It's Friday night and you're craving a movie. Cruising the aisles of Hastings, all you're able to turn up is row after row of Catwoman DVDs. Kurly Tlapoyawa feels your pain.
Tlapoyawa is the owner and operator of Burning Paradise, Albuquerque's only cult video and DVD store. Looking for a copy of The Horrors of Spider Island? Need a fix of classic Mexican wrestler films? Craving something in the “Italian zombie” genre? Kurly can fix you up. His store focuses in the sort of fringe films that mainstream outlets often ignore.
“We don't carry censored versions of movies, unlike other major video stores,” stresses Kurly, his local merchant's distaste for corporate America only vaguely restrained. “We specialize in trash and horror and Asian films. We also carry older movies that you won't be able find at other stores.”
Stroll down a random aisle in Kurly's store and you won't see Brad Pitt going Greek in Troy, but you will find Richard Jaeckel battling alien beasties in 1968's campy offering The Green Slime. The film was a major inspiration on later sci-fi cinema like Aliens. You'll also find an obscure 1974 Swedish film called Thriller: A Cruel Picture. It stars Nordic beauty Christina Lindberg as a one-eyed, leather-wearing female assassin, and it's the very film that inspired Quentin Tarantino to create Daryl Hannah's carbon copy character in Kill Bill. Though they may seem obscure, these cult films are the bricks that today's blockbusters are built upon.
Clearly, since chain rental stores now sit on every street corner stocked to the gills with the latest offerings from Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Adam Sandler, today's movie enthusiasts are on the search for something a bit different.
“The first day we opened, it was packed in here,” recalls Kurly. “A swarm of trash cinema locusts.”
Those fans have stuck with the store since its grand opening in July 2003. And the cult has only grown since then. This Saturday, the store will be hosting a gala customer appreciation party, dubbed “Burning Paradise Attacks!” There will be $1 rentals all day long. Newcomers with a college ID will get $5 off the store's club membership. Prize giveaways will be strung throughout the day, and free pizza will arrive at 6 p.m. Further surprises are promised.
“It's just a way of thanking everyone,” says Kurly. “When we opened, we opened with roughly 300 movies. Now we have over 4000 movies. We just want to celebrate.”
The store recently added more than 2,000 films to its library, prompting a major design overhaul. New shelves were constructed to hold the now-bulging stock, a fresh checkout counter was added. And the full-size go-go cage? Well, that's just for fun.
So what are today's film lovers looking for?
“Right now anything by Takashi Miike is hot,” says Kurly, naming off the transcendentally strange Japanese director of Happiness of the Katakuris, Ichi the Killer and Gozu. Other popular Asian-oriented titles on Burning Paradise's new shelves include Twilight Samurai and Lone Wolf and Cub. Kurly credits “mainly newer Japanese newer stuff like The Grudge series” for bringing people into his store. “Our import disc of House of Flying Daggers is flying off the shelves. Battle Royal has been consistently one of our top renters since the day we opened.”
In addition to his work behind the counter, Kurly is himself a filmmaker and an actor and knows his way around the world of cinema. “I can talk about movies,” says Kurly. “It's not just a job for me.”
In fact, Burning Paradise recently launched its own DVD label. “We're starting to release DVDs, starting with Chris Dillon's Cross,” says Kurly. The film is an ultra low-budget action film shot in Albuquerque last year. Other local films on Burning Paradise Video include A Girl and a Gun and Collecting Rooftops. Kurly also has plans to release a Best of Tromadance New Mexico DVD, compiling the top short films from the three-day genre film festival he sponsored last fall at the Guild Cinema in Nob Hill.
In the future, Kurly wants his store to “become a hub for all local filmmakers to come talk shop, hang out. We've had auditions here, people have shot scenes here. I really envision the store as being something that can create a community.”
A community with a go-go cage, that is.