D-Movie Mania

Fill up on terrifically terrible cinema at the Psychotronix Film Festival
'Santo vs. Las Mujeres Vampiro' is an example of the kind of film the Psychotronix festival specializes in.

Some cinephile want their movies the way that trophy wives want their men: rich, rotten and a little gaga. The Room's repeat visitors demanded it—The Disaster Artist opens in early December, with James Franco, fright-wigged and wrapped in the mantle of Tommy Wiseau.

There have been worse movies than The Room. 1989's Listen to Me, starring Kirk Cameron and Jami Gertz, deserves a bigger reputation for rankness, given its finale of a beachside university debate team beating a bunch of Yale Hitlerjugend in front of the Supreme Court. Gertz's weeping wins the day for abortion waiting periods, as far as the chief justice is concerned.

Also unsung is the mind-roasting Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969). This is available on YouTube, complete with Milton Berle conducting a Black Mass in surprisingly well-pronounced Latin, and seedy song-and-dance man Anthony Newley singing "Sweet Love Child" to an underage girl on a merry-go-round.

But really peculiar cinema has been on the menu at KFJC's Psychotronix Film Festival for 25 years now. Thousands have been flabbergasted by the fest's harvest of 16mm film—"the vinyl of visuals," says Robert Emmett, host of the internationally popular Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack show on KFJC 89.7 FM.

The NYC film critic Michael Weldon published The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film in 1983, a spin-off of his zine of the same name. Weldon appropriated the adjective from 1983's The Psychotronic Man, a Chicagoland saga of a barber who suddenly has the power to wish people to death. In Weldon's purview, a psychotronic film is anything strange in the way of a movie: superheroes, the adventures of Elvis, slashers, roughies, nudies, vampires, bikers, or vampire bikers.Emmett narrows the field, a little: "Antiquated commercials, neglected cartoons, previews from old movies, various short subjects that may have been intentionally educational then, that are now just unintentionally funny." And at the Psychotronix show, everything is family friendly.

In 1992, Emmett collaborated with Bob "Sci-Fi Bob" Ekman and Paul Etcheverry in bringing a cornucopia of odd film to Foothill College in Los Altos Hills—a spinoff of shows they'd done previously in Oakland and San Francisco. It became a regular event, visited by TV horror host John Stanley, Mr. Lobo and Lord Blood-Rah. Early (and) best Star Wars parodist Ernie Fosselius of Hardware Wars performed an impromptu puppet show one night. KFJC DJs Austin Space and Grawer were regular collaborators as was Scott Moon, a collector who introduced Emmett and the festival to Scopitones. These 16mm films played at specially designed jukeboxes, and they had a sort of star: curvy songstress Joi Lansing, whose berserk number "Web of Love" has to be seen to be believed.

Over the years, the fest has shifted from feature films—like Ed Wood's 1959 folk-art masterpiece, Plan 9 from Outer Space, considered, pre-Wiseau, to be the worst movie ever made—to shorts.

But if the parking charge has gone up to $3, the admission price of $5 hasn't changed in a quarter of the century. The fest is a chance for fans to win door prizes, make connections and support college radio. Emmett notes that though much of what they used to show is available online or at, the 230-seat auditorium at Foothill College still regularly sells out.

To Emmett, the event is an extension of what he does every Saturday morning in the control booth: "The festival is sort of the visual equivalent of KFJC, where a bunch of enthusiastic people who love exploring and finding things share what they've found with like-minded people. I love the sounds in movies—the music, the voices, the sound effects. I love sharing those sounds on my radio show, and the Psychotronix gives me an opportunity to share the visuals as well."

Psychotronix Film Fest
Dec 2, 7pm, $5
Foothill College, Los Altos Hill

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