Well kids, if nothing else has happened in life for many of us during this quiet time in life it has atleast been able to give the time to reflect on things. Whether it’s old movies we have not watched in a long time, listening to and revisiting some bands we have not thought about in years by going through our collections, and of course pouring a drink, getting infront of the keyboard and maybe do some writing on the past. That is my way of saying that’s what this article of random late night thoughts will be about.
So I thought I would take this time and share a few of my favourite and funny memories from the first few years of DEDFEST. For those that do not know DEDFEST is a genre film festival that was born from the videostore when meeting co-founder Derek Clayton there. For 12 years we have screened a ton of cinema and I was originally gonna talk about all of it in one article but then looking at all those years there was just no way that could be done. So instead I wanna mention a few of the moments that still stand out during out first few years when it took place downtown at the Cidital Theater downtown. At times I miss that place because with a seating crowd of only 215 it always stroked our nerd egos to sellout. A little bit diiferent with the current Metro Cinema and 515 seats. Regardless here are some movie memories from DEDFEST back in the day. Maybe you were there?
Ahh…Bubba’s Chili Palor. Like losing your virginity you never forget your first. I bring it up as a memory because this was the first official film we ever screened at DEDFEST (That year it was still called DEADMONTON). The thing with starting a film festival is it’s like starting an expansion team in professional sports. For the most part you are not gonna get the best players wanting to sign with you right away and the same is true with genre cinema. Calling distributors and asking if we can screen their film at a festival they have never heard of is no easy task. So the movies you do get that first year you embrace and treat like gold no matter what they are. I will just leave the fact that we screened this “bad chili turning people into zombies” indie flick 12 years ago and it’s still not in my shop because I could never find a proper release. It just vanished. And I have Santa Claus Vs. Zombies and Pot Zombies on the shelf! That’s all I’m gonna say about that.
The following night on the Saturday we had our first ever sellout crowd. All the seats were full in theater and the feeling was incredible. To that we have Mr. Bruce Campbell to thank because we managed to get MY NAME IS BRUCE for the midnight screening to end the night. Now somehow we had the North American premiere. Not to shabby for our first year. Ofcourse we’re Edmonton, Canada so no red carpet or stars that night but with a heavy drinking crowd it made no difference. It played that evening in Texas as well I believe but we started our screening first by an hour so we had the first viewing to a crowd. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Now the best part of the evening was there were no individual movie tickets back then. You paid for the entire night. Not a bad deal at the time even if you were just excited for the one movie. So the crowd got there early and started drinking hard which was a good thing because before Bruce we got to expose their eyes to some Japanese splatter goodness with another first time screening in the city.. TOKYO GORE POLICE. Now most of the crowd had never heard of it so needless to say while they were waiting for Mr. Campbell to hit the screen they were given two hours plus of mutants, chainsaws, buckets of blood, and overall insanity. To get a group that big to watch some overseas bonkers action gorefest was a treat. Infact I wanna say that movie was so ridiculious that by the time My Name Is Bruce hit the crowd was drained. I always felt bad for that but in hindsight I feel we might have opened a lot of minds to international cinema for those that might have never taken the chance to come out in any other situation. Again…thank you Bruce Campbell.
Interesting thing about that year and surreal looking back at it now. I remember Derek was working hard on trying to book us a movie. I can’t remember which one because we never got it but it was from MIRAMAX. Anyways, he gets their distribution number and decides to call it to talk to someone because why not? I’m sitting outside my shop having a smoke on the bench and see him on his flip open cellphone infront of the Ooodle Noodle talking. He hangs up and comes over with an odd expression. I ask him if you got through to anyone. He replies “Yup”. I guess if you called there office at the time they immediately ask you “Who should I direct your call to?”. Well Derek did not know anyone there so he went with his gut and just said “Umm…Mr. Weinstein?” Next thing you know his call was put right through and a man picked up…”This is Weinstein. What can I do for you?” I know what your thinking…Harvey Weinstein?!. No, I believe it was his brother Bob Weistein that was in the office that day but regardless it was surreal for two guys from Edmonton just sitting on a bench thinking…”So ya, just talked with Bob Weinstein about getting a movie.”. Moral of the story is you never know unless you try.
Ahh..35mm film prints are the best! There is something about being able to screen a classic on that original film print with all the snap, crackle, and pops. To see the “cigarette burns” appear on the screen to remind you the projectionist is about to change the reels upstairs. It’s all well and good when it runs smooth but every now and then things go wrong because when you deal with a print that is 20-30 years old sometimes shit happens. Case in point…American Werewolf In London.
