Movies and the culture surrounding them have always been near and dear to my heart, and as a voracious consumer of cinema, I’ve always made sure to absorb as many silver screen gems (be they mainstream or arthouse) as possible. As an art form, movies can entertain, inform, and enlighten. They can make us laugh, bring us to tears, or frighten the shit out of us.
And then there are those films that attempt to execute their stories with the utmost seriousness, but are irreversibly marred by terrible writing, awful acting, cheesy special effects, bizarre execution, and/or an overtly melodramatic tone that ends up being enjoyable, but in the exact opposite way the filmmakers intended. More often than not, those guilty pleasure B-movies end up developing a sizable cult following for those very reasons (The Room, anyone?). So if you have a niche for cheesy trash cinema and wish to revel in them with likeminded cult film fans, then you can scratch it with the folks at Trash Film Debauchery.
Founded by Theresa Purcell, Trash Film Debauchery had its origins as a student group at the University of Minnesota. Purcell, a big fan of low-budget B-movies and the like, decided to form the group and exhibit cult classics on the big screens on campus.
“I put together a ‘Best Cinematic Head Explosions of All Time’ series,” said Purcell. “And I showed Scanners and Maniac, and I decided to just make some posters in case people wanted to come, and a ton of people showed up.”
It was a winning formula that inspired Purcell to take the screenings out of the campus and into arthouse theater venues across the Twin Cities. Currently, TFD showcases camp classics at the Trylon Microcinema in the Longfellow neighborhood in Minneapolis on the fourth Wednesday of the month, and at the Turf Club in St. Paul every second Wednesday. To spice things up a notch, Purcell hosts a certain theme at a venue every three months. Currently, at the Trylon, TFD is holding a little-person-themed “Big Things Come in Small Packages” series, and a “Video Games” series at the Turf (with the 1989 Fred Savage cult stinker The Wizard screening next on October 10).
So how exactly does Purcell define “trash cinema”?
“I guess I always go back to the ‘unintentional comedy,’” said Purcell. “It’s kind of the epitome of trash film to me. People who are REALLY trying hard to make something that they’re proud of, and it just bombs.
“It’s just something that’s so bad it’s good, but still manages to be entertaining.”
And if you’ve spent your free time enjoying the horrible/campy/schlocky goodness of such legendary fare such as Troll 2, Meet the Feebles, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and Santa Sangre at home, why not up the enjoyment factor by watching it on the big screen with others?
I decided to stop by the Trylon for the first in the “Big Things” series: the 1932 Tod Browning horror classic Freaks. A cozy, intimate, 50-seat arthouse cinema with very comfy seating and cheap concessions, the volunteer-based Trylon is operated by the non-profit organization Take-Up Productions, which screens indie and cult films in various other theaters including the Riverview and the Heights Theater to a diverse cross-section of movie buffs. Outside of the TFD showings, the Trylon regularly screens films (trash or otherwise) six nights a week, ranging from old Japanese horror films and ’50s sci-fi classics to ’70s Woody Allen pictures and the cult film to beat all cult films, The Big Lebowski.
“Everyone involved with the Trylon are just very good at programming, very creative, kind of a wide variety of things that appeal to people,” said Purcell. “They’re very good at listening to what people wanna see and delivering that.”
As I expected, the Freaks showing had a packed house. It was wonderful to see such a receptive and diverse audience interested in helping preserve the memory of the cheesy treasures of cinema’s past, and Purcell hopes to expand her group beyond Trylon and the Turf Club, possibly gaining sponsors and even inviting actors and filmmakers to the screenings.
Here’s hoping that those goals come to fruition. For fans of Ed Wood, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and any other craptacular movie classics that are Oscar winners in your hearts, I’d highly suggest you check out Trash Film Debauchery and bathe in the cinematic depravity.