Back in the 80’s, you couldn’t swing a Members Only jacket over your shoulder without hitting a theater that featured midnight movies on Friday and Saturday nights. In our town, the best spot for midnight shows was a two-screen theater tucked in a strip center along with an Albertsons, Cool Cuts and a night club. The strip center was within walking distance to the university and a taco joint that stayed open until 4am.
As theaters go, it subscribed to the “ambiance? who needs ambiance?” school of architecture. It had a nondescript lobby with low-pile, yellow carpet, brownish walls, a row of tired video games including a Robotron with weak sticks and monitor burn-in, and a snack counter made from furniture liberated from the 50’s. From our perspective, old guys (what, 45?) managed the place and could be counted on to call you out if you tried to pay for your coke with too many dimes.
My friends and I would hit this theater at least once every weekend. Midnight movies had a couple things going for them that my friends and I could relate to. First, they were only $2 and sometimes only $1. This was little more than two gut-rumbler tacos from the place down the street and well within our comfort zone. Second, the atmosphere was more…”open”. The audience was there to enjoy the movie, not review it for the New York Times. No one would scowl if you yelled out a few lines in advance or provided insightful commentary about the motivations of the hero. Watching the movie was a group effort, and if it was a terrible movie, the audience felt obliged to make it better.
Of the films I saw there, the following stand out:
- Revenge of the Nerds. If this isn’t the quintessential midnight movie, I don’t know what is. We saw it so many times we could throw out lines for any of the nerds — from Louis, Gilbert, and Booger to Wormser, Poindexter, Lamar, and Takashi. Who knew that Gilbert (Anthony Edwards) would go on to star in ER?
- Weird Science. Classic 80’s movie written by Mr. 80’s himself, John Hughes. It had a “nerd” theme with a classic delivery — babes, cars, and Oingo Boingo.
- Breakfast Club. Another great John Hughes movie. I knew someone who had a serious crush on Ally Sheedy…and still finds her 80s-licious. Who did those kids think they were anyway?
- Purple Rain. Prince owned much of the 80’s; this movie shows why. I remember the exact moment I first saw the video “When Doves Cry” and was equally transfixed by Purple Rain. Who else went out and bought Ice Cream Castles based on the performance of Morris Day and the Time?
- Aliens. Sigourney Weaver kicking alien butt makes for a good time at any hour of the day. Game over, man.
- Blade Runner. Who can deny Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah?
- Ghost Busters. For me, this movie wasn’t as good as Stripes, but it made a great midnight movie mostly because the entire audience felt obligated to participate from the opening credits to the final copywrite. And as with most midnight movies, the audience ad-libs were often funnier than the scripted lines.
Of course Rocky Horror made an appearance there but we were only able to do the Time Warp for one weekend before the squares-ville manager removed the film from the schedule. He couldn’t tolerate the cups, popcorn containers, Coke, Dr. Pepper, popcorn, Junior Mints, gum drops, M&M’s, Whoppers, Twizzlers, Lemonheads, Dots, rice, oatmeal, and other props strewn about his theater. Don’t blame him, but then again what did he expect? The movie was over 10 years old when he booked it — didn’t he understand it’s history? That and he got pelted with a $1.50 Sprite.
When future cultural historians reconstruct the 1980’s, these movies and midnight screenings will go a long way to explaining the decade. That and Van Halen’s 1984…