We had a brilliant turn out for the screening of a classic. Crowd was into it, drinks were flowing, and that film looked great. That is until the climax of the film when David as a werewolf has been cornered in the dark alley way and Alex is coming in for the dramatic and tragic conclusion. Just as she is walking it happens. While the sound keeps going the picture is gone. Complete darkness. Everything is heard but no picture. At first I thought the print just got really dark but nope. It was gone. People had to witness the final moments of the classic and pretend it was a radio play. But as upset and freaking out internally as I was at that moment I have to say the crowd was super forgiving. I’m guessing most of the audience that night had seen it before so no biggie but still…it had to be during the last 3 minutes. Ugh…
And the there was The Thing. Showing it on a cold night, the first of a few times over the years, we managed to once again get a film print. And this sucker was old, like maybe 1982 old. Infact I remember the projectionist at the time saying..”Boys, not sure she’s gonna make it all the way through.” Well, once the picture started you could see the wear and tear. For a film that was set in the ice cold winter when the colour of snow should be, you know, white it was instead pink. Very pink. But again our crowd seemed to eat it up. Something about getting to experience the John Carpenter classic in a way that many could never say they did was cool. Anyways, this moment is not the film breaking down entirely but instead jumping to the next reel because possibly that part of the print was snipped early. No big deal if it was a random shot but it happened on a moment that is always a crowd pleaser.
If you see the above pic you know the scene. The couch segemt where Garry gives one of the best lines in the movie. Infact the line is so popular with fans that as he started saying it the crowd spoke with him, word for word. Now earlier that night we did hand out two bottles of J and B scotch to crowd that were both emptied as they were passed up and down the rows. That probably helped the energy. Ahh…2009. Could not do that today. Anyways, the film literally jumped to the next scene the second Garry was gonna drop the F bomb about being tied to the couch. I kid you not, to this day I can still hear the sound of 200 plus people groan and scream at that very moment. But again looking back that is a story most will never forget who sat in the theater that night because once again I’m guessing everyone had seen it before and never experienced that shit happen before.
Now I know I mention drinking a lot with our festival crowd but that’s for good reason. Especially back in the day when we were only charging 3 bucks for a beer it would get a bit rowdy. Now agree or disagree the overall experience screening these flicks was fun times aside from a few bad apples. Not many festivals had bouncers watching the crowd to boot out the drunks as much we did back when we started but it comes with the territory. Thanks for looking after us Kyle. More on him later. Anyways the one time we did not get a liquor license was for a double feature screening of THE PROWLER and MY BLOODY VALENTINE. Not sure what happened but on that night we had to go dry and I was bummed because anyone that knows MY BLOODY VALENTINE understands holding or having a few MOOSEHEAD beers is part of the experience.
After the first film, The Prowler, finished we had about 15-20 minutes for a break. We all remembered that there actually was a restaurant with a bar right across from the theater that night and we had to take advantage of it. Now this was a pretty quiet and stand up joint so you can imagine in walking atleast 20-30 horror/metal/punk rock dressed movie goers going right up to the one poor bartender working wearing his very nice black/white with bowtie classy outfit and having us demanding all the MOOSEHEAD beer he could find. In a matter of minutes we consumed heavily and drank that fine east coast brand out of stock before heading back to the theater and watching the ballad of Harry Warden. Honestly, another moment in DEDFEST history that warms my heart.
Who doesn’t love just relaxing in the theater and watching the trailers. Sometimes better than the movie itself showing scenes that are not even in the film. Well, one night we had a reel of vintage trailers sent to us to screen. It was 90 minutes of a mash up of 70s and 80s trailers ranging from everything. And I mean everything. Not knowing what the trailers were we were only told make sure it’s an 18+ crowd. Now obviously I was thinking okay…it’s gonna be some crazy old school splatter gore trailers mixed in with action and comedy. Umm…ya.
So we’re sitting there enjoying the trailers well enough. Taking us back to our childhood with some of them wheter comedy or horror. It was a good mix of people in he theater equal men and women of all ages. And then one minute we go from a trailer for “The Doberman Gang”, basically a kids adventure movie involving a gang of bankrobbing dogs to a straight up German XXX Hardcore porno movie trailer named BIGGIE. I kid you not…the amount of close up and money shots were only equal to the amount of times the german narrator kept repeating the word “Biiigggie” over and over again. I remember looking at everyone else and you could see some people squirming, some people laughing out loud, and some people looking very much into this coming attraction. Funny enough right after we got the trailer to 1990’s Captain America. It was the strangest sequence of trailers I have ever seen in a movie theater and looking back I’m glad I got experience it for the novelty. But it gave me an idea how awkward or bizarre it might have been for people in the 70s to watch pornos with a crowd in a theater. Different world for sure.
