Once a month Cinema under the Stairs take up residency at The Cellar as Oxford's underground cult cinema. Put together by six local cinephiles, the films chosen are all cult classics, firm favourites of the group. Previous choices have included Trading Places, This is Spinal Tap, a horror double of Halloween & The Blair Witch Project, and The Thing (a true sci-fi masterpiece). March marks their 11th screening, bringing the cultiest of cult films to Oxford, Shogun Assassin.
The evening has an ultra cool vibe. Proceeding with acoustic covers of appropriate songs, such as 'Turning Japanese' and 'Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta F' Wit', the film comes complete with an intermission and ends with the El Gordo raffle (with prizes worth over £100). The group has a confidence and knowledge of cinema that only adds to the experience of watching a film with them. One of the reasons I love cinema is the warmth generated by it, the shared experience of watching a film with friends and strangers. Cinema under the Stairs taps into this and reaches back to a time of video nasties, Blockbusters and practical special effects. What they do is awesome.
Shogun Assassin seems the perfect film for this group to show. It is completely ridiculous and yet a strangely beautiful samurai movie, and is the very definition of cult cinema. The film has quite a following: sampled on GZA's 'Liquid Swords', banned in the UK on its initial release, and embraced by a generation of filmmakers, including Quentin Tarantino. This is the film that the Bride and her daughter watch at the end of Kill Bill: Vol 2 and its influence can be felt in several other films and TV.
The film is a mash-up of the first two parts of the Lone Wolf and Cub series, dubbed into English with a fabulous synth soundtrack added to it. It tells the story of a father and son who become assassins for hire and go on a bloody (very, very, very bloody) journey in pursuit of vengeance. This brief synopsis doesn't do the film justice, which moves at a frantic pace, jumping from violent altercation to violent altercation. If the film doesn't make a great deal of sense then that is part of its charm, giving it an almost dreamlike quality. And along with a fantastic soundtrack it has a number of gorgeous shots. And any film with the frankly amazing line "when cut across the neck, a sound like wailing winter winds is heard, they say. I'd always hoped to cut someone like that someday, to hear that sound. But to have it happen to my own neck is ridiculous" is worth your time.
Cinema under the Stairs offer a much needed service to Oxford, showing the very finest of cult films in a welcoming environment. The film shown is half of the fun of visiting this group and they are a group well worth keeping an eye on. Next up for them is John Carpenter's They Live, with one of the longest fight sequences (9 minutes) in cinematic history. I recommend going along, and in the meantime check out Cinema under the Stairs on Facebook and Twitter.