What follows below in a different typeface is excerpted from a post I wrote for my old blog at Premiere, "In The Company Of Glenn," apropos the opening of the I-still-think-rather-delightful motion picture Grindhouse. The post was called "My Grindhouse Days" and you can read the whole thing here.
I’ve seen a lot of seedy movies in a lot of seedy venues in my time, but the so-called grindhouse that looms largest in my memory is the Plaza Theater, which occupied the corner of Union and Redwood Avenues in scenic Paterson, N.J. until it was demolished in 2001.
(Caution: "salty" language follows.)
I was introduced to The Plaza in the fall of 1977, shortly after I started attending William Paterson College, which was located in nearby Wayne. I had been taken under the wings of some of the older guys at the college paper, fellows who numbered bad movies as among their favorite things. Our little band’s ringleader, the late, great “Diamond” Don Markle, enjoyed nothing better than getting way stoned and, say, catching a 2 A.M. airing of They Saved Hitler's Brain on Channel 9.
Don sometimes rhapsodized about making his own exploitation flicks—his never-to-be epic Blue Water, White Kelvinator was to climax with the tossing of his old refrigerator over the nearby Paterson Falls. Back when Paterson was still a thriving industrial center, The Plaza was an art-deco gem. But by ‘77 Paterson was severely depressed, much of it a semi-urban slum. It was in such dumps that even its criminals were enervated—the one time I was mugged there, my “assailant” was a glue-sniffing hunch back who offered me a whiff of his paper bag, demanded my wallet after I demurred, and punched me quite lightly on the nose after I demurred again. And the Plaza had become a hole—I can’t recall the concession stand being open there, ever—that showed kung-fu triple features by day and horror/sexploitation double features by night.
So naturally it became one of our favorite hangouts. The first bill we saw there, or so I recall, was Horror High and Dracula's Dog. Horror High was the real deal—trashy and stupid and inept as all get out, while Albert-Band-directed Dracula’s Dog (featuring Michael Pataki and a slumming Jose Ferrer) was dullsville in the not-so-grand Band tradition. A tradition I had little knowledge of at the time. (As far as the IMDB is concerned, though, I couldn’t have seen Dracula’s Dog when I remember seeing it, around Thanksgiving of ’77, as the IMDB places its release date as June of 1978. I can still hear Don, as plain as day, in his stentorian-announcer voice, heralding the glories of “Horrrrrur High AND DuuuuuhhhRRacula’s Daaawgg” which he absolutely could not have done in June of ’78, as by that time he was dead, killed by a drunk driver. Who got six months of license suspension, if I recall correctly. But, as we see, recollection can be a funny thing. And so can the IMDB.)
The following fall I moved into an apartment a block up from the Plaza, and forays became more frequent. Men of means by no means, my pals and I often found that a dinner of frozen ravioli followed by a joint followed by a walk down to the Plaza could constitute a cheap AND memorable night out.
It was there I saw Argento’s Suspiria for the first time, screened, in the fashion paid homage to in Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grindhouse, with a full reel missing. The movie doesn’t make any more or less sense complete, incidentally. (And I still love it.)
But the Plaza was not regarded by most of its patrons as a place of discovery, a sacred vessel of cinema, or any such thing. More than once I saw guys walk in with blaring boomboxes perched on their shoulders—and they would leave them blaring in the aisle. The talking-back-to-the-screen was largely ubiquitous, and pretty consistently entertaining. One commentary during the middle of the appalling Nazi Love Camp Number 27—not to be confused with the appalling Love Camp 7—was particularly memorable.
In Nazi Love Camp Number 27, the young Jewish woman Hannah (played by the late Sirpa Lane, who previously starred in Borowczyk’s The Beast—if you have to ask, don’t) is forced into prostitution by the title, you know, Nazis, but before that, she’s in some kind of prison…and the corpulent lesbian warden of the place wants Hannah, but Hannah isn’t having it, the warden condemns Hannah to death, and at the execution site a Nazi captain’s there, and he sees Hannah, defiant to the end, spit in the warden’s eye, and this captain, who says he likes Hannah’s “spunk,” orders the warden to release Hannah into his custody. He takes Hannah home, stands her in front of a small, square, low-to-the-floor glass coffee table, and orders her to strip. She does. Hannah strips an awful lot in the movie, if I recall correctly.
“And now, “ the captain says to her, “I vould like you to meet Axel!”
This was too much for the guys sitting behind us, who broke out into giggles.
“Axel!” one of them wailed. “That’s either his cock, or his dog!”
Yeah, could go either way. This Gestapo sicko was just the type to introduce a human female into his canine’s harem. Nicknaming his johnson seemed right up his alley as well.
In short order a big German shepherd, who could not have looked less interested, wandered into the frame. The actress playing Hannah feigned terror and started circling the tiny coffee table in a panic. The shepherd, finally taking his trainer’s cues, began to amiably chase the woman.
Again, the guys behind us were beside themselves, as were we. “Sheeeit,” one of them chortled, “my dog never had it so good!”
Anyway. Another story from the Plaza era involved my taking my girlfriend at the time to see Humanoids From The Deep. (Which is really, in its way, a pretty hot date movie.) In the middle of the film a couple of guys a few rows in front of us starting cursing each other out, resulting in the beginnings of something like a knife fight. Not much more than a few desultory swipes were exchange, but blades were unsheathed. The funny part was that somewhere during the middle of the exchange one of the gentlemen involved paused and looked up toward my girlfriend and said "Scuse the language, miss." No, really.
I remember sometimes during the afternoon kung-fu triple features someone would come in carrying a boom box. Which would be left on.
Some ten years later I went, with another crew, to a Times Square movie house to see a double feature of Bad Dreams and Brain Damage. Good stuff. In between the two movies there was a PSA in which Rae Dawn Chong tried to warn audience members off crack use. This actually served as a sort of mneomic to this guy sitting a few rows in front of us, who soon fired up his pipe. I don't know if Frank Henenlotter would approve of his work being consumed under such conditions.
I bring all this up by way of apologizing for/rationalizing my inability to get what is apparently appropriately worked up about people texting during screenings.