Thursday, February 28, 2008


Written by Mark Nelson

Some of my favorite movie-house memories are of seeing odd, strange, and rare film prints unspool after the Witching Hour, screened by my college film society and in the hipper theaters of Boston. These screenings brought me old favorites, long-read-about obscurities, and things that no sane programmer would run in the more respectable 7 & 9PM showings. Euro-horror, mondo-documentaries, 60s counterculture epics...all were given their due on the big screen, devoured by an audience of cinemaniacs hungry for something different.

Long after the respectable film-goers were home and safely home in their beds, the late-night cinematic thrill-seekers would emerge C.H.U.D.-like from the dark corners of the city, to converge upon the flickering forbidden images of the Midnight Show.

Sadly, it seems that the tradition of the Midnight Movie has evolved into something different these days, with films like ERASERHEAD and WILD IN THE STREETS being passed over for popular mainstream blockbusters of the 80s and 90s, the audiences more interested in a nostalgia trip back to 10 years ago, filled with the thrill of laughing at old clothes and hairstyles, lacking the cinematic curiosity and adventurousness that caused a generation of Midnighters to expand their horizons by the light of a flickering screen.

So it is perhaps quite appropriate at this time that we see MIDNIGHT MOVIES: FROM THE MARGIN TO THE MAINSTREAM, as both a fascinating look at the phenomenon, as well as somewhat of an epitaph for it as well. MIDNIGHT MOVIES chronicles not only the histories of the films that made their initial mark via Midnight showings (EL TOPO, ERASERHEAD, PINK FLAMINGOS, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, THE HARDER THEY COME), but also talks to the theater owners and distribution men who made sure audiences got to see these things in the first place. That MIDNIGHT MOVIES focuses more on the distribution and exhibition of the films, rather than their production histories (though that is covered with some amusing anecdotes from the original filmmakers as well) sets this doc apart from other cult movie examinations, and in my mind gives it a leg up on the competition. MIDNIGHT MOVIES takes you from that first screening on EL TOPO in NYC, to the genesis of the ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW phenomenon and beyond. Interviewed are Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, John Waters, Richard O'Brien, Perry Henzell, along with clips of their infamous works.

If I had one complaint about the presentation of MIDNIGHT MOVIES on DVD, it would be the lack of additional interview clips as a supplement to the main feature. Surely there were more anecdotes and stories the filmmakers captured from this gathering of icons that would be interesting to hear.

I had a blast with MIDNIGHT MOVIES: FROM THE MARGIN TO THE MAINSTREAM. It was nice to see the unsung heroes of underground cinema get their moment in the spotlight, and it made me more than a tad nostalgic for those late-night big-screen walks on the wild side.

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