Modern cult depictions are as such: hollow-eyed acolytes living in misery at the service of a charming-yet-malicious huckster. One minute chatting with Palouse Cult Film Revival founder Eric Billings reveals anything but — as either cult member or leader. Billings’ abundant excitement and sincerity are genuine. The gospel of cult movies — those weird, one-of-a-kind films best shared with a roomful of like-minded folks — is something he’s eager to spread.
“I've always loved watching movies. I would probably visit the video store almost every week and would just pick out movies based on the VHS cover,” said Billings, founder of the Palouse Cult Film Revival. The event began officially in 2018 and has featured oddball cult films of various stripes, including “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” and “Trolls 2,” a film that, surprisingly, features goblins and not trolls.
Billings, a self-described “Air Force brat” who grew up in Mountain Home, Idaho, shared this love of offbeat films with friends while a student at the University of Idaho.
“I would visit (the now-defunct Moscow video store) Howard Hughes and force my friends to watch a random film from the cult classic section,” Billings said with a laugh. “I think some of those friends have never forgiven me for some of those films — ‘Pink Flamingos’ comes to mind.”
It was a conversation with friends over drinks that became the impetus for the Palouse Cult Film Revival.
“We were talking about (cult film) ‘The Room’ and how cool it would be to bring that to Moscow annually,” Billings said. “I also really love Moscow and the greater community, so I thought it would be fun to engage people with a unique film experience.”
And unique it is. “The Room,” a 2003 romantic melodrama, has been referred to as “the ‘Citizen Kane’ of bad films.” (“Citizen Kane” is frequently referred to as “the greatest film of all time”).
“(‘The Room’) is downright awful, but what makes it great is that it wasn't trying to be bad, if that makes sense,” Billings said. “It's the sort of bad film that you can't really reproduce, and it's guaranteed to make you laugh.”
“The Room” gained such a reputation for its unintentionally humorous idiosyncrasies that a memoir on its production by lead actor Greg Sestero, titled “The Disaster Artist,” inspired a film of the same name. “The Disaster Artist,” directed by and starring James Franco, was nominated for and won numerous awards, including a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 2018 Academy Awards.
Sestero attended the 2019 Palouse Cult Film Revival and is set to return this year for the Idaho premiere of his latest film, the horror tale “Miracle Valley,” and for the now-annual tradition of a screening of “The Room.”
“Having Greg visit in 2019 was the biggest highlight. He's a great guy, and I consider him a friend now,” Billings said. “With the two-year hiatus, it only seemed right to bring him back again, and I'm super excited to show his directorial debut.”
The 2022 event kicks off Feb. 2 with the 1997 Canadian horror film “Bleeders,” starring Rutger Hauer.
“Many people remember ‘Bleeders’ because of the VHS case. It was filled with ‘blood’ that you could move around with your fingers,” Billings said. “It's the story of a man who visits an island with his girlfriend so that he can explore his family roots. Of course he finds more than he's expecting.”
“Miracle Valley” screens Feb. 10, with the festival culminating Feb. 11 with “The Room.” Sestero will attend both screenings.
“I like to always reference the experience of ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ for someone who's never gone to a screening of ‘The Room,’ ” Billings said. “It's like that but even more strange, awkward and hilarious. We make it a fun experience, and having a bar doesn't hurt either.”
With admission, attendees are provided call-out scripts and prop bags for specific moments in the film. The bar will feature themed cocktails. Dressing up as the movies’ characters is encouraged.
“We've received a lot of recommendations for films to show in the future, so I think we will continue to work down that list,” Billings said of the festival’s future. “I would love to also see opportunities to host some films in neighboring towns like Lewiston and Pullman.”
In addition to the aforementioned “Killer Klowns” and “Trolls 2,” Billings cited “Show Girls,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “The Golden Child” as other cult favorites.
“I could go on for days, though,” he said, with infectious charisma.
Thompson enjoys putting somewhat carefully chosen words in relatively meaningful order. He has been to college. He lives in Lewiston and can be reached at email@example.com and on Instagram at @theswap_quadcities.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Palouse Cult Film Revival
WHEN: FEB. 2, 10-11
WHERE: Best Western Plus University Inn, Moscow