16 years and running, TCM Underground provides some of the best and strangest feature films on the network on a weekly basis.
With a track record like that, wasn’t it time for the Underground to get a little love in the form of a companion book? Thankfully, TCM also thought a publication was an excellent idea, and TCM Underground: 50 Must-See Films from the World of Classic Cult and Late-Night Cinema by Millie De Chirico and Quatoyiah Murry is now available for all of those voracious fans of late night cinema.
We were lucky enough to speak to the long-time programmer, host, and co-writer Millie De Chirico about the evolution of the book, how she got turned on to cult classics, and what the upcoming season holds for viewers in the wee hours of the night in this exclusive interview.
Was it difficult assembling and culling your lists down to 50 films for the new book?
Millie De Chirico: It wasn’t easy! Since TCM Underground debuted in 2006, we’ve screened over 400 titles, so there was a lot to choose from. Me and my co-writer Toyiah Murry each made 25 picks and then began the writing process.
Did any of your picks overlap?
De Chirico: Yes. Toyiah also picked Ganja & Hess and Little Darlings, so she wrote entries for those for the book. I was really interested to see what her take on them was as well.
Once you had your picks, how did you decide to arrange them?
De Chirico: We discussed how to organize them and we figured that it would be boring if they were arranged alphabetically. We loosely based them on genre and similarities, such as ones that primarily dealt with crime.
What was your personal introduction into the world of cult films?
De Chirico: My interest formed in middle and high school. This was in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and like a lot of people in that era, I was able to watch a lot of TV, particularly Cable TV, which would show a lot of these types of films.
I was attracted to outsider culture, and anything that was cool, weird, or transgressive. I would go to art house cinemas and indie book stores to discover new content.
Is there one film that really lit the fuse?
De Chirico: It is one that has been written about frequently, but it would have to be Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by Russ Meyers. Stylistically, it was evocative and daring, and starred an Asian woman in the lead role. It was like nothing I had seen before.
Is there a film that you would love to show, but haven’t been able to up to this point?
De Chirico: I would say that the list has gotten smaller over the years, but it would probably be Who Killed Teddy Bear. It is Sal Mineo’s dark turn, and it was only available on second and third generation bootlegs for many years.
You also feature a number of documentaries in the book that have aired on TCM Underground.
De Chirico: Yes, these are ones that capture the same spirit of the cult films. I remember seeing Penelope Spheeris’ Decline of Western Civilization on a VHS tape that had probably been dubbed four times. These were films that were hard to find and had the same sensibilities of the cult movies. Whether it was punk or ’60s psychedelia, they attracted the same audiences.
For many years, TCM was always seen as a highbrow, classic film archive, but after TCM Underground, the programming started to change to include films outside of what would be considered traditional “classics”. Do you think this influence helped change, or broaden, the content on TCM?
De Chirico: There has been an evolution of content on the network, so maybe TCM Underground acted as a Trojan Horse in that regard. As time has worn on, the separation between the world of cult films and cinephile culture has shrunk. There are now Criterion editions of John Waters’ films, the Museum of Modern Art restored Basketcase, so they are much closer than they have ever been.
Besides the book and the weekly program, is there anything else that you are currently working on?
De Chirico: We are still doing TCM Slumberground, which was something that began during the pandemic so we could talk about the films and interact, and the new season of Underground is in full swing. We have a couple of surprises for everyone this season, so be sure to watch for those.
TCM Underground: 50 Must-See Films from the World of Classic Cult and Late-Night Cinema is currently available at finer book stores everywhere.
TCM Underground airs every Friday night at 2:00 am ET/11:00 PM PT and you can also check out TCM Slumberground on YouTube.