Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting and eating with Lars Nilsen, who might have one of the five coolest jobs in the world.
Nilsen is the senior programmer at Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas – arguably the finest movie theater in America, if not the world. Not only does the Alamo screen current Hollywood fare, but it’s known for championing the odd and under-seen. Everything from art house to obscurities from the cinematic archives finds a home at the Alamo.
One of my favorite features at the Alamo is Weird Wednesdays, a continuing series curated by Nilsen and highlighting the forgotten films that don’t fit easy categorization.
They might be movies from the bottom half of drive-in double bills, foreign exploitation fare or no-budget horror. What they all share is a certain outsider status. These are films that, until Nilsen got a hold of them, existed without a champion.
Inspired by Nilsen’s work at the Alamo, I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s Reel Releases to my own favorite oddities, films that have never quite found mainstream acceptance but just might find the audience I feel they deserve on some Weird Wednesday.
KING KONG ESCAPES (1967): Make no mistake, the giant ape in this film shares very little DNA with the 1933 classic. Produced by Japan’s Toho Studios, best known for Godzilla, Rankin-Bass, and stop-motion Christmas specials, this film features Kong and a robotic copy mining at the North Pole before traveling south to Tokyo (where else) for some primate fisticuffs. Perfect.
HOLLYWOOD MAN (1976): Actor William Smith is probably best remembered as Clint Eastwood’s big brawl opponent in Every Which Way You Can and Conan’s dad in Conan the Barbarian, which is sort of a shame. A big name in bike movies, Smith might have hit his apex in Hollywood Man. The story of an actor trying to get a project produced using mob money that the mob doesn’t necessarily want back, it’s both an interesting look at the challenges involved in making movies and a love letter to the genre films that routinely featured Smith.
THE DEATH WHEELERS (1973): I saw this movie late one evening in a terrible hotel in London and have loved it unapologetically ever since. Part zombie movie and part biker exploitation flick, this film, released as Psychomania in the U.K., centers on a biker gang that, after dabbling in witchcraft, discovers the secret of undead immortality. My favorite shot involves one of the gang literally riding his bike out of his own grave.
THE AMAZING DOBERMANS (1976): While the cast features heavy hitters such as Barbara Eden, James Franciscus and the legendary Fred Astaire, the real stars are a quintet of intimidating Dobermans that Astaire commands with what appears to be a television remote. If that were not enough, the plot involves a hapless ex-con (Franciscus) on the lam from ruthless racketeers while falling in with carnival folk. That’s cinema gold.
DEVIL’S DYNAMITE (1987): I’m not sure what this movie is about, and I don’t care. There are blue vampires doing battle with a cut-rate superhero known only as Future Warrior and a subplot about a mob-endorsed kidnapping. In Hong Kong. With Kung Fu. And the vampires hop. Seriously. This is either conceptual art of the highest order or … well …