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June 14-20, 2006

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Cult Leader

'Serenity' Daze: Joss Whedon worldwide; plus, a report from the 'Monster Squad' mash

By Steve Palopoli

What are you doing on June 23? If you're a true fan of Joss Whedon's Firefly universe, you're probably watching the movie based on it. That's because June 23 has been declared "Worldwide Serenity Day" as part of the effort to keep the franchise going and inspire someone to finance a sequel. It wasn't Whedon himself who organized this, but several loosely affiliated cells of fans. And if you've seen the hard-core fans of this franchise out at Serenity screenings, you're probably not surprised that they've been able to organize 40-odd screenings of the film on the same weekend around the world (or that the date they chose is Whedon's birthday). These folks often show up in the "browncoats" worn by Serenity's captain (and his former revolutionary army). I have said before that I thought Serenity was the second coming of the original Star Wars, and I stand by that. It inspired me to get the Firefly DVD to see the TV show it was based on, and I ripped through all of those episodes. By the time I was through, I could see why fans were so pissed about it being canceled. This was a series cut down long before it even got close to its prime. In the short time he had to work with, Whedon flipped many a science-fiction cliché, played with narrative structures to an almost irritating degree, gave his characters refreshing shades of gray and delivered plots that sucked you in the way an engine turbine might if you were an enemy operative who stupidly swore to track down Malcolm Reynolds to the ends of the universe. I still love the movie, too, though I have to admit that now having seen the series, I realize Serenity hit a couple of false notes with the established characters (what is the deal with the enraged exchanges between the doctor and the captain—there's something that didn't need to be turned up a notch for the big screen). The closest Serenity screening is at the Bridge in San Francisco; check out for details about all of them. And don't be embarrassed to support this effort because you think it'll make you into some kind of nerd, because (1) if you're considering going in the first place, you're probably already a nerd; (2) it's for charity, supporting Whedon's favorite organization, Equality Now; and (3) this is really a very casual commitment, fanbasewise. People write haikus about this shit, OK? And some of them are damn good, too.

'Squad' Leader

Great night at the Camera 12 Saturday with two special screenings of The Monster Squad. Director Fred Dekker and cast members Andre Gower, Ryan Lambert and Ashley Bank told war stories at a Q&A session moderated by the Cult Leader Strike Force (OK, it was me, but if this column had a Strike Force, this is the kind of event they would be deployed to). There were some rabid fans there, the kind that know it well enough to ask quirky questions like "Why are there armadillos in Dracula's castle?" (Turns out it's a tribute to the same bizarre detail's inclusion in Tod Browning's 1931 Dracula.) Besides the added bonus of the Monster Squad memories, I enjoyed just seeing the movie on the big screen for the first time. Sometimes you can't really appreciate comedic writing until you see a film with an audience, and the crowd was literally howling at one of the screenings. All right, that was during the werewolf scene, but you get my point. Seeing it twice in one night made some of the stranger details stick out to me: Dracula drives a car and throws dynamite. Why? Also, the Creature From the Black Lagoon is incredibly easy to kill; you don't really need a squad to do it. Dekker told me a story about how a fan at one screening remarked that both this movie and his other film Night of the Creeps seem to exist in their own offbeat "Fred Dekker universe" and I have to agree. It is a strange place that the mainstream didn't get in the late '80s, but a growing cult has hooked into it and I'm glad to see it. Best touch was the "Stephen King Rules" T-shirts the Cameras made up to commemorate the event, based on a Monster Squad in-joke. This is the kind of film event this area needs a lot more of: unique, fun and culty as hell.

Cult Leader is a weekly column about the state of cult movies and offbeat corners of pop culture. Email feedback or a 'Serenity' haiku here.

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