Returning after a year away in 2011, The Shock and Awe All Night Grindhouse Movie Marathon enters its 6th year of entertaining curious audiences from late at night to the following morning with rare chances to view rare and cult films of different shapes, sizes, and genres. These films are so rare, in fact, that it often takes a full year just to program and fully source the rights to the 6 classic 16 and 35mm prints and between movie shorts that will be screening from 11:30pm until, you know, whenever the following morning.
This Saturday at 11:30pm, movie maestro Dion Conflict raids his personal archives for another round of cheesy horror, fun, prizes, banter, goofiness, scares, sales, and food in one of the most fun cinematic bashes in the city. Moving this year from The Fox Theatre in the Beaches to its sister cinema The Revue out in Roncesvalles (400 Roncesvalle Avenue, Toronto), the all night party will be headlined by the 1983 “some would say classic” Sleepaway Camp (which, you know, if you don’t know the ending, you should totally come) rounding out a program that also includes the cave dwelling epic What Waits Below, the episodic sketch comedy film The Groove Tube (with a very young Chevy Chase), the 1985 hip-hop musical curiosity Rappin’, the British grindhouser Horror Hospital, and the ever popular mystery film that audience members must swear an oath to never reveal even after the screening. Needless to say, with the rise of the digital age, saying that this will be the last time you’ll ever see any of these as film prints wouldn’t be much of an understatement.
We talked to Dion the day before it was all about to go down about the gap year, possibly going digital in the future, what surprises are in store, and each of this year’s films.
Dork Shelf: So what accounts for the one year gap between the fifth and the sixth instalments of Shock and Awe? Were the films this year that much harder to get ahold of?
Dion Conflict: I can say, actually, that with each Shock and Awe we’re trying to top what we did the last time, to have the final film always be something that’s better or harder to find, and also because personally I had to recoup from an injury and do physiotherapy for a year, so I just decided to kind of wait a little bit this time for Shock and Awe and just make sure that we had a film that was something that we could top. We’re never on cruise control, so that’s primarily the reasons why we went on a break.
And also, this year we move to a new location, which is great because a lot of people are coming from the central downtown area and it’s easier for them to get to. On top of that, The Revue has totally revamped their 16mm projectors and their sound, so we’re able to do that, as well.
DS: Do you have any fears that in this day and age with film stock slowly going out of style that you might have to go digital or is this something that ideally will always be a prints only affair?
DC: It’s absolutely a fear because I would be blind if I said I didn’t realize that a lot more theatres were installing digital. I mean, it’s harder to do in this kind of age. I’m not a huge fan of digital. If it’s a format that I can get at home, then for me I wonder why I would go to the theatre to see it. As long as there’s projectors and places around that can handle it, I want to continue to do Shock and Awe from original film prints. And that’s also part of the kind of allure of Shock and Awe. You’re seeing stuff that you can’t easily rent or download, and you’ll probably never be able to see a film print of it again. You’re just not going to see this stuff appear in theatres any time soon, and in many cases not at all or never again. Even with some of the prints being worn or brittle or snapping, sometimes they look so much better than anything you would see in any sort of digital presentation.
DS: Do you think at the same time that it might actually be somewhat freeing to do something digital based or would you possibly consider doing an all digital Shock and Awe for things you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise?
DC: That’s a really good question. You know, I would have to say that in certain elements, perhaps. The one thing that I can say about the digital revolution and coming from the mind of a filmmaker, is that actually things look somewhat decent now and you can film a lot of stuff without having a lot of money. Perhaps a Shock and Awe with more obscure and new digitally styled titles might be great. It’s something I would definitely have to think about, but my own personal archives right now are just overflowing with stuff that I’m waiting to have an audience kind of find it. That’s primarily my focus in the meantime.
DS: Before we get to the actual movies you’re showing this year, every time you put this on, there are always great shorts and specials between the movies and some great outside food and special things you won’t be able to buy anywhere else. What kind of surprises do you have in store for this year?
DC: We’re definitely having burritos because those always seem to be an audience favourite. There will definitely be pizza. Royal Jelly is a new thing they’ll be able to get. People who stay all the way until the end this year will get a gift. I also know that they were wanting to bring in some fresh fruit for the morning, because even though people that usually go to Shock and Awe spend a great deal of money at the snack bar, it’s good to offer some healthy alternatives, as well.
