A young, handsome doctor in a white lab coat hunches his shoulders and stares across the screen at his colleague. In between them stands a maze of tubes and wires, a half-filled beaker secured tightly to a metal post, and a tray of dark, gelatinous liquid holding a severed human head.
“What you see is real. What’s done is done, and what I’ve done is right. It’s the work of science.”
The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, the 1962 B-movie classic that played at Lyric Hall on Tuesday as the inaugural entry in the Saloon Cinema @ Lyric Hall series, is flush with this kind of dialogue: incoherent in its logic, deadpan in its delivery, and eminently quotable in its pseudo-scientific nonsense.
But what makes the moment special, coming in the first third of a 90-minute movie that is much more interested in women’s legs and breasts than in one woman’s immaculately preserved brain, is how perfectly its image encapsulates the appeal of “bad” movies: the outrageous props; the exaggerated performances; and the uncompromising desire to entertain.
Lyric Hall, the meticulously restored former vaudeville theater on Whalley Avenue, has long served the Westville neighborhood as an epicenter for musical and theatrical entertainment. But since acquiring a tavern license at the end of last year, owner John Cavaliere and event programmers Joe Fay and José Oyola have been looking to burnish the venue with an additional title: repertory movie theater.
“I went to school in Austin, Texas, and was sort of a child of the Alamo Drafthouse,” said Fay, who works full time in the world of rare books and manuscripts, but has been helping Lyric Hall program movie screenings for the past year. “I’ve always had an affinity since then for the ‘movie and a beer’ concept. We’re looking at certain movies, what some people might call B-movies or ‘trash cinema,’ as just as important and certainly just as much fun as your Academy-Award winning drama.”
Building off of last October’s month-long series of Vincent Price movies, as well as a smattering of other screenings throughout the spring — including that of the 1988 low-budget New Haven slasher pic Death Collector, which featured a post-screening conversation with the movie’s director, screenwriter, and lead actress — Saloon Cinema @ Lyric Hall is Fay and Oyola’s latest attempt to foster a moviegoing community in Westville and beyond. Their bait: the sometimes schlocky, sometimes terrifying, and almost always overlooked alternative to mainstream Hollywood productions.
With the hope of making the barrier to entry as low as possible, Fay and Oyola have programmed the first month of Saloon Cinema with four public domain films, allowing them to avoid any copyright-related exhibition fees and charge just $1 for admission. Upcoming screenings include George Romero’s cult-classic zombie flick Night of the Living Dead (July 14), the mid-30s cautionary drug tale Reefer Madness (July 21), and the Roger Corman-Francis Ford Coppola Psycho ripoff Dementia 13 (July 28).
Although this first slate of movies falls well within the bounds of mid-20th century exploitation flicks, Fay and Oyola are open to expanding the series in whatever direction their audience demands.
“We’re not just interested in running easily obtainable public domain films,” Fay told a crowd of 20 in his brief introduction to The Brain that Wouldn’t Die. “If there’s a local filmmaker you know, if there’s a filmmaker in Honduras you know, who wants to show their film on a Tuesday night in New Haven, let us know. The moniker for this thing is fun movies, better beer. It really doesn’t matter the quality of the movie. We’re here to have fun, show some movies, and just try to build a little movie-going community here in Westville and New Haven.”