Devil Fetus is better. And so's Shanty Tramp.
In fact, so is everything else that Gary Huggins has screened in the seven years he has given this city the Chucky Lou AV Club, the late-night movie series that's had more fun with exploitation than anyone since the days of United Fruit. He's shown Black Vengeance and Viva Knievel, put on drive-in triple features and programmed gobstopping anthology shows old, racist cartoons or collections of movie trailers so sleazy that audience members had to line up for tetanus shots afterward.
"The movies I love are the ones that take leave of their senses," Huggins says. "Studios exist to filter out craziness. They don't want anything irrational in their movies. But, to me, that's what makes anything interesting novels, comics or movies. I love it when the sensible and insensible get jumbled up together. At best, it's a sublime derangement."
This sublime derangement is achieved OK, stumbled over by many Chucky Lou flicks. Perhaps Huggins' favorite is Night Warning, a 1981 Freud-meets-Fangoria nightmare centered on a high school senior (Jimmy McNichol) whose possessive aunt (Susan Tyrell) goes on a murder spree to keep him from going off to college. Huggins calls it "an After School special for sublimated matricides." It's larded with hammy acting and bloody stabbings but also offers some revelatory insight into time past. Bo Svenson plays a police detective investigating one of the early murders; despite all evidence to the contrary, this cop blows half the movie threatening to charge a basketball coach with the crimes just because he's "a fag." As Huggins notes, "It's an amazing unsung collision of the personal and the irrational, and it's a free-for-all of gay fears and mommy fears."
The movie enjoys a deep local connection: Night Warning was produced by Richard Carrothers and Dennis Hennessy, proprietors of the New Theatre in Overland Park, where the crazy is dutifully filtered.
Night Warning's gay bashing turns more stomachs than its violence. This is what makes it a valuable film, one infinitely more true to its time than that year's Best Picture winner, Chariots of goddamned Fire. Whereas respectable films strive to ennoble us, trash can't help but reveal us.
Chucky Lou has been, in many ways, a cultural colonoscopy. For example, there's "Slap the Japs Right Into the Laps of the Nazis," a short from the 1940s.
"It's a secret history of American culture," Huggins says. "You can only get a sense of how casually racist everyday life was by evacuating the weird effluvia of popular culture."
When that stuff disappears, so does a certain undeniable truth. "There's those pornographic frescoes at Pompeii," he says. "They only made it to us, and we only know how horny our ancestors were, because a volcano exploded, preserving them."
Now Huggins is trying to capture and preserve some modern day-to-day truth on film. Last year, he wrote and directed First Date, a short that's been feted at film festivals around the world. It's a casual triumph, fusing that lowdown, anything-can-happen Chucky Lou aesthetic with assured artistry.
That takes work. And so does Chucky Lou. So, with more film projects in the hopper, something had to give. "I can't do both well," he says. "And this" meaning Chucky Lou "is only fun if it's elaborate."
He rattles through show ideas he never got to, and then some of his AV Club stunts: anti-Christmas shows featuring visits from the Antichrist; his stint in hillbilly funk band Big Jeter, with DJ Clem and Burly Q queen Rita Brinkerhoff; encouraging a mass orgasm for Riki-O. For Saturday's screening, the last of the Chucky Lou era, he's promising crazy by the barrelful, including a long reel of trailers, a short about a woodchuck, and a visit from Santa with presents for all.
There's also a movie, Raw Force, which might warrant a place on Huggins' short list of skuzzy pulp treasures. "Raw Force is the first chop-socky screwball cannibal comedy with a disco soundtrack and slasher-flick body count."
Not unpromising, that, but still loads of work: securing the print, renting the theater, splicing the trailers together. Huggins is suddenly reflective and sweet, saying he couldn't have done this without Brinkerhoff or without Butch Rigby at the Screenland, and it's obvious that he's going to miss the AV Club even more than its hardcore adherents.
Maybe someone else could take up the mantle?
Huggins laughs, a little wearily. "I would love nothing more than to just show up and watch something like this."
Maybe someday. The rest of us, though, have one more chance to stick our heads up the culture's ass and marvel.