A step back in time

By Michael Howlett

July 2, 2014

I took a step back in time recently. No, it wasn’t a H.G. Wells time machine-type thing, although that would have been exceedingly cool. It happened by simply attending a movie in Martinsville. Now, usually when the Mistress of the Manor and I visit our beloved daughter and son-in-law, and decide to attend a movie, we travel 30 miles down the road to Danville, which has a modern theatre. However, on our most recent visit, because of time constraints, we did not.

Now, to be honest, they warned us that of our two choices, neither was a good one. One was dirty, while the other was far beyond that and may have been a porn theatre at one time, so we went with the lesser of the two evils. The lobby appeared to be normal, smaller and not as clean as the theatres I normally attend, but nothing too weird. However, once we walked through the doors to the actual viewing area, Holy Buck Rogers!, it was as if we had been transported back to the days of my youth.

The seats were unpadded, did not rock back, had wooden arms and no cup holders. The screen, well, the screen was about twice the size of my flat-screen TV, and, oh yes, it was a bit dirty. Despite all this, it was a happy time because we not only had fun ridiculing the theatre, but it brought back memories of a long-long-ago-before-time. It brought back memories of the Towne Theatre in Hillsville.

Many of you may remember the Towne Theatre, which was located on Main Street in a building that has now been turned in to apartments located between Jackson Insurance and Bank of America. It was a magical place for the young and old alike, but especially for the young. In addition to the usual nighttime fare, the theatre also showed at least one and most of the time two science fiction masterpieces every Saturday at noon. I don’t remember what the cost of admission was, but the Mistress of the Manor remembers going to the movies and buying a drink and popcorn all for only a dollar.

Anyway, my parents, like a lot of parents would drop me off and I would be on my own to soak in all the horror I could stand. There was always a parent or two who would attend the movies with his or her child. That, frankly, was bad form, since all the other kids took immediate notice. You weren’t cool if mommy or daddy was there to watch over you.

I’m not sure at what age I began attending movies, but it must have been around seven because I remember seeing such classics as “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” “Attack of the Crab Monsters,” “The Cyclops,” “The Deadly Mantis,” and “The Giant Claw,” which were all made in 1957. The following year, big time sci-fi features, such as “The Blob” and “The Fly” hit the screen. Although those were both great sci-fi films for their time, especially to an 8-year-old, neither one captured my attention like a less critically acclaimed movie.

Yes, the minute I saw the poster advertising this movie, I was hooked. The movie was “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.” The poster mesmerized me. Here was a 50 Foot Woman, wearing a dress short even by today’s standards, straddling some buildings. When I looked at the poster, all I could think of was I wanted to be one of those guys standing underneath that 50-foot woman. Although I saw some other gems, such as “The Manster,” “Night of the Blood Beast,” and “Not of This Earth,” none left the lasting impression that “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” did.

I don’t remember how many years the sci fi Saturdays continued, but eventually they did end. However, by that time I was moving on, my interests had turned to other things, perhaps, the “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” experience. Despite showing such big time movies as “Pyscho” and “Blue Hawaii,” attendance at our local theatre began to dwindle. People began to head out of town to bigger theatres with more to offer. With declining ticket sales, the theatre’s owner had to do something.

That something turned out to be porn. Yes, really. At one time, porn was shown on Main Street in Hillsville. The movie was “I am Curious (Yellow),” a Swedish export that had the movie world talking, came to the Towne Theatre in 1969. In fact, it went on to become the 12th most popular movie in the U.S. that year. Heck, it made “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” look like downright silly. To be honest, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit eventually ruled it wasn’t pornographic, but I will say this, there was some stuff going on in this movie, yes siree, some stuff.

I think there were a couple of more explicit movies like “I Am Curious (Yellow)” shown at the Towne Theatre, before the powers that be in Hillsville put an end to this type of thing. A 50-foot woman is one thing, but being too curious is quite another.