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Journey to the center of sci-fi

Downtown’s Sci Fi Center has become home to an unlikely movie theater

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The Sci Fi Center owner William Powell has turned his store into a sort of odd movie theater.
Photo: Bill Hughes

Here’s the sort of place the Las Vegas Sci Fi Center is: A showing of sci-fi B-movie Planet of the Vampires is supposed to start at 8 p.m., but it’s running late. Owner William Powell is re-playing Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe—for a single customer, who missed an earlier showing.

Things pick up for Planet of the Vampires; it draws a crowd of about 10, some of them longtime customers, including retired casino dealer Brian, who’s been a patron for over 13 years, and now views the Center as a sort of home away from home.

Since August 2006, Powell, 35, has been operating the Sci Fi Center at the western edge of Downtown’s Commercial Center—just the latest outpost of the store that Powell has been running since 1994, when it opened as Asylum Comics at Spring Mountain and Jones. In August 2008, with the addition of 50 movie-theater seats that Powell acquired from a former Commercial Center tenant, the comic books and memorabilia store evolved into something else: the city’s unlikeliest movie theater.

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The Sci Fi Center
2520 State St., 792-4335.
thescificenter.com

Nearly every week, and sometimes several times a week, Powell hosts screenings of vintage sci-fi and horror movies, ranging from classics like Blade Runner and The Evil Dead to cult B-movies like The Wasp Woman and City of the Living Dead. He’s built a makeshift theater that includes a cinema-sized screen and a full projection system in addition to the 50 seats, and he charges around $5 for admission to programs that often include double and triple features.

This past Saturday, that meant an afternoon matinee of Flash Gordon films; Planet of the Vampires; and a midnight show featuring exploitation classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, all run solo by Powell. The night before, Powell was in the Center working with a troupe of actors rehearsing for a Rocky Horror-style “shadow cast” performance of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode. All this comes in addition to his responsibilities on active duty with the Army.

A reservist since 1993, Powell has always balanced his military service with his entrepreneurial endeavors; when he was sent overseas for 15 months in 2004 and 2005, he had only a week to line up someone to run the store for him, but now with the Center doing bigger business, he’s made sure to plan ahead. Even so, it’s hard to imagine the place running without Powell.

He hopes to eventually move to a larger location and beef up the theater (50 more seats sit in Powell’s backyard, awaiting the move), possibly at Neonopolis, possibly elsewhere in Commercial Center. “My vision is something to where I can have the theater as a central draw,” he says, although the retail business is equally important. Even now, he uses the screenings as a sort of loss leader. “When you hold a screening like that, you’re trying to get 30, 40 people into your venue,” he says. “If they buy a poster, or a piece of artwork, or four or five comics, you’ve eliminated whatever those seats might have cost you.”

At heart, though, Powell is about building a community. In addition to the October 23 Buffy performance, upcoming events include an October 17 Herschel Gordon Lewis double feature to raise funds for local filmmakers behind the horror film Haunting Kira; the October 30 Las Vegas premiere of indie horror film Live Evil; a monthly screening series sponsored by the Sin City Rollergirls; and a December 14 visit by actor Doug Bradley, who played Pinhead in the Hellraiser movies and has appeared at the Center twice before. Powell sums up his philosophy: “I usually don’t say no. If you come and scope out the place, take it for what it is, and you’d like to do something here, nine times out of 10 I’m not gonna say no.”

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