When I heard that the Alamo Drafthouse would be honoring the state of Texas with this year’s Rolling Roadshow screenings, I was delighted: this meant that all of this summer’s Rolling Roadshow events would be happening right in my own backyard. And when I learned that one of the first shows on the Rolling Roadshow schedule was a screening of the horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre– screening right next door to the house where Tobe Hooper filmed his masterpiece nearly four decades ago– I just about wet my pants in excitement. Turns out, I was right to be excited: as usual, the Drafthouse throws a helluva party. Read on for our report from the frontlines of this weekend’s awesome Texas Chainsaw Massacre screening, after the jump.
Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse theater chain is beloved the world over by film geeks, booze-enthusiasts, and genre fans, and with good reason: there simply isn’t a more film-geek friendly theater company currently in operation (and, yeah, we know about the Arclight: it’s got nothing on the Drafthouse).
Yeah, you’ve probably got your own “favorite movie theater”, one you go to all the time, one where you feel “at home”. But when’s the last time your favorite theater preceded a movie by running an on-screen announcement threatening anyone in the audience who’d dare to speak during the movie (“…we’ll take your ass out”)? When’s the last time your favorite theater offered a full menu, including an exclusive Shiner-Bock beer made from grapefruit and– according to the aftertaste I experienced this evening– unfiltered awesomeness and unicorn tears? When’s the last time your favorite theater screened The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the house where the original film was shot?
Ladies and gentlemen of the film geek community: I rest my case.
Every summer, the Alamo Drafthouse takes its Rolling Roadshow on the, er, road, and every summer it’s a balls-out celebration for film geeks. In years past, the Rolling Roadshow has screened Spielberg’s Jaws out on Lake Travis (audience members floated on the lake in inner tubes, bobbing in the water and watching the film on the Roadshow’s giant, inflatable screen while dudes in scuba-gear swam beneath them, yanking on random legs and scaring the sh-t out of everyone), Troll 2 in the middle-of-nowhere Utah town where the film was shot, and The Goonies inside one of those “Innerspace Caverns”-style places that’s half-a-mile under the surface of the Earth. It wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that the Rolling Roadshow makes film-geek dreams come true.
This year, the Rolling Roadshow is schlepping its inflatable screen all over Texas for a series of films based, filmed, or based-and-filmed in the Lone Star State. They’re screening Giant and No Country For Old Men down in Marfa (south Texas, where the films were shot). They’re screening John Wayne’s Red River at the Ft. Worth Stockyards. And last night, the Rolling Roadshow stopped in Kingsland, TX to screen Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
You’re probably wondering: “Why Kingsland?” Well, I’ll tell you: the house where Hooper filmed Chainsaw used to be located somewhere else (about 60 miles away, if what we’ve heard is true), but a few years back, some entrepreneurial sort purchased the house where Leatherface first appeared, transported it to Kingsland, and turned it into a quaint little barbecue joint. So, when Tim League– and a team of Texas-based film geeks including Joe Bob Briggs– decided that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had to be a part of this year’s Rolling Roadshow lineup, they set up shop in the vacant lot right next door to the house where it now stands. Considering how perfectly the screen (not to mention the camera-rigged truck and all the assembled seating) fit into that empty space, you’d think that the people of Kingsland had been waiting for last night’s screening ever since the house showed up.
League introduced the film– it’s worth noting that, in addition to being a helluva businessman and a film-geek God, League is also a master showman– by bringing out a handful of Chainsaw cast members who’d shown up for the event: Marilyn Burns (who played Sally in the film), Allen Danziger (who plays Jerry, the driver of the doomed VW Bus), and Edwin Neal (who plays the unhinged hitchhiker) and the film’s writer, Kim Henkel, were all on hand, and after saying a few words to the crowd, League welcomed a quintet of ladies to the front of the “stage” (read: patch of grass) for a “Scream Queen Contest”. Each girl stepped up to the mic, shrieked as loud as they could, and after all had had their turn, a winner was selected. Those of us sitting up front in the press/VIP section– which also happened to be where the speakers were located– spent the next few minutes waiting for a calamitous ringing to leave our ears.
