-ring action from a lucha libre film.


Huracan Ramirez (1952)

Lucha Cinema: Huracan Ramirez (1952)

Most lucha libre films star a real-life luchador. However, the 1952 film Huracan Ramirez is a notable exception. Starring actor David Silva, Huracan Ramirez is the most plot-driven film on this list. The film follows Fernando Torres, son of a washed-up luchador Tonina Jackson, who drops out of college and becomes a masked luchador to help his families finances, against the wishes of his father.

Although a fictional character, several pros would adopt the identity of Huracan Ramirez in the ring. Daniel Garcia Arteaga wrestled as the character for over 30 years and became one of the most iconic luchadors of all time.


Santo vs. Las Mujeres Vampiro (1962)

Lucha Cinema: Santo vs. Las Mujeres Vampiro (1962)

One of the first of many films that match an iconic luchador against a supernatural villain. To understand this film, one must begin by understanding El Santo’s place in Mexico’s history. A 2003 nationwide poll ranked him the fourth most beloved figure in Mexico history, above generals and presidents. A major part of his legacy as a Mexican folk hero is his colorful filmography in which he fights a slew of supernatural villains.

The most famous of these is Santo vs Las Mujeres Vampiro, in which Santo is called upon by a professor to save his daughter from abduction by a female Vampire named Tundra. Santo vs Las Mujeres Vampiro is notable for being one of the few lucha libre films from the time to be dubbed in English, which resulted in one of the best Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes ever.


Mil Mascaras vs. The Aztec Mummy (2007)

Lucha Cinema: Mil Mascaras vs. The Aztec Mummy (2007)

By the 21st century, Mexico mostly gave up on lucha cinema, having outgrown the cheesy b-movie action and plots that have become synonymous with the genre. However, in 2007, American distribution company Osmium Entertainment released Mil Mascaras vs The Aztec Mummy, the first lucha libre film to be produced in English. A first glance at the film’s history would make anyone suspicious of the film’s prospects. It wasn’t shot in Mexico by Mexican filmmakers, but at the University of Columbia by a group of engineering students. Even worse, the film’s star, Mil Mascaras, was 69 years old at the film’s release.

Despite all this, Mil Mascaras vs The Aztec Mummy turned out to be one of the most entertaining films of its genre and a wonderful homage to the b-movies of the prior century. The film was screened at the festival circuits to rave reviews and won many awards and nominations. It sparked a trilogy of films and is the best film to introduce an English-speaker to lucha cinema


Santo y Blue Demon Contra Los Monstruous (1970)

Lucha Cinema: Santo y Blue Demon Contra Los Monstruous (1970)

And they say Avengers: Endgame was the most ambitious crossover in film history…

There is very little I should say about Santo and Blue Demon vs the Monsters. It is a masterpiece of cinema that must be seen to be believed. It involves a mad scientist and his hunchback dwarf assistant creating a series of monsters to fight Santo and fellow iconic luchador Blue Demon. 

There are no more words to describe this film’s lunacy, so here is a clip of Santo fighting a cyclops.


Cassandro, the Exotico starts Friday, August 9th

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Francis Ford Coppola Month

“Why do films always have to be this way for me? Why do I always have to reach down into my gut, and pull my intestines out on to the table and chop at them in full view of the rest of humanity? Why can’t I just make an ordinary film the way I know lots of directors do?”

— Francis Ford Coppola, a few days before deciding that the making of Apocalypse Now would “run like clockwork”
Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola on the set of Apocalypse Now

“We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane”

— Francis Ford Coppola, at the Cannes Film Festival press conference for Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now: Final Cut

This August brings Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now back to the big screen. Apocalypse Now: Final Cut is a 4K restoration with state-of-the-art sound. For a film experience that was already like IMAX before anyone knew what IMAX was… Yeah, this is a big deal. After all, we’re talking about a seminal work of American art which scholars of the future will reference when discussing the fall of the American Empire.

1969: U.S. military assassin Capt. Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) is heading up the Nùng river on a top-secret mission to kill renegade Green Beret colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Col. Kurtz, from a compound in Cambodia, commands his own personal army of Montagnard troops who revere him as a demigod, enabling him to fight the war “his way.” On the journey to confront Kurtz, Willard and the crew of his patrol boat (Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne) have a series of encounters, each a tableau of the insanity and horror men create in the world.

An iconic vision of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now also draws inspiration from Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972). It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival.

