At midnight, when the programming of “classic” films comes to an end, the “Midnight Movies” take over! A look back at 10 feature films that brought together moviegoers and non-conformists, at night, in dark rooms…
What is a “Midnight Movie”?
We are in the early 1970s, in an alley in New York, a little before midnight. The doors of the cinema flew open and let a stream of spectators escape onto the sidewalk – the last of the day. But while we hasten to call a taxi or run to catch the last metro, a new queue begins to form in front of the cinema.
The people who compose it have come to see the “midnight movie” of the moment: a low-budget feature film which a friend who is a cinephile probably told them about as being the pinnacle of the avant-garde, a concentrate of provocation and non-conformism that no exhibitor would ever have dared to broadcast during the day.
At that time, the midnight screenings were therefore, at the same time as real rendezvous for cinephiles, the only solution for these B series films to exist despite their often irreverent nature, going for some to carve out a name in the history of cinema…
“El Topo” (1970)
Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky Screened for the first time in New York in 1970, this underground western is considered the very first “midnight movie”. Retracing the initiatory quest of a cowboy seeking to defy the Four Masters of the Desert for the love of a woman, the film is shot in Mexico illegally, and brings together a cast of non-professionals, often disabled. It was thanks to its midnight broadcast at The Elgin cinema that it created the event at the time, and gradually carved out the reputation of a cult film among avant-garde film buffs (including a certain John Lennon) who crowd in the evening in front of the cinemas.
Directed by Tod Browning Doomed to a bitter failure on its first theatrical release in the 1930s by a scandalized public and outraged critics, this disturbing dive into the daily life of “fairground monsters” is given a new chance at the start the 1970s, when the “midnight movies” movement began to emerge. Today considered a classic of cinema, Freaks is therefore rehabilitated by midnight moviegoers, whom the strange characters of Tod Browning are in no way likely to scare away.
“Night of the Living Dead” (1970)
Directed by George A. Romero Three years after its official theatrical release, Romero’s cult film returned to haunt theaters from midnight in the early 1970s. – political text that transforms it into a real metaphor for the Viet Nam War makes Night of the Living Dead a perfect “midnight movie”!
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975)
Directed by Jim Sharman Probably THE best example of a “midnight movie” possible! After its chilly reception in the normal circuit, The Rocky Horror Picture Show hastens to find a second wind in midnight programming. It very quickly acquired a real core of fans among night-time spectators and a cult film status that it still retains today. A true homage to B-movies, this trashy and irreverent musical is one of the films with the longest theatrical longevity.
“Easy Rider” (1969)
Directed by Dennis Hopper True standard-bearer of New Hollywood and the hippie movement in the United States, Easy Rider retraces the initiatory journey of two bikers across America. Its risque and psychedelic sequences make it the perfect “midnight movie”, but this time audiences are on board even in the classic circuit, and Easy Rider can also ride in broad daylight on the road to success.
“Pink Floyd The Wall” (1982)
Directed by Alan Parker A true concert of Pink Floyd on the big screen, this feature film directed by the father of Midnight Express and written by Roger Waters himself offers a psychedelic, disenchanted and committed musical spectacle. Combining live images and innovative animated sequences, it is punctuated by the band’s songs that literally stick to the film.
“Evil Dead” (1981)
Directed by Sam Raimi Hailed by Stephen King as “the most ferociously original horror film of the year” upon its release in 1981, Evil Dead pushes the boundaries of gore and breaks free from its low-budget production status to become a cult film, and even a franchise, recently adapted into series.
“Pink Flamingos” (1972)
Directed by John Waters “She lives in a caravan in the United States. The object of many desires, she uses all means to defend her glory. She indeed claims the title of the most foul being on Earth… “The synopsis of Pink Flamingos, accompanied by its poster on which the singer drag queen Divine struts around, leaves no room for doubt: the feature film by John Waters is a provocative and deliberately shocking work, whose images and themes are at the limit of sustainability. What to offer a nice night program in cinemas.
“Eraser Head” (1977)
Directed by David Lynch Entitled Labyrinth Man in French, David Lynch’s first feature film has everything it takes to appear in a midnight screening of a cinema. Oppressive atmosphere, traumatic images, and experimental dive into a visually terrifying universe… It is however considered one of the last films of the “midnight movies” phenomenon in the 70s, drowned by the arrival on the market of the VHS.
“The Room” (2003)
Directed by Tommy Wiseau Regularly broadcast in midnight screenings, this film is known to many moviegoers, not for its directing qualities or for its originality, but for its mediocrity. Indeed, called “Citizen Kane of bad movies” by Entertainment Weekly, The Room is considered by many to be one of the worst feature films ever made, quite simply… Ridiculous acting, incoherent script, poor dialogues, everything is good to take in this real phenomenon of the nanar… which logically, makes it a cult film.