it’s always sexier when you do it in public

Blogger Buddy Rick over at Stop the Planet of the Apes- I Want to Get Off! wrote an inspirational post about his favorite experiences seeing movies in the theater. Nowadays when you go and your shoes are stuck to the floor and half the place is lit up from kids texting on cell phones, and several rows are holding dissertations on what they did at the mall today, and someone is translating the movie into another language for their mom*, we rarely have good memories of movie theaters. But Rick inspired me to think of my best movie theater memories, and here they are, in no particular order. Except I’ll probably save the best for last, so you finish it. Or maybe I’ll put it in the middle, so you don’t skip to the end. Ha! Whatever will you do, but read the whole damn thing?

To Sir With Love
I saw this with Firecracker in Bryant Park in Manhattan during their summer film Mondays. Before the screen was filled with Sydney Poitier’s manly dignity, and contrasted him with poor white cockney kids, they showed two Warner Brothers film shorts, including one that had some horribly racist ’40s-era caricatures of African jungle tribesmen. The crowd was silent. Being a Looney Tunes fan, I’d seen it before and knew what was coming, and didn’t think it was one of the better cartoons like Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, that is worth watching despite its caricatures. But it was the perfect, banal counterpart to the groundbreaking film that would suggest romance between a young white student and her black teacher. In 20 short years, how things had changed. Even hateful dreck like Tokio Jokio deserves to be preserved. We tend to assume things were always better in the past, and if we let the bad parts fade into obscurity, we’ll begin to believe it. Contrast this with when I saw Blazing Saddles for the Warner Brothers 75th Anniversary film festival at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis, when scads of people walked out, stunned and offended at the use of the “N-word,” even though it remains one of the most poignant spoofs and skewerings of American racial relations as of 1976. That festival also led me to seeing Goodfellas, The Godfather, and many other classics on the big screen for the first time. I wish there were more revival theaters, but around here I think we just have The Film Forum.

Aliens, 70mm
This was one of many films I saw at a now forgotten revival cinema in the Twin Cities of St.Paul & Minneapolis when I lived there. This is one of my favorite action films, and I don’t think I saw it in theaters when it came out- I was a broke high school student! I probably shoplifted the VHS tape. So seeing it in glorious 70mm was a revelation. They also showed the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, which re-spurred my interest in the band and David Byrne. The theater was old and decrepit, the seats were painful, but it was a great way to spend a night with some friends, since the place was huge and never filled up.

The Big One
This is Michael Moore’s most forgotten film, but one of his best. It’s not as scathing, but before The Corporation, this was one of the best documentaries on how multinational corporations essentially serve no one- not even their stockholders, as boards and CEOs run rampant- and how they squeeze tax amnesty out of communities in trade for jobs that eventually are outsourced elsewhere. Now, I don’t hate all corporations but for the last 20 years they’ve been incredibly short-sighted, and the country has suffered for it. In this one, Moore shames Nike CEO Phil Knight into buying computers for Flint, Michigan schools if Moore will split the bill. This viewing was memorable because I got to meet Mike. We haven’t always agreed- I had an email spat with him when he was making Bowling for Columbine– but this is one of his funniest and even-keeled films. This was at the Oak Street Cinema in Minneapolis, an art and revival theater that spoiled me. The best I’ve got in New Jersey is the Clairidge, a Landmark theater. The Oak showed movies as varied as Shaolin Temple 3 with Jet Li, one of the best ’80s kung fu movies. We saw a midnight show there and the crowd went wild. Even when I saw these movies in NYC’s Chinatown back in the day- usually Jackie Chan’s prime stuff like SuperCop and Armor of God– the crowd was usually quiet, so it wasn’t as exciting. This was one time I didn’t mind the cheering. Hell it was subtitled anyway!

The Answer Man
The premiere of this movie in Monmouth was followed by an interview with one of its stars, my cousin Lou Taylor Pucci. The movie unfortunately didn’t get a wide release, but is available on NetFlix, DVD and cable now. It stars Jeff Daniels as a reclusive blockbuster novelist who hasn’t written in years. It’s not a perfect film, but an enjoyable mix of drama, romance and comedy. The audience was gracious and it was great to see my cousin interview by older film snob types who loved his performance.

