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At The Music Box's Grindhouse Film Festival, Martial Arts And Mayhem Reign

By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 1, 2016 5:22PM

Scene from "Shaolin vs. Wu Tang"

Retro movie kicks are coming to the Music Box this weekend with the three-night Grindhouse Film Festival. And we truly mean kicks. Saturday night's vintage kung fu double-feature is the centerpiece of the event, featuring two favorites of hip-hop's legendary Wu-Tang Clan: The Mystery of Chess Boxing (1979) and Shaolin vs. Wu Tang (1981).

Though a commercial disappointment when first released, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's 2007 tribute to '70s-era exploitation, Grindhouse, gave the term some new currency as it found a large home video audience. Dedicated B-movie buffs were already schooled in this entertainingly disreputable realm of low-budget action, horror and exploitation flicks of all varieties, which dominated some of the more rundown theaters in big cities from the late '60s through the mid-1980s.

Diehards of a certain age may have first-hand memories of the sticky floors, dirt-cheap admissions and colorful characters that populated these dicey venues. A true grindhouse showed movies 24 hours a day, thus grinding the film prints into disrepair—though the term is also applied to movie houses that had "bump and grind" burlesque shows as an added attraction.

Chicago once had a few theaters serving up grindhouse fare. Perhaps the Woods Theater at Dearborn and Randolph (demolished in 1990) was the most famous... or infamous, considering reports of rat attacks. The venue certainly had some wonderful newspaper ads promising gratuitous good times.

Vintage newspaper ad showing movies at the Woods, Oriental and McVickers theaters---all home to grindhouse-type movies for part of their histories.

The historic Music Box is a much classier establishment, but between its midnight movies and multiple genre movie fests, it seems a good home for this throwback event. All the films showing are 35mm prints from film buff and archivist Dan Halsted.

The Music Box's event kicks off Friday night, June 3rd, with a 70-minute program of vintage, over-the-top trailers for the kinds of movies mentioned above, along with blaxploitation, sexploitation and the truly odd hicksploitation.

Then, Saturday night, it's time to get your kung fu on with the previously mentioned martial arts two-fer.

Sunday turns to horror with The Gates of Hell, a.k.a. City of the Living Dead (1980), from Italian cult film giant Lucio Fulci. Expect loads of gore and general weirdness from this one.

The festival winds up with Sunday's second feature—a surprise screening the Music Box's schedule notes is an "extremely rare 35mm print of one of the greatest exploitation films ever made!" There's some hoopla for ya.

Descriptions of all the films are available on the Music Box's website. As added incentive, Saturday and Sunday's lineups have special double-feature pricing of $12 to see both movies, which goes down to only $9 if you have a Music Box membership. The Grindhouse trailers show is just $9 or $6 for members.