For the truly far gone movie buff, it’s the most fun show in the Dallas area. Here’s the concept real quick: the movie is always a secret, totally unannounced until likable turbo-geek host James Wallace introduces it to the crowd. All you know when you walk in is that it’s a vintage 35mm print from the Alamo’s hidden Batcave of rare horror flicks, B-movies, sex comedies, exploitation, shockers, oddities and other stuff that makes you reluctant to bring a date (AGFA stands for The American Genre Film Archive). The show happens on the first (sometimes the second) Monday of every month. I’m the bald guy drinking beer in an aisle seat. Here’s the list of movies they’ve shown, with my bald, beer-drinking commentary.
1. BEETLEJUICE (1988)
OCTOBER 2013. The beginning, a safe choice. The Alamo in Richardson had just opened and they didn’t want to scare their neighbors at the T.J. Maxx just yet.
2. WILLOW (1988)
NOVEMBER 2013. Still keeping it safe, unless you’re afraid of dwarfs and/or Val Kilmer.
3. RAW FORCE (1982)
JANUARY 2014 (they skipped December). Now, shit gets crazy. The series settles itself here as a place for weird obscurities rarely seen on the big screen. This barn-burner of a film mixes about eight grindhouse genres into one over-the-top feast of sleaze, as shown that night on glorious faded 35mm. It’s got zombies, piranhas, ninjas and cages full of naked girls. In other words, it brings some of the good things in life. Host James Wallace still tells the story sometimes about a guy who walked out on this one and complained that it was “Asian porn”. One of the most fun Monday nights I’ve ever had. I’ve been hooked on the Secret Screenings ever since.
4. NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE (1986)
FEBRUARY 2014. If you grew up in the 80s and always ignored this at the video store because you were a little iffy about an action movie that stars John Stamos, Vanity and Gene Simmons, the Alamo let you know this night what you were missing. It’s a should-be camp classic with a great awful theme song.
5. JOYSTICKS (1983)
MARCH 2014. I don’t think there’s anything more 80s than a sex comedy set in a video arcade. When you get right down to it though, this is just an update of the old 60s “beach party” movies in which a group of kids get together to save their hangout spot from being closed down by adults who don’t get it. This just has less sand and more breasts, less Frankie Avalon and more Pac-Man.
6. NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984)
APRIL 2014. Any night is a good night for Night of the Comet. This is easily the most well-known film of the 2014 Secret Screenings, but no less welcome for it.
7. KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977)
MAY 2014. The first Secret Screening that’s not from the 1980s. Then again, what’s more timeless than William Shatner fighting killer spiders?
8. BLACK FORCE (1975)
JUNE 2014. Blaxploitation kung-fu at its low-budget finest. It’s got TWO opening credits sequences and about a hundred kicks to the face.
9. MIAMI CONNECTION (1987)
JULY 2014. Is there a better way to ease into the summer than with this loony tunes martial arts crime story musical? And is there a better song to have stuck in your head all of July than “Friends” by Dragon Sound? I submit that there is not. Like all Great Bad Movies, Miami Connection can bring a house down. You haven’t seen this until you’ve seen it with a crowd. I was brushing off pieces of the roof from my shoulders as I left. It’s nothing less than the best film ever made that addresses the problem of ninja drug dealers in Orlando and how one band of 80s neon rockers with a positive message and kung-fu stage outfits can make a difference.
10. TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971)
AUGUST 2014. Spanish zombies roaming old European castles and biting peoples’ arms off. The print shown this night was the American re-edit called Revenge from Planet Ape. There are no apes in the film, but the US distributor at the time thought that the burly, smelly-looking zombies here kinda sorta looked like apes if you squint and are desperate to cash in on the Planet of the Apes movies, which were popular at the time. So—what the hell, why not?—the Americans chopped up the movie to explain the zombies as super-smart apes who tried to take over the world three thousand years ago, but lost the war against the humans. Now, they’re back from the grave and they want blood. And maybe bananas. For the Alamo Drafthouse, this was a clever tie-in with the new Planet of the Apes reboot sequel out at the time.