This was the first movie I remember seeing alone, in 1983. I walked to the Franklin Theater or rode my bike; more likely my Mom dropped me off. It remains one of my favorites, with its vaguely electronic, harmonica-infused score that gives it a touch of melancholy. The video screen of WOPR, the defense computer playing a game that NORAD interprets as a real Russian attack, is my current desktop background. Matthew Broderick sure has had one hell of a career since he appeared as a computer nerd in this one. He’s been Ferris Bueller, and perhaps my favorite, a hapless teacher in Election. He and John Cusack have mirrored my life with their roles, though Broderick is a few years older than me. Watching this movie on the big screen cemented the magic of movies to me and lead to a long life of enjoyment, losing myself in their fantasy world. The earliest movie I remember seeing in theaters with my parents is Star Wars; I distinctly remember my Dad patting me and telling me it was okay when Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru were barbecued by stormtroopers. Despite that, I still count Raiders of the Lost Ark as my favorite film of all time. Pulp adventure with lots of fun and winks at the audience. It’s pure entertainment.

This was the first scary movie I saw without my Mom’s permission. I was 11 and sneaked in with my older neighbor Ruben. I paid 90 cents, and nearly shit my pants when they pull that rope that Carole Anne is supposed to be on the other end of, and a gigantic, rotting human skull comes out of the closet and roars at you. I still adore this movie as one of the greatest haunt films ever made, alongside The Haunting and The Changeling. Sure, this one is more about effects and scares than creepiness, but tell me that scene with the kitchen chairs arranging themselves isn’t effective! We practically had this matinee to ourselves, which was good, because I think we screamed like little girls the entire time.

The Empire Strikes Back

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
This is the first movie I took a girlfriend too. Rebecca liked scary movies like this and Child’s Play, and I liked her burrowing into my side in terror as Freddy clawed someone, or Chucky knifed some poor bastard in the spine. Maybe that’s why crappy, jump-scare horror films still make money these days? The last horror flick I went to see was the awful Haunting in Connecticut, and I don’t think I heard one scream. Do girls text to their boyfriend OMG Im skeert nowadays? The theater was packed, and we were deathly silent. This wasn’t the pure murderous horror of the first Freddy film, but it was before his snappy one-liners took over. I still enjoy this one for what it is, and found the way he stalks the troubled teens in this one to be pretty clever.

Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny
This is the first movie I went to see with my wife to be, Firecracker. It was supposed to be Borat, but we ended up seeing that separately with friends. We’ve seen dozens and dozens of movies since, from Blade Runner: The Final Cut at the Ziegfeld, to me sitting through (and liking) The Jane Austen Book Club. Really, it’s pretty cute. I drew the line at the Sex and the City movies. The show is short, and I couldn’t take 90 to 150 minutes of Sarah Jessica Parker. It would like the Ludovico Treatment. I don’t remember much about this movie. I remember the Sasquatch, and the battle with the Devil, and lots of cameos by those such as Ronny James Dio, may he rest in peace.

So, what are your most memorable movie theater experiences?

*(actually happened to me, during The Departed)

© 2010 Tommy Salami

9. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Schlocktoberfest #9: Dream Warriors

Darth Milk wanted to watch this because of the D&D nerd in it- we just watched Monster Camp, about LARPers- people who dress up and play a game like Dungeons & Dragons in the woods- and it was hilarious. The A Nightmare on Elm Street series is probably the best of the long-going horror series out there. Friday the 13th? The first two are pretty good, but he’s just a dude in a hockey mask. Freddy has the whole dreamscape background in his favor- anything can happen, and usually does. Halloween? I understand the influence of the first film, and love John Carpenter, but I think the best one in the series is probably Halloween 3: The Season of the Witch, where they went in a completely different direction. Sure it’s cheesy and awful, but it’s more interesting than an invincible guy in a Shatner mask who wants to kill his sister.