This was followed by a typically twisted eating contest, the kind that League loves to include at these sorts of events. A few months back, he had a “Meatball-Eating Contest” during a screening for Universal’s Your Highness…which turned out to be a “Rocky Mountain Oysters-Eating Contest” after all the contestants had started chowing down (if you’re not familiar with Rocky Mountain Oysters, feel free to look those up now). This time, in honor of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, League offered a “Head Cheese-Eating Contest”. Five men were brought up to the same spot where the “Scream Queens” assembled, a countdown occurred, and then the 500-600 people in the audience were treated to the grossest spectacle anyone had seen in some time (assuming that most of the audience doesn’t see grown men shoveling head-cheese into their mouths at breakneck speeds on a regular basis).
These contests are exactly the kind of thing that makes the Alamo Drafthouse– and the events, parties, and screenings that it offers Austinites– so damn special: it’s not enough that everyone gets to see one of the greatest horror films ever made on an inflatable screen next door to where it was shot– they’re also going to get a show with the show, and that pre-show-show is going to be hilariously, typically weird. After League wrapped up the pre-show contests and finished introducing the film, the dude sitting next to me turned to me, pointed at League, and said, “That dude is my f—ing hero”.
As for the film itself, well, it was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, presented in 35mm, big as life and just as horrific as it’s always been. It had been some time since I’d seen the film, and on that occasion I’d watched Chainsaw on Blu-ray (which– let’s face it– is probably the best-looking version of the film we’ll ever see). Seeing it on a big screen was absolutely awesome, but it’d be disingenuous to say that it looked fantastic: this was a scratched, rough-looking print of the film, and while some might have complained about the grainy look of the film as it unspooled before them, I couldn’t help but feel that all the scratches, pops, and blown-out visuals only added to the Chainsaw-watching experience.
And for those of you that’ve never seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, allow me to assure you that that’s exactly what watching Chainsaw is: an experience. There are better horror films out there, and there are certainly better-acted, better-written, better-shot horror films available…but there are very, very few horror films that cause the visceral, primal, nerve-wracking reaction that the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre provokes in an audience. The film’s straight-up ugly, and when you’re watching it, you’re never unaware that the cast and crew went through hell to make the film. Hooper shot Chainsaw in the middle of an unreasonably hot Texas summer, mostly inside a broke-down house without air conditioning. The cast– those that survive long enough to register, anyway– look absolutely miserable onscreen, and the effect is nothing short of wonderful.
After the film– which experienced a couple technical issues when it came time to switch reels (these issues were handled with the speed and grace of Seal Team Six storming a Pakistani compound)– League brought the cast members back onstage for a brief Q&A. I attempted to record some audio during this portion of the event, but nothing usable came out of it. Rest assured that a few good questions were asked, a few silly-ass questions were asked, and that every one of the cast members seemed absolutely delighted to be in the presence of so many adoring fans. It must be hard to be an actor whose career peaked with a borderline-cult film that arrived almost four decades ago– you’d think that all the appearances, conventions, and screenings would get incredibly old after awhile– but Burns, Neal, and Danziger, and Henkel seemed thrilled to be presenting the film for what must’ve been the 1800th time. All were friendly, present, and happy to sign autographs for fans after the Q&A wrapped.
If you live anywhere near Texas– and that includes everyone in the Continental United States (who happens to have a little disposable income, of course)– I can’t recommend one of these Rolling Roadshow screenings enough. If you’re interested in attending one of the Drafthouse’s future Rolling Roadshow screenings, head on over to the Alamo Drafthouse website to see when the next one’s happening, if it’s for a movie you love, and what sort of twisted awesomeness Tim League and company have planned for the screening itself: you might end up meeting someone famous, or sitting in a grassy lot next door to a famous landmark…or eating a pound of head-cheese off a paper plate.
Thanks to Fons PR, the Alamo Drafthouse, Tim League, and Tobe Hooper for conspiring to give us such an awesome event. Stay tuned for more reports from Drafthouse-land as they become available, folks.
Rolling Roadshow event images by Callie Richmond