As far as the in-between show material, there’s some great… I don’t want to say “mystery reels,” but there’s some great short subjects. There’s actually a reel that we will be showing that’s of dubbed Italian mafia crime film trailers which I got from South Africa. And that’s the kind of stuff that you’ll never even see copies of. I was taking a look and I had never seen any of this stuff ever float to the surface, but it sure is interesting.
There’s also a great short subject that I was just laughing about and all I can say about it is that it has a lot of 60s fashion. There’s lots of little things like that. I also got together some more cartoons and trailers. There’s one trailer where all I can say is “Chicago” and “music video.” You would never, ever see this again. You wouldn’t ever find it on YouTube. It probably hasn’t been run since the 80s, but there’s definitely lots of weird trailer type stuff going on between the films.
So yeah, fresh fruit, weird trailers, short subjects, and good times. (laughs)
DS: Now, let’s talk about the films that you’re showing this year. The night starts off with The Groove Tube, which was sort of the precursor to things like The Kentucky Fried Movie.
DC: You know, I’ve always really, really liked the film. I think I had seen it the first time back on First Choice Pay-Per-View television in the early 1980s, and on the weekends it seemed like after midnight they would show a lot more dirty and risqué type material and when The Groove Tube came on and I was sitting there and watching it with my mom I remembered thinking it was really funny and a really cool type of film. Primarily one of the reasons why I chose it was because I think it’s been kind of forgotten about in the shuffle as far as cult fare goes. People don’t realize how really ahead of it’s time it was, as far as the film goes. It was probably the first kind of episodic spoof on television, and now we’re used to it all the time, but this was before Saturday Night Live and before Kentucky Fried Movie, before UHF. Therefore, it was really cutting edge for its time and it needed to get its just desserts once again. When I finally obtained a print, and when I originally was looking for a Super 8 one just to show at friend’s parties and stuff like that. I came across this one and I knew I had to have it. I really do think that although some of the jokes might seem dated, any kid that has grown up watching TV can appreciate it. It wasn’t only ahead of its time in terms of the content, but also just in the fact that it was a full on spoof of popular culture and you’re gotta love that.
DS: Horror Hospital has one of the best tag-lines I’ve ever seen, which says you should “See it with someone you hate!”
DC: (laughs) That one has always been kind of a little personal favourite of mine. I remember when I was younger I even remembered thinking that it was so dated and hippyish and all that. Now it just kind of looks like a typical kind of Queen Street “try-hards” aesthetic. So it kind of works on that level there. I’m a big fan of Robin Askwith and a lot of his British “booby fare,” and, I mean, Michael Gough, too. I knew him from this one and then when I saw Batman, I just said “That’s the guy from Horror Hospital!” I was so weirded out because I knew him from something totally different and something that he totally wanted to bury. I remember speaking with Stuart (Andrews) from Rue Morgue Magazine and I said that I had just gotten it from a distributor in Omaha, and he just geeked out and said how much he would love to see it. Again, I thought it would be something that would be horror-ish, but still a little bit tongue in cheek, because it really is this hippy version of this mad scientist sort of movie. I mean, you could almost say that the situations are like going into rehab, but gone insane.
DS: I remember seeing What Waits Below when I was a lot younger and I barely remember any of it, but I know there was a lot of people shouting at each other.
DC: (laughs) Yeah, with that one, this one was something that floated really sporadically on home video here, and it leans a lot more towards being the big action flick of the night. I like to leave no stone unturned with Shock and Awe. Primarily that was one of the reasons why I swayed towards that one. Also, because it was a Sandy Howard production, who in the 80s presented You Asked for It to TV viewers. Shortwave radio and albino cave dwellers. You can’t really go wrong with that kind of mix.
It definitely has the feel of a Filipino-knock off type action film in some sense, but in others you’re just kind of scratching your head and wondering where it’s going. It’s definitely a very rare film to see. Some might consider it action, some might consider it horror, some might consider it science fiction. So therefore, that’s how it fits into Shock and Awe.
DS: Now we come to a movie that I believe to be truly unimpeachable, the 1985 hip-hop musical from the geniuses and Cannon Films, Rappin’.
