The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas, has become world-famous with genre fans as being a mecca for its off-the-wall series of screenings of obscure titles called Weird Wednesdays. This mammoth book, published by Mondo, presents the story of how the screenings came about, including the acquiring of a mass archive of film prints of questionable quality (both physically and movie-wise). These prints formed the start of what became The American Genre Film Archive, a collection of films that would have otherwise been forgotten or even lost.
The origin of the Wednesday screenings is told as an oral history rather than a collection of separate interviews, which helps the chronology and makes the tale much easier to follow. However, it’s not a story told through rose-tinted glasses, as some recollections were not particularly pleasant for those involved at the time. These mostly come from the waiting staff at the theatre who had to work an extra late shift attempting to sell food and drink to an audience that - thanks to Weird Wednesdays being free - had pretty much come off the street. Nevertheless, despite the ups and downs, there’s still a lot of love for the screening series from the commentators. Even occurrences that would usually spell disaster, such as reels being screened out of order or celluloid catching fire in the projector, are recalled with a misty-eyed affection.
The main bulk of the book is given over to the films themselves. As well as screening details, the original advertising pitch that the Alamo used to entice punters into the theatre at midnight midweek is included. It’s an impressively varied array of movies, and reading through the blurb is enough to see why Weird Wednesdays were so popular. As well as the obvious cult classics from directors such as Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, and Ray Dennis Steckler while encompassing studios like Hammer as well as sleazy sex films, there are plenty of mind-boggling obscure titles here.
Accompanied by some wonderfully lurid artwork, it’s a joy to peruse the delights on offer. Anyone with a perverse interest in the forgotten side of cinema history will get a massive kick out of checking off how many titles they’ve seen. You get a real feel of how random the weekly screenings were, particularly in the early days when those battered prints were the main source.
As well as listing the films, there’s a handy guide to the regular miscreants whose films would screen often. Essays on Al Adamson, Andy Milligan, Filipino legend Eddie Romero, and Jess Franco sit alongside less celebrated filmmakers and actors such as Jamaa Fanaka (Penitentiary) and Matt Cimber (The Witch Who Came from the Sea). Actor Susan Tyrell is also featured, and the story of her personal appearance at the Alamo is well worth a read.
The story of how the weekly screenings developed into the American Genre Film Archive is consigned to an epilogue but is still a fascinating read. Warped and Faded is a love letter to low budget, obscure, bad taste cinema. Anyone filling their shelves with pristine quality releases from the likes of Arrow, Vinegar Syndrome, and Severin will get a massive kick out of it and should consider it essential reading.
Warped & Faded will be shipping in November. You can pre-order your copy from Mondo.