Midnight Movie Disaster or:
Or Why I Walked Out On The Rocky Horror Picture Show
By Bret Dorman
I love Midnight Movies. Here’s where I currently stand as a movie watcher/critic. Here’s where I currently stand as a filmmaker. Here’s my first Midnight Movie review for Rolling Thunder. I also am really proud of these reviews for Jurassic Park and The Thing. I’ve been going to Midnight Movies at Music Box Theatre here in Chicago pretty regularly (almost every single week, regardless of what’s playing) for two years. TWO. YEARS. And I had never seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Ever.How did this happen? Well, for starters, RHPS wasn’t ever really my kind of movie. Now my tastes have grown (not just matured, but literally grown in size to accommodate more kinds of movies) and I’m more than willing to give it a shot. I never wrote a piece for my The Room movie going experience but I felt it was a mixed bag. Yes the movie is poorly written and weirdly staged, but oddly enough it kind of serves as this weird unintentional commentary on the Hollywood/Sitcom Formula by using every cliche so haphazardly. But instead of celebrating this weird movie I got a bunch of douche-bags running around playing football anytime the characters on the screen played football so they could show everyone how cool they were that they were in on the ‘joke.’ Right…
I decided to finally cave in and go to a showing of RHPS. After all I am leaving Chicago so I won’t be going to Music Box regularly and that is the birthplace of my Midnight Movie Mentality when it comes to filmmaking. I was under the impression that RHPS was the Ultimate or Quintessential Midnight MOVIE (emphasis on movie). I was extremely wrong.
A couple of clarifications before I get into things. I’ve been “struggling” with this idea of “it’s-so-bad-it’s-good” for a while. When Cinemapocalypse came into town to show some “bad” movies everyone there including the two presenters from Alamo Drafthouse were all “in on it.” To watch a movie and enjoy it ‘ironically’ or to make fun of it while at the same time saying you ‘like it’ just seems ridiculous. It seems, to us anyway, if you’re going to like a movie then like it. Don’t be ashamed. Why have a Guilty Pleasure when you can just take pleasure in a movie for what it is. And Americans have been spoiled by a very high quality when it comes to movies. Even the shitty ones usually fit into some sort of formula and the technical skill involved is all top notch (Battleship anyone?). But then people like to look down on any movie that is made not out of a desire to sell something but out of passion, because it doesn’t look polished. At Cinemapocalypse however, everyone was willing to go into the world the movie set up and fill in some of those blanks that most people scoff at. We see the movie for what its trying to be and admire the passion to make a story unmolested by multiple test screenings, four quadrant charts, and relentless product placement. I don’t understand how people can say “I wish someone could do something original and fun and different” but then they look at a movie and tear it apart even though its trying for all those things.Lastly before we get into this, audience participation is tricky. My very first Music Box Massacre (24 hours straight of just horror movies) I was blown away by the crowd. They cheered and clapped and applauded the ENTIRE TIME and at all the ‘right’ parts, in celebration of the movies. They appreciated what they were watching and showed it on a grand scale. Horror fans are the best fans to see movies with. Period. They take the movies seriously, but also love having fun with them. Every once in a while you’d get some a-hole who’d try to shout out a funny one liner or mock the movie but the crowd wouldn’t encourage them by laughing. In fact if some people were being too persistent to get a laugh or making fun OF the movie other die hard horror fans would just yell back “SHUT UP!” Nice.
- THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW
After getting my ticket I joined the ‘Penis’ line (not the ‘Vagina’ one) to get a security check. Now I live right inbetween the Jock-Frat Boy part of Chicago (Clark St. right by Wrigley Field) and the gay part of town (aka Boystown, Halstead St.) and when we had a Blockbuster by us I would take some late night strolls down one street then back down the other. I would often pass transvestites or flamboyantly dressed people. But this would mark the first time I was actually going to a place for something involving a high amount of crossdressing. I assume that’s why the lines were divided into ‘Penis’ and ‘Vagina’ instead of ‘Men’ and ‘Women.’ But as I was being patted down and asked if I had any knives, mace, or weapons I was wondering if this was just part of the show or if they had a serious problem with violence in the past. I thought to myself “Geez, I know this is supposed to be wild but there’s no way its THAT wild! right…?”Wrong. As I entered the theater I saw a giant dance party at the front by the stage that sits just under the screen. Not a timid dance party, but a full on club vibe. This was a bad omen. I don’t like clubs. Most people assume it is because I am self conscious about my dancing skillz (which is partially true). But really I just don’t like being in a loud environment that’s hot and muggy, filled with a bunch of people rhythmically moving around me getting all sweaty. I just don’t like being in the middle of crowds. Take away the conversation aspect (I hate trying to have one in a loud music environment) and I’m just left to over-think what I should be doing with my body as I try to “feel” the music. I over-think everything, so when people tell me to just relax its like telling a dog to “just relax” at a party filled with people dropping food scraps all over the place. Impossible.
I sit in my usual seat (first aisle from the left, second section from the screen, third row from the front, third seat from the aisle) and watch the people dance. I don’t need to be a part of it and since I am alone I don’t have anyone bugging me to join them. (Side Note: RHPS is definitely the most awkward movie to go to alone. Second is maybe Magic Mike (as a dude). Third is any ‘kids’ movie (as a 26 year old dude with a full on beard)) The crowd goes NUTS at the start of ANY song, of which included Oh Mickey, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, YMCA, Gangnam Style, and more. Apparently some TV Crew was filming something for something (RHPS Anniverary?) so the show started later than usual. I’d say they “got started” at around 20 after midnight. Maybe 12:30…
And of course the start wasn’t the start. They had to introduce the movie. This is where everything went downhill. As I mentioned, Midnight Madness was there to make sure there was enough enthusiasm for the night. Having still never seen RHPS, I only know a little bit about the actual content/plot. I think it involves freaks, fetishes, crossdressers, trannies, aliens (?) and something called a Time Warp. Oh, and lots of sex? So it celebrates those who are ‘different.’ To my understanding, getting a bunch of ‘this is who I am and I’m proud of it!’ people to watch a movie that encourages people to be who they are and proud of it does not need EXTRA energy. That’s like throwing kerosine into a rocket ship’s tank. We’ve already got the rocket fuel.
For starters… Midnight Madness had their mics turned WAY up and decided, to help us show how excited they were and thus how excited we the audience should be, that they would YELL every single thing into the mic. They went through 7 rules. I didn’t understand a god damn word. I gathered something about no fire, no sex, yell a lot, and throw stuff, but don’t do any real damage to the movie theater. Someone would hold up big poster boards with numbers. After every number rule the crowd would shout “Rule Number 1, ah ah ah” like The Count from Sesame Street. For some reason (maybe out of reference to the movie? Still don’t know) there was no Rule 3. They addressed it, but openly skipped it.You could tell why Midnight Madness had so many people ‘on staff’ or in the crowd or waiting to ‘(re-)enact’ the movie… because at Rule 1 and 2 the crowd was LOUD! By Rule 7 the crowd was significantly less enthusiastic. If you have to make up stuff to have fun at a movie instead of letting the movie speak for itself… something ain’t right. I’m not a fan of ‘forced energy’. The movie should create and supply enough energy for the crowd of people who want to be there. The mere fact of going somewhere just to shout things, thus bringing in your own foreign energy right from the get go, is not healthy movie crowd behavior. It’s annoying.
Okay. So we made it through the rules. Next up… COSTUME CONTEST! Anyone wearing a costume or funny outfit up to the front! ANY. ONE. There were a total of about 15 people, divided into about 9 guys and 6 girls. We went through every single person and gave our cheers for best guy costume and best lady costume. Then we narrowed it down to 5 guys and 3 girls. Then we went through all of them again. The two winners were just some dude in nothing but gold short short spandex shorts and some girl in a white bra and white half-slip. Even though it wasn’t a couples contest they were actually a couple. So that’s nice for them, a little badge of honor and fun story to tell their friends.
