Review Index

The State of the Midnight Movie circa 2009

Consider this a sequel to my notorious 2002 piece WHY I HATE THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW.  I’ve gotten plenty of hate mail from that essay, which pleases me immensely (peoples’ responses may be angry, but they’re proving that on some level they actually care what I think).  I can’t say I’m too happy with the current midnight movie scene, however! 

Second Thoughts on HEDWIG and ROCKY HORROR 
    At the end of the abovementioned essay I focused on HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (2000) as the apparent savior of the midnight movie.  These days that seems hopelessly naïve. 
     It was also naïve of me to cast ROCKY HORROR as the biggest threat to the midnight movie experience.  Yes, that film continues to dominate the scene, often to the exclusion of everything else, but that’s no longer the problem as I see it--the problem, rather, is with everything else!

A Brief History Lesson
The midnight movie began in 1971 with the release of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s EL TOPO, a film considered so weird it could only be shown at midnight screenings on weekends at New York City’s Elgin Theater.  It was a monster success, and launched a phenomenon that has been chronicled in at least two books:  David A. Kaufelt’s seminal MIDNIGHT MOVIES (1979) and J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum’s even better 1983 tome of the same name.         
     Popular midnight movie attractions included cult legends like VIVA LA MUERTE, PINK FLAMINGOS, THE HARDER THEY COME and ERASERHEAD, which arguably owes much of its current notoriety to its long run as a midnight movie.  Of course the all-time champ in this arena is THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, a constant on the midnight circuit since the mid-seventies.

Midnight Movies and DVDs
     It was opined by many that the midnight movie might be--and apparentlywas--rendered obsolete by the DVD revolution of the late nineties.  I’d argue, however, that midnight movies are needed now more than ever, even if they no longer have the allure they once did.
     Some commentators initially believed that DVDs would revolutionize peoples’ viewing habits, making them more open to unusual and/or cultish films.  From what I’ve seen, however, the opposite has occurred.  The sheer proliferation of DVDs seems to have overwhelmed most viewers to the point that they’ve retreated to the safe haven of Blockbuster Video’s New Release shelf.  There’s been no newfound appreciation of cult cinema that I’ve noticed.
     In this atmosphere I’d say it’s even more difficult for hard-to-categorize movies to stand out than it was before the advent of DVDs.  Sure, it’s still possible for quality films to “rise to the surface,” but how?  One answer is the midnight movie circuit, which these days can be made to serve the same function it did back in seventies: as a venue for cutting edge films that would receive little-to-no exposure otherwise.

Midnight Movies Today
     Quite a few film festivals have a “Midnight Madness” program reserved for their more cultish offerings.  Most mainstream movie theaters, alas, do not.  As for those few that do, that’s precisely where the bulk of my annoyance is aimed, and the main reason this essay was written.
     Let’s take a look at the current midnight movie listings for West L.A.’s Nuart Theater and Beverly Hills’ Regency Fairfax, two of the L.A. area’s top cult venues.  The titles listed include “cult classics” like WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, LABYRINTH and GHOSTBUSTERS. 
     Surprisingly, neither list includes what has in recent years become the premiere midnight movie draw after THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: THE GOONIES!

On THE(yecch!!) GOONIES
     THE GOONIES, as you may recall, was a big budget 1985 kids’ movie produced by Steven Spielberg.  It features a bunch of twerps, played by the likes of Josh Brolin, Sean Astin and Corey Feldman, running amok in an impossibly elaborate series of underground caves.  It was a sizeable hit, and remains popular with eighties nostalgia buffs--which it seems is now the target audience for midnight movies.
     What really irks me about THE GOONIES, however, is that it, like GHOSTBUSTERS and LABYRINTH, is often identified as a cult film. 

Another Brief History Lesson
     Here we’ll have to examine just what it is that comprises a Cult Film.  According to Wikipedia, the term denotes “a film that has acquired a highly devoted but relatively small group of fans.”  Does GHOSTBUSTERS, one of the biggest moneymakers of the eighties, fall into this category?  I think not.  How ‘bout the nearly-as-successful WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?  Nope!  For that matter, commonly (mis)identified “cult” movies like the original DAWN OF THE DEAD, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and PULP FICTION don’t fit either, as all were widely distributed mainstream successes.
     Yet however you define cult movies, one thing is for sure: THE GOONIES is not, never was and never will be a cult film 

In Conclusion--Some Good News?
     The good news is that among the midnight movie listings mentioned above are some deserving titles like THE DEVILS, the original NOSFERATU, CHRISTMAS ON MARS and the abovementioned HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH.  I’d suggest that, if you have an interest in cult cinema, you should check some of those films out.  They’ll restore whatever faith you might once have had in alternative filmmaking, which still survives--if only barely.  The midnight movie may be down, but it’s definitely not out.