The monthly Kung Fu Grindhouse night at Ballard's Sunset Tavern is an inter- active experience: a live-action Mystery Science Theater for moviegoers who feel (and don't we all, a little bit?) that they're secretly a Joel or a Mike or a Tom Servo or a Crooooooooow! trapped in a nerd's body. There are no whispered asides to friends—commentary, funny and less funny, is shouted at the screen for the benefit of all. As my friend put it afterward, "It's like everyone's competing for Most Hilarious Outburst, but that's a contest no one can win." To be fair, though, if you can get past the occasional annoying stranger yelling the same joke again in case you guys didn't hear it the first time (the Sunset serves corn dogs—does that help?), Kung Fu Grindhouse night is totally fun.
This week, the first of three movies was Duel, a made-for-TV cautionary tale famously directed by a 23-year-old Steven Spielberg. David Mann, a mustache-heavy businessman on the lone highway between Los Angeles and Bakersfield, makes the mistake of passing an evil, belchy tanker truck. Apparently expressing some national anxiety about the early days of road rage, Duel has to be the scariest movie ever to rely on frequent shots of a Plymouth Valiant's speedometer pushing 70 mph. "He's got some... some souped-up diesel! My car just isn't that powerful," laments David Mann's constant and embarrassing internal monologue. "This guy is crazy! What can I do about it?" "You could probably rub your mustache some more," suggested my friend. And so he does.
The second film was Tobe Hooper's Eaten Alive (1977), alternately known as Death Trap, Horror Hotel, Starlight Slaughter, and my favorite, Le Crocodile de la Mort. Oh, and also Krokodil (Turkey) and Die Nacht der Bestie (West Germany). That's basically everything you need to know about the plot, though if I were to add anything, it'd be: Don't Put It in My Butt, Please, Mister; Like Fawlty Towers, but Rapier!; and, of course, Raked to Death in the Face by a Hermit.
(Fun fact: Angie, the annoying little girl in Eaten Alive, is played by Kyle Richards, who is the sister of a woman named Kathy Hilton, who is the mother of two shrinking Hollywood violets named Paris and Nicky Hilton. If you're me, you probably recognize Kyle Richards from her current role as "lady on the E! channel talking about how totally down to earth her vagina-flashing nieces are." Kyle Richards also played an annoying little girl in Disney's 1980 Bette Davis ruiner The Watcher in the Woods, which I happened to watch the night before Kung Fu Grindhouse night.)
Since I am a dependably sleepy granny, I had to sneak out halfway through Eaten Alive—leaving Kung Fu Grindhouse night before seeing any actual kung fu. (The third film, also called The Duel, was described on the flyer as "the story of brutal revenge set to geysers of crimson.") Next time, Kung Fu Grindhouse night. Next time.