Mondo’s Latest is Part Oral History and Part Psychotronic Successor
The Alamo Drafthouse was a huge influence on my evolution as a cinephile. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, after reading about the screenings on Aintitcool back in the day, I became a bit obsessed and would devour any and all info about their screenings in Austin and seek out films out based simply on if they were programmed or shown at Weird Wednesday, Fantastic Fest or QT Fest. It’s one of the reasons I eventually moved to Philadelphia to be closer to the International House, my closest rep house and, at the time, home of Exhumed Films. Mondo recently released Warped and Faded: Weird Wednesday and the Birth of the American Genre Film Archive, a tome that functions as both an oral history of those involved in the evolution of Weird Wednesday and how it eventually evolved into the American Genre Film Archive.
The book, written by Weird Wednesday programmers Lars Nilsen and Kier-La Janisse, is a cinephile feast that can be easily broken up into three courses. The first course is an informal oral history of the Alamo Drafthouse and how Weird Wednesday came to be. It’s a story I’ve read numerous times throughout the years, but one that feels a bit more candid with interviews with the likes of Gary Kent and genre champions such as Tim Lucas, Stephen Thrower, Pete Tombs, Maitland McDonagh, Kat Ellinger, Chris Poggiali, Robin Bougie, Mike Malloy, Bryan Connolly, Heidi Honeycutt, Rodney Perkins, Zack Carlson, Janisse, and Exhumed Films’ own Harry Guerro. Since the book is first and foremost a historical document of the ascension of this particular program, it’s also able to sidestep the more dramatic chapters of the company’s recent history and focus on just the movies.
The next course is a catalog of films that played Weird Wednesday, and it shouldn’t simply be written off as your standard compendium of weird and wonderful movies, either. The capsule reviews included in this section were actually culled from decades of blurbs from Drafthouse calendars. Since there have been a few curators of Weird Wednesday over the years, it’s fun to compare Tim League’s thoughts on a particular film to a Lars Nilsen hot take and vice versa. The book also includes any and all references to other programs or screenings at the Drafthouse at the time, which allows the reviews to also operate as their own mini time capsule of sorts. This section operates as not only a great source of recommendations, but also a mini history of what happened when and where. While the blurbs were definitely written to get folks in the door, I definitely would have no doubt bought everything they were selling regardless.
The final course in this buffet of celluloid madness is the Weird Wednesday Hall of Fame. This section digs a big deeper into some of the auteurs and stars whose films were staples of the program or the Drafthouse in general. This section deals out a bit more background while extolling the virtues of particular contributors to this series. Its this break in brevity that allows the authors to give a bit more info and explore the likes of Mimsy Farmer, Vic Díaz, Andy Milligan, and Jess Franco. With such a breadth of space given to these lucky few, they discuss each particular honoree in a loving and very sympathetic way that you rarely find in film books. This section functions as a masterclass in the greats of genre cinema and why you should seek out the characters’ work if you haven’t already.
Given that the book is released by Mondo, the glossy, perfect-bound volume is not only well designed, but populated by a curated gallery of high resolution posters, stills, and lobby cards. This works as not just a textual exploration but a visual one as well, venturing into the lurid and exploitative nature of the Weird Wednesday selections and their artwork. There’s a lot to check out once you’ve read through the text and begin to work your way through the book again to check out the artwork on display here in glorious color. You can tell aesthetics were as much a part of the creation of this book as the actual written word, which isn’t usually the case. While some of the posters are, of course, a bit NSFW, it definitely provides yet another layer of exploration of these films and another way to draw you in; for some, if not most, of these films, the poster was sometimes better than the film itself.
Warped and Faded definitely earned a place on my shelf next to Sleazoid Express, The Psychotronic Video Guide, and of course both volumes from Bleeding Skull. The book does triple duty as a reference for films, a history of Weird Wednesday, and a snapshot of a community that rallied behind these weird films. This book is particularly engaging thanks to the candid Nilsen, who gives the reader a peek at the struggles of juggling a weekly film program along with real life. It makes Nilsen the unlikely hero of the story when he takes the reins of the series and attempts to keep the program going and keep his nightly patrons engaged, which is no easy feat. Warped and Faded is a treasure trove for fans of cult movies and the Alamo Drafthouse, paired with an underdog story that any cinephile can relate to.