Ah, the magic of the movie theater experience. The thrill of anticipation, the smell of the fresh popcorn, the twisted antics of the audience...they all meld to create the indelible tapestry of our moviegoing scrapbook. I have heard the accounts of those who bore witness to Psycho, King Kong, and other such cinematic landmarks being unspooled for the first time and found that most of the films that I have experienced firsthand are pretty much lacking in worth of any kind. I mean, how do you recount the nostalgia engendered by attending the opening night of Night Patrol, an alleged comedy starring Linda Blair and Murray Langston (better known to us aficionados of '70's trash as the Unknown Comic)?
With that earth-shattering question on my mind, I settled on mostly recounting the memorable situations in which I saw some of the worthless flicks that I love and adore, occasionally focusing on the few true classics that have graced my life. And remember, kiddies, cinema is one of the few common threads that modern humanity has, and bad movies are truly one of our uniting factors. Rent John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness and see what I mean; love it or hate it, you'll find yourself strongly opinionated about it, with absolutely no middle ground.
OPENING NIGHT- FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER
In the bygone days of pre-gentrification, Norwalk, Connecticut was a scuzzy little town with a large quotient of criminals, junkie hookers, drugs, violence and questionable activity; sort of Connecticut's answer to Baltimore. In other words, a great place to go for a kid stuck in Westport, the ultra-boring town next door.
The movie theaters in Norwalk ranged from those owned by a theater chain to the independent art/porno/cult movie house, the Sono Cinema. The Sono could get pretty wild, but nothing could compare to a rowdy audience at the infamous Norwalk Theater. Norwalk Theater was the closest thing that Connecticut ever had to the classic Times Square grindhouses insomuch as it specialized in violent, sex-laden exploitation flicks, the kind that drunks and heroin addicts like to sleep it off to. The derelicts in the audience would even make non-sequitor comments at the screen, such as the time when a junkie started yelling "Give her the big one!" enthusiastically during a scene of two cab drivers talking.
Anyway, opening night came along for the "final" film in the utterly worthless Friday the 13th franchise, and I called the theater to get myself and a couple of pals in to see it on opening night (I worked for the Cinema National theater circuit at the time, and got in for free to most theaters in the state). The manager said "Come on down," so my friends and I went. Imagine our surprise when we arrived and found the theater looking like it was in the center of a demilitarized zone.
The front doors had been torn off, popcorn and spilled soda had turned the lobby into a quagmire that required a swamp boat to navigate through, and the poor concession girls were shivering and crying. I asked the manager what the fuck had happened, and over the Zulu Nation-like din that issued from the audience, I heard her tell a tale of misery and violence. She told me that the patrons had been worked up into such a frenzy over the possibility of finally seeing Jason Voorhees (the unkillable bogeyman of the series) get his ass kicked that they had actually stormed the entrance, barbarian-style. The place looked like it had been sacked by an army of crazed Visigoths on a PCP bender, was filled beyond capacity (over 550 seats), and roughly ten people in the audience had paid for admission (yet they did pay for their refreshments. Go figure...). There were even four squad cars full of police in attendance, and the poor bastards advised that it would be best to run the movie or else there would have been a full-scale riot.
My friends and I waded into the tumult, and actually managed to score seats when a bunch of stoners got up to sneak a few bowl-hits behind the screen. The lights went down, and an unholy roar exploded from the adrenaline-charged throng that would have been totally appropriate at a public beheading. The trailer for 7 Doors of Death came on, but it was impossible to see due to the impromptu shower of popcorn and malt liquor that obscured the screen. A chant of "Jay-son! Jay-son!" began and only died down when the main feature began.
What followed can only be called the greatest display of audience participation that it has ever been my pleasure to witness. Foul rejoinders hurled at characters who couldn't respond, people in the balcony sticking their hands into the projector beam and creating shadow hands that played with the actresses' tits, an out-of-nowhere sing-along to the old "car rock" hit "GTO" (which would have made a modicum of sense if the song had been included in the film)... Folks, we're talking two hours of humor, insanity and "will I make it out of this movie alive?" terror. If I could download the memory of this show and sell it on DVD, I would be a millionaire overnight.
Epilogue- the crowd dispersed peacefully, no one was arrested and the doors were repaired the very next day. Surprisingly, the subsequent showings went off without incident. Oh, and Jason is killed by a young, machete-wielding Corey Feldman (until he returns two films later-don't ask).
