Two Years of Cult Classics
By Hal C F Astell
The May double bill of The Goonies and The Monster Squad, hosted by local artist, Victor Moreno, at Tempe Pollack Cinema under his Cult Classics banner, sold out a 400 seat theatre. This is a monthly event and, for some months, the line to get in has wrapped all the way around the theatre's impressive foyer to end up where it started, like the Ouroborous worm eating its own tail. It's a sight to see.
To bring this many people into a cinema to see a couple of thirty-year old movies is an unprecedented achievement in a town where it often feels like an impossible task to get anyone out to watch anything. To do it every month is astounding. Yet Moreno is still building his audience after he debuted with Army of Darkness at the Royale in Mesa in 2011. That show sold out too but, because of the size of the venue, each of its two screenings could only seat 60 people.
July's show will be the second anniversary of Cult Classics and to celebrate, Moreno will be revisiting perhaps his most successful event, screening Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles during a pizza party. In between, he'll be showing The Princess Bride on June 22nd, and he's been having a blast putting up Fezzik flyers around town to advertise the event. These flyers proved so successful that people actually stopped Moreno to ask if they could buy copies.
I caught up with Moreno to talk about Cult Classics and its growing audience and reputation, and he explained that its success is due to this level of engagement. He doesn't just show movies, he hosts events which are merely centred around movies.
I recognize this concept from personal experience. I once enthusiastically let a co-worker know about a triple bill of Star Trek movies screening at Chandler Cinemas, but he wasn't interested. He had them all on DVD and was happy to watch them on his big screen TV with a remote control that allowed for bathroom breaks whenever he liked. It's easy to see his point.
However, the growing number of Moreno's regulars would explain that he'd be missing out on plenty if he applied that attitude to Cult Classics screenings, starting with the communal spirit of enjoying a movie with a few hundred other people. Whether they come for the free pizza, free candy or just to see the Delorean Moreno organized to be parked outside during the Back to the Future screening, most come back again and again to share a retro cinema experience with strangers who often become friends.
And all this happens because of the experience. 'You have to make it special,' Moreno says. He always has some sort of giveaway, courtesy of sponsors like Zia Records. He screens trailers before the feature or during the intermission between his twice yearly double bills. Those are interactive too, because through their reactions, audience members get a say in what will screen in future months.
Then there are the unique little touches that make an event memorable. When Cult Classics screened Stanley Kubrick's, The Shining, Moreno bought a brand new door and hacked a hole in it with an axe so that people could pose for photo ops. He's seen many people initially pass up this sort of opportunity, only to reconsider when they see just how much fun the people around them are having. Recapturing the classic 'Here's Johnny!' moment with Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall in a photo that the Cult Classics team will have available online later the same night, is a great way to 'break down the wall to the experience,' as Moreno puts it. It's easy to feel part of a family at these events.
Even before he started Cult Classics, Moreno was known for his movie prints. I have a collection of his older work and am proud to have some of his original art on my wall, signed by the actors he drew. His reputation on this front has only increased. While anyone can buy a regular ticket to just see a Cult Classics movie (and enjoy the experience), there are always a variety of other packages available for those who want more. Usually there are a couple of brand new prints on offer that tie to the movie being shown and often a T-shirt with the higher priced packages too. It seems that many people are building collections much bigger than mine. Occasionally, there's something extra special like the mini Necronomicon that came with a VIP ticket for Evil Dead 2.
What's surprising to me is the sort of audience Moreno has tapped into. At repertory film screenings in the valley, I'm used to seeing people like me, movie buffs who like discovering obscure films we haven't seen before or revisiting ones we love that we may not have seen on the big screen. While people like me make up a part of the Cult Classics audience, we're far from the only one.
Moreno explains that there are regulars who show up to everything he does, who followed him from the Royale to MADCAP Theatres and eventually to Tempe Pollack, as those earlier venues closed, but the make up of his crowd generally changes depending on the film he shows. For horror movies like Zombie or Shaun of the Dead, he gets an older audience than when he screens comedies such as Weird Science or Pee Wee's Big Adventure. Fantasy films like Edward Scissorhands or Labyrinth draw people from all ages.
His most nostalgic movies, usually drawn from the 1980s, pull a surprisingly young crowd. Half the people who showed up to see The Goonies had never seen it before. Many of them weren't even born when it was released and even those who knew the film well knew it because they'd bought the DVD. They're too young to even remember VHS, let alone to have seen movies like these when they first hit theatres. This isn't the nostalgia kick I was expecting.
Moreno works hard to know his audience and what they want to see and he ensures that they're not just passive moviegoers but active participants in his events. Surely these are the keys to his success. Who knows what the next two years will bring, but if you head on over to Tempe Pollack and join the cult, you won't just watch it happen, you find yourself becoming part of it.
Hal C F Astell writes reviews of films from the 1900s to the 2010s at Apocalypse Later, with a focus on what most critics don't cover. He is the author of two books, Huh? An A-Z of Why Classic American Bad Movies Were Made and Velvet Glove Cast in Iron: The Films of Tura Satana. Both are available at Amazon.