After the stage cleared, it was time for all the RHPS Virgins to go up. Anyone who hadn’t seen the movie in a theater had to go to the front. Uh… okay… I put down my soda and popcorn (which I got at some point during the dance party at the start of the HOUR…) and walked up. There were probably about 40 of us. Some had red ‘V’s on their faces. The ‘MC’ of the night shouted a bunch of things into his mic and the crowd called us Slut and Asshole or something, which is what we were supposed to take as a lesson on what to shout at some characters every time they appeared on screen. Again I don’t know what characters because the ‘MC’ was unintelligible (this will be a recurring theme). Then the audience flipped us off and shouted “FUCK YOU!” I had been properly RHPS hazed. This was more than I bargained for but whatever, at this point I’m still trying to have fun.
We were told to go back to our seats. Except four people with ‘V’ faces. They stayed. We got their names and then told they would do a drag race. They were split into two dudes and two ladies. Each duo was given a GIANT pair of underwear and told they would have to run down their separate aisles in a race. The dudes each had one leg in the underwear while the ladies had opted for each one being in one leg hole. They were given the “GO!” and they took off, racing down the ailse… through the open doors, into the lobby and… … … … … nothing. In an awkward 30 seconds of everyone staring back at the lobby, one of the Midnight Madness people ran up to tell them to race BACK down. The ladies (who would of won anyway) bolted while the dudes awkwardly jaunted back. That 30 second time lapse was due to the fact the ‘MC’ couldn’t explain his own “we’re-all-here-to-have-fun” (aka ‘forced energy’) little stunt because NO ONE could tell what he was saying. Every contestant got some silly prize.
Okay. By now I’m just ready to get this over with. Costume Contest. De-Virginizing. Drag Race. There’s a reason they do this kind of shit at the regularly scheduled breaks in play (inbetween quarters, periods, innings, what have you) during a sports game… because anyone not doing a beer run, running to buy merchandise, going to the bathroom, just walking around to stretch their legs, or engaged in conversation with their friends, has nothing else better to do. These games are for kids and parents to participate in so they feel like they’re getting their money’s worth and to justify them coming back. But RHPS is a movie. For adults. As Gary Oldman said in The Professional:
But we were not done with this Mickey Mouse Bullshit. We still had to take ‘The Pledge.’ (If you have to pledge to have fun at a movie designed to be fun, you’re not doing something right…) We were instructed to place our right hand over our hearts and our left hand over our baby makin’ parts. Then… the ‘MC’ loudly shouted out our oath in chunks. Even people who had no ‘V’s on their faces or had been there before (I eavesdropped a little on the people in front of me at the beginning of the HOUR…) had no idea what to say. Clearly the only people who did were the only people who already knew the oath.
FINALLY we were instructed to sit and enjoy. The curtain raised. People applauded. Then on the screen… something started. A small town. Clearly a miniature. A trolley.
I applaud. Nothing. The trailer for Dead Alive continues. People seem mildly enthusiastic. They applaud at the end, me being the loudest and most enthusiastic of them. Then we are treated to the trailer for Beverly Hills Cop II and Megaforce. Okay I understand the trailer part. Midnight Movie, funny trailers for cool & corny movies, all from around the same time period that you’d see in the same theater as RHPS. I can get behind this part.
I was feeling my best of the night. And then. At around 1 am (the START of a brand new beginning of the HOUR…) RHPS actually began to play and everything took a violent 180 degree turn to shit town.
The movie started and two very pretty ladies (who may not have been ladies? Uh oh!) started lip synching the opening credits. The crowd, mostly led by the main Midnight Madness ‘MC’ dude shouting inbetween EVERY SINGLE LINE of the song. And a whole crowd shouting at once can be hard to understand. Then I couldn’t understand the movie because of the left over ‘crowd noise’ from inbetween shouting. This was the rest of my night… Not understanding the movie OR the crowd. Just a bunch of people sitting in a theater making loud noise. The girls had moved to the aisles and put on candy stripper trays and started throwing candy in the crowd. I got none.
I thought things had to get better. This was the opening credits. I kept thinking of my soda as being half full of Sprite. Opening credits. Rambunctious crowd. It’ll get better. It HAS to get better.
