In the beginning, there was Film Fetish, a members-only, after-hours movie-screening party, subsequently renamed the Big Jeter A/V Club. The spawn of the eponymous hillbilly funk band Big Jeter, the club put on shows at the Top Two Theater (5909 Johnson Drive in Mission), where each film inspired an original song and performance.
Sometime after Big Jeter disbanded, one of its members stumbled upon a 1956 16-mm educational film titled Chucky Lou: The Story of a Woodchuck. In it, an ambiguously gendered woodchuck is kidnapped, held hostage and forced to wear gingham dresses and amuse children to sate a peanut-brittle fix. "We were so inspired that we changed the name of the show to the Chucky Lou A/V Club," says Gary Huggins, audiovisual maven and obscure-film-trivia expert. Inspired, indeed. According to Chucky Lou's online biography, the AV club exists "solely to raise funds for his ransom." The group's quirky, murky humor can make some prospective members feel like they aren't supposed to be in on the jokes ... or that the jokes aren't actually jokes.
Now Chucky Lou has moved from the Top Two to the plush new Screenland, one block west of 17th Street and Broadway at 1656 Washington. The building was previously a cold-storage facility, but developer and movie aficionado Butch Rigby has renovated it to house offices, an event facility and a modern, 150-seat theater. "The intent is to show independent art-house films that otherwise wouldn't get played," Rigby says, emphasizing that Screenland's operators are not in competition with other indie theaters in town. Friday's grand opening features The Big Animal, a Polish film from 2000. Rigby plans to offer below-the-radar foreign films and festival finds Thursdays through Sundays.
But he'll make an exception the first Saturday of each month for Chucky Lou to, as Huggins puts it, "[pay] tribute to the weird world of strange movies." The screenings start around midnight, but they're typically preceded by live music or a 16-mm short that presages the theme of the feature. For the inaugural Screenland bash, however, Chucky Lou's going nuts. "First we'll have a double feature of trailer trash," Huggins says. "That's about 90 minutes of unexpected, bizarre trailers from the '60s and '70s from 10:30 p.m. to midnight."
Then, at midnight, begins the highly anticipated screening of Evil Dead II, supposedly the A/V Club's most begged-for midnight movie. We had to admit that we'd never heard of it, which elicited sputterings of disbelief from Huggins. "What? Are you from another country? Were you home-schooled?" After regaining his composure, he graciously explained that it was the "funniest bloodbath ever." Huggins is showing a new 35-mm print of Spider-Man director Sam Raimi's 1987 horror-comedy, starring Bruce Campbell. We plan on getting there early to score one of the cushy leather recliners in the front row.
After all, the club warns that attendance is mandatory. Like we said, we aren't sure whether that's supposed to be funny. But we aren't taking any chances.