For some time now, Mondo—the incredibly awesome movie-poster producing arm of the Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse theater chain—has been holding these Mondo Mystery Movie events. Perhaps you’ve heard of ‘em? Ticketholders throw down a wad of cash, get a ticket, and then show up to a theater without any idea what movie they’ve purchased a ticket to. In addition to the screening, those in attendance also receive an extremely limited edition Mondo print, a visit from someone associated with the movie, and…well– as we all know– anything can happen at an event being thrown by the Drafthouse. Last night, the latest Mondo Mystery Movie (hyped as “one of the biggest events in Drafthouse history”) took place here in Austin, TX. What movie screened? Who showed up? What did the print look like? Find out after the jump, folks.
We’re going to do something a little different with this writeup. If you read my last Mondo Mystery Movie report, you’ll recall that I attended Mondo’s secret screening of Jurassic Park and wrote about the experience afterwards. This time, I’m going to break my report up into two halves: a pre-screening section and a post-screening section. If you’re the type that just wants to get the facts (read: to get their reading over with as quickly as possible), go ahead and skip on down to “Post-Screening Thoughts”. If, however, you’re the type that enjoys taking the long (read: extremely long) way ‘round to the big reveal, follow me down to “Pre-Screening Thoughts”.
Why are we doing things this way? It’s my hope to convey the massively exciting buildup to a Mondo Mystery Movie: the feverish guessing games that take place, the (sometimes exhausting) anticipation, the idea that—as Tom Petty tells us—“the waiting is the hardest part”. That, or I’m just a chatty dick. You make the call! Let’s move on to my pre-screening thoughts…
One morning during Fantastic Fest 2011, I had breakfast with Mondo’s creative director, Justin Ishmael, and his lovely girlfriend (another online writer I happen to be good friends with). Over the best breakfast tacos I’ve ever had, I told Ishmael that the previous month’s Mondo Mystery Movie was one of my all-time favorite Drafthouse events: I’d scored an amazing Jurassic Park print by Aaron Horkey, seen a movie I hadn’t seen in ages on the big-screen, and witnessed one the best Q&A’s I’d ever seen (with Phil Tippett, the Oscar-winning special effects master who I later took a leak next to in the Drafthouse bathroom) all in one shot. It was thrilling, particularly the lead-up to the show itself, where everyone was trying to figure out what movie Mondo would screen.
“Oh, yeah?” Ishmael said. “Just wait for October. Mondo Mystery Movie IX’s gonna kick ass”.
“Really,” I replied, my ears perking up. “Got something cool planned?”
“It’s going to be…” At this, words seemed to fail him. Ishmael looked off, searching for the proper phrasing, and settled on: “…one of the biggest things Mondo—or the Alamo Drafthouse—has ever done.”
And with that, I was sold. I mean, if I’m going to be honest, I would’ve been sold on the next Mondo Mystery Movie even without the hype from its creative director. These events are awesome, precisely the sort of attraction that drew me to Austin (from the stupefyingly boring environs of Dallas) in the first place. And besides: being the constantly-at-risk-of-going-broke Mondo collector that I am, these screenings are kinda mandatory. He could’ve told me the show was gonna be “mediocre at best” and I still would’ve weaseled my way onto the press list.
At any rate, Ishmael’s claims sent me into a frenzy of guesswork and late-night “What if?” sessions with my fellow Mondo enthusiasts. Frantic e-mails were exchanged, private messages shot back and forth, conspiracy theories were traded. It’s now about 48 hours before the event, and everyone I know has their own predictions about what the next Mondo Mystery Movie will be (these range from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Nightmare Before Christmas to Pulp Fiction to Ghostbusters and everything in-between), even though every one of us realize that even trying to figure it all out is the very definition of futility: it could literally be anything, and the clues we have to go on—such as they are—don’t offer much.
For instance, Ishmael’s said that the screening—and the print that comes with it—will be for a film that Mondo fans have been “asking for for a long time”, a film that they “haven’t been able to” pull off before now. We’ve also been told that the event will take place at a mega-church downtown (well, that’s not quite accurate: we’ve been told to meet at the church, but I suspect that this is a decoy and that we’ll actually be moving to another location once we get there). We’ve also heard that—as Ishmael told me at Fantastic Fest—this will be “one of the biggest events in Drafthouse history”. Considering the company’s history, those are big words, indeed.
