Killer Lineup

Black Widow Cinema brings a much-needed dose of "lady vengeance" to Austin

Susan Herreras of Black Widow Cinema (Photo by John Anderson)

Despite the chaotic stream of special screenings that run throughout Austin every day it seems, there is a plum of a series still holding out for wider attendance. Black Widow Cinema, a longstanding free screening event founded and curated by Susan Herreras, shows "lady-based vengeance movies" at the Spider House Ballroom once a month (last month's screening: Valley Girl). Each selection made by Herreras and co-curator Patrick Pryor promises a "powerful" female role model at the center, coupled with an "only-available-on-VHS" kind of cinephile's love of the oddball and long-lost.

Herreras, a former video-store autodidact and current I Luv Video (a BWC sponsor) employee, has no interest in replicating the kitsch-centric programming that has taken over the city. "I used to program somewhere else, and when I got that job, I said, 'I'll do this for you, but no one is going to come. I'm going to show hyper-rare cool stuff, not the fucking Goonies.'" Sure enough, Herreras' idiosyncratic screenings went under-attended, like when "a buddy cop double feature of Freebie and the Bean and Dead Heat" she programmed took in barely 30 people. Herreras laughs at that now: "I do not care if five people or 500 people come. I just need to show this stuff."

For those fed up with infantile The Princess Bride quote-a-thons and midnight screenings of The Room, the Black Widow Cinema lineup intentionally positions itself as counterprogramming. Herreras says angrily, "I just hate the concept of 'so bad it's good.' It gives me the mental farts." Her recent selections, like Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Vampire's Kiss, and Frankenhooker, she argues, are "actual, quality films," not things to be watched mockingly. "I correct people immediately. If you want to see a bad movie," she says, "go see the new Wolverine, I don't give a shit."

Smartly, the programmers have refused to relegate themselves to B-level revenge flicks. To Herreras' mind, perennial "Girlie Night" screenings of Clueless or Pretty in Pink project messages that can be "deeply harmful" to the women watching them: "the fact that that market is so big still is ... disappointing." So Herreras has recently moved toward a more politicized curatorship of "female-centered" films with women directors or characters of color at the center. In the case of Valley Girl, for example, the fact of its female director (Martha Coolidge) and its shoestring budget combined to make it a surefire selection. Similarly, as a Latina, Herreras is acutely aware of "the huge underrepresentation of any person of color, male or female," onscreen or behind the camera. She notes as a recent example of this the insensitive casting of British-born Tilda Swinton in a formerly Tibetan character role for Marvel's upcoming Doctor Strange. When Pryor and Herreras choose to screen films like the epochal blaxploitation hit Coffy, such instances are at the forefront of Herreras' mind. She even notes a lack of diversity in the curation sector, noting drily: "Austin has such a huge film crew and film-based society. Yet every paid programmer I know in town is a white male."

That Black Widow Cinema has withstood years of changes to Spider House's administration and oscillating audience engagement suggests its lady-friendly moment has finally come. Herreras recently hosted Weird Wednesday at the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz, a sign of growing recognition from local programming peers for her. Yet, for the moment, she has no plans to abandon her brainchild, saying, "I could show the movies that would generate some sort of income, but that's soulless bullshit to me." Whatever new opportunities come her way, Herreras makes only one promise: "I'm not going to show The Goonies or The Princess Bride, ever."

Visit Black Widow Cinema on Facebook to keep up with their programming.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Sean L. Malin
Louis Black Takes Richard Linklater Doc to PBS
Louis Black Takes Richard Linklater Doc to PBS
dream is destiny airs on American Masters

Sept. 1, 2017

Totally Total Providence
Totally Total Providence
Animator Paul Beck presents A Scanner Darkly at Alamo Drafthouse Mueller

Aug. 25, 2017


Black Widow Cinema, Susan Herreras, I Luv Video

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle