SXSW: Harry Knowles and AICN Spring Two Surprises on Austin Geek Crowd

As it turned out, Harry Knowles didn’t have a big summer movie. But he did have Guillermo del Toro.

Monday night at the Paramount, the Ain’t It Cool News founder was wheelchair-bound but enthusiastic in presenting a full house with a secret film to celebrate the 15th anniversary of AICN. Producer of the SXSW Film Festival Janet Pierson, who admitted she still didn’t know what he was going to show, introduced Knowles, who went on a pre-emptive shpiel about how the film he chose “shouldn’t be about promotion.” This was either a way to keep the screening in line with AICN’s we-write-about-what-we-like geek m.o., or a quick way to say that no studio would give him one of their big movies (people behind me in the theater before he came out were even guessing that maybe he had gotten his hands on Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life).

In any event, after a detour about his masturbatory love for the movie Xanadu and star Olivia Newton-John, Knowles brought out del Toro, who got the requisite fanboy reaction. (Seeing the two rotund cinephiles next to each other does make it appear as if they were split from the same embryo.) In on the decision-making process, del Toro finally let slip what we were all about to see.

Dragonslayer.

Now, on the one hand, I loved this movie as a kid, and was even kind of eager to go with the flow and watch it again. But on the other hand, there’s no way to avoid the feeling that it was a letdown. And I wasn’t the only one. The immediate response from the crowd was less than ecstatic, and people starting getting up to leave almost as soon as the movie started.

“If you don’t love it, you’re not a fucking film geek,” Knowles said before the reveal. The defensiveness underlying the challenge probably didn’t help. He even tried to pitch the 1981 fantasy film directed by Matthew Robbins as a progenitor of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings universe. That may be true, but all the heavy petting was starting to feel like a bit of a hard sell.

Del Toro then championed the film as having “balls,” and praised VFX guru Phil Tippett and ILM as having made “the best dragon ever committed to film.” That’s one I can get behind. The scenes of sacrificing virgins to the beast terrified me as a kid, and the way only parts of the monster are shown for most of the film—tail, claw, back of the head—still retained its realism and mystery 30 years later. (The print we saw, however, was pretty wrecked.)

Before the feature, Knowles had stacked up some fantastic old trailers, some of them from the same era and genre—7 Faces of Dr. Lao, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Krull, The Sword and the Sorcerer, Excalibur and Dungeons & Dragons. I’m proud to say that I’ve seen and loved most of them.

And, truth be told, I did stay and watch Dragonslayer.

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