Nominated for Eight Academy Awards

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director (Francis Ford Coppola)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Robert Duvall)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay (John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola)
  • WINNER: Best Sound (Walter Murch, Mark Berger, Richard Beggs, and Nat Boxer)
  • Best Art Direction (Dean Tavoularis, Angelo P. Graham, George R. Nelson)
  • WINNER: Best Cinematography (Vittorio Storaro)
  • Best Film Editing (Richard Marks, Walter Murch, Gerald B. Greenberg and Lisa Fruchtman)

Apocalypse Now: Final Cut screens at The Frida Cinema from August 19th – 25th


August is Francis Ford Coppola Month at The Frida Cinema!


The Godfather (1972: August 1st – 4th)

Perhaps the film that defined the “New Hollywood” era of the 1970s, The Godfather nearly didn’t get made at all. Paramount did not want Coppola, fresh off the box office failures The Rain People (1969) and THX-1138 (1971), to direct. They fought Coppola and studio exec Robert Evans over the casting of the two leads Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. Despite the odds, Coppola delivered a masterful story of the transition of family power from one generation to the next, as well as a compelling statement on American capitalism.

The Godfather received nine Academy Award nominations, winning three: Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Coppola and Mario Puzo, based on his novel).


Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992: August 2nd – 3rd)

When the industry-standard visual effects team Coppola hired informed him that his vision for Bram Stoker’s Dracula would be impossible to achieve without computer-generated imagery, he fired them. The resulting film is a visual feast, created with old-school techniques dating back to the beginning of cinema itself. In casting Gary Oldman as the titular vampire, Coppola manages, as he did with the Godfather films, to persuade his audience to feel genuine empathy for a character who is essentially evil.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a major success upon its release. It won the Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, Best Sound Editing (Dracula’s brides are a sonic Easter egg for Diamanda Galás fans), and Best Makeup.


The Outsiders (1983: August 7th – 11th)

Coppola adapted S.E. Hinton’s coming-of-age novel The Outsiders when he received a request from an elementary school librarian. The film he delivered portrays teenagers in a more naturalistic style than most youth-focused films had not previously done.

Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell) and Johnny (Ralph Macchio), two young “Greasers” in 1960s Tulsa, Oklahoma are on the run after an attack by a gang of rival “Socs” ends with someone dead.

The Outsiders features a large ensemble cast comprised of many young actors whose work here led them to success: Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Diane Lane and Emilio Estevez.


Rumble Fish (1983: August 14th – 18th)

Based upon another S.E. Hinton novel and filmed back-to-back with The Outsiders—also set in Tulsa—and featuring both Matt Dillon and Diane Lane, Rumble Fish‘s similarities to its predecessor end there. Coppola creates, in his words, an “art film for teenagers” with an avant-garde style, filmed in high-contrast black-and-white, evocative of both the French New Wave and the experimental cinema of Maya Deren.

Against the backdrop of surreal speeding clouds and a heady Stewart Copeland score, Prone-to-violence Rusty (Dillon) is headed for the Pacific Ocean, but not before getting into a lot of trouble.

On its release, easily-confused American audiences weren’t quite sure if they liked Rumble Fish, or why they liked it. As with The Outsiders, the film has a diverse group of young actors, including Mickey Rourke; Nicholas Cage; and Vincent Spano, along with recurring Coppola players Tom Waits and Dennis Hopper.


The Godfather Part II (1974: August 25th – 29th)

The Godfather Part II

Rarely does a sequel surpass the original, but The Godfather Part II arguably does just that. The film is both a sequel and a prequel—with Coppola and Puzo telling two stories side-by-side.

Michael (Al Pacino), the now ruthless head of the Corleone crime family, seeks to expose a traitor in his organization, which increasingly resembles any other American corporation. Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg), the old-school Jewish gangster with whom Michael has entered into a precarious business arrangement, tells him “We’re bigger than U.S. Steel.”

The tale of Michael’s immigrant father Vito (Robert De Niro) and his rise to power unfolds parallel to the film’s contemporary events.

Nominated for nine Academy Awards, The Godfather Part II won five: Best Picture, Best Director (Coppola), Best Supporting Actor (De Niro), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Art Direction.

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The Wicker Man
Christopher Lee - The Wicker Man

In anticipation of our screenings of Japanese folk horror film Horrors of Malformed Men, Justina Bonilla asks our writing team to pick their favorite folk horror movie, while celebrating the “Unholy Trinity” of British horror films responsible for the birth of the folk horror genre as we know it.

Folk Horror: A small thriving horror subgenre, whose stories are based on folklore, the occult, legends, urban myths, and paganism.


