This past weekend, I participated in my very first Shock and Awe: From Dusk-to-Dawn Grindhouse Movie Marathon. The Toronto institution, now in its fifth iteration, is an all-night screening of some of the finest low-budget films recent history has to offer, beginning at 11:30 at night and ending at some point in the middle of the following morning.
Despite my enthusiasm for the obscure and questionable in film, I felt a bit bad about losing a night of sleep to watch six movies in a row. Accordingly, I turned my Shock and Awe participation into a fundraiser for the Red Door Family Shelter. If friends and family pledged $666 before the movie marathon, I promised to stay for the entire duration – no napping, no leaving early. I’m happy to say we raised over $850 for the Red Door, which meant I was staying up all night. (Thank you cards are on the way to all those of you who pledged.)
I arrived at the Revue Cinema just minutes before start time, pleasantly surprised (and impressed) by the number of attendees: 80, at least. I recognized no one, save a raver friend of a friend who I felt might have more experience in staying up all night than I did. The group seated just in front of me had come prepared for the long haul, with neck pillows and honest-to-goodness Return of the Jedi blankets. Soon, Dion Conflict, Shock and Awe organizer and host, took to the stage. In his charmingly awkward manner, he outlined the evening and introduced the films.
Shock and Awe is no normal film festival. The Revue concession stand would be offering burritos, pizza and breakfast food, depending on the time of night (or day), as well as bottomless buckets of popcorn, coffee (key) and Red Bull. Additionally, Dion Conflict would be selling some DVDs from his personal stock, including such gems as TV After-School Specials and a collection of stand-up comedy about Pop Tarts. After little preamble, the first film began.
The Groove Tube:
The first film was a very early television parody, featuring (among others) a very young Richard Belzer and and equally young Chevy Chase acting in spoofs of broadcast news, dramas and commercials. Among some of the highlights were The Ko-Ko Show, a children’s program where the clown host asked the adults to leave the room, then responded to viewers’ requests to read sexy bits of novels (like Fanny Hill), and inverse cop show, Dealers. Lowlights included Richard Belzer playing a black prostitute (complete in blackface!). Don’t think I missed that, Belzer! Most surprising was that most of the film was written and directed by, as well as starred Ken Shapiro – surprising in that I have no idea what happened to Ken Shapiro after The Groove Tube, and neither does the internet.
What Waits Below:
I passed on the burritos to view What Waits Below on an empty stomach. During the break, Conflict handed out door prizes – everything from the second season of The Sopranos on VHS to a series of Islamic Prayer wall clocks and (most impressive) a Blue Jays Jell-O mold. What Waits Below was a decent action film about a military group who attempt to plant some sort of transmitter in a never-explored cave in Central America, but find it filled with a race of albino cave dwellers. You might be unsurprised to discover these cave dwellers, who looked like David Bowie in Labyrinth covered in Golden Retriever pelts, were not friendly. Our hero, Wolf (‘As in Lone Wolf?’ / ‘No, as in Wolfson.’ – sample dialogue), owns a bitchin’ leather jacket (I think with an eagle on the back) and gets involved with a bunch of U.S. military and anthropologists, both wanting a remote cave for very different reasons. What follows included the triumphantly delivered line, ‘I don’t give a DAMN ABOUT ANTHROPOLOGY!’
I bought a pizza and coffee at the break (3 a.m.) while trailers for movies like A Bullet for Pretty Boy and The Sicilian Clan played. (At this point, it should also be noted I believe I went to the washroom a full seven or eight times over the course of the evening.)
The third film was an uncomfortable mash-up of British sex comedy and mad scientist horror film. Our hero, who looked like Jay Ferguson from Sloan, takes a trip via ‘Hairy Holidays,’ a tour that caters to the hippie crowd. He meets a fetching young woman on his train ride and they both end up at the aforementioned Horror Hospital. Their host is a villainous scientist (played by Michael Gough, Alfred from the Burton-era Batman movies) who lobotomizes his guests to become his servants. And if they run away, he chases them down with his souped-up black towncar / decapitation machine. Bizarrely, this was probably one of my favourites of the night, despite the movie never deciding whether it was a fun romp or disturbing horror flick.
Before the fourth film, all attendees were required to take an oath not to reveal the name or details of the Mystery Film, and I intend to honour that oath. It’s truly unfortunate, however, that the Mystery Film had one of the catchiest theme songs I’ve heard. (I find myself starting to sing it at the most inopportune moments.) Dion Conflict introduced some audience participation into this screening, with audience members instructed to boo and clap at the appearance of some characters or the recitation of some lines of dialogue.
Finally, it was time for Rappin’, the move that HAD to happen. Rappin’ was the movie I’d been waiting all night for. From the people who’d brought us Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (two of my favourite all-time exploitation films) came Rappin’, the hip-hop musical. The film featured Mario van Peebles as John ‘Rappin’’ Hood (who takes up a Robin Hood role in his neighbourhood after returning from prison) and a pre-ER Eriq LaSalle. However, the titular rappin’ for John Hood was handled by none other than Ice-T (the night’s second appearance of a Law & Order: SVU cast member, for those of you keeping track)! Though my eyes were becoming weary at this point, Rappin’ was worth the wait for two things in particular: (1) the second appearance of a stenciled leather jacket (Hood wore a jacket featuring a winged panther on the back), and (2) an all-cast closing credits sung in rap.
At 8:30 in the morning, I bought my second cup of coffee.
The last movie of the night was also the only one I’d seen before, the cult classic Sleepaway Camp. For those of you who haven’t seen it, I won’t ruin it by saying too much about the plot. Sleepaway Camp is often described as derivative of Friday the 13th. And while the movie does involve campers being picked off one-by-one by a deranged killer, it’s so much weirder than Friday the 13th and takes some unexpected turns. The final shot of the movie truly haunts my nightmares. As my brother suggested, they should have shown Sleepaway Camp first, as the last scene would have kept everyone awake for the remainder of the night.
The two-thirds of the audience that survived the entire night stumbled out into the mid-morning sun, just as Roncesvalles was beginning to awake. It really was an experience like no other, and the organizers and Revue Cinema staff were extremely helpful and friendly, but man, was I tired. Would I do it again? Probably, but I’d probably bring along a friend next time. It’s hard to make quips by yourself.