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Theresa Mercado on bringing horror's obscure gems to Denver fans

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Theresa Mercado's Cruel Season series -- Cruel Summer, Cruel Autumn and Cruel Winter -- is a labor of love. The horror movie fiend launched the series last year and has slowly grown it via word of mouth, as fans tell their friends about her killer film selections and handmade souvenirs. The latest installment, Cruel Autumn, kicks off with the bizarre alien exploitation flick Xtro at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 3 at Crash 45. We caught up with Mercado before the big night to talk about her love of horror, her custom made souvenirs and how she finds films like Xtro to share with the world.

See also: The ten best geek events in September in Denver

Westword: The Cruel Season series is a horror movie series, right? Is there a vision, or something you want to accomplish with the series?

Theresa Mercado: Yes, it is all just horror movies. I'm a huge horror movie aficionado. My goal with starting this was to show people that there are some phenomenal horror movies out there. I think a lot of people kind of correlate horror movies with Chinese food -- you know, you have one bad experience and everybody thinks it's all bad. There are some great horror films out there that are worth seeing, even if you're not a horror movie fan. My goal is to show people these movies, kind of open up their minds to the genre and to show people things that they couldn't normally see in the traditional midnight movie series in town -- to just find weird, obscure different things that people haven't seen, or can't see around town on the big screen.

How did you become such a horror fan and what is it about horror that appeals to you?

I love anything macabre, dark, fantasy, relating to death. I love the Universal monsters, and all the old-timey monster movies. I grew up as an only child and at a young age my parents always treated me a little more mature than they should have. I spent a lot of hours watching movies and TV. My parents never really censored anything I watched, with the exception of sex. They let me watch Freddy Krueger movies and people getting sliced and diced, but if boobs ever came on, my dad would always make me cover my eyes. As soon as the boobs were gone, I could look again. I could see somebody getting decapitated or a human eating another human, and they never thought that was a problem. I watched a lot of content from an early age that was probably inappropriate for a small girl, but was always really drawn to themes of horror.

As I got older I started watching USA Up All Night, which was a horror and exploitation movie series on USA Friday nights, like at ten or midnight. I'd have friends come over and stay the night and we'd stay up and watch these movies and that series was my first exposure to a wide variety of Troma movies and horror movies and exploitation movies. As I got older, in my teens and early 20s, I got obsessed with finding the most obscure, outrageous, hard-to-find, violent movies. Still, as an adult, I'm always hungry to find these movies that no one has seen or just the most bizarre films. I love it.

You've been doing this series for almost a year and a half, right?

I started it in May of 2012. So, yeah, a bit over a year.

Last time we talked about it, you said it had really grown over that time.

Yeah, the first one was probably twenty people, which I was thrilled that twenty people came. I would have been thrilled if five people came. It's definitely progressed and gained momentum each month. We're usually around forty, 45 people each month now. A lot are regulars that come each month. A lot of new people still come each time. I'm always excited when it's not just my friends but a bunch of new people, and they're like, "Oh, this is so cool." Those are the people I'm most excited are there, because they found out about it somehow on their own and are genuinely interested, not just there to support me.

The series is seasonal, correct-- Cruel Summer, Cruel Autumn, Cruel Winter? And each season has its own theme?

I try to, yeah. It's not always a seasonal theme per se. They're always broken into four films per season. One season was four films from four different countries. The winter series was all films that centered around cold and isolation. The summer series was films about youth and independence and trying to break away from society. These four are very -- I wanted to find four films that nobody had seen. Now, obviously, no one has not seen anything, but four films that people will see and say, "Oh, what's Xtro? What's Martyrs? I've never seen that." These are movies that, hopefully, aren't people's favorites and they'll come actually see something that's original for them.

What can you tell us about the next movie in the series, Xtro?

I hadn't ever seen Xtro, but I was shopping at this crazy place -- a giant Goodwill warehouse in Stapleton. Every month or week or so, all the Goodwill stores in Denver, whatever they haven't sold that's been there, they load it up in a semi truck and drive it to this giant warehouse and basically dump it, like a fucking garbage truck. The employees put it in wheeled bins and take it into the warehouse and just dump all this stuff in trays. You can go in and buy literal junk -- what they can't sell in a thrift store! -- by the pound.

I'm digging through the bins, and it's literal garbage -- an empty Starbucks cup, an opened Chapstick, it's fucking gross -- and there are hundreds of VHS tapes. I dig through and dig through and there's nothing. I'm ready to leave when I see, out of the corner of my eye, this VHS tape called Xtro and it has this weird, fucked up, giant-eyed alien on the cover with a little boy. The case was in perfect condition, and I was like, "Wow, this is amazing." So I grab it and it's like $0.16 -- best $0.16 I ever spent. I took it home, threw it in my VCR that night and I'm like, "Holy shit, this movie rules!"

Alien abduction, a little midget clown, an alien that eats snake's eggs out of its body... I was like, "God, this movie is amazing!" Then I had a girlfriend come over to rewatch it to confirm what I already knew. She was like, "Holy shit, this movie rules!" So I knew I had to show it at movie night.

You also do handmade souvenirs for all the screenings. What made you decide to do that?

When I first started thinking about doing this, I wanted to do something to make it stand out so it wasn't just showing movies at a bar. There's plenty of other bars doing that, so what would make this different? As a huge horror movie fan and a huge cinema fan, I thought it would be really fun to create some kind of movie-themed souvenir that every person that came to the movie could take home with them -- A), if they're a fan they'll be stoked and B) if they aren't, it's a little something to remember the experience and hopefully bring them back and C) it makes the movie night stand out more than any other movie night at any other bar.

What kind of things have you done for souvenirs?

For Near Dark I did -- so the end, we find out that vampirism can be cured through a blood transfusion -- so I got these really big horse syringes and filled them with human blood and everybody got to take home a big horse syringe of human blood so they can cure themselves at home.

Did you use actual human blood?

Of course! I only use human blood.

Where'd you get all that blood? Do we even want to know?

I was slowly draining it from myself over the course of the month.

Mmm... biohazardous!

But yeah, we showed David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, which is about identical twin gynecologists drug addicts. So I got tons of orange prescription bottles and filled them with Skittles and gave everyone a fake prescription that they could turn in to get a bottle of pills from me. The first one was on me. The next one was going to cost them.

You do this out of your love of movies, right? The events are all free, so you must be paying out of pocket for each event.

[Laughs] It sure does! It's totally free to come. I definitely encourage people to support Crash 45, to keep them in business by buying a drink. They have really good food, get something to eat. But you don't have to buy anything. The souvenirs are out of my pocket, I have a little budget that I allot for myself each month. I'm not trying to make money. I don't care if I spend a little bit of money. I just really enjoy doing it. I get really excited each month for that night. I love making the souvenirs. It's awesome when I'm handing them out.

Last month there was a couple who has been coming for the past three months. They said, "Oh we love this, we just come for the souvenirs. We started a little shelf in our kitchen where we keep all the movie souvenirs." That made me feel like, okay, this is awesome. It's all worthwhile if one person is coming just for the souvenirs and keeping them at their house. That rules.

After Xtro there's lots more to come, right? You'll be continuing the series indefinitely?

Yeah. Xtro will be the start of the Cruel Autumn series. That will go through December, then it starts back in January with the Cruel Winter series.

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