So hello all. This is the first in likely many different series set up for the grand reason of just getting me to see more movies and write more reviews. I should probably get around to writing an intro for the blog, but let it be known here that I do not just want to use this as a blog for writing about new movies, especially since such blogs are already flooding the internet. To that extent, and as a means to attempt, however poorly, to throw some semblance of order upon my life and this blog, I don’t want to simply post things randomly. As much as I like chaos when it comes to critical theory, I feel like the internet world won’t agree with me, and for both my and your sake, I think this will all go over much more easily with semi-regimented posts (you know, the ones that actually force me to keep a deadline, cause I am totally all into self-policing in all manners of life).
And with that, I want to introduce this first feature: Midnight Screenings, where I primarily hope to review “midnight movies”, which as I define them entail … just about anything I want to call a midnight movie. No, but seriously. This is a notoriously vague term for a film, less a genre and more a mood or an aura. They are typically described as B movies or cult films, although these two are not synonymous and neither is perfectly equatable with the midnight movies. In general, these are movies that don’t gain widespread popular appeal but which nonetheless attain a certain core audience that really enjoys them. To this extent, they are usually contrasted with high-brow films attaining a similar cult by their assumedly “low brow” nature, or quite simply the fact that they approximate horror, sci-fi, action, fantasy or some other less than legitimate genre of film. Now, it’s quite obvious that many of those genres have become legitimate over time. Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey are science fiction films, but they aren’t cult films by any means due to their popularity and renown (even though it’s pretty easy to make a case for Star Wars as a B movie). So there’s more to this qualification than mere genre or theme.
Much of it, admittedly, has to do with the non-diegetic film, which is to say it is predicated on the audience’s reaction to the film and the life it has taken on off the screen. The classic example, of course, is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. We’re all aware of the cultural phenomenon associated with this film – when people see it in a theater, their actions in the theater clearly pass beyond the film and render it performative and fresh. But I maintain that this is primarily based in the film, as is the case for most such movies. This is to say that there is typically something about the movie which draws audiences to react to movies by wanting to gather together in communal audiences well past their assumed bedtime, if they are good citizens of course, and spend their time basking in it.
Of course, the appeal of the films is often linked to their production cost and the idea that they approximate entertainment on a way-lower-than-average budget. Related to this is some manner of ironic appreciation for films people feel – Plan 9 From Outer Space is a cult movie, one of the granddaddy’s of the genre, but it is unabashedly a bad movie. The appeal becomes the idea of the movie as “bad” and the joy of watching something fail so miserably at its stated intent. But for many movies, irony doesn’t come into play, and for my series, I primarily want to stay clear of this and concentrate on an actual commentary on the film’s success related to its assumed intent. As a rule, something about the film’s vibe, aura, or mood may live on in the face of poor acting, scripting, or directing, and this is for me usually the appeal of a B-movie, something unconventionally filmic, but filmic and related directly to the film’s un-ironic success nonetheless. This may include simply the fact that the film flaunts the conventions of “good” and “sensible” film and seems to exist in its own world, playing by its own rules, and having a gleeful time with them. May include, but often entails more than this.
Now, of course, not all cult movies are B-movies. Many of the films I’ll cover here require no such unconventional praise for the simple reason that they are in more conventional terms extremely effective films, but films which didn’t find audiences at their release due to wider social conflict or a sense that they were inappropriate or profane. Of course, the success of a midnight movie tends to hold links to their counter-cultural vibe, or a counter-cultural vibe the film has since taken on. Many deal explicitly with counter-cultural themes, but most importantly, again, is the mood, or the way in which they handle the themes. So a BIG IMPORTANT MOVIE which deals with race or class wouldn’t be a midnight movie because it approaches its themes in move conventionally accepted “dramatic” ways and hinges, usually, on its relationship to a legitimate reality. B-movies, as a rule, flaunt reality quite openly and their appeal lies in the tensions of the reality the film sets up for itself and our reality. Thus, a horror movie which implicitly deals with racial tensions through, for instance, the idea of zombie hordes (not naming any names), is more likely to be a midnight movie than a movie which approaches the theme of race by setting up a more conventional filmic reality, even if it’s a hard-hitting one, for instance Fruitvale Station or 12 Years a Slave, even when we don’t want to admit they are the reality of our world.
And with that said, I must admit that the “midnight movie” status is amorphous and fluid and, on this blog, will mostly come down to a certain feeling I get when I watch a movie. This is obviously much less formal than a movie which makes me sit back and say “yes, indeed, that undoubtedly felt like a low-budget counter-cultural horror, sci-fi, action, or fantasy movie which approached its filmic-ness in a different way from more conventional films”, but you get the idea. There aren’t any clear-cut, specific rules, which, considering the nature of midnight movies and their famously rock-n-roll rule-breaking nature, seems appropriate.
With all that settled, or at least vaguely explored in a way that probably doesn’t remotely approach settling anything, I’m going to begin this (hopefully) weekly series by doing nothing else other than completely breaking from my initial goal of this series. Not only that, but I’m going to one-up myself and break it three times. For, I am not going to review any appreciably “older” films this week. I’m going to start, appropriately I think, by picking the three movies I am most confident about claiming as “midnight movies”, all of which have been released in the past three years. How am I confident? Because of that “feeling”? Because of the mood of the films? Because of their counter-cultural vibe? No, quite honestly. I’m confident these films qualify because these are the only three movies I have ever in a literal sense seen at a midnight screening of a non-wide release film intended as a special showing (excluding the ever-popular midnight release for a new big budget movie, which doesn’t count here because they aren’t midnight screenings). I’ve seen other midnight movies in similar situations, which is to say in special screenings set up for the film, but they were always at some godforsaken time like 8:00 pm or 10:00 pm. You know, those times where film goers can vaguely feel like they’re being a rebel for seeing some midnight-style movie after dark, but not really at midnight. Perhaps it’s just an unhappy miracle that the three I actually saw at midnight all happened to be recently released films. But in the world of midnight movies unhappy accidents are prone to happening.