11. CLASS OF 1984 (1982)
SEPTEMBER 2014. Here we mark the “back to school” season with one of the nastiest high school movies ever. So many movies make high school look like fun. It’s nice to see one that goes over the top in making it look like Hell on Earth. Great hateful bad guys in this.
12. TRICK OR TREAT (1986)
OCTOBER 2014. The finest heavy metal Halloween high school movie of 1986. Straight from the 1980s time capsule, this comes from a period when the occult influence in rock music was a serious media controversy. Every daytime talk show had an episode about it. Every TV and radio evangelist looking to make a name spent time exposing backmasking and hidden symbols on record covers. It’s ripe material for a horror movie… and a comedy. This film does both. It’s a barrel of trashy laughs. The best joke is Ozzy Osbourne cast in a small part as a rock-hating Christian TV talking head.
13. GALAXY OF TERROR (1981)
NOVEMBER 2014. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar was a big-budget outer space movie that opened that month and, keeping with the spirit, the Secret Screening went into cosmos, too, with this Roger Corman-produced sorta-classic about space travelers who meet up with some nasty aliens. The budget: about $200, I think. It’s not a great film, but it has a cool cult movie cast that includes Sid Haig, Robert Englund, Ray Walston and Grace Zabriskie. It also boasts a fine alien-on-girl rape scene to please the financial backers who wanted some sex in between the deaths.
14. THE MAGIC CHRISTMAS TREE (1964)
DECEMBER 2014. The Secret Screening’s Christmas Spectacular. Probably the most loony tunes Christmas film of all-time. The super-rare 35mm print, so faded that it made this color film look almost black-and-white, burned up in the projector AT THE VERY END of the film, which was sort of awesome (you don’t see that anymore in this digital 21st century). It’s a true low-budget good time and barely an hour long SO the kind folks at the Drafthouse gifted us with a SECOND movie that night, which is so secret that I’m afraid to reveal it here. THREE CLUES: 1) It was screened off of a bootleg VHS tape original recorded from television in December 1978, 2) it’s the movie that proves that Jabba the Hutt and Jefferson Starship both exist in the same universe and 3) George Lucas hates it.
15. AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION (1987)
JANUARY 2015. The debacle over The Interview was major news. Big theater chains pulled out of showing it, small theater chains (including the Alamo Drafthouse) stuck by it, but the film still got temporarily yanked into limbo. The Alamo Drafthouse responded to the censorship by programming repertory screenings of Team America: World Police at most of their locations. Then that got cancelled by the bigwigs, too. The Secret Screening’s response: American Ninja 2. O’er the ramparts we watched. This movie brings even more action and makes even less sense than the first one. In other words, it’s exactly what a good sequel should be.
16. THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN (AKA THE LAUGHING WOMAN, AKA FEMINA RIDENS) (1969)
FEBRUARY 2015. Fifty Shades of Grey for the Secret Screening crowd, most of whom will never see Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s an awesome hyper-stylized Euro-trash thriller and a rare film for its time to dive headfirst into the world of S&M. The story unfolds in fine 1969 psychedelic fashion with wild dream sequences, garish sets full of unsubtle innuendo and a sexed-up music score by maestro Stelvio Cipriani, whose very name sounds like soft fingers stroking your skin. One of my favorite discoveries of the series.
17. GHOULIES (1985)
MARCH 2015. Because the average age of the Secret Screening regulars is probably about mid-30s, 80s films tend to fire up a little extra enthusiasm in the room. And so this PG-13 creature feature from back in the day (screened on March 2, the exact thirtieth anniversary of its release in 1985, so says host James Wallace) was greeted with much love.
18. RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975)
APRIL 2015. A Satanic cult, lots of car crashes, a little country music, a few poisonous snakes and gratuitous motorcycle races. Sounds like a good way to start the spring.
19. THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974)
MAY 2015. A fast-paced Hammer/Shaw Brothers mix of horror and kung-fu that’s almost as action-packed and full of violent death as the Dallas freeways this rainy spring.
20. WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1970)
JUNE 2015: In recognition of the upcoming Jurassic Park sequel, the Secret Screening did the dinosaur thing their way with this sexy and entertaining prehistoric adventure from Hammer. This went over well with the room, even with every character in the movie speaking in caveman gibberish.
21. SHARK! (1969)
JULY 2015: The Secret Screening celebrates Shark Week with this late period Sam Fuller low-budget job that’s been much-maligned by critics and by Fuller himself. The room was a little cool to this one. Some wisecracks from a young Burt Reynolds got laughs, but this doesn’t offer the same gonzo fun as previous months. Still, it’s an oddball choice (it’s not a movie about sharks, for one thing) that’s perfectly in character with the Secret Screening series.
22. LADY TERMINATOR (1989)
AUGUST 2015: A little something special for the Richardson location Alamo Drafthouse’s second anniversary in the form of this very special Indonesian take-off on The Terminator. Our lady Terminator here kills guys during sex with a little evil spirit snake that lives in her vagina, guns down the entire Indonesian police force and soundly wins over the Secret Screening’s crowd of regulars who stumbled in from one of the hottest days of the summer so far. It’s a blood-splattered, poorly acted, teased-haired good time.
23. THE BLOB (1958)
SEPTEMBER 2015: The old 35mm print shown this night has lost its original Technicolor like I’ve lost my hair, but the movie itself holds up as a great Atomic Age time. The room dug this one. The Alamo’s repertory theme this month is Steven Spielberg movies and The Secret Screening, as usual, tackled it from left field with a film that every director of the 70s and 80s movie brat generation probably saw in its hugely profitable original run (in 1958, Spielberg was 12, which is the perfect age to see a flick about a killer jelly monster from space). Its influence shows in any film since that deals with kids in a picture perfect small town who witness a strange threat in the night, but no one believes them until all hell breaks loose.
24. THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)
OCTOBER 2015: R.I.P. Wes Craven and Happy Halloween with a rare 35mm print of this ageless shocker.
25. ROBOT JOX (1991)
NOVEMBER 2015: America vs. Russia for the Alaskan territory in the future. It’s basically a gladiator movie and a bastardized and butchered Illiad adaptation (note the Greek names of the three most pivotal characters), post-apocalypse style, where nations solve disputes through one-on-one robot fights, complete with spectators. It’s a little talky at times, but has some grand ridiculous moments. Stuart Gordon takes a break from H.P. Lovecraft to direct. Charles Band produces and his brand of camp is all over this, along with his penchant for ambitious “high-tech on a low-budget” effects.
26. SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY (1972)
DECEMBER 2015: The Secret Screening’s second annual double-feature Christmas extravaganza. Weird and fun as hell. First up was The Magic Christmas Tree, the 1964 no-budget suburban nightmare that they showed last year, but that turned to toast in the projector. To make up for that, they did it again this year (except with a non-flammable digital presentation). Why not? Christmas is about tradition. In any case, it was a mere appetizer for the fucked up feast of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. Consistently brain-damaged from start to finish, it’s the touching story of what happens when Santa Claus’s sleigh gets stuck in about one inch of sand on a Florida beach and the only one who can help him is a guy in the scariest bunny costume in movie history.
27. DARK STAR (1974)
JANUARY 2016: We KNEW it was going to be something that complemented the new Star Wars movie, but most of us figured that it would it be one of the many rip-off flicks that followed George Lucas’s original hit in the late 70s and early 80s. We were delightfully dead wrong and got John Carpenter’s great first film instead. It’s about some hippies who’ve been in space way too long and the humor is so deadpan that many audiences aren’t sure what to make of it. Forty-two years later not much has changed and the room was a little cool to this one, while Carpenter freaks like myself were holding in our piss. The Star Wars connection: Lead actor/co-writer/co-editor and special effects designer Dan O’Bannon eventually worked on the special effects for Star Wars, where he re-used this film’s hyper-drive effect (seriously, it’s the same effect in both movies).