Less than 36 hours away from Mondo Mystery Movie IX, things have taken an intriguing turn. Emails were sent out this morning announcing that we’d all need to be at our “screening location” (the aforementioned big-ass megachurch downtown) no later than 8:30pm tomorrow, that it’s imperative we aren’t any later than that: “Doors will be locked at 9:30”, the email says. I’m convinced we won’t actually be seeing the film at the church, but I’m being told I’m “paranoid”. Am I? Or am I paranoid like a fox (note: foxes are seldom paranoid)? It’s turning into a bit of a frenzy, trying to guess this month’s Mondo Mystery Movie.
Meanwhile, a map was provided with this morning’s email, one showing us where we should park. Attached were a few bits of exciting news: for one thing, the email tells us that “it’s a long show, plan accordingly”; for another, we’re being told that those of us who purchased the $200 variant print will be receiving both a variant print and a regular print in our “tubes” (the heavy-duty cardboard containers Mondo hands out their wares in). Score!
Some prognosticators are now predicting a double-feature, while others are taking the “it’s a long show” as all the confirmation they need that Pulp Fiction will end up being the film in question. Me? I dunno what to think, but I’m beyond excited at this point. Tomorrow night cannot roll around fast enough.
So, let’s get the big news out of the way first. After weeks of frantic speculation, the truth is out: tonight, Mondo screened George Romero’s Dawn of The Dead as its ninth Mondo Mystery Movie. Romero was, indeed, on-hand. The print—by artist Jeff Proctor—is absolutely gorgeous (you can see a shot of the regular version below). And the church? Well, the church was (as I suspected) nothing more than a meeting place: we all gathered in the church’s parking lot, were given wristbands, and then traveled—by bus—to a run-down mall in north Austin. If you’ve only come here for the facts, there they are.
What about you, though? What about the ones who’ve spent the past few weeks guessing what the Mondo Mystery Movie might be, the ones who obsessed over hints, the precious readers who’ve bothered reading through the previous 1,200 words? Chances are, you’d like a little more detail. I’m happy to provide it (at this late hour—3am—there’s little hope that I’ll be doing any real sleep any time soon, anyway: the screening was electric, and the mood was jubilant afterwards). Here’s how it went down:
By the time my group arrived at the church—about an hour before we were supposed to be there—there were already a good hundred people standing in a line. It was obvious at that point that we wouldn’t be sticking around for long, but Justin Ishmael continued teasing everyone well into the wait, Tweeting, “I’m in the church right now, setting up for the screening” (or something to that effect). After rounding up our wristbands and joining a second line, we all watched a fleet of charter busses cruise into the church parking lot: here, then, was the truth.
After my group boarded a bus, we cheered as the bus closed its doors and hit the road…only to have the wind taken out of our sails moments later when the bus came to a halt. In front of us was the last bus that had left, and it appeared that we were being held up for some reason. Thus began an hour-and-twenty-minute wait as the remaining busses were loaded. In front of me sat the world’s biggest douchebag, intent on running his mouth for the entire ride. He started as soon as he sat down, going on and on to whoever would listen about Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Bourne movies, and continued all the way to the mall. In close quarters—and with everyone else speaking in hushed, polite tones—it was impossible not to hear every word this moron (that’s A photo of him below) said, including the point where he admitted that he thought—and I quote—that “Raiders of The Lost Ark is just as sucky as Kingdom of The Crystal Skull”. Saying that everyone on the bus wanted this guy dead does not do the simmering rage I felt around me justice.
Eventually—mercifully—we ended up at the mall, accompanied during the entire ride by a police escort: cops on bikes, cops in cars, all of them with their cherries on. We must have made for quite the sight, traveling up the highway. When we arrived at the mall, a team of people made up to look like zombies were milling about. Upon seeing us, they clamored towards the busses as we rolled ever closer to our destination, smearing fake blood on the windows and pounding at the doors. As it happens, I’d been invited by the fine folks on the Drafthouse’s PR team to take part in this little bonus (the email said, “We wanna invite you to get a makeover before the screening”, which sounded alarming at first), but I’d opted out, explaining that I wanted to experience the evening just as everyone else would. I did, however, spot Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles amongst the undead, spinning in circles in his wheelchair and gurgling in his best zombie voice (it was hilarious). I’d hear from others later that he was actively attempting to “bite” people. That Harry Knowles: always in-character.
