I last reported on this issue back in 2009, when my primary complaint was that the midnight movie scene, once a haven for (so-called) cult cinema, had essentially become a venue for eighties nostalgia (with THE GOONIES, LABYRINTH and GHOSTBUSTERS being the primary midnight movie draws). Yet I was optimistic, concluding the piece with the proclamation “the midnight movie may be down, but it’s definitely not out.” Today my feelings are different: I say the midnight movie, and by extension cult cinema in general, is all-but dead, the victim of a) an increase of commercialism, and b) a decrease of available screening venues.
Regarding point a), note the transformation of the Toronto Film Festival’s famed Midnight Madness lineup, which in the past has screened cult favorites like BRAIN DAMAGE, MEET THE FEEBLES and CEMETERY MAN, but now according to Variety “plays to what’s hot at the current box office.” As for point b), one need only take into account the collapse of the DVD market and all the shuttered theaters, particularly in the LA area, where quite a few longtime cult movie venues (including the Sunset Five, Regent Showcase, Fairfax Cinemas and NuWilshire) have gone belly-up in recent years.
The effects of these upheavals are evident in the quality of today’s cult cinema. True, there were some recent cult items that actually delivered (BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, UPSTREAM COLOR, STOKER), and also some honest failures/good tries (ONLY GOD FORGIVES, SUN DON’T SHINE). Yet looking over the cult/midnight movie releases of the past couple years I’m struck by how similar many of them are to what mainstream Hollywood puts out, evident in the presence of…
As with Hollywood, we in the cult-verse have been force-fed a glut of sequels. While a demand (however limited) may have existed for V/H/S 2, was there anyone out there calling for HATCHET 3, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2 or RETURN TO BLOOD FART LAKE? Those films’ respective non-releases suggest the answer to that quarry is a resounding nay (and nor does there appear to be much anticipation for the upcoming AREA 407 PART II).
Upon learning that the classic 1980 sickie MANIAC was being remade with Elijah Wood in the lead, I naturally expected a medium-budget Hollyweird product along the lines of 2010’s PIRANHA 3D. Surprisingly, however, the new MANIAC was a staunchly independent production that played the cult circuit alongside the likes of PRINCE AVALANCHE and DRINKING BUDDIES.
There was also Brian DePalma’s PASSION, a slick Rachel McAdams headlined remake of the French thriller LOVE CRIMES. Again, this is something I’d fully expect to see from a major studio, yet PASSION wound up going the indie route–and none too successfully.
Glossy Star Vehicles
It may be a stretch to call THE CANYONS glossy, but it was most definitely a star vehicle that pivoted on the name value of Lindsay Lohan, just as WORLD WAR Z did with Brad Pitt. No wonder CANYONS’ director Paul Schrader told the press he was a 16 month “hostage” to Li-Lo.
Another example: SPRING BREAKERS, from the famously iconoclastic Harmony Korine, who kept his idiosyncratic edge intact but ditched his standard cast members (such as Werner Herzog and Chloe Sevigny) in favor of James Franco and a bevy of Disney starlets.
Derivative Subject Matter
Hollywood can have its superhero franchises and TWILIGHT retreads (although cult cinema has produced its own recent TWILIGHT wannabes in the form of KISS OF THE VAMPIRE and BYZANTIUM), as we in the midnight-sphere have had to contend with our own derivative movie cycles.
Annoyingly enough, the zombie apocalypse craze is still going strong (see DETENTION OF THE DEAD, FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, THE ZOMBIE KING, THE COLONY, etc) even though zombies have long since been co-opted by the mainstream (as a popular TV series and recent Hollywood blockbuster can attest). So too the retro grindhouse (I SPILL YOUR GUTS, DEAR GOD NO, SUSHI GIRL, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS) and found footage flicks (GREYSTONE PARK, AREA 407, EVIDENCE, CHERNOBYL DIARIES, etc, etc, etc). So popular is the latter format that the Hollywood veterans Barry Levinson and Renny Harlin tried their hands at it with, respectively, THE BAY and DEVIL’S PASS. Unsurprisingly, neither film did much to elevate the genre, much less their directors’ profiles.
The Increased Prominence of Cable TV
It’s no secret that quality-wise just about any episode of BREAKING BAD or MAD MEN outdoes most everything Hollywood has to offer. Speaking of which, the midnight movie world was just rocked by the made-for-SyFy Channel SHARKNADO, which actually played a couple nationwide midnight screenings over the summer, and to great success.
A SyFy movie holding its own on the big screen? That’s pretty sad. Even sadder is the fact that SHARKNADO was just as good if not better than the majority of today’s cult flicks.
We can do better.