It has been a wonderfully wild year in the darkness. Bar Trash exploded into my life in 2022 and 2023 was my fist 12 month stretch of weekly bar screenings. We also had our biggest and boldest Queer Horror Nights so far… Let’s get stuck in!
My weekly cult cinema event Bar Trash started the year with its third sensational season, TRASH OR TREASURE? (18 JAN to 28 MAY), a knowing wink at the Sight & Sound programme of the “100 greatest films ever made” running concurrently across town at BFI Southbank and IMAX.
I wanted to deconstruct the whole “good/bad” critical binary so I resurrected one of the most controversial movie lists of all time, The Golden Turkey Awards by Harry and Michael Medved. Using their two snark-filled volumes from the 1980s as my route map, I screened a series of the ‘turkeys’ and gauged audience opinion with new ‘trash or treasure’ polling cards (which have become a staple serving at Bar Trash). What does ‘good’ or ‘bad’ mean when you’re having a great time in good company?
The season went epic, straddling two venues and lasting a full five months! At Genesis Cinema, we staged two studio cinema screenings – KING KONG ’76 (01 MAR) and EXORCIST 2 (22 MAR) – a DIY recreation of William Castle’s Percepto! seat buzzing/stooge system for THE TINGLER (15 FEB), a sing-along JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (with our own personal ‘Jesus’, 15 MAR), and a take-over by queer wrestling collective Fist Club for International Women’s Day featuring an unexpected tribute to Raquel Welch (KANSAS CITY BOMBER, 07 MAR). Our biggest box office smash was undoubtedly THE GREEN SLIME (18 JAN), our biggest bomb was HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL! (26 MAR), and almost everyone hated EXORCIST 2 (giving it a slender ‘victory’ over DAMNATION ALLEY, 01 FEB).
My favourite screenings of this season? Boxing kangaroo comedy MATILDA for introducing folk to a delightful film that no-one had heard about, THE TINGLER for fulfilling a boyhood dream to get my arse buzzed in the cinema, and KANSAS CITY BOMBER because the film really rocked with a live crowd, and so did Fist Club.
You can read my article about ‘the social power of bad movies’ here.
Bar Trash rampaged on with season four, MONSTER MAYHEM!, which ran from 31 MAY to an extended 13 SEP. We were meant to climax with Roland Emmerich’s GODZILLA at Genesis (23 AUG) but things had been gong so well we snuck in a final date for TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA at Rule Zero. Our biggest sellers of this season were the OG GODZILLA ’54 (for which we literally ran out of furniture to sit people on at Genesis…) and sold-out shows for the two MECHAGODZILLA titles at Rule Zero. Along the way, other delights included introducing people to the SFX work of Wah Ming Chang on BLACK SCORPION (07 JUN), getting myself roasted by Loose Willis for our Bar Trash 1st birthday screening of MONOLITH MONSTERS (14 JUN), and hearing our crowd ROAR with delight as the big guy flew in GODZILLA VS HEDORAH (19 JUL).
My favourite screening of that season? G’54 was incredibly special, with a packed house showing near silent reverence for this cautionary classic. However, I need to give an honourable mention to our first ever Mystery Title, SPACE MONSTER WANGMAGWI (16 AUG). This spot was meant to be taken by THE BLOB (1988). However, that title got pulled at the last minute by the distributors leaving me with an empty slot. Indeed, as of the Friday before the Wednesday, I still hadn’t found a suitable replacement… And then I saw a film online in which a small South Korean boy pisses inside a kaijū’s skull, and I just knew we had found our unicorn feature. The film had been lost since its 1967 first run, resurfacing in 2021/22. I have never watched a film with such breathless wonder at Bar Trash. Mystery Titles have now become a regular feature of my programming but you never forget your first time. Thank you to everyone who held my hand through the turbulence. It’s also possible this might have been SPACE MONSTER WANGMAGWI‘s UK (accidental) theatrical debut… but we don’t know for sure…
Bar Trash concluded its year with our best selling season of 2023 and the return of my eco-horror fetish, TRASH PLANET 2 (27 SEP to 06 DEC). Inspired by Milicent Patrick’s designs for the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and her story as retold by Mallory O’Meara in her book The Lady From The Black Lagoon (which became our season giveaway thanks to the generosity of Genesis Cinema!), this season romped through the decades I’d not had a chance to explore in the original (which focussed exclusively on the 1970s).
Whilst CREATURE was a spectacular opening night, it was the delirium of our return to Florida’s fresh water springs with William ‘Wild Bill’ Grefé’s STING OF DEATH that swamped our box office. Whilst I love GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS it’s fair to say not everyone did (‘more sheep / less bullshit’ sums up the review cards…). Our Mystery Title was revealed to be Greydon Clark’s ‘mutant cat on a cruise ship’ movie UNINVITED: the packed crowd almost blew the bloody doors off Bar Paragon with screams of delight during the film’s titanic finale. My favourite show of the season was undoubtably THE PLAGUE DOGS. Whilst the swerve in tone prompted our smallest audience of the season, watching this bleak masterpiece with our Bar Trash crowd was a very serious treat.
