The 1990s were, in retrospect, a golden age for lowbrow nostalgia. The cheesiest, most disreputable pop culture of the mid-20th century suddenly took on a new luster and even became vaguely hip during the Clinton years. Only during such a decade would a basic cable network like USA ever greenlight a show as deeply weird as Reel Wild Cinema, a warped tribute to vintage drive-in and grindhouse movies that ran on Sunday nights from 1994 to 1996. The host of the show was comedian, actress, and frequent Letterman guest Sandra Bernhard, herself a doyenne of irony, camp, and extreme behavior. The oddball program was the brainchild of the late Mike Vraney, whose company Something Weird Video specializes in loving reissues of old exploitation movies: horror, burlesque, nudie cuties, juvenile delinquent flicks, and more. Very recently, Something Weird’s official YouTube channel has been uploading full-length episodes of Reel Wild Cinema, giving viewers the chance to either relive the strange series or experience it for the first time. Minus their original commercials, the shows now run about 45 minutes apiece.
In each installment of Reel Wild Cinema, the wisecracking Bernhard presents clips from various B-movies of the 1950s and 1960s, generally centered around a given theme for the week. Typical episode titles include “Bad-Ass Babes,” “Teens Run Wild,” and “Sword & Sandal.” Along the way, the host also chats with guests knowledgeable in the ways of cinematic trash, including Russ Meyer, Paul Bartel, Dana Gould, Roger Corman, and Vampira. As indulgent as all this may seem, USA did have its limits. According to this eye-straining FAQ, the original plan for the show was to have Berhnard appear as a superhero in a “futuristic penthouse” with organist Korla Pandit as her sidekick. The network nixed that, but for two years they did devote an hour each week to such outrageous cinematic fare as Moonshine Mountain, The Wild And The Naked, Group Marriage, and the immortal Bad Girls Go To Hell. One can almost imagine Quentin Tarantino tuning in each week and vigorously taking notes.
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