The Unholy Trinity of Folk Horror

The Conquering Worm / Witchfinder General (1968)

The Conquering Worm / Witchfinder General

Witch hunter Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) goes on a campaign of terror in East Anglia, sadistically torturing and killing over 300 suspected witches, until a young soldier tries to stop his killing spree.

Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

Blood on Satan's Claw

After the skeleton of a demonic creature are accidentally unearthed, a group of teenagers in a small 17th century farming village become a satanic cult, performing blood sacrifices to bring the demon to life. 

The Wicker Man (1973)

The Wicker Man

Described as the “Citizen Kane of horror movies” by Cinefantastique, The Wicker Man follows a Scotland Yard police officer who is sent to an isolated Scottish island village to find a missing girl, only to have no cooperation from the villagers. He soon learns the deadly secret everyone has been hiding.


The Writers’ Picks

November (2017)

November

Logan Crow: I first learned about director Rainer Sarnet’s fantastic Estonian film November when its dreamy black-and-white poster caught my eye at a film conference. And after the team at Oscilloscope described it as a “dark Estonian black-and-white folk tale involving love, monsters, and the devil”, I was sold and booked it at The Frida, sight unseen.  After our audiences had nothing but positive things to say about it, I finally checked it out, and was completely blown away. It’s just one of those films that has a singular mood to it. It looks like a beautiful monochromatic nightmare, complete with shadows, eerie characters, and some very dark dealings. But, seems to have its tongue firmly in its cheek throughout, self-aware enough to add an extra level of surrealism to the proceedings, and not enough to make the whole thing feel hokey or farcical.  It’s surprisingly engaging, and often quite humorous, for what is essentially the very sad tale of star-crossed lovers who make an ill-advised go of using dark magic to live happily ever after. (Don’t these kids ever learn!?)

The Blair Witch Project (1998)

The Blair Witch Project

Trevor Dillon: My favorite folk horror film of all time is 1999’s genre game-changer The Blair Witch Project. To say that it totally revolutionized Horror as a whole is an understatement. For better or worse, it took effective folk horror and mixed it with a new thing (at the time) called “found footage”. I put it up in the ranks with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead in terms of pure ingenuity. Twenty years later, it still manages to scare me, and I know I’m not alone on that. Also, how many other films on this list have folklore so strong that audiences actually thought the movie was real

Trollhunter (2010)

Trollhunter

Adrienne Reese: In André Øvredal’s 2010 film Trollhunter, one of the hunters pretends early on that “fairytales don’t usually match reality”. But, the subsequent events in this found-footage-style movie would beg to differ, as it dives headfirst into Norwegian folklore and pulls out a surprisingly stunning, yet dark action/adventure. In the film, a trio of college students go in search of the truth behind some peculiar events that the government is blaming on bothersome bears. However, they instead find an ex-navy ranger turned badass troll-hunter who has been tasked with tracking and researching these creatures, thought to only belong to storybooks. Fairytale is blurred with reality, in this thriller that teeters on horror, full of violent and giant trolls, unlikely heroes, and suspense and mystery that has mythology collide with modern times in order to produce a pseudo-documentary. You may feel like you are being trolled yourself with a plot-line based around Norwegian trolls and government control, but you will find out pretty early on that this is a heart-racing film. I wondered myself if it was real or not. But of course, trolls aren’t real… right?

The Wicker Man (1973)

The Wicker Man

Reggie Peralta: There’s a long-running debate about whether Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man can be classified as a horror movie or not, yet somehow it manages to be scarier than many other titles in the genre. Everything from the haunting soundtrack, to the creepily-off behavior of the islanders, conspires to disturb the viewer on a much deeper level than jump scares and wanton gore might. Some argue that it’s hard to sympathize with Sgt. Howie on account of his Bible-thumping ways. But, they may do well to consider that he’s a paragon of reason compared to the movie’s villains. Add in an iconic performance by Christopher Lee and you have a most literal cult classic!

Cat People (1942)

Cat People

Justina Bonilla: This is a hauntingly captivating and influential film by Val Lewton, one of the godfathers of early Horror. He was mostly known for his heavy use of shadows and the creation of the modern jump scare. Cat People follows Irena, a young Serbian woman, in modern New York City who falls in love and marries Oliver, an American man. However, the marriage is doomed from the beginning, because Irena believes a family legend that she is cursed to turn into a panther and kill if she is angered or aroused . . . sexually. Oliver confides in Alice, his assistant, and the two begin a relationship which spirals the three down a path of death and destruction. This psychological horror and its atmosphere of impending doom and tragedy intertwines the legends of the old world with our modern society—a movie that, no matter how many times I see it, still sends shivers down my spine.