We had been merrily rolling along extending the Bar Trash programmes at Genesis with monthly screenings at my other venue, Rule Zero in Hackney Wick. Their slightly quieter basement screening space meant we could settle into a few more films like LIFEFORCE (29 JAN), ZONE TROOPERS (30 APR), and XANADU (28 MAY) in comfort with at-table food serving.
Sadly, the distribution gods intervened again and changes in film licensing policies have made it impossible for me to match the programmes to the spaces. So, we launched a new strand – Bar Treasures – which is all about screening the classics of speculative cinema. The new programme started with a run of ANIME CLASSICS and it was great to see crowds turn out for MEMORIES (30 OCT) – which played brilliantly on the venue’s over-spec’d sound system – then GHOST IN THE SHELL (13 NOV), and my favourite event of the bunch so far, TOKYO GODFATHERS (18 DEC), a festive treat (with ground-breaking trans representation).
ANIME CLASSICS continues in 2024 with 6 more titles (dates and titles confirmed soon!).
QUEER HORROR NIGHTS
With so much trash to sort out, my other screening programme Queer Horror Nights in collaboration with Last Frame Club, had to take a bit of a backseat. Vera and I plunged back into the darkness with a new collaboration for us: MEMEMTO MORI as part of Queer East at Genesis Cinema. We then contributed three hands-on events to Queer Fest: a night of KENNETH ANGER SHORTS (a Bar Trash special), and a draw-along screening and bookmaking workshop for THE BABADOOK with the phenomenal Queer Art Club London. Learning to draw “horror sounds”, “outlines”, “shadows”, and “eyes” with Finn Yvo whilst watching Jennifer Kent’s modern classic was an absolute blast.
Then we went plant-based… We’d been itching to return to Rio Cinema with our Halloween Monsters Ball since the previous year’s screening of NIGHTBREED (it’s like panto season for us horror film exhibitors). I was initially a bit nervous about my choice of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS [The Director’s Cut] because I felt too many people would have seen it too many times. How wrong I was… We sold out the Rio and packed it with queer joy from our pre-drinks in the bar and trailer trash in the basement, to our divine drag superstars Loose Willis and Co Kendrah on the main stage, and some special effects we threw into the auditorium for the finale. As always, special mention goes to our crowd who turned up once again in impeccable Halloween costume as well as some kink and fetish finery (following our near-perfect Venn diagram of a dress code) and stomped the stage in our ‘Carnival of the Creatures’. The Rio is lucky to still have a roof.
Oh, and I made a plant…
Queer Horror Nights ended our year with another late night screening at the Rio, and for this one the audience was the special effect… Back on stage with Loose Willis, we screened CHRISTMAS EVIL and invited people to reveal whether they’d been naughty or nice in our ‘Christmas Confessional’ during the intermission. This was a more intimate event than LITTLE SHOP and featured different kinds of magical moments, from Loose Willis telling cosy Christmas stories by the tree, to folk telling us (and everyone else…) about things they probably shouldn’t have done. Our eternal thanks to artist Elisabetta Antonucci for giving Loose Willis a stunning Throne of Bears, and to the rights holder for allowing us to donate our licence fee to the Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline appeal to tackle LGBTQ+ isolation and loneliness. We also donated proceeds from our sales of ‘naughty or nice’ badge packs to the same cause.
Since we did THE TINGLER and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, various kind folk have made reference to the spirit of William Castle in their reviews. Re-creating his exhibition gimmicks from the original 1960 release of THE TINGLER and adding a few of my own (inspired by the Off-Broadway show) for LITTLE SHOP were without doubt my highlights of the year. I’ll be taking more inspiration from Castle’s legendary showmanship as we prepare for 2024, learning more about how we can amplify the shared cinema experience because that’s what it should always be about: bringing people together in the darkness.
THAT’S A WRAP
My only regret of the year is that I didn’t get to see more of other people’s DIY cinema events. My sense is that alternative screen culture is in rude health (at least in London), just as the cinema industry itself still seems to be struggling. I look forward to getting out and about more in 2024 (which is as close to a NYE resolution as you’ll get from me).
As I exit the stage for 2023, the main thing to do is to thank all of our incredible audiences, some of whom turn out for every show, some of whom put together their own programmes, and others burn brightly as one night stands. Cinema doesn’t happen without its collaborators, but we only have one job to do: give audiences the best possible reason to watch a film in our company. I hope to see you all in the darkness again soon.