4 damage! 4 damage!!!

This third entry goes back to the roots of the series- bringing back Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) from the first film, as an intern at a juvenile mental institution. The teens there have a myriad of problems, from drugs to suicidal tendencies, and Freddy is haunting all of their dreams. Dr. Neil (Craig Wasson) is trying to treat the kids, but their dreams have gotten worse, and no one believes how real they are. Once Nancy infiltrates the place, she tells the story of Freddy Krueger, and how they must dream together to fight him once and for all.

Nancy returns with her sexy streak.

The kids are a motley gang- there’s the kid gone mute from emotional scars, a shy guy who makes puppets, a violent black kid who ends up in the padded room a lot, the girl who wants to be a star, the suicidal kid in a wheelchair who’s obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons, and the girl recovering from heroin addiction. The movie centers on Kristin (Patricia Arquette), whose mom is a slut who locks her in the loony bin when she interrupts one of her one-night stands. The recurring theme of the Elm Street series is that the sins of the parents are delivered upon the children, as Freddy was a child killer burned to death by the Concerned Parents Committee. Wes Craven has a theme of kids in trouble due to absentee parents, and here Kristin is tormented by Freddy in her dreams, where he makes it seem like she slashed her wrists.

Nancy is the only survivor from the first film, where Freddy returned to avenge his death, and now it is 3 years later; she has a streak of white hair marking her previous encounter with the dreamslayer, and she wants to end his reign once and for all. The kids at the institution are the last of the Elm Street children, so Nancy knows Freddy will be haunting their dreams. She sees Kristin in the throes of a nightmare, and as soon as she sits down to try to sleep and help her, she is immediately pulled into the dream world. Kristin has the power to bring people into her dreams, so she can pull them together to fight him. This time Freddy is a scabrous snake with a human head; pretty good stop-animation. The effects are always tops in a Freddy movie.

Pastor of Muppets

Once Freddy knows Kristin will be a tough cookie, he works on the weaklings. The kid who makes puppets is the first to go- Freddy yanks out his veins like marionette strings, and makes him his own puppet, dragging him out a window to make it look like suicide. Back in ’87 when this came out, teen suicide rings were big news, and this was an interesting take on it. The best parts of a Freddy movie are the bizarre dreams and Freddy’s ironic methods of murder, with his awful puns. Robert Englund gets to chew the scenery where Jason, Leatherface and Michael Myers have to be mutes, so it gives him great advantage in the entertainment department.

Damn you Ray Harryhausen! Call him off!

We learn more of Freddy’s origin in this one too- we knew he was the “Bastard Son of a Hundred Maniacs,” the child of a nun who was locked over the weekend in an institution, where she was gang-raped by the psychotic inmates. Now we meet his mother in spirit, as her ghost informs Dr. Neil how to finish Freddy for all. His bones must be buried on hallowed ground, so we have to find his corpse. Nancy and Neil go to find her Dad- John Saxon reprising his role- to show them where Freddy’s bones lie.

The souls of his victims in his bellay.

The final battle is fought on two fronts this time, with the kids fending off Freddy in the dream world, while Lt. Thompson and Dr. Neil have troubles of their own- Freddy’s bones don’t want to be buried! The dream battle is imaginative and creepy, once again in a hellish dreamscape, this time a hall of mirrors, and the pits of hell. Each kid has to face their deepest fears brought to life. The Wizard Kid’s famous fight is below:

But I rolled a natural 20!

Kristin and a few of the other kids manage to use their dream personae to fight back. Even Nancy gets some licks in, but Herr Krueger is the master of the dream world, and always wins. But this time Dad & Neil fight his remains- animated Jason and the Argonauts style- so they may have a chance to rid their dreams of the burn-scarred maniac once and for all. But since you know there are 5 more movies in the series counting Freddy vs. Jason, I think you know their victory is fleeting. Nothing beats the first movie in the series, but as the sequels go this is one of the best.