Damnation Alley is a postapocalyptic sci-fi movie starring George Peppard and the coolest recreational vehicle ever. A promotional photo from the 1977 film, featuring that 12-wheeled, sleek silver “Landmaster,” hangs behind the front desk at Cineloggia, a movie and memorabilia museum located at Commercial Center’s New Orleans Square complex. And seeing that photo does to me what a good piece of Hollywood memorabilia should: It makes my heart swell with geek pride.
Specifically, I’m proud that I can tell Nick Benson—a seasoned special effects artist who has worked on a score of horror films (check out his IMDb page) and one of the dedicated folk who made Cineloggia a reality, along with hardcore prop collector James Azrael and Benson’s wife, Marla, and son Dean—that I recognize the vehicle in the photo and the movie it appeared in. And I’m really proud that my personality was formed by watching the sort of movies in which a ravaged Las Vegas is overrun by killer cockroaches. When it comes to connecting with your formative geek, Cineloggia just gets it.
“There’s something here for everyone,” Marla Benson says. “There’s stuff here for people that really aren’t even into movies as much as they thought they were, or [didn’t] realize that they were until they walked in and said, ‘Ooh, look at that.’”
Visitors probably say that a lot. For such a modestly sized space, Cineloggia is packed. Here you’ll find props from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Army of Darkness, Batman Returns, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Rogue One, Silent Hill, Wonder Woman and many more, ranging from background props to special effects pieces to full costumes. Liam Neeson’s costume from Sam Raimi’s Darkman is here; one of Sally’s stop-motion animation faces from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas smiles crookedly from inside a glass case. Everywhere you turn, there’s a fond memory of a “wow” moment or a jolting fright.
“People have mixtapes and songs that remind them of certain points in her life. The same thing happens with movies,” says Azrael, whose vast personal collection of props and memorabilia—4,000 pieces strong and growing—makes Cineloggia possible. Azrael runs the Horror & SciFi Prop Preservation Association (HSPPA), a nonprofit that travels to genre conventions around the country and presents props as they are—as portals into the parts of us that were shaped by the movies. “I don’t think a lot of people realize it until they’ve got the piece in their hand.”
Every piece has a fascinating provenance, but in keeping with Cineloggia’s by-enthusiasts-for-enthusiasts approach, it’s rarely written out on accompanying cards.
“I like to follow people in and talk about the pieces,” Nick says. “I’ll tell them a little story about it, and then they’ll tell me a personal story. I like doing that. It gives a little more personal touch, rather than just being go-on-your-own, browse-through museum.”
For example: The Nightmare on Elm Street IV shoulder puppet that Benson operated on the film—the prop that instigated his friendship with Azrael, by the by—is in the museum, and as Marla Benson notes, “[Nick] ended up stabbing a guy with it.” Today, Nick can chuckle about that non-fatal accident: “I like to tell people I’m the only person who has stabbed Freddy [Krueger] and gotten away with it.”
With the pandemic showing signs of subsiding, the Cineloggia folks hope to bring that personal experience out into the community. They’re planning collaborations with the nearby Sci-Fi Center and Fremont Street’s recently opened 35 Cinema, and intend to change the museum’s contents often enough to lure repeat visitors. (Azrael confesses that he originally showed up to the museum “with more items than we could even display.”)
But for now, they’ll be content if lockdown-weary locals and tourists seek out the museum and rekindle their passion for the movies. Nick tells a story about a father and daughter who approached Azrael at a convention in Silent Hill cosplay. Azrael handed the daughter the Great Knife from the 2006 film. “She broke into tears,” Benson says. “She couldn’t believe she was holding it.”
Though Cineloggia discourages handling of its props, the families who visit Cineloggia often react the same way, Nick says. “One member of the family is raving about one section and kind of geeking out, and then they’ll move to another section where someone else will totally geek out. It’s pretty cool to see.”
Cineloggia Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m. $15 (first responders $10; children 5-10 $5). 900 Karen Ave. #D214, 702-707-2484.