It was late into the night on December 24th. The lights slowly came up. The only noise coming from the theater was the telephone playing on the screen. As I got up and left The Royale for the last time and got a friendly goodbye from the Andrea it hit me; Black Christmas was an appropriate title for The Royale’s last film.
Despite only being open for 6 months my history with The Royale goes back a bit longer. A few years ago my friend B and I would go to a local second run movie theater called Chandler Cinemas. We randomly went to a drunkenly go to see Lucio Fulci’s Zombi and I was hooked. Hosted by Andrea Beesley-Bowen, under the guise of the Midnight Movie Mamacita, we found a brand new, fun thing to do. Now I’m sure two drunk guys in their early 20’s wasn’t the ideal audience but what the hell, it was fun for us. We basically started to go the weeks when there wasn’t a mainstream flick or UFC show that summer. Whether it was cheap indie flicks like Bikini Bloodbath or 70’s splatter cult classics like Street Trash we had a blast each time. If nothing else we got to see the sheer insanity of the Lamberto Bava’s Demons. Then out of nowhere Chandler Cinemas was gone. Like always in Arizona something cool disappears out of nowhere.
Flash forward a few years and I was gearing myself for my first live viewing of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Around 8:45 I approached a quaint little theater on Main Street. With flashing lights around posters for movies I had never seen; it was like the kind of movie theater you would see on a TV show. Entering the theater it solidified these thoughts even more. To the left was a little display of concessions and some cool original art from local artist Victor Moreno. To the right some old arcade games, an out of date television with a VCR!!!! I can’t tell you how much I absolutely marked out with this little TV set up. I mean getting to watch Batman Forever before seeing a classic like The Room? How is that not perfect??
Over the next month I was HOOKED. I was there every Friday night for the rest of month and saw a wide variety of what The Royale had to offer. Whether it was a drag queen (Becky Bodacious) hosting the hilariously bad Sleepaway Camp II or a packed house to see watch Robocop on the big screen. I was treated to amazing genre movies that no other theater in Arizona would dare touch. All of this done with a unique punk rock/DIY attitude that just wanted this amazing little place to get noticed. This along with unique ideas like Shock Cinema and monthly Cult Cinema showings really had me fall in love with the place. This all culminated on September 2nd when I pulled off what is, quite possibly, my last great feat of movie nerdery.
In one night I spent 5+ hours watching a marathon of movies. I’m sure this sounds like insanity to some but for me it was a total blast. I mean in a single night I got to see a good horror flick (Grave Encounters), a modern cult movie (Scott Pilgrim vs The World), and an absolutely absurd exploitation flick (Dead Hooker in a Trunk). All with breaks for wackily named energy drinks and playing NARC poorly. It was this one perfect night that I really can’t see being duplicated ever again.
Unfortunately I didn’t go as much as I wanted to afterwards. Whether it was due to not having the money or already made plans I just wasn’t around as much. Aside from missing movies I genuinely wanted to see but I also missed out on hanging out there. Now given it’s not like I was Mr. Social but The Royale (patrons and staff that is) really did have a close-knit family feel to it. Hell they were kind enough to remember this particular schmuck’s name. It was like the Cheers bar but I got to watch Robocop instead of hanging with Kelsey Grammar. A fair trade if there ever was one.
Then came December 22nd. Like the Chandler Cinemas before it The Royale released a statement saying that they were going to be closing on Christmas Eve. I was absolutely bummed out. Since then though I have come to appreciate the fact that I could find a rocking local spot, FINALLY. I mean I was able to try wacky Japanese coffee drinks, see some great movies and at least talk to people I peripherally knew for years. If there is any regret it’s never seeing that Centipede machine in action.
Sincerely to everyone that made The Royale a cool little theater on the fringe of normal, I had a blast every time I swung by. But with word that Reel Horror will be continuing somewhere new I know that just like any good horror franchise it will be a matter of time before you rise back up and continue your amazing showings somewhere else.