Wrong. Again. The movie opened on some wedding and IMMEDIATELY people from Midnight Madness in costume came out on stage, actually in front (but just off to the side) of the screen. They started acting out the movie!!! What. The. Fuck. I knew there would be audience participation and during some of the songs (especially the Time Warp one) I figured people would get up and dance but this… this is overkill.
I’m the kind of guy who, when the subtitles are on for a movie, even if it’s in English, will read the subtitles. I’m also the kind of guy who, at a party, when someone has a movie I haven’t seen on in the background, will go to a different part of the party. Because if if I can’t give a movie I haven’t seen my full attention (or at least most of it) then I don’t want to watch it. So this was torture for me. The (re-)enacters (I put ‘re’ in parentheses to emphasis how unnecessary the enacting was) acted like subtitles. I had to watch them. But they were also not good. They only lip-synched about 50% of the dialogue correctly. It was like when a rap song comes on and you sing along, but you only know the words at the end of a line, you know, the rhyming ones… so you just mumble the first part, then shout the rhyme word, then mumble, shout.
The crowd remained ever
enthusiastic obnoxious. Shouting ANY TIME a character was not talking or for characters or just nonsense over what a character was saying. Now I was beginning to realize the crowd was there to play by THEIR rules, not the rules of the movie. The movie provided the backdrop, but the crowd had brought in their own ‘forced energy’ and was off in their own little world. I was not watching RHPS. I was watching chaos.
But having re-entered to some scene where people are in a car, I just heard screams. Inaudible screams. I looked to the side to see who I think was the main Midnight Madness ”MC’ (at least he was wearing one of their shirts) just SHOUTING a bunch of NONSENSE. Like it was an open mic but everyone had to perform at the same time. And he wanted to get all his jokes out because his were clearly the funniest and most RHPS appropriate (aka the most ‘forced energized’). Seeing this, as well as the ‘actors’ doing their thing along with a bunch of people just bringing out home made props in front on the stage area… I had too much. I had to make a choice. Could I really sit through this movie while not being able to understand ANYTHING that was going on? No.
I walked out.
Angry at Midnight Madness and the crowd, I left in a fury. I was pissed. Why the fuck would you put on an entire amateur play DIRECTLY IN FRONT of the movie at the SAME TIME? Pick one or the other. I’m TOTALLY game for sweded movies done live with everything being home made and from the heart. But you don’t RUN THE MOVIE AT THE SAME TIME. It’s like if instead of just remaking Psycho shot for shot, Gus Van Sant decided to play both versions split screen in theaters. It’s a terrible idea. Period.
And the crowd. As I mentioned. I’m ALL for audience participation. But I this was not participation. They had taken over the steering wheel. They were in complete control, while simultaneously being completely out of control. There’s a HUGE difference between going to a movie to have fun and having fun at a movie. Honestly, I think the only reason why this culture developed around RHPS is because people identified with its ‘be who you are and proud of it’ themes expressed mostly musically and then everyone started competing (pre-internet days) for who was being themselves THE MOST and having THE MOST FUN and was THE MOST PROUD!
So I’ll let the RHPS crowd and Midnight Madness have The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But let’s get something clear. While I have nothing against the actual film itself (still haven’t seen it)… It is NOT the quintessential Midnight Movie. It’s the quintessential Midnight Moronic Experience to participate in while a movie is played in the background. If you’re looking for an actual MOVIE to GIVE you an experience on its own accord, I stand by my pick of Dead Alive. For when I saw that movie, at Music Box, at Midnight, with a crowd that had less than half of the one RHPS did… at the part when the baby zombie is about to get revealed… someone in the audience, who had clearly never seen the movie before, genuinely exclaimed out loud for everyone to hear “HELL NO. You’ve got to be kidding me!” The rest of us, already in on the joke of the movie, laughed. Not because the baby zombie was about to be revealed in full, but because we knew it was only about to get even more bat-shit crazy.
When Lionel enters with the lawnmower, the crowd erupted into applause. A genuine applause I would take over any ‘forced energy’ applause ANY day. ANY night. ANY Midnight Movie.
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