Hex appeal

Pub date August 5, 2009
SectionArts & CultureSectionTrash

CULT MOVIES ONLINE I remember sitting on the floor of a scrappy Las Vegas hotel room, my five-year-old eyes glued to the television. A fuzzy film played from a far-gone era, filled with uncensored violence, sex, and drugged out debauchery. I was horrified, but possessed euphorically by that horror, unable to turn away from the moving screen. To this day I am still looking for that movie’s title. And nearly every film freak who shares a similar story of initiation still seeks out some unknown title. But lucky for us weirdos, the San Francisco collective Cosmic Hex is committed to finding, archiving, and digitally preserving just those forgotten treasures of underground exploitation film.

"We just have fun with the whole underground, sort of lost exploitation movie scene," says Dan Simpson, head organizer of the Cosmic Hex Internet archive. Together with fellow aficionados Scott Moffett and Serge Vladimiroff, Simpson started the digital archive six years ago initially as a way to show the collective’s giant stockpile of 16mm and 35mm films. But the costs of such a feat grew exponentially, and so the project veered instead to the whimsical. "We got to the point where we pay the bills and we do whatever we want. I get to explore my id and go down whatever avenues open up to me that week," Simpson explains. His id currently spirals him into ’70s made-for-television bizarrities like the Western/satanic cult mashup, Black Noon (1971). But Simpson also enjoys fulfilling requests, no matter their obscurity. A film with a single VHS release that died with the mom and pop stores? Only eight copies in the world? The Citizen Kane of "asteroid possessed bulldozer films," Killdozer (1974)? Simpson is game for the challenge.

Besides building their growing digital archive of nearly 300 films, Cosmic Hex also screens some select 16mm choices in its clubhouse speakeasy, the Vortex Room (1082 Howard, SF; www.myspace.com/thevortexroom). The terrestrial SoMa location transports visitors into a whole ‘nother world of the weird, showcasing some of the finest trash and psychedelic madness ever captured on reel. August’s calendar totes the classic psycho-thriller Race With The Devil (1975) and the enigmatic Divine Emanuelle Love Cult (1983) among many other juicy titles. "Somebody has to take charge and make this stuff available, or it never will," Simpson says. "And it will end up burning in some vault at some point and never be seen again." But these films do not engage strictly on an ironic or nostalgic level. Many of them genuinely hold up as quality pieces of work. "I end up finding more genius in some of these films that people would write off without even watching the first 10 minutes," Simpson insists. "The trashier, the weirder, the better it is." (Michael Krimper)