New 'TCM Underground' book recommends rare cinema gems and must-see cult classics

TCM Underground's Millie De Chirico and film critic Quatoyiah Murry partner to recommend must-see cult classics in a new book. 'Silent Partner' movie pictured above. (Courtesy of Turner Classic Movies)

Every Friday night, Turner Classic Movies hosts “TCM Underground.” The late-night movie franchise showcases the best of classic cult favorites and hard-to-find films. At the helm of this weirdly wonderful world of cult film is Atlanta-based “TCM Underground” programmer Millie De Chirico.

Recently, De Chirico partnered with writer and film critic Quatoyiah Murry, and together they’ve produced the new book, “TCM Underground: 50 Must-See Films from the World of Classic Cult and Late-Night Cinema.” The co-authors joined “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes via Zoom to share some of their extensive knowledge of hidden cinema gems.

Interview highlights:

How two film buffs went about curating a spread of rare and remarkable films:

“Millie’s been keeping a document of all the films that have ever aired on ‘TCM Underground,’ and I have had just a huge bank of all the films that could ever potentially even be on ‘TCM Underground,'” Murry explained. “I think Millie was the one that recognized, ‘Okay, well, it should be tied to what has already been programmed on “TCM Underground” after all of these years,’ because ‘TCM Underground’ has been on for almost two decades at this point.”

“I think, as of right now, it’s over 400 films that have ever played as part of the ‘TCM Underground’ franchise, so we had quite a list to pick from, and… it’s been over the course of a decade and a half, getting close to 20 years, which is wild,” said De Chirico. Murry added, “With those 400 films, I mean… a lot of these movies had not been seen before, ever… on television. Some, ever since they had been released… My first time seeing a lot of these movies was on ‘TCM Underground.’ [Millie] just did such a perfect job of curating these things over the years and just always being one step ahead of where the cult circuit was, or where it was heading.”

Quatoyiah Murry and Millie De Chirico, hosts of “TCM Underground: 50 Must-See Films From the World of Classic Cult and Late-Night Cinema.”

Favorites from the “Crime Time” section:

“I think I’ll choose this movie called ‘Shack Out on 101,’ which is this very strange noir film. It came out in 1955, it stars Lee Marvin, and it was made sort of during the blacklist era. So it has this theme of McCarthyism, and it’s just very strange, even for noir film,” said De Chirico. “It has almost comedic moments, which is also a weird thing to happen during a noir film because, usually, noirs are very tense and dramatic. But that might be my favorite. I feel like that movie is pretty hidden. I don’t think a lot of people really know about it, which makes it kind of cool to me.”

“‘I’m Gonna Git You Sucka’ definitely is a childhood favorite,” said Murry. “It’s a movie that I grew up just watching kind of on repeat. It was on the same level as rewatching ‘Airplane’ and ‘Naked Gun,’ and just all of these really wacky, zany movies, and I just love that there is this film that is almost like a love letter to the Blaxploitation era of film. And I also really love the Wayans Brothers and the ‘Scary Movies,’ only the first two that Marlon and Shawn are directly involved in. But… I really think that it’s such a brilliant movie for just all these really silly elements, but also it’s so smart in how it deconstructs the genre, and I really love that it inspired something like ‘Black Dynamite.'”

Favorites from the “Fright Club” section:

“‘Fright Club’ is definitely a horror section, and I will say my favorite in this section is ‘Blacula.’ It is a classic horror film, if you ask me,” said De Chirico. “I absolutely love it. It was made by an African-American filmmaker and stars a pretty much entire(ly) African-American cast. William Marshall, who plays Blacula, he’s such a great actor, and he was just very well-respected and classically taught, and just the idea that he plays this character named Blacula is really great. I mean, it proves that a movie like this can appeal to young people and be fun and funny, but also have true legit chops. A lot of these actors are incredible actors in this film.”

“I love horror. It’s my favorite genre. So I was thrilled to write about all of these films, and to live in this kind of horrific mindset, which has its effects. I don’t recommend it. But I think for me, I kind of want to say ‘Ganja & Hess’ because of that, because ‘Ganja & Hess’ is a perfect kind of bookend to ‘Blacula.’ It’s also directed by an African-American director-writer, Bill Gunn, who’s fantastic. It’s a beautiful art film,” said Murry. “But I’m going to cheat/ I’m going to say ‘The Brood,’ which is a David Cronenberg film that I absolutely adore. It plays around with this idea of epigenetics and… the trauma that you carry from your childhood… and how the things that we hold within physically affect our bodies.”

“TCM Underground: 50 Must-See Films from the World of Classic Cult and Late-Night Cinema” is out now and available to purchase here.