When one thinks of the word grindhouse, it’s impossible not to conjure up an image of smoke-filled theatres populated by men in trench coats enjoying a double-feature of something you definitely couldn’t bring your Grandmother to. It’s dirty, it’s illicit, and just a little bit rock ‘n’ roll (see how deftly I tied that into TFS’ June Music & Film Issue?).
That’s exactly the feeling local film historian/filmmaker/writer/b-movie programmer extraordinaire Dion Conflict is trying evoke with the fifth edition of his all-night grindhouse movie marathon, Shock & Awe. He explains, “When I first moved to the GT for film school, the Rio Cinema was still running on Yonge Street. It was a grindhouse cinema that featured ‘4 great films for $4.75.’ I like the fact that they would put a nice eclectic mix of films together where you would see a cut-to-crap print of the XXX film Maraschino Cherry alongside with Malarek and Tarzan Goes to India .”
He reflects, “Going into that cinema was a trip. You could go there at 11:00 am and see a mash of film buffs, street people, and staff of head shops taking a break. When it closed in the early ’90s, I always wanted to do my own loving homage to the theatre, and the grindhouse experience in general.”
And create an homage he has. After returning from a trip to Finland (where he tours with offerings from his massive personal film archive), he decided to get the ball rolling by contacting the owners of the Fox Theatre in The Beach and pitching his idea for an all-night grindhouse spectacular that would showcase a mish mash of genres from the golden era of trash cinema. “Within a day, they told me that it was possible, and we should do it. I remember our first Shock & Awe, wondering if other people thought our crazy idea of reliving that grindhouse all-night cinema experience was something they wanted. Seeing the lineup around the block we knew we were onto something. ”
Since then, Shock & Awe has moved from the Fox to the Revue Cinema and is about to roll out once more for eager b-movie fans. Amongst the line-up is Friday the 13th knock-off Sleepaway Camp , ’70s cult classics Horror Hospital and The Groove Tube and ’80s camp-fests Rappin’ and What Waits Below . And as always there’s a mystery film that will only be revealed to Shock & Awe’s audience.
Of his eclectic (and always crowd-pleasing) choices, Conflict says this: “There are plenty of other theatres and programmers that are showing what is known as ‘cult fare’ which you would read about in books on that subject. I’ve tried to showcase films which have not been shown as much [or at all] in decades and deserve an audience. [I want] to make an evening/morning of films that you can’t easily rent or download. People who come to Shock & Awe have more of a sense of exploration with film, so I try to deliver with entertaining films you can basically see that one night only.”
In fact, it’s his goal to make Shock & Awe exclusive by playing up the fact that his picks may never see the flicker of a movie screen again. “Most of the films that are shown have not had theatrical screenings in Canada in decades and sometimes they are the last known prints. When we ran a film like the blaxploitation kung-fu opus Bamboo Gods and Iron Men , we ran my personal film print of it as MGM didn’t even have one in their North American vaults. [We’ve run] close to 30 different films now [at Shock & Awe], and almost every film we have run has been someone’s ‘favourite’. The audience is fantastic as well and lets loose, ready to be entertained.”
It’s not shocking that Toronto cinephiles are eager to embrace such an oddball event because as Conflict proudly points out, we’re certainly a city that loves a film festival, “There are film festivals for EVERYTHING. While TIFF might get all the noteriety, they should really post a sign when you enter Toronto saying: ‘Welcome to Toronto! Home of 1000 film festivals, and yes, we have Dollarama!'”
David Cronenberg or David Lynch?
Cronenberg. However, Lynch has done 2 films I like: his student film [ The Grandmother ] and The Elephant Man . However sometimes Lynch I find attempts to be weird for the sake of being weird.
Zombies or Vampires?
Zombies. Vampires make me think of Manic Panic hair dye. Done that.
Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter?
I’ll take a bullet to the head instead of either. Where is Tommy Tricker to save the day?
Friday the 13th or Sleepaway Camp ?
Sleepaway Camp obviously, as it runs at Shock & Awe at the Revue Cinema on June 23rd!
Movie snack: sweet or savoury?
Sweet (M&M Peanuts). I pray “Swamp Water” will make a comeback at theatre concession stands.
Each month in 5 Questions, we talk to some of the Toronto film industry’s unsung heroes: the people slogging away behind the scenes to help make your life just a little more entertaining.
Stay tuned for TFS’ featured topic this month. We’ll be exploring music in film, celebrating the upcoming North By Northeast Festival and introducing you to some of the people who make films that are truly music to your ears.