KILL OR BE KILLED- I saw this one in White Plains, New York back in 1980. Basically, it was a really bad South African martial arts film that was utterly unremarkable and a total ripoff of the basic Enter The Dragon tournament formula. The star was some talentless hack named James Ryan who attempted to capture Bruce Lee's sense of menace, but he was a big, fat zero of personality onscreen.
What made this movie a hell of a lot of fun was a small group of juvenile delinquents sitting in the back of the theater who made scathing and hilarious comments from start to finish, most of which had to do with their doubts about our hero's sexual orientation. However, their best barbs were reserved for the villain, a Hitler-wannabe who had a hand puppet that acted as his other personality (pre-dating South Park's Mr. Hat by about 17 years). The squeaky voice that they gave to the puppet while he was supposed to be saying something ominous will live forever in my memory. Picture this Hitler guy looking at his hand and having it say (in a voice reminiscent of Mickey Mouse) "Hey! Can I play with your dick?" Upon hearing that bit of improv, an irate father stormed out of the theater with his highly amused nine-year-old in tow.
OPENING NIGHT: NEW JACK CITY ON TIMES SQUARE- I went to see this now legendary "gangsta" opus during the last days of the pre-Disney Times Square, and the theater was packed with drunks, junkies, hookers, loud hip-hop fans (who considerately brought their blaring boom boxes), myself and my buddies Joe and Nina — the only two melanin-deprived people in the entire audience.
The room was thick with the fetid stench of low-grade ditch weed and semen, as the air chimed with the clink of discarded forty-ounce malt liquor bottles rolling under the knife-slashed seats. The floors were sticky with all manner of questionable effluvium, ranging from semi-crusty wino vomit to spilled soda that was acting as a breeding ground for minute flies. True Times Square ambience at its best!
My friends and I settled into the general chaos, and once the lights went down we realized that we were seated in front of a charming young crackhead couple. From the second the movie started, the crackhead chick loudly and violently berated her boyfriend for being "too muthafukkin' cheap" to go out and buy her more crack, when he had instead spent money on a large soda. The poor bastard seemed to shrink before my eyes as her nonstop torrent of abuse escalated into a sort of theater of the absurd. It got so bad that my friend Joe turned around and offered the guy some popcorn as a consolation (which struck me as not only funny, but humiliating to the point where I was afraid they guy would whip out a gun and ventilate Joe right then and there). Mister crackhead politely declined Joe's offer.
By about two-thirds of the way through the film (when Chris Rock's "Pookie" character was smoking tons of crack and furiously over-acting), the guy gave in to utter defeat and slinked out of the theater, screeching harpy at his side, and in search of her next fix. There was a brief silence when they left, and then some guy yelled out to the projectionist "Hey, nigga! Rewind this muthafukka so we can hear the muthafukka from the muthafukkin' beginnin'!" It was at that point that the entire audience broke up laughing; we all realized that we had been so absorbed in the crackhead antics that we hadn't noticed that the film had a plot and dialogue!
On a side note: unlike some of the opening weekend theaters in the Bronx and Long Island, surprisingly there were no murders at the Times Square showings of this film.
THE IRATE PRICK AT THE OPENING NIGHT OF SCARFACE- Let's face it: you don't go to see a movie like Brian De Palma's remake of Scarface if you're looking for wholesome family fare. This film has achieved legendary status for its copious amounts of gratuitous violence, ultra-indulgent cocaine use, and one of the all-time most flagrant uses of the word "fuck" ever committed to celluloid. In short, it ain't for the kiddies.
I saw Scarface at Westport's tiny little hole-in-the-wall theater Fine Arts IV on opening night, and the crowd was clearly in a bloodthirsty mood. When the scene with the now-infamous chainsaw torture came on, a middle-aged couple got up and bolted for the exit. The male of the couple stopped at the door and yelled, "The fact that you people are actually bearing witness to this filth voluntarily makes me vomit!!!" That pointed observation was met with a 300-person chorus of "Fuck You" that did my heart proud. He huffed and stamped impotently and fled into the night. The fucking pussy.
These are far from my only true life movie theater adventures and I will add more, but what about you? Do you have any such tales? Write in and share, ya bastids!