Fans of TCM Underground, the Atlanta-based classic film network’s weekly late-night Friday foray into cult film, can thank/blame iconic director Stanley Kubrick for jolting Millie DeChirico into her current job. For the past six years, the Georgia State film major graduate has hand-selected each film broadcast on TCM Underground. Her life-long interest in cult classics can be traced to an accidental early exposure to one of Kubrick’s most disturbing films.
“I watched ‘A Clockwork Orange’ when I was nine-years-old,” DeChirico recounted recently over lunch. “It was totally ridiculous! Somebody probably should have stepped in. Child protective services, somebody. My dad was in the military and there really weren’t any parents around. I had a friend who lived in our Charleston, South Carolina neighborhood and her dad had all these cool movies on video. So, there we were unsupervised one afternoon and saying, ‘A Clockwork Orange?’ That sounds kinda cool. Orange.‘ So we watched it. I’m sure it scarred me and that it still has some kind of residual effect on me. There was violence, sure, and it was really intense. There was the nudity and the sexual violence too. But also, there was the weirdness of it that stuck with me. It was very stylish. But at age nine, you’re not sophisticated enough to understand why these guys are walking around with these canes and stuff.”
And then there was the slight confusion over the film’s tricky title. Recalls DeChirico with a laugh: “For the longest time we would say to each other, ‘Hey, wanna watch ‘Strawberry Alarm Clock’ again?’ We were so dumb! But ‘A Clockwork Orange’ set some kind of course for me.”
This month, TCM Underground proudly launched its sixth successful season with premieres of cult classics, including 1967’s “She-Freak,” 1980’s “Stunt Rock” and the 1981 animated stoner favorite, “Heavy Metal.” Tonight at 2:15 a.m., TCM Underground will feature the premiere of the 1980 slasher flick”Motel Hell.”
Other TCM Underground mainstays, include director Russ Meyer’s 1965 cult classic, “Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!” and 1984’s new wave era science fiction black comedy, “Repo Man.” For DeChirico, watching these films was in her job description even before there was a description created for what would become her career. “Way before I started programming TCM Underground, I had probably seen 90 percent of these movies on my own for fun,” DeChirico recounts. After graduation, DeChirico spent a brief stint opening viewer mail for TCM (“Most of it was from women in love with Robert Osborne,” she remembers. “And guys in jail who somehow watched TCM!”) before being crowned Queen of the TCM Underground. DeChirico says much of her early exposure to cult film came from TV and not the earlier midnight movie circuit: “I’m a child of the eighties so a lot of my exposure to film was HBO, Showtime and the crazy late-night things they would show on ‘Nightflight’ on USA Network. That’s where I saw a lot of stuff for the first time.”
DeChirico says being an underground movie fan allows her to program for her peers: “That’s what makes it fun and also challenging. You’re one of these people, too. It’s like: ‘Don’t mess up!’ Film nerds like me know every fact about every one of these movies. So I make sure that the films are always presented in their proper aspect ratio and all that. A couple years ago, we accidentally played a cut version of [Italian horror director] Dario Argento’s [1977 thriller] ‘Suspiria.’ About an hour into it, TCM Underground fans started tweeting ‘This is the CUT version of ‘Suspiria!!’ I can’t believe TCM is airing the edited version!!’ I was at home in the middle of the night going, ‘Holy [expletive]! What do I do?!’ I was horrified. I understand it because when I’m on the other end of things as a cult film fan, that’s a big issue for me. I would have been asking, ‘So, what’s the deal with this?’ too! I totally get it.”
Even after programming hundreds of film for TCM Underground, DeChirico still has some cult classics on her wish list. Thanks to her efforts, early next year, TCM Underground will air the premiere of one of her all-time favorite flicks. “This season, I’m really excited to show ‘Little Darlings,’ this camp movie from 1980 starring Tatum O’Neal and Kristy McNichol,” she says with a sly grin. “It was actually shot here in Georgia. It’s one of my favorite movies ever. It used to be shown a lot on cable but it was never on DVD because of [music licensing issues] since Blondie and Rickie Lee Jones and other artists are on the soundtrack. One of the other reasons you probably never see it anymore is because it focuses on two girls at summer camp in a contest to lose their virginity to Matt Dillon. It was typical to see movies about that with boys but not usually girls. There’s a lot of smack-talking. It’s totally refreshing to see that. I’m so excited, it’s so good!”