The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook

Isa Bulnes-Shaw: Every culture has its own unique version of “the boogeyman.” The Babadook gives a specific name, face, and even a top hat to this elusive figure. It’s through this story that we realize the monster truly haunting us all is the inescapable darkness and grief left to fester within ourselves. Since watching it in 2014 (and thereby discovering The Frida Cinema through it), the film remains one of my all-time favorites. By establishing its lore through a pop-up book, Jennifer Kent crafts a gorgeous combination of realism and German Expressionist fairy tale to express a mother’s torment and loss that resonates with me to my core.  Everyone meets Mr. Babadook at some point in their lives–some of us sooner than others. One thing’s for sure: once you see what’s underneath, you won’t be able to forget.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Martin Angelo: An often-overlooked little gem from 2010 that should be required viewing for any die-hard Guillermo Del Toro fan, Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark fits perfectly into that twisted, black forest fairy tale sensibility we know and love.  The superb creature design of the tooth fairies, (not the benevolent dollar-giving kind, but more so the ravenous tooth-eating monstrous kind), have to be owed to Del Toro’s influence as a producer. It’s an atmospheric, albeit traditional movie that’s equal parts creepy and entrancing, with some good performances from some solid actors. This one deserves a second look.  

The VVitch (2015)

The VVitch

Mina Rhee: My favorite folk horror film is The VVitch.  Set in 1630, it’s about a Puritan family that faces the terror foretold by their religious zeal when they are cast out to live in isolation at the edge of the woods. As their crops die and children go missing, the family must reckon with the questions of both physical and spiritual survival, as paranoia about manifestations of sin both outside and inside the home set in. Subtitled “A New England Folktale”, the movie explores how religion can make the horror of the outside unknown intensely personal, especially when it deals with female sexuality. The film insists on historical realism, complete with dialogue taken from historical documents, and sparse direction that make the supernatural elements more unnerving when they creep in. Marking an impressive film debut from writer and director Robert Eggers, The VVitch is an assured and haunting vision of religious devotion curdling into hysteria.

The Other (1972)

The Other

Sean Woodard: Set in a sleepy Connecticut farming community in 1935, The Other follows two twins, Niles and Holland, who learn something called “the great game” from their Russian grandmother. But, their idyllic summer is shaken when people begin dying in mysterious accidents. While primarily known as a psychological horror film, I’d argue The Other also qualifies as folk horror, because its elements of superstition and pastoral setting add to the overall atmosphere as the narrative builds up to its shocking twist.


Honorable Mentions

  • Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)
  • I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
  • Night of the Demon (1957)
  • Kwaidan (1964)
  • Plague of the Zombies (1966)
  • Viy (1967)
  • The Devil Rides Out (1968)
  • Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)
  • Kuroneko (1971)
  • Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
  • Children of the Corn (1984)
  • Pumpkinhead (1988)
  • Candyman (1992)
  • A Field in England (2013)
  • Lords of Salem (2013)
  • Krampus (2015)
  • Apostle (2018)
  • Midsommar (2019)
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Floral Park Neighborhood Association
Floral Park Neighborhood Association

As any non-profit will tell you, it takes a lot of work to solicit support – particularly during a major campaign – so there really is nothing like receiving completely unsolicited correspondence letting you know your organization’s efforts have been noted and appreciated, and that it has been selected to receive a grant in the effort of ensuring its mission continues to be met.

Earlier this month, we received such a letter from Santa Ana’s Floral Park Neighborhood Association, announcing The Frida Cinema had been selected as one of four non-profit beneficiaries of their annual Community Grants. At a wonderful afternoon ceremony, The Frida Cinema joined fellow non-profits WISEPlace, Santa Ana Police Cadets and Explorers, and Second Chance OC in receiving a $1,000 grant each from the citizens of Rose Park. Moreover, the neighborhood association handed out grants to fifteen Santa Ana high schoolers in recognition of notable philanthropic accomplishments. As the presenters explained, this has been an annual tradition for over a decade, and rather than look at GPA or grades, but the association selects students who have spent years of service as volunteers, or who took the initiative to launch a project intended to have a beneficial impact to their community.

We thank Floral Park Neighborhood Association for recognizing and supporting the efforts of non-profit organizations and invested future leaders, and for their wonderful and generous support of our mission!

