“A good bad film is typically one that at the time it was made, everyone involved thought they were doing something really great. Really special,” Dina Walters says. As a curator of It Came From the Neo-Futurarium, the Neo-Futurists’ bad-film festival that enters its tenth year this week, Walters is something of a connoisseur.
Though Walters and her cocurators Bilal Dardai and Rachel Claff refer to it as “the film fest,” It Came From the Neo-Futurarium doesn’t involve showing films. Instead, it consists of inspired performances of history’s most uninspired movie scripts.
The spark came from a conversation in 2001 between Claff and her fellow Neo-Futurist David Kodeski. “He had mentioned that he’d always wanted to do a staged reading of the movie Caged, this women-in-prison film from 1950,” Claff says. “We were talking about how fun that would be, and I thought, We should do a whole lineup of these.” The next summer, she proposed exactly that. “We never ended up doing Caged, but that was what started it.”
From the first outing in 2002—the 1954 British sci-fi sex-trade epic Devil Girl from Mars—the film fest was a hit. “The office staff had asked me, ‘How many people do you expect per night?’ I was like, I don’t know, 20, 15?” Claff recalls. On the night of Devil Girl’s debut, the Neos had to hold the curtain to accommodate the line at the box office. “I remember one of the cast members turning to me and saying, ‘Well, they’re either going to love it, or they’re going to kill us.’ ”
The festival has incorporated Hollywood schlock such as Single White Female and Death Wish 3, TV-movie tripe (Tonya and Nancy: The Inside Story) and obscurities like the 1980 Canadian disco opera The Apple; groups including Schadenfreude, Barrel of Monkeys and the House Theatre of Chicago have contributed entries.
For the ten-year milestone, the fest is expanding from six weeks to ten. New films include the mutant-rabbit horror flick Night of the Lepus (1972), which kicks off the proceedings this week; thinly veiled homosexuality allegory The Flaming Urge (1953); and a live-band take on the Prince vehicle Purple Rain (1984).
Five remounts are also on the docket, as chosen by audience ballot at the Neos’ long-running Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. I asked the curators to preview a few.
The Care Bears Movie (July 7)
Claff cites the House Theatre’s 2003 take on the 1985 cartoon as one of her all-time favorites. “The House Theatre guys were all wearing paper plates with the Care Bears insignia on them; everything was written in glitter glue and crayon,” Dardai says. “There was a real sense that it was a film put on by and for six-year-olds.”
Devil Girl from Mars (July 14)
“All of the special effects and props in the movie—laser guns, spaceships—we made with kitchen implements,” Claff says. “The spaceship was a salad spinner, the ray gun was an eggbeater. Every time the spaceship came down we’d turn on a vacuum cleaner.”
KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (July 21)
This 2006 entry features Neo-Futurist John Pierson and three other musicians in full KISS regalia. “It’s a rocking performance within the context of this really, really bad script,” Dardai says. “The movie itself is just wretched,” Claff adds of the 1978 original. “It’s this KISS vanity piece that almost no one knows about. That’s the other fun part of the festival: bringing movies in that people go, Really? That’s a movie?”
It Came from the Neo-Futurarium X runs Thursday 16–August 18.