Sometimes you just have to say “sorry”. Back in 2010 we had the “honour” of screening the first Suicide Girls’ horror movie Suicide Girls Must Die. Now it was suppose to be a sort of reality found footage thing where they go some island for a photo shoot and they start disappearing one at a time with a killer lurking. On this night the bar was open for the audience and thank god. Even though the suicide girls were a pretty popular and big deal back then it was not enough to save this train wreck and stop me from burying my head in my lap feeling so bad for the people that paid money to come out. About 30 minutes in I looked over at my buddy Bill and said “okay, this is so bad we have to drink. Everytime they say or do something stupid we take a drink.” That my friends was a terrible idea because as the movie was coming to the end I was having problems seeing straight. Luckily most of the crowd had the same idea and they were lauging at the tragedy of this film with us. All the kills were off screen too as this so-called slasher flick was really pissing us off. And then I remember telling my friend “I bet you none of them are even dead. It’s just gonna be some shitty “April Fool’s Day” ripoff. Yup. That’s what it was. Anyways it was then my job to get on the stage with a mic which would usually be the old “What did you guys think?” routine. Not this time good people.
I went full on apology mode. I felt so terrible for the paying people I was speechless at what we all sat through. I’m pretty sure I thanked the bartender outside more for letting us double fist beers inside the theater quicker and quicker with each passing minute of this film. Everytime I tried to say something I just paused, looked back at the screen, looked at the crowd, and stated “I’m so sorry about that”. I could not even stand up I just sat on the stage near the end. Remember kids, always screen your films first if possible before showing them to the public. But there was happy ending that night….
We atleast had the common sense to make it a double feature and had playing after one of the best 80s slasher films ever made Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter. Infact I remember feeling better when most of the people said they mainly came out to see that film. Jason Voorhees to the rescue that night as him, Glover, and Feldmen turned our frowns upside down.
Screening the formerly banned in Alberta 1984 classic SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT back in 2009 was a treat. Most people did not realize the film was actually still banned in the province up until we screened it including us. We had to go through the process of actually getting the filmboard to unban it before it could be played to the public. Strange but true my friends. Anyways we wanted to do something fun in keeping with the christmas spirit of things. In keeping with the film we asked our good friend and security man Kyle if he would be cool with wearing a Santa suit to let our fine movie customers in the theaters. He said yes because Kyle was always game for anything to help the cause.
Now Kyle was and still is a larger man so when Derek showed up with the Santa suit there was an obvious problem. The damn thing was way too small. One size fits all my ass. The other minor problem was Kyle may have a had a few drinks prior to showing up. Infact I think his only job that night was to be Santa so that was fine but when I say a few drinks I might be understating that fact. All I remember is he comes walking in with the biggest, greasiest burrito in hands I’m guessing to soak up some of booze but he was getting it everywhere but inside his mouth. I mean this was one insane mutant burrito.
So Kyle being a good sport gets one of us to hold his burrito which has spilled all over his wifebeater shirt leaving grease stains and while still holding his beer puts on the suit. The jacket sort of fits, the hat no problem. Then the pants. Oh boy. With one tug a rip is heard and his crotch is an open playing field. But have no fear. Derek quickly reacts and gets creative with a Pilsner cardboard case and tape. The results are truly magical, terrifying, and funny as fuck. Given back his food and still drinking his beer Kyle was ready to give holiday cheer to one and all coming to the show. One slight problem. That same night there was a play happening in the building of The Nutcracker. We’re talking fancy upper class types from our city with their kids and Kyle is stumbling up and down bringing the “Ho Ho Hos’ to everyone including those people just getting out of the play. I will never forget this nicely dressed family of four with two young kids walking towards Kyle with fear. Well the parents anyways. The kids were in awe of Kyle and maybe for a second thought Santa just tied one on and is tired. Kyle did not break character. Those parents of course did their best to reassure the children that was NOT the real Santa. I wonder if their young eyes still remember that night a decade later? Anyways to never forget that moment I have a picture of Kyle’s “Bad Santa” hanging on my wall framed to always cheer me up…thank you Kyle!
In a strange way Kyle kind of was the definition of DEDFEST in those early years. Fun and by the seat of our pants. Just screening fun movies and drinking beers with old friends and new ones we would meet because the movies always brought us together.
So many standout moments from the early years including sellout screenings of DEAD SNOW (the closing film of 2009s fest), the sellout screening of 2010s RARE EXPORTS, and the crowd completely losing their minds over the short film TREEVENGE directed by Jason “Hobo WIth A Shotgun” Eisener.
Those first couple years were filled with great times overall from our point of view and hopefully the crowd that came kept coming back over the years. I’m not gonna lie. I have so many personal tales and memories I want to write and share about in the near future dealing with the history so consider this Part 1 of who knows how many. I mean I have not even got to 2010 yet when we moved to our next venue. Anyways thanks for reading as always guys and if you have a favourite DEDFEST memory or screening feel free to comment or share. A film festival is all about community and bringing us film nerds of the genre loving kind together. Edmonton is one of the best and doing this festival really proved that. Just writing a few words tonight reminds me why I love movies, screening them, recommending them, and meeting fellow fans turned friends over the years through DEDFEST and the videostore. Till next time stay safe. Now where is my drink? Cheers.