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Summer of '69
Summer of '69

That time when Bambi met Godzilla

“If a young couple goes to the park with a blanket and some food and have a picnic, that’s a G-rating. When they bring a bottle of wine along, then get under the blanket, that’s a PG-rating. If they bring no blanket, no food, but they have a picnic anyway… That’s an R-rating.”Jane Fonda, summarizing the MPAA’s new film rating system, introduced shortly before the Summer of ’69.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had just implemented its own film rating system. Recent films like Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker (1964) and Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) had edged the oppressive—and increasingly obsolete—Motion Picture Production Code closer to irrelevance. Then MGM released Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (1966) without any MPAA approval. Competition from non-US films and TV—and the growing American counterculture—compelled the MPAA to abandon the Production Code altogether.

The Summer of ’69 — A Climate Unprecedented

“Young directors knew something that [Hollywood studio execs] didn’t know, which was, maybe, what the audiences were looking for. And so there was this climate which made it possible for me to make a lot of movies which I know I couldn’t get made now.”Paul Mazursky, director of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)

Hollywood studios had been making big-budget, star-driven films that fewer people were coming to see. Hello Dolly and Paint Your Wagon were irrelevant to a growing segment of their audience—younger people who were more concerned with the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the Women’s Movement. They turned to younger filmmakers, who could connect them with an audience they had mostly ignored.

… And connect is exactly what these new directors, from the US and other countries, did. The era of the film auteur—highlighted in the 2003 documentary A Decade Under the Influencemay or may not have officially kicked-off in the Summer of ’69, but some of the period’s most memorable and successful films did. Throughout July and August, The Frida Cinema will screening some of these legendary films.


Peter Collinson’s The Italian Job
(July 1st – 6th)

Summer of '69: The Italian Job

“You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” — Charlie Croker (Michael Caine)

Considered by many—along with Blowup—to be the film most evocative of 1960s London, The Italian Job is perhaps the British caper film. From its way-cool Quincy Jones soundtrack to costumes which Nik Higgins of Future Movies claims make Austin Powers’ wardrobe appear “drab and grey,” The influence of The Italian Job in our culture cannot be overlooked: at least two remakes, a video game, and countless imitations and parodies.


Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock: The Director’s Cut
(July 13th & 14th)

Summer of '69: Woodstock

“The warning that I’ve received—you may take it with however many grains of salt you wish—that the brown acid that they’re circulating around us is not, specifically, too good.”

What would a retrospective about the Summer of ’69 be without Woodstock, the most impactful music festival in American music history, as well as the pinnacle of the 1960s counterculture movement? The Frida Cinema will be screening the definitive director’s cut of the iconic documentary. OK so what if the film actually came out in 1970?


Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch
(July 15th – 21st)

The Wild Bunch

“We all dream of being a child again, even the worst of us. Perhaps the worst most of all.” — Don José (Chano Urueta)

Regarded by many as Peckinpah’s finest film, The Wild Bunch mixes the graphic violence of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde with innovative cinematography and editing techniques. It is classic revisionist western, critical of contemporary American society and values as it follows a group of aging bandits whose way of life is slipping away.


Teruo Ishii’s Horrors of Malformed Men
(July 19th & 20th)

Horrors of Malformed Men

“A genuine holy grail of Japanese genre cinema” — Ian Jane, RockShockPop.com

Withdrawn from cinemas by its own studio after its original scandalous release nearly fifty years ago, Horrors of Malformed Men is among the very best screen interpretations of ero-guro (“erotic grotesque”) author Edogawa Rampo’s macabre brand of horror-fantasy fiction, and a unique oddity of Japanese cult cinema.


John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy
(July 22nd – 27th)

Midnight Cowboy

“I’m WALKIN’ here!” — Ratzo Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman)

A picaresque story of friendship that captured a city in crisis and sparked a new era of Hollywood movies, Midnight Cowboy was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning three for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is the only X-Rated film in history to win a Best Picture Oscar. The MPAA’s X-rating would not carry its close association with pornography until the success of 1972’s Deep Throat. Today Midnight Cowboy is rated R.


George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
(July 28th – 30th)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

“I couldn’t do that. Could you do that? Why can they do it? Who are those guys?” — Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman)

Far ahead of its time, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was initially panned by critics due to its unusual pacing set to an anachronistic soundtrack and how it dismantled the mythos of the outlaw by showing a pair of men alternating between panicked and silly. Despite the lukewarm critical reception, the film went on to win four Academy Awards, including for William Goldman’s screenplay and Hal David and Burt Bacharach’s original song, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”


Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider
(August 5th – 10th)

Easy Rider

“You know, this used to be a helluva good country.” — George Hanson (Jack Nicholson)

A distorted reflection of the American Dream, centered on a life free from attachment, Easy Rider—filled with reefer smoke, LSD, and an avant-garde examination of the decimation of counterculture—is essential viewing to understand the evolution of cinema.


