The Daily Iowan

Everything is Terrible smites Iowa City

Jack Howard, Arts Reporter

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I attended a service at the church of the VHS tape, or was it a cult?

On Sept. 13, the Feed Me Weird Things Series partnered with FilmScene’s Late Shift at the Grindhouse to bring Everything Is Terrible’s video phantasmagoria to a local audience. The Los Angeles vlog collective showcased its latest thrift-store, video-tape patchwork at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., for an eager audience of fans and curious regulars on its “The Great Satan Returns” tour.

Ohio University acted as the crucible for the group in 2000, and it quickly gained local recognition for gathering a hodgepodge of off-kilter VHS tapes from garage sales and thrift stores and then screening them at performances. The group launched its website in 2007, and it has increased in popularity since, touring the country with its traveling videorama. The group has also gained recognition for its massive — and growing — collection of Jerry Maguire VHS tapes.

“They were just everywhere,” Everything Is Terrible co-creator “Ghoul Skool” said. “And then we were like, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if we had the world’s largest collection?’ ”

Since it began collecting in 2009, the group has amassed 23,000 copies of the film.

For each Everything Is Terrible feature, it compiles the content it has found based on a unifying theme or idea; for its latest film, The Great Satan, the group mostly reworks satanic-panic videos from the ’80s and ’90s into a greater narrative that casts Satan as the hero.

When I stepped into the venue, I found a room full of fog and red lights and took a seat in one of the pews in the front row. On the screen before me, a looped video of a cheesy devil man laughed maniacally, a man dressed in black and covered in soot periodically banged a gong.

The show began at 8:50 p.m. The Great Satan was introduced with a theatrical performance, complete with cartoony costume design and musical numbers. A deformed Christian televangelist and his mutated goat companion laid down their agenda: “Give me all your money … Satan is real …”

After 10 minutes of the theatrics, the film began. And as for the film itself, blink, and you’ll miss it. Second-long clips of televangelists, odd newscasts, vacation Bible school videos, and ’80s sci-fi schlock were woven together into a sacreligious mutation of a feature. Everything Is Terrible took us from the fall of Lucifer to a hellish apocalypse through an hour-and-15-minute time capsule of religious and film hysteria. Every mortal sin in the book was addressed in a whirlwind of Christian rap videos, biblical puppet shows, ex-satanist interviews, and homemade music videos, all adorned with laughably terrible special effects. Warnings against these sins were twisted into advocation.

Ending each “act” of the film were additional theatrical segments performed by the group members, their questionable acting skills adding to the campiness of the show. By the end of the performance, the audience had been taken to hell, and the televangelist had sold his soul to Satan.

Satan and his minions wrapped up the show by inviting audience members to offer up their “sacrifices.” Several people brought VHS copies of Jerry Maguire to the stage for the group to keep. After these sacrificial rites, the group broke into a dance, and the show was over.

Since its inception, the primary goal of the Feed Me Weird Things Series has been to bring “out-there programming” to Iowa City, series founder Chris Wiersema said.

“Venue spaces don’t just mean four white guys in a rock band, and we can do a lot more with the spaces that we have in town than just what we’ve been told,” he said.

With Everything Is Terrible, the series has proven its dedication to its goals. With its fluid programming, I look forward to the series’ upcoming schedule and the artful surprises it will surely bring.

“Art is not confined to media,” said Vero Smith, an associate curator of the Legacies for Iowa Collections Sharing project and Feed Me Weird Things partner. “Most musicians look at things to get inspired, and most visual artists listen to things to get inspired. It’s cool to be a part of a series that highlights those connections between different types of making art.”

You can find the Feed Me Weird Things schedule on the series’ Facebook page at facebook.com/feedmeweird.

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