Flickhead
On Location
with Steve Fiorilla

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Robert Lansing, 4D Man

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The Fourth Wall

By Steve Fiorilla

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    On the 180-degree screen before me a screaming head (in 3D) is guillotined and blood from the decapitation sprays along my chin and jaw. Well, actually it was water that splashed me, but in the dark of this theater who the hell could tell the difference? I’m front row center of the Fantawild 4D Theater at the Family Funplex in the Galleria Mall, Buffalo, New York, and I’m searching for the future of entertainment.
    $7.00 buys me a chance to witness the Lovecrafted Escape from Bane Manor — one of three twelve- to fifteen-minute 3D films with the added floor effects of pressurized water and air and a theater seat that rapidly lowers and raises itself while vibrating much like a paint mixer.
    Arriving at the Galleria I decide to Atkins a slice of pizza and a Coke and park my skinny ass (a rare sight in this neck of the woods) where I can spot the sculptured ‘Fantawild’ sign suspended above the entrance. funplex01.gifSeated nearby, a fun-loving plastic family (almost the size of real people) react in shock and amazement to the snarling bust of a Tyrannosaurus rex (airbrushed in earth tones with stained chompers and a tongue like a ham). Directly to the right, “Fantawild 4D Theater” lettering is backed by a strip of movie film. It reminds me of the wacky displays once seen in the Warner Brothers stores before they dissolved from the nation’s malls for reasons I never quite understood.
    The dino sign is an eye-catcher indeed, but it may be the endless cacophony of videogame sounds emanating next door to the theater that first attracts people’s attention. The 4D experience is a business unto itself, but I suspect the real payola is in the birthday party packages Fantawild has set up for Gold Card parents. The theater conveniently empties into a party space which then connects to the videogame parlor. Cake and ice cream-stained hosts are there to guide mom and dad’s precious seed through a delightfully spazzy aging ceremony.
    The other films to choose from include Dino-Rampage and Deep Sea Adventure. Dino-Rampage blatantly ‘borrows’ from Jurassic Park as genetic engineering goes awry. Deep Sea Adventure concerns some kind of accident in a domed city on the ocean floor in the year 2080. It’s quick stuff, as generic as those titles, and dissipates from the mind like a mouthful of cotton candy.
    Of the 3D effects, what’s most startling are the shots of fleeing rats. Hundreds of the squealing things scattering every which way, poised to jump into the darkness between the bottom of the screen and the first row of seats. Vermin appear in all three films, but were robbed of getting a ‘feelie’ effect of their own. (Perhaps the concept of nicking ankles with tiny razors was nixed by the legal department.) Either way, none of the tricks are far beyond what the late filmmaker/showman William Castle was up to with his ‘Percepto’ gimmick in The Tingler (1959) — selected theater seats wired for mild shocks. But such things strike me as blasé today, what with the fidgety lifestyle so honed and thriving in preteen hordes. (When will all that Ritalin kick in, I wonder?)
    What direction this form of entertainment goes in is anyone’s guess, but I’d think that a little more substance would help immensely. Perhaps a black and white Twilight Zone tribute, or stylish wind and water jaunts using art by Frank Frazetta or H.R. Giger. How about a 3D flip through the panels of an EC Comic? The weird science for this medium seems as endless as Fantawild’s bankroll.

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The cine-amusement center of tomorrow . . . TODAY!

    It’s all something to wish for until holographic imagery becomes presentable and movie seats vanish, as spectators walk, run or stumble through futuristic scenes of high adventure. (The porno industry could make billions.) Time in this joint will tell . . .
    Back in the ‘real world’ I pass by the youngster who (with the aide of a computer) runs Fantawild, and glance over at the sketch of a manga girl he’s been working on. Drifting along to the food court, passing by a family-friendly feature film multiplex where the Dawn of the Dead remake is pulling in a hungry crowd. A Garfield: The Movie banner promises an orange, bug-eyed CGI wonder . . . At this point in time, its producers were blissfully unaware it would tank.
    Sights sync in. Mall rats sporting droopy pants and dopey expressions (or dopey pants and droopy expressions?) poke at cell phones, videogame buttons and change slots because, like dead-eyed sharks, they just can’t stop moving.
    Tasty Japanese girls wearing chef hats and aprons wave toothpick-skewered stir-fried chunks of chicken (?) at shoppers, hoping to entice them to a smorgasbord of numbered meals. A Dianetics kiosk offers a ‘free personality test’ for the morbidly self-obsessed. It’s all coming through like a street scene out of Bladerunner without the rain and soot. And none of those futuristic videophones, either . . . Though Adam West has been on TV hawking something called ‘EZ Link,’ so I guess they’re not that far off.
    Looking down the length of the mall’s ground floor I see a street of storefronts bereft of weather changes. The seasons are nothing but fodder for display window décor. It all lacks the shadow play of an Edward Hopper painting, a universe away from Early Sunday Morning.
    The Fantawild film flickers and fades. Temperature control absorbs the damp faux bloodstain from my lapel. The Jetsons are not parked above, and Hugo Gernsback wouldn’t shop here if his life depended on it. Flash will not be hooking up with Dale at the retro burger pit. No, malls are still the wasteland they’ve always been, and while I try to distract my attention to imagine the advances Fantawild has at its jittery fingertips, all I can picture is Logan running from this place as if his ass was on fire.

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Editor’s Note: Shortly after this article appeared,

the author returned to the FantaWild Family Funplex
only to find it boarded up and out of business.