By Max Glaessner
How many Savannahians would be willing to cram inside a small coffee shop on a Wednesday night in order to watch a “noir-sploitation” B-movie about a guy in a straitjacket?
More than you’d think.
There were 12 people in attendance 15 minutes before the screening began. Then at 8 p.m., there were at least 17 people, and for a Wednesday night screening of an old black and white film, that ain’t so bad.
With large black curtains drawn over the windows of the Sentient Bean and an ample sized projector screen to boot, the local caffeine spot felt transformed into a tiny art house movie theater.
In a way, this is the mission of the Psychotronic Film Society: to bring obscure and alternative cinema to a place like Savannah where such options don’t normally exist. Psychotronic screenings tend to feature movies that are either “extremely well made” or “so bad they’re good,” explained the master of ceremonies. This evening’s feature, “Shock Corridor” (1963), definitely fell among the latter category of films.
“Shock Corridor” tells the story of Johnny Barrett (played by Peter Breck), an ambitious journalist who has himself committed to a mental hospital in order to solve a murder that occurred there, all the while hoping to win a Pulitzer Prize for his trouble.
While this plot might sound serious, it is completely upstaged by large doses of outrageous camp. There is a fat patient named Pagliacci who compulsively sings the opera, a burlesque dancer girlfriend who haunts Johnny in his sleep with her feather boa, memorable one-liners, like, “I am impotent…and I like it!”, and enough hammy over-acting to have you rolling on the floor.
All that aside, there is another layer to this movie which made it a particularly great selection for this kind of screening. If “Shock Corridor” is a mere ‘cult flick,’ then it’s about as socially relevant as a cult flick can get.
The turmoil that exists between the patients in the ward is really just a microcosm for the national troubles that existed in the early ’60s. This is particularly evident in the patients with whom Johnny confers about the murder. One is a former communist, who defected from the United States Army in Korea. Another is a black man who believes himself to be a part of the Ku Klux Klan (a delusion brought on, it seems, from his attempt at integrating into an all white school). And the last is an obsessive doodler who helped pioneer the atomic bomb.
While the film’s main intent is to highlight Johnny’s own descent into insanity, the bold political subtext is what ultimately stuck at the end. Given the writer/director Sam Fuller’s combat experience in WWII, it seems likely to that this was what he intended.
Though this is a very silly movie, it makes some interesting points about the human condition, which, in a way, makes it a forerunner to a film like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
When the credits rolled, everyone in the audience applauded, impressive given that all of us had just spent the last hour and forty minutes inside of the loony bin. Based on this experience, I would definitely recommend attending any Psychotronic event, including next week’s screening of “Delinquent School Girls.”
The Psychotronic Film Society meets every Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the Sentient Bean located at 13 E. Park Ave. Admission is $6.
They also host an occasional Sunday series called “Movies Savannah Missed” at the Muse Arts Warehouse located at 703 Louisville Rd.
For further details, go to psychotronicfilmsavannah.org or facebook.com/PsychotronicFilmSavannah.Contact Max Glaessner.