“Dante's Inferno”: Hollywood Boulevard & Truck Turner

The New Beverly Cinema, April 11

The New Beverly Cinema's runaway-hit series of director-programmed festivals has proved a rousing success so far, with slates lovingly prepared by the likes of Edgar Wright and Eli Roth. It was only a matter of time before the big guns came out to play… and by that measure, in the ranks of the geek garde Joe Dante is a bazooka. The director of The Howling, Gremlins and more recently, the outstanding Masters of Horror episode Homecoming (as incisive a commentary on the Iraq conflict as anyone's had the nuts to make yet); who cut his teeth as part of the New World/Roger Corman gang and who has reliably programmed as eclectic and fascinating a lineup as any New Bev guest helmer so far, delivered a solid one-two punch – plus guests! – on Friday night's double bill before an always-appreciative crowd of giddy cinephiles.

(l-r) Miller, Dante, Arkush

First up, Hollywood Boulevard – Dante's co-directorial effort along with Allan (Deathsport, Rock N' Roll High School) Arkush, who also attended for a Q&A post screening along with the film's co-star and Dante stalwart, the inimitable Dick Miller. (“A man of few words,” it was quipped; though he might be short on chat the 79-year-old Miller's twinkly smirk has hardly changed a bit.) Though her in-person appearance didn't happen, cult legend Mary Woronov still loomed large over the proceedings as the diva of Hollywood Boulevard's delightfully trashy tale of busty Z-movie vixens and spectactularly edited stock footage (For real? There are bits of a stitched-up guerilla shootout that put Platoon to shame.). Meanwhile, the always-effervescent presence of the late Paul Bartel serves to remind what a comparatively dull world it is without him in it.

Actor and stunt coordinator Bob Minor (l) and Kaplan

Oh, but there was more – in the shape of Isaac Hayes in head-to-toe denim whuppin' a whole lotta ass. Dante let his friend and colleague Jonathan Kaplan take the mic to present, then Q&A, his 1974 blaxploitation classic Truck Turner – “[still] the most fun I've ever had making a film,” Kaplan enthused – and demonstrate the only possible way to follow the low-budge thrills of Hollywood Boulevard. Namely, with Hayes both acting and scoring, leading the charge that includes Nichelle Nichols as a low-down-dirty madame; Yaphet Kotto elevating the pimp death scene to never-before-seen levels of high art; a nail-biter hospital ward shootout that predates Woo's Hard Boiled climax by nearly 20 years; and bit parts by the likes of Scatman Crothers and Stymie Beard. T'were as righteous a second feature you're ever gonna get… though perhaps that's premature? Seeing as how Dante's just gotten started, anyway – more cult-tastic thrills with the likes of Larry Cohen, Roger Corman, and John Saxon are still to come.

“Dante's Inferno” continues through April 22 at the New Beverly Cinema; see the theater's website or MySpace for upcoming programs.

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