- Sarah Priestap
- Matt Mazur and Drew Peberdy
Ben Peberdy held a VHS tape aloft with a plastic sword stuck through the middle, à la Excalibur. It was August 29, 2017, the date that marked the end of the Knights of the Mystic Movie Club. A crowd of 40 people shouted in revelry.
Earlier that night, Peberdy had announced that if any of the attendees could pull the sword from the VHS, that person would become the rightful heir to the movie club. For 380 straight weeks, every Tuesday night in White River Junction, Peberdy and Chico Eastridge had put on a screening of a different absurd movie unlike anything their audience had ever seen before. Who would carry on their legacy?
This month marks two years since Matt Mazur stepped onstage to try his luck. Mazur gripped the sword, Peberdy the VHS, and they proceeded to writhe and yell. Through the death of the Knights of the Mystic, the Revenge of Movie Night was born.
"Well, it was very much a somber task at first," said Wilder resident Mazur, now 35. "When I found out that Ben and Chico were suddenly just not going to do this anymore ... it hit me kinda hard. And I said, 'Wow, I've got to ... I've got to do something.'"
Mazur couldn't contain his laughter as he recalled winning the sword. But the somber task he referred to was stepping into the "big shoes" of the club founders and trying to envision the group without them in the lead.
"Something about the community really told me that this was something I wanted to do," Mazur said. "Because it [had been] seven years [since the founding of Knights], and, during that time, there were a few periods where movie night was really my primary social life. It was a really good thing. It showed me the importance of creating community."
Mazur teamed up with Peberdy's identical twin brother, Norwich resident Drew, now 32, to lead the new club. "Since we've been doing Revenge of Movie Night for two years, this month is actually all about doubles and twice-overs and twins," Drew Peberdy said. "We gave it two titles. It's 'Double or Nothing/Double Your Money Back Guaranteed.'"
Revenge of Movie Night has a new theme every month, which Mazur and Peberdy choose by tunneling through a vast collection of the strangest movies of all time. The club dedicated one month to cannibal movies and dubbed it "A Salute to Humanitarians." Before that came "I Can't Believe It's Not Star Wars" and "Innocent Fisherman Dies Month."
This month marks nine years since the official founding of the Knights of the Mystic Movie Club. Eastridge and Ben Peberdy did everything they could for the group over their years at the helm. Some years ago, when longtime moviegoer Spencer Bladyka thought he would have to miss a showing because of a 21st birthday dinner with his parents, the club founders wouldn't hear of it.
"We constructed the 'Emergency Broadcast System,'" Eastridge said. "A big battery hooked to a TV and a VCR." They brought the contraption to Salt hill Pub in Lebanon, N.H., where Bladyka was sitting with his parents. They proceeded to order water and present that week's film to anyone who wished to watch.
From that point on, Eastridge said, "we could go anywhere." During their interview, he and Ben Peberdy routinely finished each other's sentences. "We've watched movies in gazebos; underneath the bridge we watched a movie," Eastridge said. "In a park we watched a movie; we had it duct-taped to a child's swing, so it was gently swinging in the breeze."
Last month's theme for Revenge of Movie Night was "Failure." But failure has always been a cause for celebration at movie night. "You've got the camaraderie of the people you're experiencing it with," Mazur said.
Eastridge and Ben Peberdy once showed a film produced by former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. He had kidnapped the most famous South Korean director and the man's ex-wife — the Marilyn Monroe of South Korea at the time — and coerced them into making propaganda films for the ideals of the North. Kim was so convinced of the movies' smashing success, and of the kidnapped pair's loyalty, that he later allowed them to tour their final film in Europe, where they escaped. Knowing all of this adds a profound dimension to the corny Godzilla knockoff that resulted from the whole ordeal, Ben Peberdy said.
"It's so hideously expensive to make a movie that, a lot of films, they don't bother taking a shot at anything that's not a sure bet," Drew Peberdy said. "Consequently, you get these films that are very, very tame and predictable and follow the pattern."
Then there are the films shown at Revenge of Movie Night. "One of the things that keeps drawing me back to these movies — and actually one of the reasons why I wanted to have a whole month termed 'Failure' — is the idea of failing," Peberdy said. "A lot of these movies failed to make their mark, but they still tried to do it."
"A big swing and a miss," he added, suggesting that celebrating the swing and miss is a way to celebrate the choice to take a big swing in the first place, no matter the result.
The wider movie night community applies this principle to many things, Mazur noted, from creative endeavors such as amateur animation to putting themselves out there when it's easier to retreat into social media or the online world.
"It's near and dear to the spirit of Revenge of Movie Night," Ben Peberdy said. Mazur, Eastridge and the Peberdy brothers have all consistently entered local 48-hour film slams, often as a team.
Mazur's personal favorite movie screened over the years at movie night is a 1984 film that director John Sayles made using his funds from a MacArthur Fellowship. It was so strange, and took itself so wonderfully unseriously, that it was eventually released to the public domain.
"Part of our focus is to bring movies that don't have a current audience to an audience," Mazur said.
"Our experience of [watching these films together], it changes the way you critically look at movies," he continued. "You see these things that have heart [but] are lacking obvious things, [making] them unsellable. But if you sit through them and you experience something unique, then you can look at blockbusters in an entirely different way.
"You start to see how it's not always the flashy parts that work perfectly that make something great," Mazur said. "And it allows you to kind of see through the flash, or the sheen, of a polished motion picture."