Vampires and cheap beer fill seats at movie theater

by Jordan Green

The day the third season of “True Blood” premiered at Carousel Luxury Cinemas Greensboro my fianc’e, our friend the Party Host on Mendenhall and I showed up five minutes late. The free tickets had been snapped up hours ago. The next Sunday, my fianc’e was stranded in the records division at Moses Cone hospital and the Party Host and I arranged to get tickets in mid afternoon.

As it happened, the show had been moved into the largest theater and the couple hundred viewers did not quite pack it out. Joe Scott appeared in front of the screen before the lights went down. A couple words about Joe: He’s awesome. He’s a co-host of the “The Movie Show” on WUAG 103.1 FM, the campus station at UNCG. He’s the creator and force behind “The Mixed Tape Film Series,” a classic movie series at the Carousel that kicks off with The Big Lebowski on Aug. 27. And now, apparently, he’s responsible for the weekly screenings of HBO’s “True Blood.”

It started out free, but as Joe explained before the second week’s show, demand had outstripped the capacity of the smaller room and in exchange for allowing its largest theater to be corralled management would need a concession.

As a compromise, they were selling tickets at $2 a head, which could be exchanged as a voucher for beer, soda, popcorn or candy. Joe’s manner of presenting the arrangement, inquiring if it would be alright with everybody, made it seem very democratic, like a spokes council at an anarchist civil disorder planning session or a neighborhood council in revolutionary Cuba. No one seemed to be complaining. I mean, a $2 voucher and 50 cents buys a smallish plastic cup of Bud Light. And the entertainment’s free. Seems like a pretty good deal.

I’m guessing the average moviegoer is paying to see fewer movies these days, and I would imagine that it’s a pretty good business tack for the Carousel to keep people coming through the doors so that when the recession breaks and they have money again they’ll know where to spend it. Similarly, the Carousel showed six matches of the World Cup on the big screen, all for free. What I don’t quite understand is what HBO gets out of this deal. The whole arrangement has a slightly illicit and thrilling feel.

Something akin to the community of warped passion that has developed around The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a screening of “True Blood” on the big screen collectivizes the moments of pleasure at quirky twists of plotline through shared laughter and applause. To sum up, this is really fun.

So now, on the third Sunday, just before 9 p.m., Joe is back thanking the audience for accommodating the price-point adjustment.

“Thanks for being so cool with the changes,” he says. “It was something that was hard to do, but we had to do it. It kind of rolled down from the top.”

Next, Joe is pitching his “Midnight Madness Summer Scar-O-Sel,” a series of horror movies at the Carousel every Friday at midnight, culminating with Texas Chainsaw Massacre on July 30 with “redneck cannibal hoedown” in which attendees are encouraged to dress in character.

“I’m going to try to give away a jar of moonshine,” Joe says. “I’ve got to find out the legalities of that. Come with some buck teeth, a NASCAR shirt and covered in blood, and you might win a jar of moonshine as long as I can stay out of prison.”

Funny. But we’re here to see “True Blood.” All three of us are here tonight, plus a fourth skeptical friend who has recently returned from a year abroad studying architecture in China.

What do we love about “True Blood”? For me, it’s not just the vampires. I’ve never cracked an Anne Rice book and I’m not especially crazy about the Twilight franchise. It’s the vampires, werewolves, telepaths and shape-shifters. It’s the gratuitously gothic title sequence mixing orgiastic religiosity with lurid sexuality and Deep South themes of violence and redemption. It’s the allegory for gay rights, referenced specifically in the title sequence with that church sign that reads, “God hates fangs.” It’s languid setting in rural Louisiana. Most of all, perhaps, it’s the way weirdness is juxtaposed against human vulnerability, which is somehow reassuring.

Which is why we all laugh when clueless Sheriff Bud Dearborn sputters, “I quit,” after the discovery of a body found in a culvert drained of blood and beheaded.

“It’s like crabgrass,” he says. “Solve one murder and another two pop up. Forty-three years and what do I have to show for it? Gaps in my brain and polyps in my ass.”