Saturday, February 12, 2011

The midnight movie run

The first "midnight movie" I saw was NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (NOTLD), directed by George Romero. I saw it at the Fox Valley Theaters in Aurora, IL, in the late '70s (I don't remember which year). The film was on a midnight screening 'road show,' playing at many theaters during that time period.

The theater was packed with inebriated masses, minds altered in some form or another. I was with a group of friends and we went on a whim. I had heard of NOTLD but, surpisingly, nobody I was with had. I remember hearing radio ads of the Romero film as a little kid in the late 60s. The ads left an impression, were actually frightening and became the stuff of nightmares. By the time I was a teen, I was primed to see it.

By the late 70s the film had garnered a reputation and was considered one of the most horrifying films ever made (a bold declaration but almost nearly true).

We found seats among the crowd and the film started without fanfare. I remember the print being scratched up and chopped, like it was actually found in somebody's basement. I was surprised that it was in black and white. I whispered to one friend, "Is this right?" He shrugged.

I had never seen a still from the film and anything I knew about it was from memories of those radio ads. The weird thing was, the audience started laughing as soon as the film started. Laughing not out of derision but almost as a warning of things to come.

I'm not writing an overview of NOTLD, but as the film came to its harrowing conclusion, the audience was stunned in silence. We walked out of the theater around 2:00 a.m. not saying a word. The vibe of the experience was heavy but not depressing or disappointing. I was inwardly thrilled that the movie delivered. But it was a communal experience with a handful of friends and strangers sucked into this vortex of unrelenting horror after midnight, a time usually reserved for things of ill repute.

Seeing NOTLD during that midnight run started a special period of personal midnight movie addiction that lasted about four or five years. This addiction happened during the dawn of home video, which would eventually bury the midnight movie experience (Why? Because you could get films like NOTLD on VHS and watch them whenever you wanted. You would no longer have to wait for a midnight road show to see them).

The midnight movie as an entity provided a chance to see out of circulation films on the big screen. The movies were usually genre-based, horror, sci-fi, sexploitation, stoner comedies or concert films and mainstream films were almost never shown (although Walter Hill's THE WARRIORS did a midnight run not long after its initial release in 1979. NOTE: THE WARRIORS was already primed for midnight, having controversy attached to it from the get-go. Supposedly the film caused incidents of vandalism and violence at a handful of theaters, causing advertising to be pulled while some theaters simply stopped showing it out of fear. THE WARRIORS garnered a reputation hence a cult was born).

While the movies left an indelible mark, it was the experience, the vibe of seeing them after midnight that meant as much as the films themselves.

Of personal import, I still remember vivid experiential screenings:
  • NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (Fox Valley Theaters)
  • PINK FLOYD: LIVE AT POMPEII (Fox Valley Theaters)
  • PINK FLOYD: THE WALL (The Hillside Theater, Hillside IL)
  • DAWN OF THE DEAD (Woodfield Mall Theaters, Schaumburg, IL)
  • ERASERHEAD (theater unknown)
  • APOCALYPSE NOW (Oakbrook UA Cinemas, Oak Brook, IL)
  • SEX WITH A SMILE (theater unknown)
  • MANIAC (theater unknown)
  • REEFER MADNESS (theater unknown)
  • FLESH GORDON (Fox Valley Theaters)
  • UP IN SMOKE (The Hillside Theater)
I never saw THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW at midnight (in fact, I've never seen THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW). And I didn't see John Waters' PINK FLAMINGOS until it was released on video. Both THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW and PINK FLAMINGOS were midnight movie mainstay pictures with ROCKY HORROR still playing at midnight at some theater somewhere.

No comments:

Post a Comment