When I was 12, my father took me to a Halloween screening of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE at a high school on Long Island. The print was weathered and the setting was imperfect, but the auditorium was packed with people who were ecstatic to see a film – supposedly the worst of all time – that none of my friends had even heard of.
As promised, I learned a shocking fact that day: old movies are better with an audience – particularly if they’re scary (or meant to be scary) and Halloween is nigh.
In the three decades since, I’ve seen countless classics in historic venues in New York and Los Angeles, and I’m more convinced than ever in the power of the communal experience (despite the occasional eccentricities of some attendees). So I’m really struggling to fight the urge to fly out to California this weekend for the first-ever Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction and Horror Festival, produced and hosted by author, movie historian and Film Noir Foundation director Alan K. Rode.
Between Friday night and Sunday night, Rode will present eight beloved genre classics on the big screen at the Camelot Theater, a renovated 1960s movie house that’s also home to the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival (which Rode also produces and hosts). Films will screen in “best available formats” from the studios – including a 35 mm print of the “theatrical version” of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) from Warner Bros. – and screenings will include special guests and audience Q&As
“DVDs, streaming and downloads are great,” Rode told me. “But these films were made to be shown in the dark with a group of people.”
The festivities kick off Friday night with THE FLY (1958), the creepy CinemaScope classic (in color!) that spawned two sequels (not in color!) and a 1985 remake (in extremely gory color!) as well as that film’s sequel (which I haven’t seen, but assume is in color!)
“The best way to start this off is with truly vintage sci-fi,” Rode said. “THE FLY is a very unique film and, I think, the best of all the versions.”
After the screening, Rode will sit down for a Q&A with David Hedison, the 88-year-old actor who portrayed the titular scientist who “wouldn’t harm anything, not even a fly.” (He’s also well remembered as agent Felix Leiter in two Bond films, and as the star of Irwin Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea TV series.) And after the on-stage chat concludes, the conversation is expected to keep buzzing in the lobby, parking lot, and even at the hotel.
“Palm Springs has a little town, homey atmosphere. It’s a different kind of vibe than L.A.,” Rode told me. “People get to interact with the celebrities and talk with them.”
Rode will also be chatting with Julie Adams, the prolific, one-time Universal Studios contract player who became an icon thanks to her role as the Gill-Man’s girlfriend in THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. The 1954 film that brought the Universal Monsters into the Atomic Age (and also spawned a few sequels, sans Adams) screens Saturday at 1 p.m. And on Sunday at 1 p.m., actress Kathleen Hughes (age 86) joins Rode following IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1954)
“If you had to pick one sci-fi movie that you would call seminal, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE is it,” Rode said of the Universal release which, like BLACK LAGOON, was directed by Jack Arnold.
Other highlights include Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), the noirishly paranoiac INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), and Jack Arnold’s (again!) THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), a film that will forever alter your relationship with your cat. The Festival concludes with THEM! (1954) on Sunday, something of an inside joke due to the climatic final battle in the sewers of nearby L.A. (It’s roughly 90 minutes away without traffic, but shorter if you’re on a giant ant.)
Weekend passes sell for the fantastically low price of $79, with individual admissions available for each movie. And for classic film fans that can’t make it to Palm Springs, video and photos will be posted on the Festival’s Facebook page.
As for future installments, Rode is committed to making the festival an annual event in Palm Springs but – listen up out-of-towners! – he’s also interested in expanding to other cities (as the Film Noir Foundation does with their popular Noir City events).
“My sponsors and I are in this for the long haul,” he said. “I would love to take it on the road so everyone can enjoy it.”
And, just as PLAN 9 on the big screen changed my moviegoing life forever back in the early 1980s, Rode hopes young audiences will embrace the films he’s loved since his own childhood as a “monster kid.”
“I really hope that there will be kids in the audience this weekend,” he said. “If you like special effects and CGI, these movies are not only where it all started, they’re also good films on their own. They stand the test of time.”
Friday, October 23
7:30 PM – THE FLY (1958, Fox) w/ guest David Hedison
Saturday, October 24
10 AM – INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956, Allied Artists)
1 PM – CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954, Universal) w/ guest Julie Adams
4 PM – THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953, Warner Bros)
7:30 PM – THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957, Universal)
Sunday, October 25
10 AM – THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951, RKO)
1 PM – IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1954, Universal) w/ guest Kathleen Hughes
4PM – THEM! (1954, Warner Bros.)
For more information on the Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction and Horror Festival, visit the website. And follow @laurasmiscmovie who will be covering the event on Twitter and for her blog. If you’re interested in bringing the festival to your city, contact Alan K. Rode on Facebook.