Film enthusiast achieves lifelong desire to launch a Revival Movie House…
“To sleep, perchance to dream… for in this sleep what dreams may come…” – William Shakespeare
Rallying cries to never give up on your dreams – they’re the essence of nearly every high school graduation speech ever made. Yet when we venture forth into the real world, how many of us forget those goals that shaped our youth? Las Vegas resident John Lohmann never set his dream aside. Now, after the better part of four decades, it’s finally become a reality with The 35 Cinema.
Mr. Lohmann and I are kindred spirits of a sort. We both have a passion for fantasy, horror and sci-fi films of the 70’s and 80’s. Our career paths somewhat intersected, as we were both movie theater managers who worked on marketing projects for major Hollywood releases. My tenure in the film exhibition industry was short, though, and John continues to pursue his passion.
This week, John took a break from the challenges of running his retro-cool revival movie house to discuss his background with me. The conversation ended when he had to thread up a 35mm print of the 1979 classic ALIEN for a 6 pm showing. In that brief time, John shared some incredible memories, a stunning celebrity encounter, and an unusually difficult path to opening the doors of The 35 Cinema.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
John’s career in movie theater operations began at the age of sixteen. His first recollection of threading a movie onto the massive projection system (an art unto itself) was for the 1987 hit A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. It’s unlikely that the teenager envisioned one day working side by side in his own theater with actress Lisa Wilcox. Ms. Wilcox is The 35 Cinema‘s manager and the “final girl” from both Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master and Part 5: The Dream Child.
As a youngster, Lohmann was entranced by the mechanics of movie projection. He had his own projector and used to charge his friend five cents to watch copies of Ken Films, short Super-8 editions sold for home use through the pre-VCR era of the 70’s. The reels were widely available at K-Mart (this writer had his own collection, a rear-projection viewer and an editing station).
In the 90’s, the movie enthusiast covered a lot of ground. He worked in various capacities for AMC Theaters, Regal, Globe, and the Century brand, which operates Cinemark theaters in the Las Vegas valley. He also branched out into attractions at Knott’s Berry Farm and Disney parks.
It’s was John’s passion for the movie-going experience that served him well in marketing. He received the highest levels of recognition and won prestigious accolades (including the Sid Grauman Award), for his promotions of such varied titles as The Peacemaker (with Nicole Kidman and George Clooney), Deep Impact, family films The Rugrats Movie, its sequel Rugrats In Paris, Barnie’s Big Adventure, Disney hits Mulan and Hercules…and a low-profile sleeper called TITANIC.
Perhaps John’s most incredible experience was when he attended a pre-release screening of the 1998 fantasy What Dreams May Come. A difficult-to-watch, emotional exploration of death and the afterlife, the film presented a considerable challenge to its marketing team. Lohmann was invited to attend an advance screening in order to serve as a consultant and advisor for marketing.
The humbled guest entered the theater along with the movie’s creative team. He noticed that each seat came supplied with a box of tissues. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand why.
When the lights came up, John was dabbing his eyes with tissues when he felt a pair of hands grip his shoulders from behind. Then an unmistakable voice asked “What did you think?”. Spinning around, the sobbing cinephile found himself face to face with the film’s star, Robin Williams.
Robin Williams and costar Annabella Sciorra…
The two gentlemen spent the better part of the next three hours discussing the emotionally-complex feature. As John recounted, Williams was absolutely thrilled by the project. “I love comedy, but acting is what I really want to do” the legendary entertainer proclaimed.
Lohmann came up with a few ideas to promote the drama, which garnered over $75 million at the box office. As for Williams’ dramatic career, it continued to expand with wildly diverse roles in Bicentennial Man, Patch Adams, the frightening One Hour Photo and Christopher Nolan‘s Insomnia.
While immersed in the worlds of film marketing, theme park entertainment, and becoming involved in animation art collecting, the Anaheim native was always looking for the perfect place to open his own revival movie theater. The search stretched through roughly four decades. At one point, Lohmann thought he’d finally found the perfect spot, a four-plex that had been abandoned for a decade. It was in poor shape, smelled badly, and had become a refuge for the homeless.
Abandoned cineplexes await rebirth in a post-pandemic world…
Nevertheless, the cavernous grand lobby of the movie house was too gorgeous to ignore. Lohmann was all set to commit when a second-run (discount) chain swooped in to snatch it. Sadly, their endeavor lasted only a few months, but by that time, John had moved on. Yet he never stopped looking for the perfect venue.
Ira Heiden (left) in Elvira, Mistress of the Dark…
In the years since that first showing of Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, the horror franchise has become a permanent part of Lohmann’s life. He personally befriended most of the movie’s cast, and even became best buddies with actor Ira Heiden, who played Will Stanton aka “Wizard Master”.
Elm Street 3 cast recreates iconic “Dream Warriors” photo in 2017
Fast forward to the current decade. As of 2017, virtually every theater has switched to digital equipment. Traditional projection systems were being discarded and replaced around the world. John happened upon a working set-up at Long Beach State University that was in jeopardy. After a little back-and-forth with those in charge, he was given a matter of hours to remove it from the campus.
For the next few years, this marvelous monster resided in a breezeway of its new owner’s California home, covered by a tarp and patiently waiting for an eventual return to usefulness. It joined John’s other treasure, a rare stereo 16mm system that came from a defunct Jerry Lewis Cinemas location in Georgia.
Eventually, John packed up his dreams and possessions (and of course, those two beloved projectors) and relocated to Las Vegas. They can now be found at The 35 Cinema inside The Nerd, a heavily-themed downtown fun spot for adults. You can read all about The 35 Cinema right here in this Vegas Unfiltered Blog companion piece.
It would be a disservice to the efforts of John and his team to close this piece with “they all lived happily ever after”. Getting that first movie onto the screen was anything but easy. The venue should have opened nearly a year ago, but a series of obstacles kept falling into its path. And that’s not even factoring in the pandemic.
The 35 Cinema debuted in February 2021, and even now, difficulties arise. A highly-anticipated booking of 1977’s original STAR WARS promised to put hundreds of fans into the plush new seats, but a delivery problem forced the owner to remove it from the schedule. Lohmann is working to find a more reliable source for quality vintage titles on 35mm film, and each week provides new opportunities to challenge the boyishly handsome businessman.
Fortunately, our city is overflowing with enthusiastic moviegoers. Thousands have flocked in the past year to West Wind drive-in for classic hits (albeit in digital form) and William Powell‘s The Sci-Fi Center in historic Commercial Plaza enjoys huge turnouts for drive-in style “Carpool Cinema” screenings of older titles.
Now that Elm Street actress Lisa Wilcox is managing The 35 Cinema, its owner’s immersion into the dream world of Freddy Krueger is complete. And with our supportive community to rally around the newest Las Vegas cinema experience, it’s only a matter of time before ambitious John Lohmann, an honorary member of the Elm Street gang, ascends from “Dream Warrior” to the “Dream Master” of his own realm.
The 35 Cinema is located at 450 Fremont Street, Suite 250, on the second floor of NEONOPOLIS. It is open Wednesday through Sunday. Click here for showtimes and to order tickets.
Photos: Sam Novak, John Lohmann, The 35 Cinema, The Sci-Fi Center (William Powell). Elm Street 3 cast reunion photo by Rodney Eastman