Scarecrowber: SIFF and Scarecrow Video collaborate on a monthlong celebration of psychotronic greatness

Share this Post:
Bram Stoker's Dracula — Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Bram Stoker's Dracula — Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Both the Seattle International Film Festival (most frequently referred to by its recognizable acronym, SIFF) and Scarecrow Video (featuring the largest publicly available physical media library in the world, with more than 145,000 titles currently listed in its massive database) are cinematic gateways into the Pacific Northwest, and it's difficult to imagine a world without either of them.

While the two nonprofits have worked together on projects in the past, never have they collaborated to program an official series of films selected by Scarecrow and showcased at one of SIFF's venues. Until now.

Going under the moniker "Scarecrowber," the pair have crafted a monthlong psychotronic celebration that runs the gamut from bona fide classics (The Bride of Frankenstein, Cat People, Carnival of Souls), cult favorites (Night of the Comet, Near Dark, From Beyond), and auteur-driven sensations (Possession, Bram Stoker's Dracula) to kiddie curiosities (Mad Monster Party?), salacious Hammer Films barn burners (Twins of Evil), and dangerous doggies (Cujo), including jolts of surreal, Z-grade madness so bizarre (Spookies), it would take me a week to describe even a fraction of the lunacy about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting audience.

The series begins on Monday, October 2 and concludes on Sunday, October 29, with all screenings to be held at Seattle's legendary one-screen movie house the SIFF Egyptian on Capitol Hill. I sat down with Scarecrow Video's executive director, Clinton McClung, to chat about "Scarecrowber" and what it means to him and the video store's devoted and knowledgeable staff to work with SIFF to program this series. The following is the edited transcript of our conversation:

Clinton McClung — Courtesy photo  

Sara Michelle Fetters: First things first. Before we dive too much into "Scarecrowber" and what this series means for Scarecrow, for the uninitiated, let's just play a quick game of "definition," as you are the psychotronic guru here. "Psychotronic": what is it?

Clinton McClung: What is it? [The term] is based on a very popular book that came out in the 1980s that cult film lovers just fell in love with called The Psychotronic Video Guide [by film critic Michael J. Weldon]. "Psychotronic video" as defined in the book... [laughs] Okay, I can't remember exactly how it's defined in the book. It's been a long time since I read it. But the definition ... is basically "weird genre films that are made typically on a low budget and are not sort of your mainstream Hollywood films."

Now, we [at Scarecrow] don't necessarily subscribe to the low-budget part, because there's John Carpenter films. I wouldn't call those low budget. But definitely a lot of those films fit outside of the Hollywood mainstream and fit under that genre umbrella.

Years ago, when Scarecrow Video was organizing its show floor and deciding where to put things — because the unique thing about the layout at Scarecrow is [that] we have all those little rooms where we can put things, rather than create just one room and call it "the horror dungeon" or something like that — they decided to call [a room] the Psychotronic Room, so it could embrace everything from horror to sci-fi. (There's a section called Christploitation in the Psychotronic Room that I love. [laughs])

But, yeah. Psychotronic is typically sci-fi horror fantasy and any and all combinations one can think of, sort of an umbrella term to put all those genres under.

SMF: As for "Scarecrowber" itself: Is it a festival? Is it a series?

CM: It's an entire month. [laughs]

SMF: Touché. [laughs]

CM: It's a film series. Basically, we were approached by SIFF — and this was really great, because, as you know, I used to work there. But I didn't approach them, and their approaching Scarecrow wasn't because of my connections with them. Literally, the current programmer at SIFF, Kasi Gaarenstroom, approached me after the festival this year and was like, "We want to work together with Scarecrow more and use our platform and our theaters to elevate other nonprofit organizations in town that are doing cool film-related work."

So, during the festival, we were invited to go to the films that we were sponsoring and actually give away physical media before the screenings, which was delightful. We also went to closing night (I Heart Movies), which is about a video store, and were able to be involved there, too.

After that experience working together and giving us a chance to get up before SIFF audiences and talk a little bit about Scarecrow and why we're an important aspect of the community, ... Kasi happened to mention that in October at the Egyptian, they do lots of rentals for special events and little mini festivals and stuff. They had a lot of holes in the schedule, ones that they couldn't really fill with first-run movies.

And I was like, October is the hottest month for Scarecrow Video. It's the month that we have Video Store Day. It's the month that we do our Psychotronic Challenge. For video store nerds, October is our favorite time of year. [So] I was thinking, if SIFF had a lot of holes in their schedule to fill, then I had a bunch of staff members who would probably give SIFF a list of incredible titles to help with that.

From there, we were just talking and spitballing ideas, and together we came up with the name "Scarecrowber." Immediately it just perfectly made sense. If the month of October is helping to celebrate Scarecrow Video and showcasing all these great psychotronic films, "Scarecrowber" it had to be! It was kismet. It just really made sense.

SMF: As you brought it up, you did work at SIFF as a programmer for quite a long time. Additionally, SIFF and Scarecrow have had a strong relationship in the past, the video store being a frequent sponsor of the annual festival. With that being the case, why has it taken so long for there to be a series like "Scarecrowber" that brings the two together in this way?

