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Cinedelphia Film Festival Review: ROLLERCOASTER (1977) & LIQUID SKY (1982)

Welcome to Screen Invasion’s coverage of the first annual Cinedelphia Film Festival, a celebration of the City of Brotherly Love’s lesser known cinematic history (the motto: “we’re more than just Rocky”). A month long filmic carnival running from April 4 – 27, the Fest offers everything from a tour of The Stoogeum, a local museum dedicated solely to the Three Stooges, lost or little seen short & repertory films, and full blown local premieres, such as the Fantastic Fest favorite, Vanishing Waves. If you’re in the area, join in on the fun, and if you’re a SI reader, get ready for select coverage of Cinedelphia’s feature film selections. 

The sixth and final trip to the mausoleum found Jacob taking in two gimmick screenings: Rollercoaster (1977) in Sensurround & Liquid Sky (1982) with a live score by local Philly psych rockers, Cheap Dinosaurs…

For those constantly complaining about the over-abudnace of 3D at their local mega-plex, the ’70s probably would’ve been utterly unbearable in terms of ticket hocking ploys that were meant to “enhance” the theatrical experience. William Castle was the master of such sideshow tactics, utilizing everything from seat buzzers for 1959’s The Tingler to “punishment poll cards” for 1961’s Mr. Sardonicus. In 1974, Universal got in on the gimmick game and introduced  audiences to “Sensurround”, an audio augmentation that focused on low frequency sonics in order to mimic the Earth tremors contained in the Charlton Heston disaster film, Earthquake. While the fad never really took off (Sensurround was only used in three subsequent pictures and then disappeared after 1978), it did help bring subwoofers into the homes of many looking to create a unique sound system in their living room, as Cerwin-Vega, the company who helped invent the process with Universal, became a household name in the late ’70s up through the mid 1980s.

Rollercoaster was the third picture to utilize the Sensurround brand name and, for its screening on the final day of the Cinedelphia Film Festival, curator Eric Bresler and his team of “audio experts” rigged concert sized subwoofers to the speaker system in an attempt to replicate the theatrical experience those in 1977 would’ve had should they have chosen to buy a ticket to Rollercoaster. And while the experiment wasn’t wholly successful (outside of a few minor rumblings, it was the Lalo Schifrin disco-tinged score that mostly beneifted from the bass boost), it was still interesting to see the Fest attempt to replicate a bygone era of gimmicky presentation.

While Rollercoaster is by no means a great film, its certainly an entertaining one, and a reminder of what types of movies are more than likely impossible to make in 2013. A PG rated, family friendly film about terrorism in which a bomber targets the titular ride in amusement parks across the country? There’s no chance a studio would ever greenlight something that nutty in this day and age. But the movie works because, while there are some great suspenseful sequences (the opening set piece especially), the movie never goes too dark with its concept. There is a constant breezy air about the picture that is indebted to the wry comedic performance of star George Segal as he jet sets across the country in search of the mad bomber. It’s a film that never takes itself too seriously, yet also never loses sight of what it is at its core: a low-budget combo of thriller/disaster picture with little else on its mind beyond providing audiences with a thrill ride akin to its namesake.

Waiting in line outside of the theater between films (Cheap Dinosaurs had to do a sound check, of course), I was glad to find that I wasn’t the only one who had yet to be inducted into the cult of Liquid Sky. Other members of the sold out audience had come to see a movie they really only knew by reputation alone, and the promise of a live score by a group of local psych rock legends helped boost anticipation.

To tell the truth, I was more than a little disappointed at what the movie turned out to be. A cultural document containing the seriously drugged out New Wave scene of early ’80s New York, director Slava Tsukerman (who was in attendance and gave a nigh incomprehensible Q&A after the film) isn’t so much interested in narrative as he is in capturing the fashion and attitude of the bleached blonde, neon drenched music scene. An ode to heroin, aliens and the rejection of traditional American values, Liquid Sky is a clusterfuck of sub-Warholian insanity, tied together with a guerilla style that almost begs for “cult staus”. The throbbing live set by Cheap Dinosaurs only added to the surreal experience, as the film had to be shown with subtitles due to the set’s volume.

Anne Carlisle (Desperately Seeking Susan) plays dual roles in the film: Jimmy, a male model with a seemingly insatiable appetite for any drug he can get his hands on and Margaret, a bisexual Flock of Seagulls groupie whose relationship with a live-in girlfriend is also defined by shared substances. Otto von Wernherr (the German avant garde artist Madonna once sang backup for) plays a scientist stalking aliens who are out for nothing more than to feed on the receptors in the brain effected by opiate ingestion (which, the film explains, is a function replicated by the human orgasm). It’s hard to argue that the movie isn’t pro-drug, though its representation of those the aliens stalk is less than glamorous. Most definitely a “had to be there” artifact, Liquid Sky proved not to be for me, but the experience of seeing it in such a fashion was a testament to the unique nature of the Cinedelphia Film Festival. All I can hope is that next year Eric Bressler continues on with programming one of the more oddball collections of art I’ve ever seen gathered in one former casket emporium.

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The Author

Jacob Knight

Jacob Knight

Jacob Knight is a screenwriter, novelist and journalist from Slotter, Mass. He is most times fueled by scotch, horror films and the Criterion Collection. He currently resides in Philadelphia, PA with his wife and cantankerous Westie pup.