Dilworth Theater – an unsung hero of exploitation cinema

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Our first full Duke blog and we wanted to dedicate it to something that symbolised what we try and do at the Duke each month – that’s screen long overlooked films and trying to shed light on people, places and times that maybe have been forgotten over the years.

So here in our first post we’re going to take a look at a great unsung hero in the world of exploitation film screens – the Dilworth Theatre in North Carolina, USA.

You won’t find the Dilworth on any list of great cinemas, it wasn’t situated in London’s West End or New York’s great 42Nd Street, instead it sat in the heart of North Carolina, feeding it’s local residents with a steady diet of 70s exploitation, horror and kung fu films. Launched in the 1930s the Dilworth had a long and successful history of first run film screenings, but it’s when it became a second run theatre in the 1970s that it really becomes of interest for us.

I stumbled onto the Dilworth one day while digging through ebay for interesting cinema related auctions, this first picture really caught my eye with its great double bill programming, Rattlers & Bug plus its catchy, slightly jokey marquee message “Two horrible movies”, are the movies themselves horrible, or just packed with scares?

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Looking at more of their marquee pictures you can see a fantastic array of classic exploitaion films playing there: Rattlers, Bugs, Blast, Adios Amigo, Devil’s Express, Black Shampoo, Eye For An Eye, The Howling, Super Fly. Plus you eagle eyed viewers check out the posters on the exterior wall: Infra-Man! And remember these would have all in been in glorious 35MM prints back in the day. Can you even imagine seeing Warhawk Tanzania kicking ass in Devil’s Express on 35MM?

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Heading over to the essential Cinema Treasures website revealed a great deal of history about the Dilworth and it’s worth taking the time to head there and read the full history of the cinema. But there’s one specific story that made me want to write a feature about these pictures I’d found,  and it’s that in the mid-70s the cinema was such a part of the local neighbourhood that the community came out and renovated the cinema themselves. Low and behold one of the pictures I had was of them doing just that!

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It’s quite fantastic to read about an obscure event happening and then to actually see a small part of it taking place through the wonder of photography.

Sadly the Dilworth burnt to the ground in 1984 and as of right now an interior design store and parking lot fill the space left by the cinema, but just for one post only we’d like to think that the Dilworth is still playing – let’s all meet there tonight and watch Devil’s Express together, the popcorn is on Evrim!

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