A Psychotronic Nightmare Becomes Reality

Twin Cities Film Society kicks off with rare horror double feature

Illustrator: Katie Heywood

Illustrator: Katie Heywood

Cheryl got off the subway alone, hurrying to get away from a strange man in a metallic mask. Heavy synth music plays as she breaks into a run to escape up the stairs. She screams as she nearly runs into the man at the top.

The masked man hands Cheryl two golden tickets, to a mysterious movie at a strange theater. She invites her friend Kathy, and they skip school to check it out.

The movie is a dark and cheesy horror about how demons will invade earth through the power of an evil mask. “They will make cemeteries their cathedrals and tombs your cities,” the narrator warns.

Meanwhile, in the theater lobby, a woman named Rosemary tries on a mask in the hallway and it scratches her face. As the demons in the movie begin to eat the heroes, she heads to the bathroom, her face still bleeding. Suddenly, her wound bubbles and explodes in a bloody, gooey mess; her eyes turn a sickly yellow and her front teeth are pushed out by sharp fangs.

Her friend goes to check on her and finds her in a stall. Rosemary turns and attacks, her fingers have mutated into claws, slashing open her friend’s face, and the demon apocalypse has begun.

All of this was the first half hour of a rare Italian horror movie, “Demons,” directed by Dario Argento, spinning on a 35-millimeter film projector in all its original grainy, audio-distorted glory at the Parkway Theater on March 30.

The blood and ghostbusters-esque slime effects were gratuitous. The plot was ridiculous and the use of character tropes were many and unapologetic.

The screening was the very first event by the Twin Cities Psychotronic Film Society, which got its start late last year with the mission of bringing strange movies to light from the depths of film history.

Daniel McNellie organized the group, an offshoot of the one in Chicago. He is a connoisseur of movies, the weirder, more misguided or unknown the better.

The Chicago group first borrowed the term “psychotronic” from movie critic and writer Michael Weldon back in the ‘80s, McNellie said. According to the group’s website, Weldon used the term to suggest “a combination of weird horror films and electronic gadget-filled science fiction movies,” later to mean any sort of exploitation film.

McNellie said the first group was “just a bunch of weirdos getting together watching weird movies. They just put a title on it, actually.” Psychotronic, like punk rock, was just a term to describe something that didn’t have a term yet, he said.

McNellie was raised on bloody classic horror films. Unable to afford babysitters, his parents would drop him off at the movie theater with 10 bucks, and he would sneak around all day seeing “every godawful thing that was released through the end of the ‘80s and the early ‘90s.”

Psychotronic, like punk rock, was just a term to describe something that didn’t have a term yet.

On weekends, his family would rent a VCR, go to video stores and grab a bunch of horror movies. They watched what we now consider early classics of the genre, like “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Dawn of the Dead,” “which might be the worst or best parenting ever,” McNellie said.

As he grew up, his interest in the film world grew. Not just horror movies, but anything from sci-fi to independent film. Nowadays, he seeks out the work of outsider artists, directors who ignore the Hollywood rules of what’s good and what isn’t.

The Twin Cities group aims to do something a little different from the others, McNellie said. Anyone can become a member by showing up to screenings, and any member can sign up to curate meetings. “Keep it a surprise, announce what you’re going to show, whatever,” he said.

The second film in the Italian horror double feature was “Nightmare City,” in which a horde of knife-wielding irradiated zombies, who are blood-hungry yet still somewhat intelligent, invade a city murdering at random. The military is powerless to stop it, and society collapses.

The protagonist’s moral debates about mankind’s follies are heavy-handed, the zombies’ random violence is often directed towards topless women for no discernable reason, and the whole film is awkward and halting. “It’s amazing how halfway through, the audience turns against the movie, and then they just have to live with it,” one movie-goer commented on his way out the door.

What the Twin Cities Psychotronic Film Society manages to dredge up from will be a grab bag of hilarity and horror. But one thing is for sure: it’s going to be weird.