In 2016, the journal Poetics published a paper that examined why people love watching what it called trash cinema.
First the study noted these films were characterized by low budgets, consisting mostly of horror and sci-fi entries, and were overwhelmingly watched by men.
Interestingly, it found that trash cinema fans also tended to be well educated and lovers of art film. Or as the study's author, Keyvan Sarkhosh, told Thrillist: "One could describe [them] as 'cultural omnivores.' Such viewers are interested in a broad spectrum of art and media across the traditional boundaries of high and popular culture."
It makes sense that trash cinema is undergoing a revival, considering our once beloved video stores have died, Amazon and Netflix are streaming recycled trash and the multiplexes are overrun by bland Hollywood fare targeting young teens. There's so much crap out there that a hierarchy is necessary.
I began trying to up my trash game years ago after some help from an old college friend who is involved with the Washington Psychotronic Film Society, a group similar to Movie Club Richmond, run by Andrew Blossom.
Here are a few introductions to cult classics that stood out and that have received recent loving restorations via Blu-ray and DVD.
"Evils of the Night" (1985)
This tear-jerker of a trash masterpiece, and I mean tears of laughter, has all the dubious qualities of top-shelf, D-movie, sci-fi porn. From a plot that straddles the line between bad idea and 72-hour psychiatric hold, to dialogue and acting so consistently terrible that it feels as if the entire discombobulated cast has been licking psychoactive toad glands.
Directed by Mardi Rustam, the story is as dumb as they come: Vampire aliens recruit two aggressively demented mechanics, played by Aldo Ray and Neville Brand, to kidnap sexed-up teenagers and bring them to a hospital so that aliens — one played by Ginger from "Gilligan's Island" — can drain their blood for rocket fuel. Yep.
Of course, the teenagers are a mix of feathery-haired preppies and '80s metal video extras who appear to be in their early 30s. There's a super-cheesy '80s synth pop soundtrack that is an insult to super-cheesy '80s synth pop and a level of gratuitous nudity, mostly early on, that recalls softcore Skinemax lameness. Did I mention the cheap green lasers or the blatant Millennium Falcon rip-off on the cover?
I could go on, but the real thrill here is seeing such a pure distillation of the manipulative elements that Hollywood shock horror normally feeds us, stripped of any pretense of competence. "Evils of the Night" is horrible on every measurable level, yet it rarely stops being funny — as such it belongs in the collection of any serious trash connoisseur.
"Blue Sunshine" (1978)
File this one under acid-sploitation cinema. The movie begins with proto-yuppies chilling in a cabin when a man (played by Billy Crystal's little brother, Dick Crystal) gets up to croon a Sinatra song. Suddenly a jealous partygoer rips the singer's wig off and a comical close-up zoom reveals a feral, mangy baldness and bug-eyed expression [see above]. The singer then literally wigs out, going on a killing spree and stuffing women from the party into a roaring fire hearth.
We soon learn this pleasant group of Stanford University grads are all experiencing similar animal pattern baldness and homicidal behavior, with the only link being the weird Blue Sunshine acid they all took years ago — a drug provided to them by a man now running for Congress. This is an excellent plot as far as trash cinema goes.
You can imagine where the hilariously overacted movie goes from there, as the tweaking LSD-casualties try to halt their freaky fallout, culminating in a political rally at a mall with a sad disco. The movie saves the funniest scene for last, as a monstrous, chromosome-damaged man named Big Wayne Mulligan terrorizes the dance floor and patrons bolt for the exits, one shouting: "There's a bald maniac in there and he's going batshit!"
Truer disco words were never spoken.
"Blue Sunshine" is a flat-out laugh riot, spiked with drug propaganda, awkward violence choreography and conspiracy madness.
"Liquid Sky" (1982)
The most artful of the films listed here, "Liquid Sky" has a 95 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, for what that's worth. Directed by Soviet émigré, Slava Tsukerman, this post-punk Cinderella tale revolves around sex, drugs, weird music and tiny space aliens, set against a backdrop of no wave New York between disco and AIDS. Filled with gender-fluid characters, the film was ahead of its time and some consider it a quintessential movie about New York subcultures of the period.
The plot: A fashion model, competing with denizens of the underground art world for drugs, kills everyone she has sex with thanks to a dinner plate-sized spaceship hovering above that sucks up the endorphins released during her partners' orgasms, effectively vaporizing them. Yep.
The director goes for broke, mashing fiction, animation, documentary and special effects together in one big psychotropic salad, while the characters do cocaine and heroin and say silly things that sound like lyrics from a bizarre German electronic album.
This restoration from the original 35 mm print by Vinegar Syndrome is gorgeous, with the neon colors popping off the screen (half the film was shot using neon light). Like a lo-fi "Blade Runner," it's a visual feast for the senses that includes a memorable synth soundtrack (from the director, Clive Smith and Brenda Hutchinson) and glammed-out characters whose spiky, colorful fashion sense has reportedly inspired the likes of Lady Gaga, Sia and Karen O.
In retrospect, some see the film as eerily foreshadowing the coming AIDS crisis. And while there is some deft and occasionally humorous dialogue, the overall tone is one of grim paranoia. It's still plenty campy, though, and benefits from a strong central performance by Anne Carlisle playing the female punk model and a gay male doppelganger. Good news for fans, there is a "Liquid Sky 2" reportedly in the works. Until then, this new Blu-ray has loads of extras to keep you busy. S