An interview with the Hellfire Video Club


Meet Joe, Matt and Brig, the Cube Microplex’s resident curators of fabulously bizarre monthly film nights in Bristol. 

What’s your history, how did you start?

MATT: I’d been programming stuff at the Cube for a few years and had tried to get a semi regular thing off the ground showing under-loved or obscure films that I thought were worth trying to get people to see. It was kind of a tough sell though, and I wasn’t sure how to ‘market’ it. Then Joe suddenly got in touch…

JOE: I was holding monthly nights at my house with a bunch of friends where we’d watch all sorts of atrocious and weird old films whilst drinking lots of beer. As there was nothing going on like this in Bristol at the time (although unbeknownst to me, SeventySeven film club were screening oddball arthouse things in Bedmo) I decided to try and do it on a larger scale, with The Cube Microplex being the best place I could think of to hold them. When I contacted The Cube, Matt was working there and had been trying to do something similar, so it was a natural fit. The First Hellfire Video Club (HFVC) night was June 2011.

We’re all long-standing record nerds, so a big part of the night for us is playing theme-appropriate music in the bar before/between/after the films to help people adjust their brains in alignment with what we’re screening. Lots of weird Soundtracks, library music, psychedelia and strange synthesiser records.

Altered States 1 (1)

Altered States (1990)

How do you choose which films to screen?

JOE: The three of us running HFVC have all spent our teenage and adult lives hoovering up weird old films so we each have a massive list of potential films to show. We try to keep each month’s films within a certain theme and generally stick to films from the 1960’s – 1980’s, as it’s a period we’re all interested in and there is such a vast amount of totally amazing yet under-seen films within it. Personally, I have no interest in genre films if they have become self-aware or tongue-in-cheek – I’m looking for cinema as outsider art, a personal vision gone wrong, something so lost-in-translation that it becomes mind bending, or a film that seems like it was made by someone who has never seen a film before.

BRIG: By democracy, it’s the British way. We each take it in turns to choose films and sometimes we all agree on a film or two we’d all like to see on the big screen. We’ve each watched thousands of films, so there’s plenty to choose from.

MATT: Some we pretty much all agree on, whereas some months are more our individual ‘subject areas’ – stuff we feel particularly passionate about.

How do you find them?

JOE: Constantly checking out other films by directors and actors we’ve liked other work from, reading a lot of old film books and zines and checking out any recommendations from reliable sources.

BRIG: The internet, the greatest resource on earth. There aren’t many films you can’t find out about from somewhere on the web.

MATT: …though it’s nice to have a go trying! The best thing about this is no matter how much you think you’ve exhausted it you’ll always find new stuff you’ve never heard of. There’s really so much out there waiting to be exhumed. The deeper you dig the more you’ll find.

What’s been your most popular film? Have you ever done repeat screenings?

JOE: Our busiest night was definitely our screening of Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (1982) AKA: Turkish Star Wars! Probably because of those last two words I suspect – it was great fun, everyone really got into it! But often other nights will be very busy that we hadn’t expected, our Czech New Wave night was rammed!

BRIG: I remember Zardoz (1974) was packed to the brim. Well worth it to see Sean Connery in a nappy for 105 minutes on the big screen.

MATT: It’s kind of unpredictable, which is great. We’ve never done a repeat screening, though. There are so many other films to show!

What’s the weirdest film you’ve ever screened?

JOE: That’s very subjective! The Boxer’s Omen (1983) is one of the most overtly brain-smooshing films in existence, but we then again we have also screened a low-budget Canadian horror called Things (1989) that is so badly made and brutally mundane that it has a deeply weird vibe, to an almost psychedelic degree…

BRIG: We’ve shown plenty of slightly odd films, but most of the truly weirdest films I’ve ever seen are pretty unwatchable, and would struggle to keep most people in a cinema for 90 minutes or more. The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973) was a pretty bizarre two hours of wonderful phantasmagorical imagery with no real plot.

MATT: Yep, Things is pretty fucked. It’s like waking up inside someone else’s deeply disturbed mind, and not being able to get out. You can never recreate that kind of weirdness. It just IS. You either go with it or just feel as though you’re being assaulted.

Has a screening ever upset?

JOE: I recall someone walking out of our screening of Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) – and it hadn’t even got going properly yet!

BRIG: Several films have offended the odd person here or there. Particularly films from the 1970s where boundaries were pushed further than before or since. I remember a 1970s Spanish horror film ruffling a few feathers as a family were strung up like animals in an abattoir to be cut up by a maniac hell bent on revenge. Some people are so easily offended.

MATT: Someone also got upset at the spaghetti western night because the audience were laughing at the dubbing. That was kind of unexpected. I could understand where they were coming from in a way. It’s so subjective…watching things with an audience is such a radically different experience to viewing at home. Depends what you’re used to. I guess he felt the general amusement was insulting to something he felt was serious, or at least seriously intentioned. Personally I find I can laugh at something’s ‘idiosyncrasies’ without feeling as though it diminishes it’s worth as a film. In fact I love the fact they co-exist. Ideas of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are reductive! You can have both!

Boxer's Omen (10)

Boxer’s Omen (1983)

Do you ever screen your films outside of The Cube?

MATT: We did a couple of screening at Supernormal festival, which is an amazing, small (but perfectly formed) artist run festival in Oxfordshire. There was a nice build up effect, where people just wandered in, watched a bit, then would wander off and return 10/15 minutes later having convinced others to come and check out the ensuing oddness.

We may try and do some more DJ/visuals sets In the future. We’ve built up a pretty choice selection of crazed visuals, and we tend to buy way more wonked out records than would be considered healthy.

Do you ever go to the multiplex?

JOE: I’m not averse to it – but can’t stand big showy CGI/ superhero films. A small baby has prevented me from going anywhere of late though….

BRIG: It’s been at least a decade since I set foot in a multiplex. Why pay to watch mindless modern Hollywood crap when you’ve got plenty of great old films to watch at home?

MATT: Occasionally. Contemporary films rarely step out of line though. And you have to step out of line to get to somewhere truly great, for the most part.

Any special plans for the future?

JOE: It’s our 5th birthday next summer so we’ll have to do something big for that!

MATT: I’d definitely like to do more DJ/visuals sets. Maybe at a few festivals. I’m wondering about an all-nighter for our ‘anniversary’ (or just maybe an all-dayer, we’re no spring chickens after all).

Top 3 films?

JOEBoxer’s Omen (1983), Holy Mountain (1973), The Conversation (1974)

BRIGSweet Movie (1974) Seconds (1966), They Might Be Giants (1971)

MATTMessiah of Evil (1972), Go, Go Second Time Virgin (1969), Christina, Princesse de L’erotisme (1971)


Hellfire Video Club is held monthly at the Cube Microplex, Dove St South, Bristol.
Follow them on @HellfireVC and on Facebook
Georgina Guthrie interviews the Hellfire Video Club for the Bristol Film Critics Circle.