It’s been 18 years since the infamous Scala Cinema projected its last all-night movie marathon. But as the old cliché goes, though it may be gone, it is very far from forgotten.
The Scala represents something of a golden age for London’s hardcore cinemagoers. It was a time before the multiplexes reigned supreme, when fans of cult, grindhouse, and underground cinema could get their fix without having to trawl countless venues for something other than the latest spandex-clad blockbuster. Famous for it’s all-night screenings, after-hours drinking, and alternative cinematic delights, The Scala remains a fond memory for many, one to which an entire season has recently been dedicated.
Taking place across 27 different London screens, Scala Forever is currently showcasing the very best (and perhaps worst) of the notorious cinema’s programming. Having commenced mid-August with KING KONG, the season has so far shown such diverse treats as ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS, ZARDOZ, BLACK SUNDAY, GLEN OR GLENDA, and even THE GOONIES. For those who have missed out so far, there are still plenty of films to catch. Scala Foever isn’t due to finish until 2nd October with a screening of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. But next on the agenda is a very special event indeed, ‘The Female Prisoner Pinky Violence All-Night Triple Bill’, as it has so eloquently been described. And if that doesn’t get you hot under the collar, then back off to the multiplex with you it is.
The triple bill, which will be screened at Dalston’s famous Rio cinema, is the brainchild of Cigarette Burns, one of London’s most prominent advocators of cult and horror cinema. Having already scored big for Scala Forever with a double helping of THE BEYOND and DEAD & BURIED at Leicester Square’s Prince Charles Cinema, Cigarette Burns is looking to repeat the success with the all-night screening of the ‘FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION’ trilogy. But for those not in know, what exactly is it?
‘We’re being very liberal with the term “trilogy”’ says Cigarette Burns founder Josh Saco. ‘There are actually four films in the FEMALE CONVICT series starring Meiko Kaji, however, these three are the original three directed by Shunya It?.’
As Josh describes, the first three films, FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION (1972), FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41 (1973), and FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: BEAST STABLE (1973), are generally accepted as the best in the series, and the original even earned director Shunya It? the Directors Guild of Japan New Directors Award for what was his debut feature.
The first film follows Matsushima (Meiko Kaji), who is deceived by a crooked detective, Sugimi (Natsuyagi Isao), with whom she has fallen in love. After a failed attempt at revenge, Matsushima finds herself doing hard time in a brutal female prison. When Sugimi and his underworld connections plot to have her killed in prison, they are soon met with her deep and dangerous desire for revenge. The sequels follow Matsushima’s continued hi-jinks behind bars and efforts to escape. They’re erotic, violent and everything else one could wish for from an extravaganza of lady prison action – perfect for a season that looks to celebrate all things Scala.
And what better place for this triple bill to be screened that the Rio Cinema, one of London’s best-loved independent picture houses. Proudly erected amongst the rough and ready streets of the Dalston, the Rio harks back to a golden time of cinema, when the theatres were considered palaces to showcase films, rather than the sterile and lifeless buildings that dominate the industry today. And by offering an alternative programme to most multiplexes, the Rio remains a popular East End venue; not bad for a cinema that dates all the way back to 1909. And, considering the popularity of Scala Forever so far, the Rio is sure to draw crowds once again for its collaboration with Cigarette Burns.
‘From what I know,’ says Josh of the season, ‘it seems to have been nothing short of a raging success.’ And undoubtedly he’s right, as London has been abuzz with talk of Scala Forever, which for film fanatics, is a one-off chance to see certain films on the big screen. Even the classics we assume to know inside out have the power to dazzle when returned to their original and intended format.
‘It was great to revisit KING KONG on the opening evening,’ Josh tells THN. ‘Kong had drifted off into the back of my mind and I felt that I knew it inside out. But it’d been ages since I’d seen I, and as with so many classics, its a multi-layered film that I was able to appreciate in a completely different way than I had before. I was stunned that it holds up as well as it does.’
It’s due to screenings such as this that Scala Forever has been the success that it has, and as Josh hints, ‘I’ve heard talk of it possibly running again next year.’
So what might next year’s event hold for audiences?
‘Ah, that would be telling…’ teases Josh.
But before all this talk of future events, let’s not forget this season is far from over, with another eight screenings to go. For those that have missed the season so far, head down to the Rio for Cigarette Burns’ night of FEMALE PRISONER fun, otherwise The Scala will have to remain a distant but beloved memory for yet another year.
The FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION trilogy screens 24th September
Tickets are £15
Visit Cigarette Burns at cigaretteburnscinema.com
Visit Rio Cinema at riocinema.org