By Haley Sawyer
South Pasadena Review
Blankets are strewn about a fenced-in turf lawn, and stars above begin their slow entrance into the mild South Pasadena spring evening, matching the glow of battery-operated candles and string lights. Couples hold hands and families sit close.
On a large screen in front of them, a zombie takes a bite the size of a large tomato out of the shoulder of a human.
It’s a typical Saturday night in the SugarMynt Gallery back yard, and owner SaraRose Orlandini is treating gallery guests to a complimentary screening of George A. Romero’s seminal 1978 film, “Dawn of the Dead.”
“This is a weird place to be at, because it’s a business in a house,” Orlandini said. “And then it’s just so wide open out here and like, just seeing the house in the trees. It’s, like, always Halloween in South Pas. It feels that way, summer, fall, it doesn’t matter. It’s just the way it looks. So it’s just beautiful.”
SugarMynt Gallery, a converted single-story home on Meridian Avenue behind the house made famous by John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” offers exhibitions dedicated to niche horror fans year-round. A display on witches is currently being cycled out for a display on the TV series “Dexter.”
After months of being shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SugarMynt and its backyard screenings, which are complimentary with the price of admission, are back. It marks a return to normal for Orlandini and visitors alike, although the setup looks slightly different.
The screenings began shortly after the gallery’s opening in 2015 and have seen a few upgrades. Orlandini carpeted the dirt yard with artificial grass and upgraded to a larger screen to project movies onto.
Due to COVID-19, there currently are no snacks served during the movies, but guests can bring their own food and drinks, including alcohol. Small plots are sectioned off for groups of people who come to the screening together.
Before hitting play on the DVD player and sound system, Orlandini offers an introduction of herself as well as the movie. She greets the guests at SugarMynt Gallery like guests in her own home because, in many ways, she and the visitors feel a connection to the venue.
“I think it is a very niche place. I think that it really calls to a certain group of people but also passersby that are familiar with Pasadena know about the space,” said Michelle Ely, a friend of Orlandini’s who helps at SugarMynt. “I think because it does talk to that niche, they were ready. Like when she was able to open her doors, they were probably like, ‘Thank goodness, we’re coming.’”
Although the gallery attracts audiences from all over — maxing out backyard space capacity at every movie screening — SugarMynt maintains the feeling of South Pasadena.
The gallery itself is in the signature-style bungalow home found across town here. When the movies that Orlandini screens aren’t from her own collection, they are borrowed from the South Pasadena Public Library or Vidéothèque, the independent movie rental store on Mission Street.
“It’s amazing to have these people come in and get to watch movies back here and this is my job,” Orlandini said. “I love this city. [People are] like, ‘Oh, I went to Pasadena to see the Michael Myers house.’ No you didn’t. You went to South Pas. I love, love, love, love, love South Pas.”
There are no plans to end the movie screenings. Rather, Orlandini has more upgrades in mind. Although the neighbors have been tolerant of the noise from the movies, she said she plans to soundproof the backyard and perhaps install an even bigger screen.
As the upgrades continue, they’ll be done with the home-like aura that SugarMynt consistently exudes.
“I’m the queen of cozy and spooky,” Orlandini said. “I want people to come in; the house is cozy. Even if it’s dark, like, even if the walls are red, there’s something comfortable about it.”