Thursday, July 17, 2008


The first Midnight Movie I recall seeing was not exactly at a theater. It was 1960, I was 14 years old, and had a fairly lucrative baby-sitting biz going with a family that lived a few doors down and across the street. I say lucrative because in those days, a girl that age didn’t need much money. We didn’t drive, wear makeup or jewelry; there were no designer clothes, no cell phones, Blackberries, iPods. A brand new 45-rpm record would pretty much put me over the top. That New Years Eve I had my first all night sleepover at my clients' house. Anyway, on New Year’s Eve I had my first (and only) babysitting all-nighter. At fifty cents an hour, boy, was I going to rake in the cash! So, what do you do when you have the whole evening in front of you like that, and no parental supervision of your own? You stay up and watch as much TV as you please. And that New Year’s Eve the late night feature was the original (and at that time the only) movie, Invasion of the Body-Snatchers. Even though Kevin McCarthy’s character is one of the good guys, after seeing this movie I always found him seriously spooky.

By the time the 1970s came around, Midnight Movies had became a genre, and an official date night activity for those of us who were now old enough to stay up late on our own recognizance. There’s a terrific doc about the subject called Midnight Movies: From Margin to Mainstream, that looks at the phenomenon, focusing on six main films that started it all: El Topo (1970), Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Harder They Come (1972), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), and Eraserhead (1977). Of course there were many others in the whole cult, creepy, B-movie, exploitation catalogue. One particular favorite among the late might set (and not just the stoner crowd) was Reefer Madness. This 1936 film was originally targeted at parents as a warning about the dangers of marijuana (those would be manslaughter, hit and run, suicide, rape, and wild dancing), but a 1970s re-cut and changing times turned it into a hilarious cult classic.

I don’t know how many of these movies are still in general midnight circulation these days. How shocking is El Topo after Reservoir Dogs anyway? I think the only true survivor is Rocky Horror. Well, they are still part of our collective experience, and you never know when or where they will turn up. Take this YouTube video, for instance.

Buddy Holly “Rave On” - This is one of my favorite songs by Buddy. It’s really an upbeat little love song. I never would have thought of putting it with footage from Reefer Madness. But, ya know, it actually works, in a weird twisted kind of way. Well, that’s the Midnight spirit all right. And I think I used to have a sweater just like that chick dancing.

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