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Russ Meyer’s “Faster Pussycat” and the Crest Theatre

At 412 L Street, the Showcase Theater was one of the last downtown movie houses, opening in 1966 as an expansion of the older Lincoln Theater at the same address. With eight hundred seats, the Showcase started out showing first-run films but later became an art house theater, specializing in foreign films and independent cinema. Downtown’s flagging economy meant that the Showcase wavered near closure many times. In March 1976, the Showcase announced it would close after a showing of "The Last Picture Show" due to lack of business. Shortly after the closure was announced, the Showcase was purchased by the Landmark chain of theaters, specializing in classic, cult and art films, and gained a reprieve.

In November 1980, the Showcase attracted media attention when legendary filmmaker Russ Meyer made a personal appearance at the theater with a triple feature of his films Lorna, Mudhoney and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Introduced by the filmmaker himself, the theater became the target of protests by a local group called the Sacramento Feminist Women’s Collective. However, some suspected that the protesters were actually shills, perhaps paid for by Meyer himself. The three films shown that night, produced in the mid-1960s, were not explicit or pornographic, unlike the films shown by several other theaters in the neighborhood. In addition, Russ Meyer’s film crew was set up across L Street filming the protest for a documentary about the filmmaker’s life.

By the early 1980s, the Showcase was the last regularly operating movie theater downtown, outliving even the adult theaters, driven out of business by the movie theater’s latest competition, the videocassette recorder. The Showcase took over the J Street’s duties as the midnight home of Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1978. In June 1984, a Landmark representative announced that the Showcase would cease operation in September of that year, citing the difficulty of filling the Showcase’s eight hundred seats. The last films shown were A Boy and His Dog starring Don Johnson and an uncut version of David Bowie’s The Man Who Fell to Earth. The theater remained vacant for over a year after closure and was finally demolished in March 1986. The Tower Theatre on Broadway, another Landmark location, became Sacramento’s art house cinema, and while Rocky Horror Picture Show had already moved out to suburban theaters, the Tower played host to a tenth anniversary showing of Rocky Horror in 1986, complete with live cast. The site of the Showcase became a parking lot, with only the sparking terrazzo sidewalk in front marking the location of downtown’s last operating picture palace.

The Crest Theatre was the third theater located at 1013 K Street. Built in 1912 as the Empress and reopened in 1918 as the Hippodrome, the theater endured two fires and a disastrous collapse of the theater’s marquee in 1946. The “Hip” was remodeled as a “Skouras-style” theater and reopened as the Crest. From its auspicious opening night in October 1949 with star Mario Lanza and California governor Earl Warren, the Crest followed the decline of other downtown theaters, becoming a second-run theater in the 1970s and closing in late 1979. Several attempts were made to reopen the theater between 1980 and 1986 as a theater and live music venue, including performances by bands like REM, Berlin, X and the Dead Kennedys, but this effort was short-lived.

In 1986, Linda McDonagh, owner of the Palms Playhouse in Davis, purchased the Crest Theatre for use as a live music venue. Nineteen-year-old classic film enthusiast Matías Bombal contacted McDonough with a suggestion that when the theater was not in use for live shows they show classic films, newsreels and cartoons, in the manner of K Street theaters of earlier decades. She was intrigued enough by the possibility to hire Matías as manager of the new theater, film booker and master of ceremonies. Assembling a team of young and enthusiastic contractors, engineers and theater lovers, they restored the interior of the Crest to a semblance of its 1949 appearance, mostly by extensive cleaning of the existing theater, rewiring electrical systems and installing new projectors. The Crest reopened on November 16, 1986, with a showing of Singin’ in the Rain that also featured a live appearance by actor Donald O’Connor. In the spring of 1988, the Crest crew installed a stage, theatrical lighting and a sound system, allowing the Crest to host concerts in addition to films. The movies had returned to K Street.

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Almost entirely coincidentally, on Saturday, July 20, the Crest Theatre will feature a midnight showing of Russ Meyer’s classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, featuring Tura Satana, Haji, Lori Williams and Ray Barlow. Admission is $10, 18+ only. The show is the second in the six-week Trash Film Orgy midnight movie series. From the Trash Film Orgy site:

FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!
1965 – Dir. Russ Meyer
Presented in Glorious 35mm

Don’t miss this Classic Turbocharged Tale of Tittilating Terror and Busty Bodacious Babes on a Bloody Rampage!

Featuring LIVE Topless Switchblade Fight to the Death, HOT GIRL, HOT ROD race in the Arena of Doom and the Return of the Trashwood Derby! Who will be victorious?! Win Big Prizes!

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