DC: The thing that I find about that film is that so many people haven’t seen it or heard of it. It’s funny how Breakin’, and Breakin 2, and Beat Street have really gotten their just desserts as far as early breakdance and hip-hop culture films go. And deservedly so, but I remember that I bought a VHS copy of Rappin’ at Honest Ed’s for, I think, 99 cents or something like that, and when I was watching it I was just like… “Wow… just… wow. This is SUCH a trainwreck.” It’s such a trainwreck, but it’s glorious. The hip-hop rhymes about just eating a lot of food and people lip-synching to Ice-T. And the end credits to that flick? I was just like, “Wow. This is the best, worst hip-hop film.” And it’s surprising to me that not even a lot of people within that community have seen it, and I’ve just always been a fan of it.
Someone was saying on the Shock and Awe Facebook that it was just so typical of Cannon Films for that year to just say that “Okay, people are starting to bust some rhymes, so lets make a film about it. Let’s rush it into theatres and get it in there for a couple of weekends and hopefully we’ll just luck out and something worse will be playing. That’s it! We’ll play it opposite Madonna’s Who’s That Girl?! Then we’ll just throw it to pay TV and home video and we’ve remade our money.”
It’s the film that had to happen, and it’s true. I can’t believe that that soundtrack doesn’t go for hundreds of dollars on eBay. The soundtrack for The Apple is something I could sell my vinyl copy of and almost retire, but I don’t know why it’s not that way for Rappin’.
There’s always one film at every Shock and Awe that I deeply hope finds more of an audience. There’s always one that will trigger people’s imagination and they’ll just say “Wow. That was damn entertaining.” Rappin’ is kind of the one I hope will become the Casablanca or the Bride of the Monster of hip-hop culture. (laughs) One of the two. It’s funny that it hasn’t gotten that audience yet, but the people who have seen it are just, like, “Oh my God.” Even when we were hinting about it on our Facebook page, I was shocked that someone got it. I’ll get messaged all the time by people asking me to tell them if they were right or that’s what we’re playing. Then I’ll just lie to totally throw them all off.
DS: I’m sure a lot of people try to get the title of the mystery film out of you before it screens. How tempted are you to usually let that information slip since you rarely give out any sort of hints?
DC: I gotta say that I love mysteries myself. The best thing that I can say about the mystery film is that you really have no idea what you’re down for, and you have no idea what it could ever possibly be. We’ve had some previous mystery films that could have easily been the headliner. I’m not too tempted because of that some love of mysteries, myself, but I can say that I’ve always been really shocked at how that part of the night has really taken off. In some years people have gone just to see the mystery film, and I remember the first time we did it and I remember seeing a bunch of local film programmers and film critics, which will remain nameless, and one of them was saying “Oh man! I know that he’s gotta have some sort of different cut of The Evil Dead” or something along those lines, and I’m just thinking, “Yeah, it’s definitely not that,” but it’s something that you really don’t know and you really can’t guess. It’s like Storage Wars, but when you go to the cinema.
The thing that I’m always most proud about when it comes to the mystery film is that people take it really seriously and they swear that they aren’t going to ever let it out what it was. We’ll all talk about it in the theatre afterwards, but once we go out the doors, that’s it. It’s never popped up on peoples’ blogs or on the Facebook pages. People just say that they can’t tell you what it is. They’re really serious about keeping it a secret. I don’t think Julian Assange could get it out of them. (laughs) To me, that’s the best thing. One of the things about Shock and Awe that I love is the sense of community and a sense of exploration, and I think Douglas Tilley said that best. People kind of go and want to be entertained and they’re ramped up and they’re die hards. Like I said before, 98% will stay all the way to the end, and they can keep a secret.
DS: And I think a lot of that goes back to the respect that the fans have because they know not many people would put on a festival like this.
DC: That’s the thing, and I’ve said it before, that it took years for this to come to fruition. I had the idea for this shortly before I started doing screenings, and I originally thought that I could do this in a bar or something, because I was never running anything in a theatre. It was just impossible because most bars were closing somewhat early and when I started doing things with Festival Cinemas they just didn’t think they could do this because of the projectionist unions and the risk involved.
