Blood, gore, sex, violence, horror and previews of coming attractions promising more of the same have, for the daily fare at movie theaters in many of the District's black neighborhoods.
Parents understand the attraction of low admission prices -- $2.50 compared to $3.50 and higher in theaters elsewhere -- but they are puzzled and upset that black teen-agers go week in and week out to see oozing blood, decapitations, severed limbs and grisly, cold-blooded murder committed in an atmosphere made comfortable by cold sodas, Raisinettes and popcorn.
"It's terrible," said John Sizemore, father of two, who lives near the popular Lincoln Theatre at 1215 U St. NW. "These kids have nowhere else to go and a steady diet of killing, killing, killing someone renders the act meaningless to them."
Leon Jones, the Lincoln Theatre's supervisor and an employe there for 39 years, said that teen-agers "don't come to our G or PG rated pictures, they only come to the Rs where there is blood and gore. We're in business to give people what they want."
The Lincoln's manager, Maurice Simmons, said: "We tried Walt Disney and it doesn't work."
But parents are rankled by the Lincoln's policy.
"Until two years ago, I used to take my kids along U Street on a weekend day to browse and take in a movie. Now, there's nothing for them," said Sheila King, a Washington native and the mother of a teen-age son and four-year-old daughter. "It saddens me because the Lincoln used to be an important part of our culture, not merely another exploiter."
Since opening in the late 1920s, it has, as Sizemore put it, "been a place to go for our parents and our parents' parents."
During the '30s and '40s, the Lincoln shared what was then known as the "Golden Boulevard" with two other large-capacity movie theaters on U Street that have since been torn down, the Republic and the Booker T., all located within a block of each other. They were among the handful of theaters that accepted blacks as patrons, and blacks began to think of these theaters as their own. Included in the twirling, sashaying boulevard circuit was the Howard Theatre, at 620 T St. NW, with its live stage performances and all-night jams.
Pompadours, pageboys and bob hairstyles reigned. Stocking-capped slicked-down, razor-parted be-boppers guided their "Mommy-O's" -- the high-browns, low-browns, and chocolate-to-the-bone browns -- to the happenings: Paul Robeson's "Emperor Jones," Oscar Micheaux's films of black love won and lost and won again, and of course, also on the scene, the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, (The Duke) Ellington, Billie Holiday, Basie, Billy (Mr. B.) Eckstine and "Sassie" Sarah Vaughn.
It's all gone now. The Howard Theatre flickers to life only on an occasional weekend. The Republic and the Booker T are but memories. Only the Lincoln, in altered form, survives. It is now a twin theater, with an upstairs that seats 650 and a downstairs that seats 800.
The U Street "boulevard," also in altered form, survives -- but as a drug mecca. One goes to U Street to get "Bam," "Murder One," "747" and "Gold" -- code names for diet pills, heroin, and marijuana. The words are spoken to passers-by as they stroll, wait for a bus, or grab a quick chili dog at Ben's Chili Bowl, two doors down from the Lincoln. If there is any doubt about the meaning of the code names, the word "dope" is heard loud and clear. It is here, on this street, that the Lincoln line forms, bustling with teen-agers.
The Lincoln has joined a block of theaters that include the Penn, at 650 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, and the Town, at 1222 New York Ave. NW, in booking mostly R-rated sex, karate and horror films.
Zack Berry, a Northwest Washington resident who used to pay regular Sunday visits to the Lincoln, now boycotts the theater.
"I stay away from it because it is totally involved in decadence," Berry said. "A decent film like 'Claudine' couldn't play there. These movie houses program our youngsters to think about nothing but blood and gore -- the worst kind of fantasy and wish fulfillment."
"We need solid, decent, emotionally healthy films for our children," said Monica Guyot, mother of two, who lives eight blocks from the Lincoln. "The Lincoln is atrocious, it soils minds, it should be closed down."
King, Sizemore, Guyot Berry and others react strongly against the films featured by the Lincoln and other theaters, but teen-agers love them.
The Lincoln's Jones boasts that the theater's all-night horror shows that play once a month on Friday and Saturday nights draw youngsters from all over the city. "It's wild, they bring knapsacks and pillows, watch four films, and go out blinking into the sunlight at 7:30 in the morning."
The teen-agers bring more than knapsacks and pillows. They bring pizzas, beer, reefer and a sense of ridicule and flat-out fun. Through spattered blood, busted heads, carved-out hearts, they find their heroes and stay with them. Black or white. Leon Isaacs Kennedy in "Body and Soul." Edward Albert in "Galaxy of Terror." The movie heroes were in trouble, they were good guys, they pulled through, the audience cheered.
Downstairs, youthful faces are flash-frozen in terror they love. As a crazed pterodactyl with a human head rips the clothes off a woman in "Galaxy of Terror," young women stand and shriek, clutching each other. Young men laugh and shove each other as they make clear they understand the difference between murder and lust. Shouts one: "He just wants some lovin'." Everyone laughs.
The last reel of "Body and Soul" brings the upstairs crowd to its feet as boxer Leon Kennedy whips an opponent mercilessly. The sound track explodes with ear-splitting thuds. Youngsters cry out: "Kill 'em! Kill 'em!"
"We all get off," said 21-year-old Juanita Bright, who has attended the Lincoln all-night features with friends. "It's totally positive and it keeps us off the streets. Where else can we go and feel unified as a group?"
Little Randy from Southeast, speaking for a group of his friends gathered at the Lincoln box office, said, "This is our neighborhood theater, this is where we come to groove."
Next week, the Lincoln 2 will feature "The Grim Reaper." "It's not fear that tears you apart. It's him," reads the lobby poster.
"Ooooh, I can't wait to see that," said one young patron as he rushed out from "Galaxy of Terror" to get some popcorn.
"Sure, the kids like the films, my son likes them as well," said John Sizemore. "They need heroes, someone to root for, just like we did." But, said Sizemore: "Our communities are being exploited by second-rate movie houses that show third-rate pictures dealing only with sex, only with blood, only with mass murders. Our kids deserve better."