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Frailty: Otis the Axe

“Perhaps only a first-time director, an actor who does not depend on directing for his next job, would have had the nerve to make this movie. It is uncompromised. It follows its logic right down into hell.” — from Roger Ebert’s 4-star review of Frailty (2001), screening at The Frida Cinema July 8-9.

Frailty: Otis the Axe

The great comedian Carol Liefer used to share how she maintained her personal space when flying:
[Random Airline Passenger]: “Is someone sitting here?”
[Carol]: “Nope. No one. Except… The Lord.”

Most of us, faced with a genuine in-your-face true-believer, tend to take a step or twenty back. How does one deal with a person like that? In Bill Paxton’s masterfully crafted 2001 thriller Frailty, Fenton and Adam Meiks are literally awakened in the middle of the night and given no choice but to deal with a person like that… their widower father (Paxton).

In a story the adult Fenton (Matthew McConaughey) spins to FBI Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe), Dad (we never learn Dad Meiks’ first name) brought the boys life-changing news that night. An angel visited him at work and tasked him and his two sons with “destroying” demons who walk the Earth in human form—providing Dad with a list of names as well as some rather biblically revealed tools with which to divine the crimes of—then murder—people in God’s name. Younger son Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) is on board right away, while Fenton (Matthew O’Leary) suspects that Dad has lost his mind.

Revealing anything that happens after this point is a spoiler risk.

A Short Yet Solid Legacy

Frailty: A job offer like no other
A job offer like no other…

Frailty was Paxton’s debut as a feature film director. His untimely death in 2017 left movie fans wondering what other marvelous films he could have made. It’s hard to think of many directors who managed to establish a rock-solid body of work with a single film… But then Frailty is that sort of film.

Brent Hanley’s screenplay topped Minority Report, The Ring, and Signs to win the 2002 Bram Stoker Award. It could have easily, in the wrong hands, been rendered a campy and unintentionally comical mess. Paxton wisely decided to handle the uncomfortable subject matter–two children forced to participate in murder–with absolute sincerity; Dad could have gone as over-the-top as Jack Torrance in The Shining, but Johnny’s not coming to Thurman, Texas. Instead, Paxton portrayed him as a hard-working, responsible parent. He just happens to be abducting and murdering people in the service of God. Dad’s integrity regarding the family’s new line of “work” is such that he has to sit Adam down for a morality chat after Adam claims God told him to add a school bully to their demon list.

It is this sincerity the script absolutely requires for Frailty to work on any level. The gruesome ax-murder violence occurs mostly offscreen, the emphasis instead placed upon the profound and lasting psychological effects these events leave on the young boys.

Frailty: Fenton and Otis
This is not what Daddy raised me for!

Frailty and going “Old School”

Frailty makes little effort to conceal its influences. Hints of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter abound. Paxton went so far as to eschew modern special effects like CGI in favor of the “old-school” techniques of those earlier directors. The modest post-Columbine, post-9/11 budget a too-spooked-to-take-risks Hollywood granted the production of Frailty gave Paxton and veteran cinematographer Bill Butler (The Conversation, Jaws) a mandate: to come up with inexpensive, convincing methods of portraying, for instance, an angelic visitation, Dad’s visions of his victim’s crimes when he lays hands on them, or even the cuts back to the interior of Agent Doyle’s car where adult Fenton tells his story on a rainy Texas night.

When The Frida Cinema staff asked me to pick a film for July, I immediately suggested Frailty because it is a superb film and because it is often overlooked despite its critical praise… but mostly because it is totally creepy in a way most horror/mystery/thrillers totally miss in the 21st century. It gets under the skin, upends reality, and leaves its audience with much to discuss… over the stiff drinks they might require after seeing it.

Frailty will be screening at The Frida Cinema July 8-9.

“I’ve never seen a movie quite like Frailty. It’s unique, thought-provoking, edge-of-the-seat entertainment.” — Stephen King

“Electrifying. A tale of madness and elemental evil which keeps you guessing until the very last shot.” — James Cameron

Frailty is the most frightening horror picture I’ve seen since The Shining. It kept me on the edge of my seat begging for mercy.” — Sam Raimi 

Frailty: Dad takes the boys to demon-slaying school

Read Roger Ebert’s full 4-star review of Frailty

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The Top 15 Fathers You May Meet at the Movies

Oh dads. You gotta love ‘em. They’re there for us by giving advice on life’s obstacles, putting bandages on our boo-boos, and sometimes being really annoying—like forcing us to go on road trips, be assassins, or join their shadowy organization.

