Remember those places where you paid way too much money to watch something you could rent for three dollars in six months? They reeked of buttered popcorn and cherry soda, had terrible 3D glasses that I sometimes had to wear on top of my normal glasses, and far too often had children crying while watching mature content? Movie theaters! That’s right….
Prior to meeting Stephanie, I usually rented or streamed films, so I wouldn’t have to deal with slow people running the concession stand or an old woman deciding her trash belonged in front of our seats instead of hers. But now, I actually miss movie theaters. I admit that I’ve had wonderful moments in them. Like that time when the guys behind us at Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them loudly speculated about Newt Scamander’s position on the autism spectrum.
Perhaps most of all, I enjoyed the midnight screenings at independent theaters. Fans lined up to watch a Studio Ghibli classic, toss a football during The Room or dance along to the time warp at the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Feeling nostalgic for the simpler times when weirdos gathered to view cult favorites, I’ve decided to share my picks for movies that deserve a midnight screening. These are the campy, weird, schlocky and fun movies that are best viewed in a room full of strangers.
And unlike Cats, which is for some reason predicted by many to become the next midnight screening classic, these are actually entertaining movies you will want to watch.
The Love Witch
This is the film that inspired this list. Made in 2016, Anne Barber’s movie was directed in the style of a ‘70s B-movie and has everything you could want from a cult classic: gore, bad acting, camp, sex and a bunch of weird shit. The title gets straight to the point. This is the tale of a witch named Elain (Samantha Robinson) who uses witchcraft to get men to fall in love with her—but her magic is a little too potent, causing men to die from their obsession with her.
Based on everything I just said, you might assume that this is a so-bad-it’s-good kind of film, but this is a feminist masterpiece. Barber lampoons film conventions, witchcraft and men all in the service of questioning what love is, or if it even exists. And I mean Barber ruthlessly tears men apart, both literally and figuratively. Before they meet their ends, they’re shown as slobbering animals who seem to be so easily taken by Elaine that I doubt she needed witchcraft to cast her spell on them.
Though maybe not the best date film, The Love Witch would make for a wild midnight screening that would have you thinking and laughing.
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace
God bless the Brits for their absurd television shows. With only six episodes that total under two and a half hours, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace can just as easily be enjoyed in one sitting in a theater as at home. If you’re an IT Crowd fan who wanted to see a few of the same cast members but in much more bizarre situations, this is your show.
This parody of ‘80s horror soap operas features fake commentary from its stars, including Garth Marenghi (Matthew Holness) himself, a self-proclaimed “author, dream-weaver, visionary, plus actor.” The show takes place at the Darkplace Hospital where a bunch of freaky sci-fi shit happens, like a drink turning people into apes and a giant eye impregnating a patient. The only thing crazier than the show itself is the bloated egos and delusions of Marenghi and his publisher/co-star Dean Learner (Richard Ayoade), who in their self-aggrandizing statements reveal their bottomless stupidity.
The show is masterfully crafted to look terrible. No detail goes unnoticed—the cheap special effects, how the characters are listed in the opening credits, the orange-tinted make-up of Dr. Luis Sanchez (Matt Berry), the tombstone that inexplicably moves in the first episode. Then there’s the acting. Matt Berry is as ham-fisted as ever, while Holness plays the show’s hero with unrelenting self-seriousness. Ayoade’s/Learner’s “Thornton Reed” is at his most stiff, nasal and awkward.
If this isn’t enough to convince you that Darkplace is a goldmine in midnight movie madness, the last episode also includes a short music video of Berry and Ayoade in full ‘80s cheese.
When I watched this in the early weeks of the pandemic, I thought that I would enjoy the experience more if I could see and hear the reactions of fellow moviegoers after the credits rolled. Maybe they would help me figure out whether I like this thing or not, because I’m still not sure.
Does its super low-budget, rudimentary cutout animation work? Am I the only one who thinks this movie looks like it was made in 1988 instead of 2018? In the English dub, did the actor who voiced the father intentionally sound apathetic, even after the character learned his son was missing? Why do the mutant children look like they have boomboxes inside their heads? Perhaps I should back up….
Violence Voyager, a Japanese movie directed by Ujicha, is the story of a dumbass kid who convinces his annoying friend to visit a shitty theme park in the middle of the woods. Turns out, the sketchy park owner is using the attraction as a lure for dumbass kids, so he can turn them into mutants to feed his own mutant son. (Side note: We get an explanation for why his son becomes a mutant, but I don’t recall an explanation for why he eats mutant children.) What ensues is a bunch of body horror and gore. (Second side note: Instead of animating the blood, Ujicha reached for the ketchup packets.)
I don’t know if I like this, but I know I won’t forget it, and I guarantee midnight moviegoers wouldn’t forget it either. It’s the weird, horror-fairytale that I’m not sure we needed, but it’s cool to have.
Early Almodovar Movies
The great Spanish auteur director Pedro Almodovar has enough gems in his oeuvre for his own film festival. But many of his movies also have all the elements of a great midnight screening. His early work, in particular, is goofy, melodramatic and campy, featuring a nymphomaniac pop star named Sexilia (Labyrinth of Passion), a prison yard dance routine (High Heels), a golden shower in the middle of a knitting lesson (Pepi, Luci, Bom) and a mambo-obsessed taxi driver (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown). Basically, there’s no bad time for Almodovar.
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