28. DEMONS (1985)
FEBRUARY 2016. A crowd goes into a movie theater with no idea of what they’re going to see and have one wild night. To the Italian exploitation-meisters, that was a great idea for a horror film. At the Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson, it was just another Secret Screening. This fast-paced gorefest was a winner on an unseasonably warm February night.
29. THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE! (1972)
MARCH 2016. A wordy title for a wordy movie. Still, there are some good laughs here and grindhouse legend director Andy Milligan is a perfect fit for The Secret Screening.
30. CRITTERS (1972)
APRIL 2016. Next time someone asks me what the Secret Screening is like, I’m gonna tell ’em that it’s the kind of show that celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of Critters. This also happens to be the thirtieth Secret Screening. So, the stars were aligned for this to be a good time, which it was. Major crowd-pleaser here.
31. NEEDLES OF DEATH (1976)
MAY 2016. Kung Fu for a comfortably cool spring evening. In what might be a first for the Screen Screening, NO ONE in the room claimed to have seen this before. It’s so obscure, even its IMDB page is skimpy on information. It’s not much of a buried treasure, but it does its job.
32. INVADERS FROM MARS (1986)
JUNE 2016. The upcoming Independence Day sequel seemed like a good occasion to break out Tobe Hooper’s entertaining alien invasion remake. This month also happens to be the thirtieth anniversary of its release. The crowd of mostly people in their mid-30s, always up for the 80s cult classics, greeted it warmly.
33. INVASION USA (1985)
JULY 2016. Two invasions in a row at the Secret Screening! Last month was Martians; this one is a terrorist group lead by one ruthless Russian who shows up on American shores to destroy our way of life (as well as our malls, amusement parks, school buses, suburban homes and Latino night clubs). No need to worry, though. America’s got Chuck Norris. The foreigners don’t stand a chance. This easily sets the record for the most explosions in a Secret Screening movie. It may also have more explosions than any movie in the 80s. Or any other movie ever, for that matter.
34. Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982)
AUGUST 2016. Almost every Larry Cohen film would be a good fit for The Secret Screening, with this horror/crime movie being the most perfect. Michael Moriarty’s unhinged performance deserves a crowd reaction, as do Cohen’s oddball jokes. A big hit with the room.
35. TEENAGE MOTHER (1967)
SEPTEMBER 2016. If I have to watch real life birth footage, I’d rather do it with the Secret Screening crowd (the show’s biggest turn-out yet). We winced, moaned, squirmed, averted our eyes and laughed nervously—and we did it TOGETHER. We got through it. We survived. This was a wild one. Before this night, if you’d asked me to guess what B-movie genre we’d least likely see covered at the Secret Screening, I might have said the old-fashioned “sex hygiene” flick, those exploitation cheapies—they go back to the 1940s—barely disguised as “educational” films and that ALWAYS culminate with harrowing medical clips of either childbirth or venereal diseases (or both). And I would have been wrong because this 1967 flick turns out to be a real classic of the formula, on a 35mm print that’s survived a life in the grindhouses and rural roadshows of 40-50 years ago pretty well. Screened on LABOR DAY. Take a moment to appreciate the subtle joke.
36. NIGHTMARE (AKA NIGHTMARE IN A DAMAGED BRAIN) (1981)
OCTOBER 2016. In the spirit of the season, we knew that it was going to be a horror movie, but nobody knew it would be THIS little beast. Only a few people in the packed room had even seen it before. On a film print washed in the grime of grindhouses past, we got a trippy take on the mind of a psycho killer. As slasher movies go, this is more Maniac than Friday the 13th. It brings the oceans of splatter and the bad vibes that earned it a prominent place on the old UK Video Nasties list and a warm reception at the Secret Screening thirty-five years later. It played to a rapt room.
37. BLOOD FREAK (1972)
NOVEMBER 2016. There aren’t a lot of Thanksgiving horror movies out there, so this low-budget, anti-drug, hippie slasher flick about a killer half-man/half-turkey will have to do. And it does it fine. It’s a must-see for trash fiends. Heavy rain in Dallas made for a smaller crowd than usual, but the stalwarts who showed up had a good time.
38. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)
DECEMBER 2016. This classic had to happen eventually here. It plays extra evil on 35mm in a theater. Phil Donahue and Siskel & Eggbert and the protesting parents of 1984 would not have been happy with this show, but the Secret Screening crowd dug it. The main character’s hairy ass got no response, surprisingly, but the creepy grandpa was a hit, and rightly so.
39. DRUNKEN TAI CHI (1984)
JANUARY 2017. The Secret Screening’s second dose of Asian Kung Fu and its first subtitled film (hilariously clumsy, old school subtitles, for which the harried Cantonese-to-English translator cared little for syntax). It’s a chopsocky comedy. Every action scene is also someone’s pratfall. It’s light, fluffy and nearly plotless. The over-the-top gags didn’t win over the whole room, but some of us got a charge from this blast from the grindhouse past. Donnie Yen kicks ass and gets his ass kicked in the lead role, which provided a neat tie-in with the latest Star Wars movie (in which Yen also has a part).
40. PENITENTIARY III (1987)
FEBRUARY 2017. Host James Wallace spent at least five minutes telling us about the greatness of this month’s selection Penitentiary II (yes, II). We were all ready to hear the memorable funk score, see the nasty villainous turn by Ernie Hudson, bask in Mr. T’s vibes and bathe in the bloodbath that Wallace nicely described. Then the lights went down, the projector fired up, the screen was aglow and—uh, it wasn’t Penitentiary II. The theater got sent the wrong print in mislabeled cans. They got Penitentiary III! And no one knew about it until the film was rolling. NO BIG DEAL, THOUGH. The Secret Screening is about weirdness. And Penitentiary III was a perfect fit. This movie is berserk. It’s the only film I know of to feature a (great) fight scene in a jail cell between a lean welterweight-ish boxer and a musclebound Kung Fu dwarf. Then there’s soap opera star Anthony Geary’s terrific psycho act as the rich gangster who runs the cellblock and has it in for new inmate Leon Isaac Kennedy. It’s not boring for a minute. It kept us drinking and not even thinking about the night’s big mix-up. One of the highlights of the series so far.
41. SWEET SUGAR (1972)
MARCH 2017. The Secret Screening goes back to prison, but this time with the ladies. This movie brings all of the essential ingredients of the genre. Third-world setting? Check. Gorgeous cast? You bet. Sex with the leering male guards? Yep. Lesbian scene? It’s here. Sudden violence? Wimps won’t like this one. The Secret Screening crowd was all in though (well, except for that family of five that had to leave when the breasts started popping out.) Fun night!
42. THE WRAITH (1986)
APRIL 2017. It’s impossible for a movie to be too 80s for The Secret Screening. Synthesizers, drum machines and hair metal music are welcome. A villain with a mullet is just fine. Exploding Corvettes are great. Exploding punks are great, too. Good times and bad times at the teen hangout burger joint work for us. Plot twists that don’t make half a lick of sense are fine. And we’re happy to take Sherilyn Fenn in a bikini if you’re offering. This vintage VHS and cable TV classic makes the natural transition here to an AGFA Secret Screening classic.
43. PARENTS (1989)
MAY 2017. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day done the AGFA way with this queasy cult classic. One imagines that in 1989 this likely played to a lot of the wrong audiences, people lead on by the poster art that suggests something more light and who later walked out confused and sickened. In 2017, this couldn’t have played to a more RIGHT audience than the Secret Screening crowd, who had a great time with this movie’s bad time.
44. WONDER WOMEN (1973)
JUNE 2017. A slam-bang 70s action flick that features a gun-wielding, karate-kicking, mini-dress-wearing all-female death squad sounds like a perfect way to start the summer to me. Big crowd pleaser.
45. SHAKMA (1990)
JULY 2017. The night before the 4th of July is the perfect time for a killer monkey movie. I’ve been saying that for years.
