March 30, 2020

‘Hunters’ Grindhouse Experience Turns L.A. Into 1970s NYC

In 1978, my mother met a Nazi. Not a Nazi in the “someone who disagrees with me” sense, or even in the buzzed-cut gang sense. She came face to face with an alumnus of the Third Reich.

My mother, a 23-year-old scientist at the time, was collecting plants on a farm in Colombia. Her host, a wealthy businessman, treated her to food and drink in exchange for conversation. A couple of drinks in, he announced that once a month, he put on his S.S. uniform, met up with his war buddies and saluted Adolf Hitler. 

“Hunters,” a new series on Amazon Prime, focuses on Jews who assassinate Nazis who have escaped justice to 1970s New York City. The show has been widely depicted as a comic book romp. The Washington Post said it had a “comic book tone.” The New Yorker compared the origins of its lead to Bruce Wayne, while The New York Times dubbed Logan Lerman’s portrayal of a grandson of a Holocaust survivor “part Peter Parker, an incipient hero.” 

To me, a grandchild of a woman who lived in the ghettos and concentration camps that “Hunters” depicts, the show is not fantastical. My family history tells me that Nazis infiltrating the West in the 1970s is not a comic book storyline. It’s what really happened. 

At the “Hunters” Grindhouse Experience in Los Angeles’ Highland Park, Amazon reminded us of that reality. The experience was a free extravaganza that sought to bring viewers into the world of “Hunters” (and get them to stream it.)

Grindhouse, which ran through Feb. 23, is an immersive experience not unlike Maisel Day when Amazon had Los Angeles hair salons, restaurants and hotels offer their 1950s prices to promote “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” 

For a few days, Highland Theatres was transformed into “The Empire,” a grindhouse inspired by the ones that once screened movies on New York City’s 42nd Street. The road where the screening took place was lined with vintage taxis and police cars. While guests waited in line to enter the theater, extras dressed in full ’70s garb walked up and down the sidewalk. These actors lured guests into chats — with New York accents as thick as oatmeal. 

Inside, guests were treated to comic book depictions of the series (which seems to revel in the comparison.) Wine, boxed popcorn and candy were served at the nostalgic concession stand. The food was complimentary, as was the entire activation, which Angelenos could RSVP to attend online. Amazon also offered themed discounts nearby. Both Good Housekeeping and Gold Line served themed cocktails at their bars. Civil Coffee touted a “Hunters”-inspired menu. Next door, the already nostalgia-prone Artform Studio — a hair salon that sells vinyl records — sold records from the ’70s for $10 off. For a beatnik feel, the Owl Bureau bookshop stayed open late to hold ’70s-inspired spoken-word nights. 

The marvel of the Grindhouse Experience is that it highlights the strength of “Hunters.” It’s the ability to be more tangible than a Quentin Tarantino or Marvel project. It has no supernatural elements, just a central conspiracy theory about neo-Nazis infiltrating American institutions.

The centerpiece of the activation was “Hunters Alley,” a swanky bowling alley designed to look like a scene where a congressman is intimidated to do the bidding of Nazis. (The spot is actually Highland Park Bowl.) 

Inside, you could visit “Hunters Sideshow,” a Coney Island-inspired room offering fresh cotton candy and drinks. The space had three bars, and the liquor next to the bowling lanes included specialty cocktails such as “The Mensch.” Meanwhile, New York and Jewish classics, like fresh pizza and bite-sized latkes, were carried in (and quickly devoured.)

Of course, the event centered around the “Hunters” screening. Showrunner David Weil discussed how the premise resonated with him and his background as a grandchild of a Holocaust survivor. 

Weil told the Journal that “at 6 years old, it was really hard to understand the depths of such horror, such evil. The closest thing I could relate it to was the comic books I loved and the superheroes I followed. It became the lens through which I saw the Holocaust. As I got older, I began to see the reality, the sobering truth and visceral nature of the atrocities.” 

The marvel of the Grindhouse Experience is that it highlights the strength of “Hunters.” It’s the ability to be more tangible than a Quentin Tarantino or Marvel project. This is fairly easy, as “Hunters” has no supernatural elements, just a central conspiracy theory about neo-Nazis infiltrating American institutions. But even in 2019, is that inconceivable? 

The ideology of Hitler’s regime is very much alive today, as is its violent spirit. “White supremacist extremism is currently the most lethal form of extremism in the U.S.,” American University professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss told Congress in September. From Pittsburgh to El Paso, white nationalists are murdering minorities. 

The marvel of the Grindhouse Experience is that it highlights the strength of “Hunters.” It’s the ability to be more tangible than a Quentin Tarantino or Marvel project. It has no supernatural elements, just a central conspiracy theory about neo-Nazis infiltrating American institutions.

Just as in “Hunters,” the upper echelon of today’s American government is tainted with white supremacist sympathizers. Look no further than Stephen Miller. The senior adviser to President Donald Trump helped the founder of the alt-right, Richard Spencer, fundraise for his anti-immigration events. In 2016, Spencer said he was a mentor to Miller in college. A report in 2019 revealed that Miller had sent hundreds of emails linking to white nationalist publications. Although Democrats have called for him to resign, it appears a friend to Nazis remains in an influential position, just as in the “Hunters” pilot. 

But the theme of the event was not the 1970s. It was not the Holocaust. It was not even Jews. It was vengeance. Upon entering the screening, visitors received totes that read “The Best Revenge is Revenge” — the “Hunters” tagline. At the afterparty, a bold red-and-black sign above the lanes declared “Revenge is Righteous.” Even event staff wore plain T-shirts proclaiming “Justice is Coming.” 

It is this commitment to vengeance that drags “Hunters” into comic book territory. In the series, Holocaust survivors and their descendants — when placed in a plausible situation of finding a Nazi who fell through the cracks — fight back. 

While so many Holocaust narratives center around remembrance or trauma, “Hunters” and its Grindhouse Experience are rooted in processing it through more violence. And that’s what makes it so much fun.


Ariel Sobel is the Journal’s social media editor.