Soon the busses stopped, and we were told that “things (were) about to start happening very quickly” and that we should “move into the mall as quickly as possible”. The doors opened, and we flooded towards the exit. Outside, gunshots rang out (a faux SWAT team was engaged in a firefight nearby), faux-dead bodies (see photo below) littered the ground, cop cars stood around with their lights flashing, ambulances honked their horns. Mondo did a bang-up job making the outside of the mall look like an absolute warzone, and after we’d navigated our way through it all, we found ourselves inside the mall. By now, most people had guessed what the Mystery Movie was going to be.
Inside the mall, 700+ chairs had been set up in front of a massive screen in one of the mall’s main corridors. As per Alamo tradition, zombie-related nonsense screened on this setup while we waited for things to get started. By the time Justin Ishmael took the stage, it was almost 11pm (way, way later than we were supposed to start, which is why I wonder if the whole “80-minute-wait-on-the-bus” thing wasn’t planned to be shorter), and he quickly brought out George Romero to address the crowd. Romero expressed his deep love for the Drafthouse, thanked the crowd for coming, seemed thrilled that Dawn of The Dead was about to screen inside a mall that looked a helluva lot like the mall he filmed about thirty years ago, and then he shot a dude dressed as a zombie (fake gun, of course). It was short, sweet, and to the point.
And then: the film. Watching Dawn of The Dead is never bad, but it’s especially awesome when you’re doing it inside a mall. For a crowd of 700+ film geeks (many of whom were sucking down the beers that were being sold over near the food court), everyone was remarkably well-behaved. The film came and went without incident, wrapping up just after 1am. By this time, the hour was weighing heavily on many, and it was obvious that things had gone on longer than they’d planned. If a Q&A with Romero had been planned, it was jettisoned in favor of getting everyone up, out, and onto the busses…but not before handing out those amazing prints.
I paid for a variant print (the $200 version), which means that I ended up with a regular print of Proctor’s poster as well as the alternate, more exclusive version (for the record, I prefer the regular one). Proctor apparently spent weeks recreating every zombie that gets featured in Dawn of The Dead for this print: if you count, there’s something like 80 zombies in there. When we got home and unrolled our prints, we played a game of zombie Where’s Waldo, trying to stump the artist by remembering zombies from the film and then trying to pick them out from the crowd. We did not win this game: from the looks of it, Procter really did get every major zombie from the film into this print. It’s awesome to see a photo of, but—as with all Mondo prints—can only truly be appreciated in person.
All in all, this was an amazing event, the kind of thing that people will be talking about for a long, long time. If you’d told me a year ago that I’d one day watch Dawn of The Dead in a borderline-abandoned mall with George Romero, a team of people dressed as zombies, and a group of my closest friends, I’d have laughed in your face: we simply don’t live in a world where such dreams come true. But that would be a year ago, back before I’d been introduced to the neverending parade of awesome that is the Mondo Mystery Movie series.
I do think, however, that a word of caution might be in order: having 700 people on-hand seemed like a bit much, and detracted from the usual feeling of “specialness” that accompanies these screenings. In a theater with a couple hundred people, seeing an exclusive screening, engaging in a Q&A, and receiving a print feels a lot more personal (and when you add access to the Drafthouse bar/menu, it becomes something approaching perfection). But having damn-near 1,000 people in that mall (counting the staff, the rent-a-cops, the food vendors, the ticketholders, the zombies, Romero, and so on) made it feel a little less so, and several people I spoke with after the screening mentioned feeling bummed about this. Nevermind the fact that having 700 prints out in the wild diminishes their value: being elbow to elbow with a mass of ticketholders—some of whom seemed a little high strung—can distract from the joy being delivered through the event itself, and I’d caution Mondo (and the rest of the Drafthouse team) to keep these events to under 300 people in the future.
But, hey, they probably needed to sell that many tickets to cover the costs involved for all that pure, unadulterated awesomeness (rent-a-cops don’t come cheap, nor do charter busses, police escorts, and 1300 gallons of grease paint), so it’s all understandable. As always, much respect must be paid to the people at the Alamo Drafthouse– especially the fine folks at Fons PR and Mondo’s Justin Ishmael—as well as everyone else who made tonight such a once-in-a-lifetime event. This was a night I’ll not soon forget (and thanks to the print hanging, framed, on my wall…I don’t think I will).
Here’s the full gallery of images from the event [photo credits: Scott Wampler, Arnold Wells, and Jack Plunkett]