Like any good movie hero, Dan Halsted doesn't mind being the underdog.
The 33-year-old director of the Grindhouse Film Festival is Portland's premier aficionado of disreputable drive-in flicks: blaxploitation, hicksploitation, kung-fu, Italian horror and mondo documentaries. But this Wednesday, April 22, at the Hollywood Theatre, he's pitting his personal collection of 35-mm trailers—he owns about 200—against the library of Austin, Texas, B-movie palace (and Quentin Tarantino hangout) the Alamo Drafthouse. For the first hour of the Cinemapocalypse vs. Grindhouse Trailer War, Halsted will play a "mixtape" of his favorite reels. Then Drafthouse programmers Lars Nilsen and Zack Carlson will respond with selections from their own archive—of 1,400 previews.
"Me going up against the Drafthouse is like Rocky going up against a whole gang of Apollo Creeds," says Halsted. "And that gives me an advantage. They had better stay on their toes."
Nilsen, reached last week in Los Angeles (where he was showing a print of Redneck Country Rape on the opening leg of a West Coast Cinemapocalypse tour), did not seem concerned. "We didn't spend a lot of time selecting the trailers we're going to use—we grabbed the box, really, that was nearest the door—but we feel like that should probably be good enough to beat whatever Dan put together out of his puny archive."
Does Nilsen claim the Alamo Drafthouse, with its Weird Wednesday and Terror Tuesday midnight series, has the best exploitation compilation in the country? "I wouldn't say that, because I'm a modest man," he says, "but I think anybody with a brain and a heart would say that."
With Nilsen and Carlson relishing their villain roles, it's no shock Halsted reports "we've been doing some shit-talking back and forth." But the real victor of this battle will be the audience. Halsted's biannual Grindhouse Trailer Extravaganza, also held at the Hollywood, is the best movie-buff ticket in Portland: The nights develop a hysterical momentum, with each reel trumping the last for outrageous squalor. (This observer harbors a special fondness for the trailer for 1977's The Uncanny, in which a narrator rattles off a list of terrors not in the movie: "deadly aliens from outer space, giant ants, man-eating sharks and bloodthirsty grizzly bears.")
Halsted isn't setting these films up for mockery, though. "I think these are great movies," he says, while noting that he's one of only half a dozen people on the Pacific coast who collects them. "Just because they didn't have a lot of money, and they were made for a certain audience, that doesn't mean they're bad."
Halsted, whose day job is as the technical director at Film Action Oregon, can rise to a spirited defense of something as white-trashy as Gator Bait—which the Cinemapocalypse tour will be showing in a double feature with Psycho from Texas on Thursday, April 23, at the Clinton Street Theater.
"It's not just about having fun," he says. "It's a sociological study as much as it is a study of cinema. Those movies were made for the drive-in audience in the South whose lives weren't too far off from what was onscreen."
Naturally, Halsted is reluctant to reveal what exactly he'll be confronting the Drafthouse boys with on Wednesday, but he did show WW three of his "secret weapons"—on the condition we wouldn't reveal their titles. But that shouldn't stop you: The first reader to correctly email Aaron Mesh with the titles of all three movies wins a free pair of tickets to tonight's event.
Trailer No. 1
Setup: In this blaxsploitation picture, the late Rudy Ray Moore plays a discothèque DJ who sporadically trades in his sequined baby-blue leisure suit for sweatpants and kicking gangster ass.
Money shot: Moore screaming his signature phrase, "Put your weight on it!" five times in a row, before blowing onto a mirror of cocaine so his patrons can snort it off the floor.
The tagline: "If you crave satisfaction, this is the place to find that action!"
Trailer No. 2
Setup: A choice cut from the "mondo" genre of faux-documentaries—this one concentrating on the decadent liberalism of Sweden, where women play guitar in topless bands, teenagers are taken on deflowering cruises, and pornography stands offer "erotic books…for both sexes…with government approval." There's a possible theme here.
Money shot: "Roving motorcycle bands" jump off their bikes to rape a girl fleeing through the snowy woods.
Tagline: "An outside look at Sweden's inside!"
Trailer No. 3
Setup: Mickey Hargitay stars as the Crimson Executioner, a killer with a torture chamber and a hood/mask getup that makes him look like the Shadow painted red. Italian and very cheap.
The Money shot: "The fiendish spider web"—a torture device consisting of an actual web with a rubber spider.
Tagline: "Hair-raising orgy of sadism influenced by the shocking writings of the evil, depraved Marquis de Sade!"
Cinemapocalypse Trailer War screens at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., 281-4215. 9:30 pm Wednesday, April 22. $8. The Hicksploitation Double Feature screens at the Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St., 238-8899. 8:30 pm Thursday, April 23. $8.