BOOKSHELF: SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE is More Than Just Another Review Compendium

There are few publishers out there who regularly and reliably dig into the weird world of cinema with such successful results as the UK-based Headpress. Be it the made-for-TV movies compendium, Are You in the House Alone?, Fascination‘s analysis of Jean Rollin’s oeuvre, the obsessiveness of Spinegrinder, or Bleeding Skull‘s trash-horror odyssey, among many others, the company has made a name for itself delving into the often-overlooked and ignored corners of cult film.

The same can be said for writer Nick Cato, whose Suburban Grindhouse Memories column ran for nearly a decade on the website Cinema Knife Fight. As the press release puts it, Headpress’ collection of these 79 columns “collects and updates this material, with plenty of bonus material including interviews with directors and stars.”

“In Suburban Grindhouse, Nick Cato shares his time growing up in seedy NY and NJ theaters, and how many of these screenings helped to shape an opinion of certain films. Whether one of his beloved local theaters in Staten Island, NY, or at a double feature at the infamous 42nd Street in Times Square during its heyday, audiences were always lively and outspoken.”

The subtitle, “From Staten Island to Times Square and all the Sleaze Between,” accurately captures Cato’s experiences during his youth and beyond. It’s fascinating to read how many films he saw at what might be termed an inappropriately young age, such as Lucio Fulci’s The Gates of Hell as a high school freshman or Night School and Hell Night as a seventh-grader, thanks to the box office workers at the (sadly defunct) theaters of Cato’s youth.

And with few exceptions, most of these are contemporaneous reviews, from Cato’s experiences in the theaters at the time, rather than looking at a recently-released Blu-ray or repertory screening (although a few of those sneak in and do a fine job of maintaining the theatrical experience commentary which threads through all of Suburban Grindhouse).

That’s what really sets Cato’s book aside from any number of review compendiums out there; unless you’re delving deep into the nuts and bolts of making the films, a la Nightmare USA, or getting into the weeds of exceptionally obscure SOV flicks like Bleeding Skull, nobody needs another take on Chained Heat, unless it has the mood set with such observations as “I can’t remember ever hearing a theater full of teenaged horndogs whistling and screaming ‘GO FOR IT!’ with so much enthusiasm.”

Because of these “I was there” observations, Cato’s essays are really enjoyable and flesh out Suburban Grindhouse to be more than just another collection of movie reviews. The titles are diverse and weird, with a few hidden gems, even for my jaded old soul. I mean, Lunch Wagon? What the hell?

The fact that these essays are taken pretty much verbatim from the original online column means that misspellings abound (‘gaillo’ instead of giallo — repeatedly —  to name but one), and the layout’s a little plain, but the inclusion of vintage newspaper listings for most of the films mentioned is pretty glorious. It’s fun, but a run or two past the ol’ editorial board would have let Cato’s words retain their charm without being distracting.

It’s balanced out by some interviews with the folks involved in making the pictures, such as Lydia Cornell from Blood Tide, which gives Suburban Grindhouse some extra heft. Would that Cato would’ve done the same with updates at the end of each column as to the availability of some of these flicks. While many were once unavailable, quite a few have easily findable Blu-ray reissues, and it would’ve been nice to clue folks in so they could check these titles out for themselves, to say nothing of reading about how Cato sees the films now, decades later.

All told, however, Suburban Grindhouse is an exceptionally fun read, and it’s currently only available direct from Headpress themselves. You’re not going to be able to snag this in a store until February, so hop on over to their website to see about grabbing yourself a pretty entertaining read.

Check out new installments of Cato’s Suburban Grindhouse column at the book’s blog.

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek writes about films scores in his monthly OST column for Starburst Magazine (http://www.starburstmagazine.com), and can be found talking about movie soundtracks via the From & Inspired By podcast (http:///www.fromandinspiredby.com). He was once a punk, but realized you can't be hardcore and use the word "adorable" as often as he does.
Nick Spacek
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