The twist of cinema

BY NAT ALDER | JUNE 19, 2014 5:00 AM

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A man stood in front of the large projector screen, clutching a small, blue rectangular case.

“This week’s Punishment Prize,” he announced, “is a DVD copy of Santa Clause 2, starring Tim Allen.”

The audience erupted in laughter at the reward, the third of eight prizes given away at a recent screening in FilmScene’s new “Late Shift at the Grindhouse” series.

An assistant to the man standing in the aisle pulled a piece of paper out of a hat. He read the name. A reluctant audience member approached the front and accepted the DVD as the audience cheered.

“Punishment Prize is every week,” said host Ross Meyer. “We’ve given away a couple of Tim Allen movies, I think we gave one away starring Cuba Gooding Jr.; you know, high caliber actors.”

Late Shift at the Grindhouse is a new series presented by FilmScene, 118 E. College St., at 10 p.m. every Wednesday night to showcase cinema of the exploration genre. The films never dare to veer into the path of normalcy or placidness.

“Basically, they’re movies that are weirder, wilder, and trashier,” Meyer said. “And sometimes cheaper and tawdrier than what the Hollywood system could do.”

The idea of a series presenting and paying tribute to exploitation films of the past 40 years originated from FilmScene co-heads Andy Brodie and Andrew Sherburne.

“We were looking to do something that was a little more esoteric and out there,” Brodie said.

Meyer has known Brodie for at least a decade. Brodie and Sherburne both decided that Meyer, who has lived in Iowa City since 1998, would be better suited for the task of host and show-runner.

“I really enjoy this stuff, but it’s not my wheelhouse,” Brodie said. “I really wanted somebody such as [Meyer], who really loves this stuff, to be in charge of it, to take the reins.”

Joe Derderian assists Meyer with hosting the series every week, pulling names out of hats and at times manning the ticket counter. He said he couldn't agree more with the choice of host.

“[Meyer] is super-knowledgeable about cult cinema as a whole,” Derderian said. “And, more importantly, he has excellent taste.”

The Wednesday night series is something of a package deal: a ticket costs $4, popcorn is $2, wine and beer $3. At 10 p.m., a reel is played showcasing trailers and drive-in ads of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s (found and edited together by Meyer himself), and at 10:30 p.m. right before the movie starts, prizes are raffled off. The giveaways range from various downtown Iowa City venue gift certificates to DVDs and VHS tapes accumulated from Meyer’s days as a video-store owner.

Meyer is in charge of programming the films, which means he has a large number of possibilities.

“We came up with a list of I don’t know how many movies; the list keeps growing,” he said. “There are probably around 300 movies on it.”

A few the films on that wishlist include the original Dawn of the Dead and a remaster of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

One of the reasons Meyer is so thrilled to program these movies is because of some of the films are not seen enough.

“Especially because independent video stores have gone under, these are movies that have the potential to fall through the cracks,” he said. “And that’s sad, because some of these movies are fantastic.”

Films such as The Disco Exorcist, which will play Late Shift on July 9, are rarely seen.

“The Disco Exorcist is absolutely fantastic,” Meyer said. “But it had a theatrical screening of one or two theaters out on the East Coast and then to DVD. This is a movie that 30 years ago would’ve played in grind houses and drive-ins all over the country. I’m hopeful that our playing these will give them more of a boost.”

The key to the series’ success is in a reasonable amount of revenue from attendance and concession sales.

“We’re just trying to build up a regular audience for it,” Brodie said. “And if we get a decent sized crowd we’re pleased.”

Audience members attending the Late Shift at the Grind House series, Meyer said, should expect more perks than the average theater-going experience.

“At least one person gets punished with a free DVD of questionable quality every week. Like Santa Clause 2,” he said. “I’m assuming it’s terrible, I’ve never seen it. I hope somebody’s watching it right now, because they won it on a Wednesday night.”

Late Shift at the Grind House
When: 10 p.m. Wednesdays
Where: FilmScene, 118 E. College
Admission: $4

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