After I came back doing an insane tour of Finland with my Hunka Junk series, the guys from The Fox approached me and asked if I had any ideas because they wanted to do something with me. I just kind of said this one off the cuff and they said that they would look into it and see what they could do. Because (Fox and Revue manager) Andy (Willick) is really diligent. When he’s feeling something, he’s all over it. Within a day or two of that meeting we were good to go.
I remember some other kind of cinema owners were saying that we were going to lose our shirts. “Who wants to watch movies all night and all day?” It seems now that lots of people do and the people who go to it are a die hard core of people who come pumped up and ready to not sleep. It’s great, and it’s probably one of the things I do that I enjoy the most. Projecting one film and having the audience come and go is enough, but even then, there’s a lot of work to it. When you cram them back-to-back-to-back-to-back, and then you start losing a bit of sleep and start coordinating having all this other food on hand and all these other things, it’s a real undertaking. I can definitely say between the Fox and Revue staff that it’s really a labour of love to do the best presentation that we can.
My thing is that I always hope that people get just how important this can be. This will probably be the absolute last time you will be able to see these films from a film print on a screen. Most of it isn’t going to happen again. I love making screenings exclusive. It’s like an orgasm, you get one shot and that’s it.
But yeah, I could never say enough about the Fox guys or The Revue staff for being really supportive of it. They took the gamble and they said they thought it was a good idea. I remember still doing that first showing and we had no idea how it would do because there wasn’t anything to gauge it on. You couldn’t even compare it to an old grindhouse on Yonge Street because they were open around the clock and in a totally different area. We had nothing to gauge it on. I remember going outside and seeing the line up around the block and when they came in and the audience just went bananas, I said to Andy that we were definitely onto something.
DS: I guess that brings us to the final movie of the evening, Sleepaway Camp, which really stands as a product of an era where even the most marginal of films could make a killing on home video and become franchises.
DC: To be honest, I haven’t seen Sleepaway Camp in ages, but I know that Andy absolutely loves the movie. He loves it and he’s wanted to get it forever, and we had to do A LOT of work to get it.
DS: The date changed in order for you to get it, didn’t it?
DC: Yeah, the date changed in order for us to get that and make sure that everything was doing well. Our promotion was doing well, but it was primarily to get that film. I don’t even really remember it playing theatrically, and if it did, it played for like a microsecond.
DS: I do remember from research that I did a while ago that it did run at the old Imperial Six in Toronto for a while.
DC: Really? That doesn’t really surprise me, though. Isn’t that interesting? Because I wasn’t living in Toronto at the time so I didn’t really have an idea about it, but I was working in home video at the time and I remember the promotional campaign that Astral had actually put into Canadian magazines that was just, like, “Dear mom and dad. I’m away at sleepaway camp and I’m really, really scared.” I think on home video that sort of thing appealed to people who would just rent something like Friday the 13th, but now it’s taken on a life of it’s own. On video some films that didn’t do that well theatrically, even now, they just take on a whole new meaning. I always thought of something like Nightmare on Elm Street and Sleepaway Camp as being primary examples of those.
I know, especially when you see the end of Sleepaway Camp it’s the real “Oh my” moment of that movie.
DS: I think even more of a mystery than the mystery movie this year will be seeing how many people don’t know the ending to Sleepaway Camp.
DC: I wouldn’t be that surprised if there was a lot. I find that we have a mix of audiences that are a little more than half cult movie fans and the other half are those coming with a sense of exploration and just looking to be entertained. They want to have fun, and especially with cult cinema there are some films that we’ve seen over a million times and some films that we might have only seen once or twice or we never got around to. I remember when I first saw Sleepaway Camp it was tacked onto the end of an SLP video tape of something else I had wanted to watch more, and it was entertaining, but it didn’t have that kind of thing that made ME want to watch it over and over and over because I was probably at the point where I was watching something else over and over and over.
We knew by putting that as the final feature of the night, though, that we were definitely bumping up our game because it hasn’t run on a screen probably since the Imperial Six, and to see it on a big screen from a film print will be great.
Shock and Awe goes down on Saturday, June 23rd starting at 11:30pm at The Revue in Toronto (400 Roncesvalles). Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. You can purchase advance tickets in person from The Revue and Fox Theatre box offices, the Roncesvalles location of The Film Buff, Eyesore Cinema, and Suspect Video.