While the month of June and Father’s Day have been when we celebrate dads and their contributions to our lives with ties and tool sets and macaroni art, film has been celebrating fathers since its earliest beginnings. No matter what kind of dad you have, cinema has some time-honored tropes it uses to portray them. Check out the 15 fathers you’ll meet at the movies and their best representations.


1. “The Father Figures” — Alfred Pennyworth, any Batman incarnation

Shut up, you’re not my real dad! Actually he kind of is, for all the love, care, and guidance these types of characters provide. My personal favorite is Alfred of the Batman franchise (it was too tough to choose between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, and Dumbledore puts Harry in all kinds of danger). After his parents are brutally murdered, Alfred steps in to care for the young master Wayne, as well as mentor and assist him with his deeds as the Dark Knight of Gotham City.


2. “Mob Fathers” — Don Vito Corleone, The Godfather

Countless mafiosos have graced cinema screens since the Golden Age of Hollywood, but arguable none are more infamous than Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. Corleone was a man who truly loved his family—sure, he may have guilted his son into taking over the violent family business, but at least he was a doting father and family man, unlike how Michael would turn out to be.


3. “Disturbed Daddies” — Big Daddy/Damon Macready, Kickass

Uh oh, these daddies have sure got a screw loose! They don’t quite fit into the evil category, but they are certainly ill-advised in their child rearing methods. Favor goes to Nicolas Cage as the disturbed Big Daddy/Damon Macready in Kickass, a performance that combines the best of both Nics—manic and unsettlingly calm.


4. “Horrifying Horror Dads” — Jack Torrance, The Shining

Terry O’Quinn in The Stepfather (1987) is a close second, but my favorite horror movie dad has got to be Jack Torrance from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Anchoring one of the best horror films that also puts the fatherhood aspect front and center, this horrifying father is one for the books! (Literally, he plays a writer in a film based on a Stephen King novel).


5. “‘So Embarrassing’ Dads” — Goofy, A Goofy Movie

Gracing both the silver and color screens, of course Goofy is the biggest goof of all cinema dads. Wholesome, loving, and one of the best on-screen representations of single fatherhood, A Goofy Movie is one of my all-time favorite Disney and father-son movies.


6. “Sad Dads” — Lance Clayton, World’s Greatest Dad

When I first saw Robin Williams’ portrayal in this bittersweet film addressing teen suicide and the trials of fatherhood, it broke my heart. The film is now even more poignant on all kinds of levels since its star’s untimely death. Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, World’s Greatest Dad is one of Williams’ more underrated films and contains one of my favorite performances from this colorful comedian’s filmography. (Plus, in Mrs. Doubtfire he was technically stalking his family, sooo . . .)


7. “Family-Man Dads” — Clark Griswold, all National Lampoon’s Vacation movies

There are, luckily, so many examples of all-around good dads in cinema who just want to make their families happy. The father from Life Is Beautiful, for example, is so endearing, but when I think of a true family man, I default to Clark Griswold of National Lampoon’s Vacation movies. After the success of the original where Clark attempts to get his family across the country to “America’s Favorite Family Fun Park”, Wally World, the character and his family became so beloved that the movie sparked 6 sequels, all equally charming and good family friendly fun.


8. “Gone But Not Forgotten Dads” — Mufasa, The Lion King

The category may be a tearjerker, but there are a lot of portrayals of dads reaching out from the great beyond in film—either from the spirit world or through memories. Due for a live-action release this July, The Lion King takes home this category, with Mufasa’s death (spoiler alert) prompting a coming-of-age adventure for his son who too would complete the circle of life into fatherhood.  This dad is voiced by James Earl Jones, who appears as a father in film and on this list multiple times.


9. “Accidental Fathers” — Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg, Ted Danson, 3 Men and a Baby

A movie starring three of the ‘80s most likable Hollywood ‘it guys,’ 3 Men and a Baby chronicles the mishaps of a trio of perpetual bachelors struggling to take care of a baby girl who was left on their doorstep by one of their romantic flings. A movie so chock-full of affable charm, it is like watching 3 Paul Rudds learning how to feed, burp, and dress their new found precious bundle of joy. 3 Men and a Baby, directed by one of my favorite actors of all time, the great Leonard Nimoy (yes, Spock), is the quintessential example of the accidental fatherhood trope.


