Will the Thrill says good-bye (kinda) to movies -- and hello to "Mermaid"

Cover art by Mike Lewis

I received an email the other day with the terribly alarming subject line "FINAL. THRILLVILLES. EVER. No fooling." Could Will "The Thrill" Viharo, a veteran host of cult movie nights around the Bay Area, be hanging up his fez and smoking jacket for good?

Well, not exactly. Fans already know he's been scaling back his "Thrillville" events since the Parkway Theater closed and the Cerrito Theater changed ownership in 2009 (both East Bay venues, operated by Speakeasy Theaters, had hosted Viharo's regularly-scheduled B-movie extravaganzas). Over the past year, Viharo's taken his show -- which includes his wife and assistant, Monica Tiki Goddess, and usually a pre-movie band or performing group -- on the road, sprinkling a bit of sleaze, gore, trash, and monster mayhem on an assortment of Bay Area theaters.

Now, he explains in his (sorta) sign-off email, "I am giving up the Thrillville road show concept and sticking exclusively to my new home base at Forbidden Island in Alameda, where I'll be hosting my mellower movie series 'Forbidden Thrills' one Monday a month, for as long as people show up. It's a stripped down version of Thrillville — (mostly) public domain cult classics, cocktail specials, prizes, no cover, [and] free popcorn." In other words, you can take the Thrill off the B-movie road, but you can't take him out of the tiki bar. Or something.

Fear not, Viharo devotees: you have some excellent upcoming chances to support all he's done for fans of obscure cult cinema over the years. First, he's got two more movie-theater gigs in the works: "Thrillville's Tribute to Bob Wilkins," paying homage to the Creature Features legend with another legend, John Stanley, in person -- that's tonight at San Jose's Camera 3 Cinema. The event also features a screening of The Creature Walks Among Us, the 1956 second sequel to The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954).

Then next week, Viharo will show 'em how it's done at the Another Hole in the Head Film Festival, presenting a Luchadore-sploitation double feature of 2007's Mil Mascaras vs. The Aztec Mummy (did ever a more Thrillville-esque title exist?) and 2008's Academy of Doom, both at San Francisco's Roxie. Viharo dares to suggest that this event will be the last-ever appearance of the prize-giving Magic Tiki, so unless you're a total square, or you happen to be Vincent Price in the Brady Bunch Hawaii episode, you should probably be there.

So with this phasing-out of larger-scale movie events, what's next for the Thrill? Seems all this time he was programming movies, Viharo was also an author in disguise. His latest novel is entitled A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge.

"When Speakeasy Theaters suddenly crashed and burned in mid-2009, my 12 year career as programmer-publicist suddenly ended as well, and my future, which I'd been taking for granted, was suddenly a big blank," Viharo explains. "I kept my Thrillville show going as a road show, but I felt it too had run its course. For most of the general public, diehard fans aside, Thrillville in its 'cult movie cabaret' incarnation effectively died with Speakeasy, and I was determined to carve out a niche for myself unattached to that debacle. The show was no longer giving me any creative satisfaction and I never thought of myself as primarily a live entertainer, anyway."

Being a writer was, it seems, a natural progression. "I'd seemingly shown every B movie ever made, except the one I really wanted to see: Mermaid is like the ultimate Thrillville movie as directed by David Lynch, but in literary form," he says of his new book. "It is a sexy, stylized smorgasbord of hardcore exploitation elements — crime, horror, zombies, Elvis, and lots of gratuitous sex, which you don't see enough of in cinema of any kind these days (though violence is not a taboo, which I find odd). Along with this you'll find my characters musing on universal mysteries like loneliness, love, death and all that jazz as they're swept away in this cross-dimensional whirlwind."

As it turns out, Viharo began writing Mermaid soon after he started his Parkway gig (fun fact: Thrillville was originally called "The Midnight Lounge.") He became so busy that he set Mermaid aside — but he always intended it to be a temporary break.

"Thrillville was a fun ride, but I'm happy to have returned to my original dream of being a novelist," he says. "I feel like I was coasting on my lounge lizard laurels for too long, waiting for Christian Slater to finally make good on his perpetual optioning of my detective novel Love Stories Are Violent For Me, originally published by Wild Card Press back in 1996. It was time for me to get back to work."

After giving it some thought, Viharo decided he'd release Mermaid himself. "As for why I decided to self-publish (via Lulu): I won't mention names but I have several prominent author friends who privately expressed disgust and contempt for the current state of the publishing industry, which, in its desperation, is increasingly mid-listing or simply dropping established, professional novelists in search of that elusive mass-market commodity," he explains. "I've always known my stuff would have "cult appeal" at best — more Harvey Pekar than Stephen King — so when I finished Mermaid, and suffered from the usual 'post-novel depression,' I thought to myself: why waste any more of my life and dreams awaiting mainstream acceptance and recognition, especially when I can't relate to most popular media nowadays myself?"

Fortunately, as he points out, 21st century (if retro-leaning) hep cats have all the tools to get their work out to the public, the Man be damned.

"Unlike when I first began writing fiction over 30 years ago, I now have a platform and online resources that didn't exist back then, enabling me to bypass corporate compromising or mainstream middlemen and take my stuff straight to the people," he says. "Nobody but me really 'gets' my work, so who better than me to promote it, especially since PR has been my professional racket for the past dozen or so years? I am simply pooling my resources and re-channeling my promo skills into my literary ambitions. Mermaid is the first of many novels, past and future, I plan to roll out of 'Thrillville Press' in the months and years to come. I may not make a living at it, but the creative freedom and fulfillment it's giving me already is priceless."

Appropriately enough, Viharo's having his book release party at Forbidden Island, in tandem with his Forbidden Thrills series. Even more appropriately, the double-feature deals in magical sea creatures: the Dennis Hopper-starring Night Tide (1961) and Mermaids of Tiburon (1962). Though the book itself may not be available by July 19, Viharo hopes to have copies of the book's "soundtrack" (by Actual Rafiq) and, you know, just get people jazzed about his latest project. Mermaids? Zombies? Sex? Elvis? As Viharo himself likes to say, cheers!

"Thrillville's Tribute to Bob Wilkins"
Wed/14, 8 p.m., $10
Camera 3 Cinema
288 S. Second St, San Jose

A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge release party
With screenings of Night Tide and Mermaids of Tiburon
Mon/19, 7:30 p.m., free
Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge
1304 Lincoln, Alameda

Mil Mascaras vs. The Aztec Mummy and Academy of Doom
Thurs/22, 9 p.m., $15
Roxie, 3117 16th St, SF

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