CM: I would say, speaking as the former programmer of the theater, honestly, it never crossed my mind. I think in the old days, 10, maybe 15 years ago, before Scarecrow became a nonprofit, a lot of it was just like, they're a sponsor. They give us money to support SIFF. So we talked about them, but it was never a lot more than that.

I think a big shift that I've seen ... in general in the last several years — and I think the pandemic was a big part of this — is that more nonprofits, especially art nonprofits, are realizing that we're stronger if we work together. If it's not just about "we have sponsors and we're doing our own thing." If everyone comes together and is like, "How can we support each other?," that's when the magic can happen.

One thing I think we're all learning is that we need our audience. We need our community to not just know we're there or to throw money at us but to pay attention to what we're doing and to help spread the word about all these great organizations around town.

Also, Tom Mara, who's the current executive director at SIFF, was really sweet to reach out to me when I first got this job at Scarecrow, to meet and to talk specifically about how could we work together more. I think that's a new path forward.

I don't want to speak on behalf of SIFF, but a lot of nonprofits are seeing this new path forward of building that community and working together toward the same goals. It's not just being about, "How do I get people to come to my theater?" or "How do I get people to come to my video store?" It's more about building awareness. It helps us all. There's been a nice change in how things work that I feel really heartened by.

SMF: When it looked like "Scarecrowber" was going to become a reality, what was the staff reaction when they understood they were going to be able to program their own series of films at one of Seattle's most celebrated theaters?

CM: They were really excited. Partly because being able to see a lot of these movies on the big screen was delightful for them. We've worked closely with other cinemas over the years, and we've done little one-offs and shows and stuff together. I'm not saying this was completely like, oh my God, this has never happened, but it was more just such great timing to have this overlap with our big month of October with the Psychotronic Challenge. And, of course, [it was great] to program a venue like the SIFF Egyptian.

I worked with both SIFF and with our staff to be like, okay, we're not just going to program a bunch of crazy movies that we like. We want a little bit of everything in terms of stuff that would attract an audience, and we want to use this to highlight some of the special things that we do here at Scarecrow.

... I talked to Jensen Ward, who puts together the Psychotronic Challenge every year, and wanted to know if there were specific days where we could tie in the Psychotronic Challenge to the "Scarecrowber" selections. ...He selected October 6, and he sent me five titles that he felt would work. The [challenge] for this date is: "THE TORN TICKET: You guessed it, films/scenes that take place in a movie theater," so he picked five titles and we ended up with Night of the Comet, which we all love. [laughs]

Viva Physical Media is a ... biweekly show [that we do] devoted to, naturally, physical media. [The hosts are] always talking about dog movies; it's sort of a popular running gag. So I went to them and was like, why don't you guys pick a dog movie? We'll do a Viva Physical Media night. That's how we ended up with Cujo.

"Unstreamable" is a column that Jas Keimig and Chase Burns from The Stranger originally started, and now they do it on our blog. And I was like, let's do a night where we just focus on "Unstreamable" and find a film like that.

Everybody was really excited, not just that we got to play fun movies, but that we got to tie it in with stuff that is very specifically Scarecrow. At one point, I just sent out ... to all the staff: "Everybody pick five and we're going to narrow those down to fill out the series!" [laughs] It worked out perfectly. Everybody got their picks.

SMF: It's one thing, though, to have a Scarecrow night at, say, The Beacon or over at the Grand Illusion, and another to program an entire month at the SIFF Egyptian. I mean, at those venues, if you program something like Spookies and only 20 people show up, that's a successful night. It's harder to say that in a venue the size of the SIFF Egyptian.

CM: Right. Well, that's one reason why Kasi and I talked about this when we started planning. [Since I was] a former film programmer, she was a little bit more trusting, because I think she knew I understood how big this theater is and what was needed to fill it. She trusted me to find the balance between the obscure and the mainstream.

We tried to [walk] that line a little bit [with] titles we knew people would come out for and ones that would be a little more of a risk. I know people love From Beyond. I know people love Bride of Frankenstein. I know there are certain titles that will bring people out, and then just mixing that in with some, like 1946's Cat People, that are a bit more of a risk.

Cat People — Photo courtesy of RKO  

SMF: Wait. Cat People is a risk? Don't people know how much of a classic that film is?

CM: I know, right? I love it, but lots of people don't even know that that movie exists anymore. Part of programming a festival or a series like this is giving people their... how should I phrase it? It's giving people their candy and their medicine and be like, you know you like this, but you might not know that you're also going to like this.

Also, honestly? I think Spookies is going to be hit. I really do.

SMF: I certainly hope so. What a beautifully weird little film that is!

Personally, I look at the lineup and I keep thinking to myself, "That movie's great!" and "Oh yeah! That movie's great, too!" It's such a cagey mixture of stuff that is definitely going to bring people in, like Bram Stoker's Dracula or From Beyond or Near Dark, but then switching that up a little bit with fun, obscure, or maybe even forgotten fare like Twins of Evil or Mad Monster Party? I mean, come on now, it's all great.

