Shock Theater resurrects the B-flick
New film series brings back old-school horror and sci-fi double features
06/01/2011 10:00 PM
Ah, the B-film double feature. What happened to you?
Decades ago, theatrical pairings of low-budget flicks were common. Film distributors, studios and theater programmers would slap together like (and sometimes unlike) films with hopes that the double bills would equal increased revenue. For one low price, patrons could get more than their fill of horror, sci-fi, sexploitation and other grindhouse fare at their local theater or drive-in.
Such double features are a relic of the movie-going past, unfortunately, but a new film series opening Friday at the Wicker Parks Arts Center signals a Chicago revival.
Cinema’s forgotten ghosts, monsters, demons, aliens and more are coming back from the grave in grand fashion in Shock Theatre from the Cinema Dementia Collection. Organized by former Bank of America Theater programmer Mike Phillips and film collector Chip Hess, the series harkens back to the long-lost double feature golden days with monthly Fright night screenings of horror and sci-fi favorites from the ’50s and ’60s — all culled from Hess’ vast collection of 16mm prints (no DVD projection here, kids).
Phillips and Hess promise more than just films. They want to bring new appreciation to features often derided for low budgets, cheesy acting, sub-par direction, minimal production values, etc. To do so, local cinema scholars were recruited to introduce each screening and highlight the films’ histories and finer points. The movies may be silly, but they will be given the respect they deserve.
Shock Theater won’t be a stuffy, academic affair, though — far from it. The series hopes to replicate the fun atmosphere that accompanied many past double bills with recreations of old school gimmicks used by promoters of yore to fill theater seats. Be warned: Skeletons will fly from the rafters, screaming skulls will haunt and transparent men will terrorize.
The series opens with a bang on June 3 with an incredible haunted house-themed night featuring William Castle’s The House on Haunted Hill (1959), starring Vincent Price, and Alex Nichol’s The Screaming Skull (1958). Sister Helen Highwater of the Underground Multiplex’s Sisters of No Mercy fame (who may or may not be local film expert and writer Lew Ojeda) will don her nun’s habit one more time to discuss the films. Watch out for Castle’s famous glowing skeleton Emergo gag and more, too.
The remaining Shock Theater summer screenings are mouth-watering, as well.
Renovations at the Wicker Park Arts Center (formerly St. Paul’s Church) have forced Shock Theater into the building’s basement for the opening night festivities, but Phillips hopes to be situated in the main space for next month’s screenings. The temporary lower depths locale is a perfect fit, though. What’s spookier than watching old horror flicks in the basement of a creepy old church? And for only five dollars?