46. SUMMER CAMP NIGHTMARE (1987)
AUGUST 2017. Downtrodden youth revolt and take over their summer camp by force and who could blame them? It’s run by an evil Chuck Connors, whose old Rifleman charisma has been replaced by weathered Grecian formula creepiness. Along the way, the film draws out a sometimes bloody allegory about how revolutions can fail when a regime topples and then other sects fight to replace it and end up imitating their former oppressor. It’s not quite Over the Edge, but it isn’t far removed from Massacre at Central High, another low-budget cult film that uses youth rebellion as an explicit political metaphor and that has a title that sounds like a slasher movie.
47. PRAYER OF THE ROLLERBOYS (1990)
SEPTEMBER 2017. Somebody needs to stop a gang of drug-dealing, roller-blading neo-fascists who wear baggy 90s suits in dystopian Los Angeles. Sounds like a job for Corey Haim to me. This is one of the Secret Screening’s rare excursions into the 90s (if just barely).
48. PiNOCCHIO’S BIRTHDAY PARTY (1973) and THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO (1971)
OCTOBER 2017. The Secret Screening’s 4th anniversary and maybe the weirdest show yet. Most of the room probably expected something horror-related on this warm October evening, but NOPE. We got a double-feature of obscure low-budget 70s Pinocchio movies instead. The first is your classic vintage papier-mache-and-puppets kiddie flick that, a few generations later, plays as a psychedelic stumble into a strange world. Take a moment to also appreciate the “birthday” theme. The second film was another excursion into the low-budget 70s independent film back alley, but this time with dick jokes and breasts galore. I think you can figure out why Pinocchio, he of the growing nose, is ripe for a sexploitation parody. It was a corny crowd pleaser.
49. THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (1977)
NOVEMBER 2017. Not a lot of pure comedies get projector time for the Secret Screening’s usual dose of exploitation and genre madness, but this John Landis classic fits right in—because it’s a spoof of exploitation movies and genre madness in the form of a comedy sketch revue. The fake trailer for “Catholic High School Girls in Trouble” looks exactly like something that New World Pictures would have really done. The kung fu parody, “A Fistful of Yen”, nails the surfaces and flavor of the martial arts films of the 70s that kept an eye trained on the Western audience. The intriguing thing is that these aren’t merely parodies of premises and characters; they’re also well-observed parodies of several different exploitation filmmaking styles (television commercials and corny old educational pieces are exploitation films in their own way). It’s a movie nerd’s comedy. It’s very funny when you’re watching it at home, but a total riot with a crowd who gets it. And the Secret Screening crowd got it. A fun night.
50. HOLLYWOOD VICE SQUAD (1986)
DECEMBER 2017. The sleazy streets of 1980s Hollywood on lovely 35mm on a mild December night. It’s a world of nothin’ but vice cops, pimps, pornographers, victims, nighttime neon and California sun. This movie heaps on the comic relief, but it’s consistently raunchy, which won over the crowd. A Christmas-related gag at the end ties it in with the season (big reaction from the room) and Carrie Fisher ties it in with the new Star Wars movie that some guy at the donut shop told me is coming out this same week.
51. SHAME OF THE JUNGLE (1975)
JANUARY 2018. If your New Year’s resolution is to see lots more trashy, ridiculous, mind-rotting films, the Secret Screening got you off to a good start here. The jokes in this X-rated animated Tarzan parody sex comedy are guaranteed to kill off brain cells and kill ’em good. Imagine the comics section of the old Playboy magazine turned into a feature. The crowd gave this one the very definition of “a smattering of applause” at the end, but the constant penis jokes–about 972 of ’em–got good laughs in my corner of the room.
52. FREEZE BOMB (1978)
FEBRUARY 2018. The Secret Screening was bound to get to Al Adamson eventually. He’s made snappier films than this ridiculous action job about a Kung fu cop versus a sadistic arms dealer over a Mr. Freeze weapon, but star Jim Kelly’s great screen presence, the groovy cosmic funk score and the only scene I know of in film history in which a turtle is used as a potential torture device got a lot of us to order another beer. Like all true grindhouse classics, this one has about 172 other titles. The print we watched was titled Freeze Bomb, but it’s most commonly known these days as Death Dimension.