CM: Mad Monster Party? is the movie I watch every Halloween. I've shown it in theaters before, and there's a new restoration of it. It's one of my childhood favorites. I still watch it every year.

But, yes, you have to throw those in. People are going to want to see them even if they don't already know they are going to want to. Stuff like Possession. I've never seen Possession, and it's been on my list for a decade or more to watch. Well, if we program it, we all get a chance to go watch this movie. I hope I'm up to the challenge. [laughs]

SMF: Wait. You've never seen Possession? This honestly surprises me.

CM: I know about it, and I know how influential it is, but ... I've never sat down and actually watched it.

SMF: Which screening are you going to be at? I just want to watch you watch the movie. I can't wait to see your reactions. [laughs]

CM: Watch my wife watch me watch Possession. I have a feeling that will be the real show. [laughs]

I'm so excited to see it. I recently listened to a podcast where Sam Neill was talking about making that movie. Afterward I was like, "Oh my God, why have I never seen Possession? What's wrong with me?"

SMF: Isabelle Adjani gives one of the greatest performances you will ever see.

CM: I can't wait.

Twins of Evil. You mentioned Twins of Evil. That's another one I'm excited about. That was a film that was selected by Leo Mayberry, one of our staff members who used to run the "Monster Planet" series at Re-bar. His list of films was all really obscure, weird, older stuff. But I had just watched Twins of Evil a couple months ago, and that one shot to the top of the list of what he suggested, partly because we knew it was available, but also, it's just so much fun! More people need to see this movie. It is fun and weird. I just love it. Our staff is so good at pulling those little nuggets out that you don't expect sometimes.

Another of our staff members, Matt Lynch, who I think you know, actually went with Bram Stoker's Dracula. That surprised me. It's such a mainstream pick for him, or, so I thought. But he said that was straight up his favorite horror movie. How great is that?

SMF: If we're being totally honest, probably the most mainstream title — outside of The Bride of Frankenstein, of course — is arguably Night of the Comet, and it's as much of a 1980s cult favorite as any film made that decade.

What I love about this series, no matter your background, no matter if you are straight or Queer, there's always something about horror that speaks to everyone. It's a genre for everyone, whether they realize it or not, and this series proudly showcases that.

CM: I was giving [someone] a little tour of the store, and we have the Comedy Room and the Drama Room, and there's some small breakouts in there, but none of them are quite as broken out as the Psychotronic Room. We don't just have a horror section — it's broken out into demons and witches and little bastards. We have all these amazing breakouts throughout that room.

The reason is that genre films, in particular, have rarely gotten any respect. This has maybe changed a little in the last 10, 15 years, but it's still like, for most stores, here's the horror section. Put the weird stuff on the bottom shelf and don't worry about it.

We have never done that. If you really look at the genre as it is, there are so many different elements of horror. There are so many different kinds of horror. So many different styles of horror movies. Horror is for everyone, because it accepts everyone for who and what they are.

I grew up in the '80s, when I thought every horror movie was Friday the 13th. I was like, meh. That's not for me. Then you discover your Carnival of Souls, you discover your Cat People, you discover your Near Dark. You discover the weird, interesting horror film that's more psychological, that messes with your head, which I am really hoping is what Possession's going to be like.

SMF: Oh, you're going to be scarred. You're going to be scarred for life. [laughs]

CM: I can't wait.

SMF: Talk to me about how you feel this series is going to help Scarecrow in its mission.

CM: The great thing about this series is, since 2020, we're still not back at the levels financially of people coming in and renting videos and buying stuff and visiting Scarecrow that we were, even in 2019. We're still building back up to that. That's the case for a lot of businesses and nonprofits.

One thing I've been working on since I started at Scarecrow in May is raising awareness that we're still here, that we're not just Seattle's last video store, but we're an archive of almost every video that's ever been made.

I mean, granted, there's lots of stuff we don't have in our collection, but we have 145,000 titles. That is three times as much as all the streaming services combined. It's more than any other publicly available archive, meaning you could actually come in and check anything out. We have more than any other publicly available resource in the world.

We're not just the only video store in Seattle, we're kind of the biggest video store in the world. What's special about that is that even if you don't go out every Friday and rent movies anymore, every once in a while, there's going to be that one fever dream movie that you remember that you're like, "What was that? I want to see that."

Scarecrow is here for you for that. When you're working on a project — and it can be about anything, it doesn't even have to be cinema-related — there will be films and documentaries that that we will have available for you if and when you need them.

But outside of the archive aspect of it, if we can get more people to just come and visit Scarecrow, that would be great. I talk to lots of people who are like, "I love Scarecrow, but I haven't been there in years."

It's kind of like going to a bookstore that you love. You know what book you want when you walk in the door, but walking around and looking at all the books, you open yourself up to so much more discovery than you would ever get from an algorithm. What does this employee pick? What is this weird thing? There is this section of just the Disney live-action remakes? There's the Psychotronic Room. Things that catch and capture your imagination.

Even if you're not going to rent that movie right that day, it's going to inspire you to dig deeper and explore more, and I think that's the power of Scarecrow.