VHStival: Thursday, Aug. 29–Sunday, Sep. 1, $5 per screening, Alamo Drafthouse, Raleigh
Cinema Overdrive: Trailerpalooza Strikes Back!: Wednesday, Aug. 28, 7 p.m., $7, The Carolina Theatre, Durham
This week, the Triangle becomes a destination for gore, explosions, and all that is gratuitous upon the silver screen with two events forged in loyalty to obsolete media: Alamo Drafthouse’s VHStival and The Carolina Theatre’s Cinema Overdrive program “Trailerpalooza Strikes Back!”
Any real history of film must encompass video, as anyone who grew up in the eighties and nineties will tell you. For many, a love of movies was forged not in the multiplex or art house, but in Blockbuster Video (or, if you lived in the Triangle, local concerns like Video Bar, North American Video, and VisArt Video). New releases, employee recommendations, and random picks forged pizza-and-soda-fueled memories in front of the family VCR—along with less-fond memories of fees for late returns and forgetting to rewind.
Josh Schafer, the manager of the Video Vortex at Raleigh’s Alamo Drafthouse, knows this love as well as anyone.
“VHS really changed the game in filmmaking and distribution,” he says. “It brought films into people’s homes for the first time ever. It’s a medium for art; it contains so much culture, so many types of films. It really is a window into another time.”
Schafer’s obsession feeds into his VHS-centric publication Lunchmeat, his curation of the seventy-five thousand VHS tapes in Alamo Drafthouse’s Video Vortex rental archive, and his oversight of the annual VHStival, a celebration of VHS and VHS culture.
Now in its second year, running August 29–September 1, the festival features screenings of films whose fates were inextricably entwined with the home-video format. There are films that were released in theaters but popularized through rentals, such as restored versions of the “evil twin in a box” cult classic Basket Case and the violent superhero parody The Toxic Avenger. There are underground favorites that were traded around on tapes, such as the hilarious concert-crowd documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot and the found-footage classic Girls at the Carnival. There are straight-to-video oddities, including the first-ever theatrical screening of Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout, which features the scream queen teaching aerobics, and will be augmented by an aerobics class in the theater lobby. There are modern VHS movies by the Delaware art collective Trashmonger Video. There will even be an appearance by legendary cult-movie critic Joe Bob Briggs.
There’s also sub-programming like the Found Footage Film Festival and a plethora of events, including a tape swap for people looking to unload or augment their old collections and a “Sink the Titanic” game where people can toss VHS copies of James Cameron’s hit at an inflatable ship. (Cameron’s film had a massive push on tape just a few years before DVDs came out, resulting in a massive surplus in video stores well into the 2000s.)
Why, when so many movies from so many eras are available to stream, are people still fascinated with the videotapes of decades past? Schafer believes it extends beyond mere nostalgia.
“There are thousands of things on VHS, not just movies, but local television archives, home video, and so much more, that are just waiting to be discovered,” he says. VHStival is a chance to not only see the movies, but also to “just hang out, meet other people who remember these things, and discover something new and amazing.”
It’s been a long, strange trip for Adam Hulin, who curates the cult-film mini-festival Cinema Overdrive at The Carolina—a trip spanning multiple North Carolina cities, venues, and theater closings. Now, as Cinema Overdrive celebrates its tenth anniversary, it’s coming back to where it began with “Trailerpalooza Strikes Back!” on August 28.
The program features 155 TV spots and trailers, drawing from every film Cinema Overdrive has played, an eclectic list mixing exploitation, martial arts, horror, thriller, and, occasionally, even things that might be considered highbrow. The trailers are not only a nostalgic look back, but also a tremendous source of entertainment in themselves, with campy taglines, tons of action and violence, and a lot of the best parts of the films they represent. (An odd rule of thumb for low-budget fare is that the weaker the film, the better the trailer.)
The event celebrates ten years of official monthly screenings, though Hulin has been running the series sporadically since 2002, when he and Matt Pennachi cofounded it as a spinoff of the other “Retro” film programs at The Carolina.
“We started pooling our resources to find thirty-five-millimeter prints of older movies,” Hulin says. “The people who owned the rights to these movies could give you permission to screen them, but they didn’t necessarily own a copy themselves, so you’d have to track them down.”
Eventually, they gained access to a variety of films beyond the horror flicks that were the backbone of the initial Retro programming, bringing in a variety of international films, from the sublime (Death Race 2000) to the ridiculous (the no-budget sci-fi film Lady Terminator) to buried treasure (a recent screening featured the never-released-on-video Joan Didion adaptation Play It as It Lays, long acclaimed by film critics, including Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael). In coming months, we’ll see Jane Fonda’s Oscar-winning turn in Klute and Chuck Norris saving America from a Communist takeover with roundhouse kicks in Invasion U.S.A.
The series has had its ups and downs. Hulin moved to Texas for a few years to run a drive-in theater before selling it and launching the monthly version of Cinema Overdrive at Raleigh’s Colony Theater in 2009. When that closed, the series bounced around to multiple venues, including The Cary Theater and Raleigh’s Mission Valley Cinema. Most recently, it’s been at the Alamo Drafthouse, alternating screenings with The Carolina.
“It’s been the longest route back to where [Carolina Theatre director] Jim Carl says we should have been in the first place,” Hulin says.
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