With the DVD explosion, the “midnight movie” “ that is, witching-hour screenings of oddball films that bring the drug-addled out in droves “ is a thing of the past. Originally shown on the cable channel Starz, the documentary “Midnight Movies” explores the birth of this cultural phenomenon through clips and interviews aplenty.
According to the filmmakers, the surreal, bloody, graphic Mexican import “El Topo” was the spark that took flame, playing for years on a single screen and packing houses every time. Proving that a cult following likes to keep things that way, expanding “El Topo” to a regular theatrical run proved a bomb.
George Romero’s low-budget “Night of the Living Dead” was ill-received upon its release, but midnight screenings kept it alive and repaired its rep; today, it’s considered one of the best horror films of all time. Without that devoted repeat audience, Romero’s career zenith may have remained the footage he shot of kids’ show host Mister Rogers undergoing a tonsillectomy (the hilarious footage is here, believe it or not).
Other films examined in detail are John Waters’ fecal-fest “Pink Flamingos,” the Jamaican crime film “The Harder They Come,” David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” and, of course, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The directors of each are interviewed, and it’s quite a coup to have Lynch here, considering he hardly appears on his own DVDs.
With nods to “Freaks,” “Reefer Madness” and more, “Midnight Movies” is an enlightening and lively look at and tribute to a bygone era that forever changed cinema.