10. “Overprotective Dads” — Jack Byrnes, Meet the Parents franchise

This category is usually where we can find the cute if not unhealthy father-daughter relationships most of the time. It could be argued that Ariel’s dad of the Little Mermaid was pretty darn overprotective, and Marlin of Finding Nemo wouldn’t even let Nemo go play with his friends unattended at first, but I would say that Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) from Meet the Parents is the most overprotective—he does secretly subject her fiance, Greg Focker (Ben Stiller), to a lie detector test in his underground bunker after all, and the former CIA agent is “always watching.”


11. “Devious (Evil) Dads” — Darth Vader, Star Wars

As far as film history goes, this category is stacked! Not quite horror and not intrinsically disturbed, this category is more for dads like Dr. Evil, Thanos, and Daniel Plainview; however, the most evil dad of them all—though arguably well-meaning since in the end he somewhat redeems himself and at the heart of it all he really just wanted his son to succeed—is of course Star Wars’ very own Darth Vader. Voiced, again, by James Earl Jones (cue sinister-sounding heavy breathing), his famous mic drop line, “No, I am your father,” is one of the most quoted (and misquoted) lines in cinema history.


12. “Action Dads” — Liam Neeson, Taken

With dads like John McClane (Die Hard franchise) and John Matrix (Commando) running around, this category has some strong and muscle-y competition. However, the guy who has really been all about his kid in recent years and does it all without wasting time on cheeky one-liners or putting on camo face paint is Liam Neeson in the Taken movies. He has a very particular set of skills, and he uses them in his intense mission of finding his daughter with basically no leads except one ominous phone call. Impressive.


13. “Wise Dads” — Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

I would argue that the main goal and purpose of all real dads is to impart as much wisdom as possible, while providing moral structure and leadership to their children in order to navigate the world they live in. There are many examples of this in film, but none more important to me than Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. In a trial really about the widespread racism that plagues the deep south, Atticus teaches his children that all people are created equal and should be treated as such, while also being supportive of their personal development and sympathetic to their needs.


14. “Absentee Fathers” — Henry Jones, Sr., Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

“Did I ever tell you to eat up? Go to bed? Wash your ears? Do your homework? No. I respected your privacy, and I taught you self-reliance.” Although Henry Jones technically did not abandon Indie, he was estranged from the franchise’s title character. While his tough style of child rearing may just have instilled a sense of independence in his son, he still probably should have hugged the kid every now and then. At least they share a bonding adventure together later in life, in my favorite installment of the franchise, Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.


15. “Super Dads” — Mr. Incredible, The Incredibles

When superheroes first began hitting the screen, they were primarily single—makes sense for their line of work. Recent depictions of superheroes have gotten more complex portrayals, leaning on exploring the human side of their existence, particularly in the Marvel movies with the great Iron Man becoming a father in Avengers: Endgame.They’re pretty great and all, but the best superhero dad is definitely Mr. Incredible in Pixar’s The Incredible movies. Sure, he lets his kids in on the action against dangerous foes, but makes saving the world a family affair does seem to be a great bonding experience for the family of five, who are each endowed with their own special powers.

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Happy Pride!  Join us for seven upcoming film screenings in celebration of our LGBT community, & OC LGBT Pride 2019!

This year’s OC LGBT Pride Parade and Festival returns to Downtown Santa Ana on Saturday, June 22nd!

The Frida Cinema is proud to participate in the festivities by presenting a series of classic films over the next month – many in partnership with wonderful organizations – ranging from cult classics that keep LGBT audiences howling decades later, to remastered documentaries that broke new ground in sharing LGBT culture and experiences to new audiences (at long last – Paris is Burning!) to two post-screening live podcast recordings! And of course, catch us (or join us!) in the parade, and visit our booth in the festival! Visit www.prideoc.com/ for more information about this year’s event!

It all starts Thursday, June 13th with 9 to 5!


9 to 5

Thursday, June 13th at 7pm.
Tickets & more info.

Men Alive – Orange County Gay Men’s Chorus presents a special fundraiser screening of director Colin Higgin’s hilarious – and groundbreaking – 1980 comedy classic starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin as three office employees who wage an epic war with “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” Mr. Hart (Dabney Coleman) in their fight for equal workplace treatment.


To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar

Thursday, June 20th at 7:30pm.
Tickets and more info.

As part of Pride Week, a series of events hosted by OC Pride in anticipation of this year’s OC LGBT Pride Parade & Festival, flashback to 1995 with this surprisingly poignant comedy classic starring Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo!


Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers

Friday, June 21st at 8:30pm.
Tickets & more info.

Join popular LGBT Horror podcast Blumhouse’s Attack of the Queerwolf for their first live show! – a screening of 1988’s Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers, immediately followed by a live episode recording!

Throw on your shortest summer shorts and prepare to