For years, I’ve heard about the cool monster movie events in other cities. And for years I lived in Wichita, KS where we just didn’t have much in the way of monster goodness. Now, after more than a year of living in Kansas City, I’m beginning to discover how much more sci-fi and monster mayhem there is to do here. Last night, I attended my very first Cinema A Go-Go in nearby Lawrence with my daughter Kayla. While it may have been at the edge of what she’ll do with dear old dad, we both had a great time.
So just what is Cinema A Go-Go? It’s a double feature movie event held two or three times a year at the wonderful Liberty Hall on Massachusetts Street in Lawrence. The event has been going strong since at least 2009 and is sponsored by Kansas Public Radio, which is home to The Retro Cocktail Hour. This incredibly cool weekly radio show is something I know every monster movie kid out there will enjoy. It’s pure heaven for the ears and you’ll hear music you won’t hear anywhere else. With occasional theme weeks like tributes to TV crime dramas and outer space exotica, do yourself a big favor and check out the website. All of their shows are readily available for streaming. Highly recommended!
Darrell Brogdon is the host of The Retro Cocktail Hour and was the host for the evening of films as well. He served up some very interesting trivia and even gave away some cool prizes during the intermission, such as DVDs, cocktail glasses and yes, a Blue Demon luchador mask! This was a very popular item as they also present those wonderful Santo movies. Of course, they change the name of those events from Cinema A Go-Go to Cinema Con Queso. Last night though, it was 1950s monster greatness with Attack of the Crab Monsters and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.
Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) was directed by the legendary Roger Corman. The most notable two cast members are Ed Nelson (Invasion of the Saucer Men, The Brain Eaters) and Russell Johnson (Gilligan’s Island, The Twilight Zone). The plot deals with a group of scientists investigating a shrinking island and trying to find out what happened to the previous group. They soon discover the island is full of intelligent crabs as a result of atomic bomb testing. Not only can they absorb the knowledge of the people they eat, they can also mentally communicate in that dead person’s voice. A good blast of energy can zap them out of existence though. Of course, the scientists are stranded after their plane explodes and the radio is destroyed. They are running against time before the island disappears. It is definitely cheesy at times but lots of fun and well worth checking out. Did you know that Ed Nelson played both Ensign Quinlan as well as the crab monster?
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) is the classic example of so bad its good cinema. Allison Hayes is the incredibly wealthy Nancy Fowler who is still recovering from mental stress and alcoholism when she encounters an odd object in the desert. The giant sphere is home to an alien of epic proportions. She becomes infected with radiation and turns into a giant herself. This doesn’t bode well for her husband Harry (William Hudson), who just wants her money and to run off with the lovely Honey Parker (Kansas City native and July 1959 Playboy Playmate of the Month Yvette Vickers, who died in 2010 but wasn’t discovered until almost a year later, mummified and alone in her home). Add in Nancy’s man servant Jess, a poor sheriff and his bumbling deputy, and you have an interesting recipe for a unique little flick. Roger Corman designed the movie poster, which is itself considered a classic. Unfortunately, the movie suffers from a crazy script and some very poor special effects. All of which make the movie even that much more entertaining.
Part of the charm of this event is Liberty Hall itself. This is essentially an art house cinema showing independent and foreign films while also presenting concerts and events. It’s also home to Liberty Hall Video, an honest-to-goodness video store that still has VHS! The original Liberty Hall dates back to 1854 and was named as such in 1856 because Present Abraham Lincoln once called Lawrence the “cradle of liberty”.
It was an opera house before showing its first film in 1924, The Canary Murder Case. It still has the same chandeliers, marble staircases and tile floors nearly 100 year later. It operated as The Jayhawk Theater from the 30s until the 50s before spending a couple of decades as a night club and disco. It was renovated in 1986 and is once again a prime spot of entertainment on the most eclectic street in Lawrence. You’ll find bookstores like The Dusty Bookshelf and The Raven next to restaurants and even a tarot card reader.
I had an amazing time and will certainly go back for more. I am anxious to experience my first Cinema Con Queso event. The crowd, which numbered more than 150, cheered at the right moments and booed when the villains deserved it. And there was a lot of laughter but out of pure enjoyment rather than ridicule. If you live in the Kansas City area, discover for yourself the joy of this event. For me, I have finally found a classic movie event where I know I’m going to become a regular attendee.