There’s usually no problem finding a good movie to see in the Twin Cities—between the imperiled Oak Street Cinema, the Heights, Walker Art Center, and Landmark Theatres, there’s plenty to choose from that doesn’t insult one’s intelligence or batter one with sound and C.G.I. Sometimes, though, you get the urge to shut down your brain and settle in with something genuinely awful. For the worst, most bizarre—and by their very nature obscure—movies in history, there is no better local source than Joel D. Stitzel’s Cinema Slop, the eccentric movie program that screens the second Tuesday of every month in the Dinkytowner Cafe.
“We present rare and unusual movies that aren’t commercially valuable,” Stitzel explains of his free program, now in its fourth year. “It’s questionable as to why people would release these in the first place.”
The Cinema Slop curator’s taste for such ephemera was acquired at a young age, thanks largely to local pitchman Mel Jass’ Matinee Movie, a Channel 11 stalwart noteworthy for also forging the Coen brothers’ tastes. Jass was famous for wasting everyone’s Saturday afternoons with such fare as Project Moonbase and other sci-fi drivel. With the arrival of home video, Stitzel, like many film obsessives, began to build his own impressive library. Unlike other buffs, however, his collection is mostly made up of films that could not even properly be categorized as B-grade fare: This is the stuff that even remote gas-station video stores shy away from. Because of this, the pictures featured in Cinema Slop are often difficult to find. With the advent of eBay, the hunt has become somewhat easier but often more expensive, as collectors like Stitzel compete to acquire the strangest and most obscure titles.
It would be easy to look upon Cinema Slop as a sort of den of cinematic iniquity. Stitzel has, after all, shown such “masterpieces” as the Esperanto-language Incubus, starring William Shatner with his own hair (a novelty unto itself); Toomorrow, in which Olivia Newton-John is kidnapped by aliens because her rock band’s “vibrations” are needed to save their planet; and The Gong Show Movie, which needs no explanation at all. Before each feature (there are at least two each month), audiences are treated to odd shorts, cartoons, and sometimes bits of strange Japanese game shows.
Cinema Slop does manage to slip in some legitimate gems now and again. When this past year brought impressive DVD reissues of classic works by Robert Bresson and Jacques Demy, Stitzel screened films by the same directors that were left out of boxed sets and film festivals. Slop has also filled its nightly roster with works by Andy Warhol, had Joan-of-Arc themed nights (featuring Dreyer’s silent classic and Besson’s lackluster modern version), freaked out my own Zappa-loving brother with a screening of 200 Motels, and, at times, retreated into the comfort of Stitzel family favorites, like Wings of Desire and Séance for a Wet Afternoon.
It is his program, after all. But Cinema Slop’s usual fare is the film equivalent of a White Castle hamburger. Its clientele are often shaggy college students and backpack-wielding film fanatics looking for something out of the ordinary to pass the time or fuel their habit. The same rules apply in the Dinkytowner as in most theaters: Talk too loud and the surly crowd will bark its disapproval.
Despite the “slop” in its title, you can’t watch a movie and have better food anywhere else in the Twin Cities. To my mind there’s not much more appealing than having a good BLT and a Newcastle Ale while enjoying Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr in Son of Dracula. Primarily, though, there is a genuine pleasure in joining a like-minded crowd and seeing something like Night Train to Terror, a thoroughly misguided horror film that includes, sandwiched between the requisite nudity and gore, an earnest dialogue between God and Satan. The whole proposition leaves a little breathing room for your conscience—the production cost of these films is a tenth of what Jim Carrey makes in a more forgettable movie.
Then there’s the pleasure of seeing something truly awful and knowing you couldn’t replicate it if you wanted to. It takes a certain genius to make one of the worst films ever—Ed Wood’s and Russ Meyer’s films, in my mind, are far more entertaining than anything Ron Howard has ever directed. Or consider the Oscar winners of the past. Wouldn’t you rather see the 1968 Japanese transvestite “classic” Black Lizard than Oliver! (the Best Picture winner from that same year)?
“This is sheer, stupid entertainment,” Stitzel claims with a wicked glee. “You can have the canonical works of Western culture, you can have the pap, but we show the stuff that falls through the cracks. If all you have is a top box office mentality, you aren’t going to get any spice in your life.”
This article originally appeared in The Rake magazine.