Cinemagic Is Bringing Back the ’80s Crime and Cookies Flick “Traxx” for Its Next VHS Night

Also: peppermint prune cookies!


If Cinemagic’s upcoming VHS Night is anything like its previous few months, tickets for the April 7 screening of Traxx (1988) will sell out before auditorium doors open.

On the first Friday evening of each month, the Hawthorne theater introduces moviegoers to obscure gems from the straight-to-video era of the ‘80s and ‘90s the way many of us first experienced motion pictures at home—popping a VHS into a videocassette recorder, which then reads the video and audio signals on the tape’s winding magnetic strip. But instead of watching the faded images and static interruptions on your parents’ gray old-box TV, you get to relish in the analog aesthetic as its projected across the big screen.

VHS Night fans range from intrigued high schoolers to retired seniors who had known several heartbreaks before the first signs of streaming media. After the monthly screenings, co-owners Ryan Frakes and Nicholas Kuechler hang out in the lobby to chat with moviegoers who often reminisce and recommend old favorites for future screenings. Sometimes they bring in boxes of their own tapes or posters featuring previous VHS Night films.

“It’s become a lot bigger than we anticipated,” Frakes says. “We didn’t anticipate to sell auditoriums out within the first year.”

Between both their personal collections, Frakes and Kuechler have hundreds of tapes they’re eager to show Portland cinephiles. Traxx, and Australian horror flick Howling III (1987), are the only titles on the debut lineup that will be shown again this year.

“I love the comedy aspect of [Traxx] and how heartfelt it is,” Frakes says. “It knows exactly what kind of film it is, and I want more and more people to know about it.”

In Traxx, Shadoe Stevens plays an international mercenary who decides to re-create himself as a cookie entrepreneur, despite little evidence that he can bake. A radio broadcast of his hometown sheriff (John Hancock) denouncing the inordinate crime rate leads Traxx to hiring himself out as a town tamer for $10,000 to fund his gourmet enterprise.

A parody of ‘80s action films, the movie’s over-the-top, cartoonish violence is juxtaposed with endearing montages of Traxx and his hostage-turned-sidekick Deeter (Willard E. Pugh) burning and spitting out cookies in their woodland hideout as a genuine friendship blossoms. Unlike countless B movies that rely on cringe to elicit audience laughter, Traxx’s humor is witty and intentional, breaking tension with unexpected absurdity. In other words, it’s actually funny.

Still, the film is chock-full of cringe. Love scenes featuring Hadleyville Mayor Alexandria Cray (Priscilla Barnes), who throws herself at Traxx with abandon, feel preposterous at best and sexist at worst. Traxx’s proud Old West attitudes—”know nothing about the law, everything about justice”—may also grate for Portlanders who continue to wrestle with our own complicated relationship with crime and justice. But ultimately, effective comedic writing and a zippy plot, punctured by a galvanizing score, succeeds in captivating the viewer until the end credits roll.

Cinemagic has a special treat for moviegoers on Friday, Frakes says. Wally Amos, or Famous Amos—whose cookies inspire Traxx to start baking—makes a final-scene cameo and asks for a peppermint prune cookie. The theater commissioned Hawthorne neighbor Farina Bakery to develop the quirky flavor, and a limited supply of cookies (along with commemorative buttons featuring Traxx and VHS Night) will be available for purchase after the screening.

Ambition has marked Frakes and Kuechler’s operation since the two longtime Cinemagic employees bought the theater in June 2021. Cinemagic showed 100 movies last year, a feat for any single-screen theater. Frakes expects to far exceed last year’s total, reaching a hundred movies by April.

After the theater finishes installing a 35 mm changeover system and a 16 mm projector, moviegoers can visit Portland’s oldest movie house for digital films, VHS, laser disc, and 35 and 16 mm prints.

“We’ve spent day in and day out working for the past almost two years,” Frakes says. “In a few months, when we have actual film running through, this will be the theater of my dreams.”

SEE IT: Traxx plays at Cinemagic, 2021 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 10 pm Friday, April 7. $7-$9.

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