Day 1 of Cult Fiction was pleasant but it was merely an appetizer compared to the smorgasbord that was Day 2. The organizers really outdid themselves on Saturday, stocking it with a dizzying array of Q&A sessions with cult movie stars for every taste and then topped it all off with a double-feature presented under the stars. The end result offered far more bang for your buck then fans typically get from larger-sized conventions.
Your Humble Reviewer began the day early with a 10:15 screening of a film presented via a DVD-R taken from a rare Japanese video cassette release. Only a handful of early-rising conventioneers made it to this screening – but they were rewarded with a rarity that none of them will soon forget…
WELCOME HOME SOLDIER BOYS: when fans of 1970’s filmmaking say “they don’t make ’em like they used to,” THIS is exactly what they’re talking about. This road movie/drive-in shocker/Vietnam War allegory was produced by 20th Century Fox in 1972 and is the kind of thing that no major studio would touch today.
With Richard Compton (Macon County Line) directing and Guerdon Trueblood (The Candy Snatchers) scripting, this film lays out the tale of a quartet of soldiers who have just returned from Vietnam. Joe Don Baker is the leader of the group, with Alan Vint, Paul Koslo and Elliott Street rounding out the foursome. They’ve brought back a sense of restlessness and violent tendencies that they have a hard time curbing. When they’ve had enough bad breaks and misunderstandings from the civilians and hustlers surrounding them, they snap in a way that brings the war directly to the doorstep of small-town America. The finale shows no one involved any mercy and will leave you slackjawed. This one’s only available via grey-market dealers but it’s well worth hunting down. It’s doubtful that Fox will ever put this back into circulation.
After a midday break for lunch and convention room visits, the afternoon brought an onslaught of Q&A sessions. Here’s a quick breakdown of the panels, with a bit of description to give a sense of how each played out.
Larry Bishop: he offered some fascinating insights into how his controversial Hell Ride biker opus came to be. Basically, a friend of his was partying with Quentin Tarantino, who put him on the phone with Bishop. Tarantino told him he was going to write, direct and star in his own biker opus. It was also interesting to hear that Bishop initially wrote his script as a 400-page novel (!) – the manuscript is briefly seen in the film – and later adapted it to proper screenplay format. During the Q&A session, Bishop told some fun stories about Wild In The Streets, including one about how he and Richard Pryor held up the shoot by being late and thus got into big trouble.
Dyanne Thorne & Howard Maurer: one might expect a hardboiled attitude or tales of debauchery from the star of Ilsa: The Wicked Warden and her husband… but the results couldn‘t have been further from the truth. Instead, the duo of Thorne and Maurer came off like an interesting aunt and uncle duo who had colorful stories to tell about the challenges of showbiz. They were refreshingly honest about the quality of the Ilsa films – Maurer confessed to throwing the first Ilsa script at the wall before encouraging Thorne to take the gig on a “hey, it’s a job” basis – but they also owned their experiences, as their charmingly upfront choice of attire revealed (her in fetish black leather, him in an Ilsa t-shirt).
Lynn Lowry and Camille Keaton: this panel was called “The Goddesses Of Grind” and surprisingly was one of the least eventful entries. Both Lowry and Keaton had pleasant personalities but questions were a little sparse – in Keaton’s case, it might be tough to ask questions about I Spit On Your Grave because it remains so controversial today – and the two thus had to rely upon familiar stories. That said, it was pleasant to listen to them and both remain lovely and engaging.
Don Opper, Dee Wallace Stone and Liane Curtis: this was the Critters reunion panel. Questions were a little slow to start but everyone had something interesting to say once it got going. It was revealed that New Line is on shaky ground when it comes to paying residuals to the stars of the Critters series and that Curtis secured her role in Critters 2 because she could drive a stick shift. The unexpected surprise was that Stone and Opper both told funny stories about the challenges of working with Don Johnson – Stone worked with him on Nash Bridges, Opper on Miami Vice – and how his diva personality created challenges on the sets of those shows.
Fred Williamson: if you’ve ever read an interview with Williamson, you know that he gives good quote – and the Hammer did not disappoint in this session. He ran through some familiar tales – how he broke into acting, why he became a filmmaker – but he also revealed some sides of his persona that don’t always come through interviews. For instance, he asserted that he knows what he markets is a persona in the Clint Eastwood/Charles Bronson vein, not a tremendous depth of acting talent (Your Humble Reviewer thinks he underestimates himself there). He also let it be known that he understands he’s been in a lot of junk but he takes great pride in doing his schtick with consistency regardless of the circumstances. Other interesting discoveries: he improvised his big speech in From Dusk Till Dawn and directed the last twenty minutes of Blind Rage (the Filipino filmmakers flew to L.A. to get him to provide their finale). He was energetic and fun from start to finish.
Pam Grier: the finale of the Q&A sessions was worth the wait. Grier is not only lovely and charming but turned out to be a very engaging public speaker. Though she took questions near the end – including one enterprising geek asking her out on a dinner date – the majority of her session was a sort of spoken autobiography/one-woman show piece. She was in a life-story frame of mind from working on her autobiography so she told a lot of stories about how her upbringing as a hard-working country girl influenced her approach to her acting career. Grier also revealed how she dealt with a serious cancer scare in the late 1980’s and how it influenced/changed her views on medicine and how to maintain one’s well-being. Her mellow but engagingly told stories were a perfect way to close the Q&A part of Cult Fiction.
After a break for dinner and relaxing, Saturday evening brought another double dose of film screenings under the stars on the blow-up drive-in screen. Your Humble Reviewer made it out there ahead of time and was rewarded with a gorgeous sunset. This was a truly picturesque setting for an outdoor screening an appreciative little crowd gathered for the final evening of cinema alfresco…
COFFY: Pam Grier stuck around to introduce this 1973 gem, which remains one of the best films to emerge from the blaxploitation era. Not only do you get Pam Grier in a fearless, b-movie star-making performance, you also get Jack Hill at the height of his powers directing the kind of tough yet smartly-crafted film that has endeared him to exploitation fans all over the world. It delivers the expected sex and violence with a creative flair but also gives the audience a complex heroine worth getting invested in and some biting commentary on both the drug trade and the all-pervasive nature of corruption. It also helps that the film is liberally sprinkled with the kind of unique, highly specific details that stick in the memory, like the heroine planting razorblades in her afro to fend off a hair-pulling attacker.
CRITTERS 2: Liane Curtis and Don Opper introduced this one. Taken on its own terms, this sequel to the surprise hit Critters is modest stuff. It’s a modest small-town-versus-monsters tale that is enlivened by the occasional inspired setpiece – like the title monsters attacking a man in a bunny suit, who promptly crashes through the window of a fully-packed church. It was more interesting as a reflection on how post-Nightmare On Elm Street era spent the latter half of the 1980’s looking for another franchise to follow Wes Craven’s surprise success. The best part of the film was Barry Corbin’s likeably sarcastic turn as the town’s burnt-out former sheriff.
For the hardcore convention-goer, there was still a midnight screening of Pieces – but this is where Your Humble Reviewer checked out for the night, fully satiated by a day packed with cult movies and their beloved stars. It was truly an action packed day, one worth every penny of the modest admission fee.