One thing I often find myself debating a great deal these days, whether it be online or in the real world is the value and merit of the theater going experience. In a time when streaming has become a legitimate and convenient method of movie watching, less people seem to feel the need to go to out to the theater to watch movies. Still I am of the mindset that they are missing out on something by staying home.
I have always maintained that going out to the theater can be a special experience. It has always felt that way for me, ever since I was a kid. I have always been a movie lover, and always will be. I had been wanting to write about this topic for quite some time and had kept putting off for many reasons, laziness being the major one. Then I saw something that truly made me want to explore these thoughts a bit more. I had come across a brilliant ad campaign for a midnight screening of director Todd Strauss-Schulson’s film The Final Girls at the Sunshine Cinema theater in NYC. It’s tagline immediately struck a chord with me on a few levels. Before I go on, let me share these images I saw so you know where I am coming from.
That tagline “Stop streaming and start screaming, before every movie theater becomes a Duane Reade” (a pharmacy chain in nyc) really hit home for me. As a kid who spent a good portion of my life growing up in NYC in the 80’s and parts of the 90’s. I remember the romanticized (with good reason) “old NYC” like it was yesterday. I also know just how much that tagline rings true these days. Spots I used to frequent with my Dad and older brother that could be considered cultural venues are long gone, in their place, generic boutiques, sterile banks and other chain establishments. One place in particular that I loved back then was The Bleecker Street Cinema, a small art house theater on, you guessed it, Bleecker Street. My Dad used to take me there as a kid to watch all kind’s of animation movies, most memorably Will Vinton’s Claymation films of the 80’s. It was a always a great experience to hop on the train from Queens together and head to the village to watch these really cool and creative films that most kid’s did not get to see. To this day going there is one of my fondest memories of time I have shared with my father. The reason I bring this memory up in particular is because it just so happens that The Bleecker Street Cinema is long gone and now in it’s place sits a Duane Reade Pharmacy. A pharmacy that you can find every other block in the city. So that tagline on that advertisement hit home and made me really think about how we lose things that at the time we may not think about, but become important parts of who we are and where we have been and it does sting to see them taken away and replaced with something so generic and culturally insignificant even if we understand the reasoning behind why (usually money and raised rent).
So after seeing this advertisement, I really started to think about this topic and pay much more attention to what people think about not only going to regular movies, but also of course, the popular screenings of old films as well as the more personal screenings for new independent horror films such as The Final Girls. For those of you haven’t seen The Final Girls it is a superb love letter to summer camp horror of the 80’s, particularly Friday the 13th. It is full of heart, humor and is visually unique and quite beautiful to look at. After being so affected by this advertisement and the film it is promoting, I felt it only right to reach out to it’s director and see if we could get his input on the subject and he was cool enough to oblige. So before I carry on with my spiel, I want to present you guys with our mini interview with Todd himself.
TH: Part of what makes going to the movies so much fun along with the actual film is the memories or experiences that accompany the trip to the theater. What is your favorite experience or memory?
TSS: I had so many, and it’s actually fun to reflect on it—I saw Trainspotting with a group of friends at the Angelica when I was like 15 and it BLEW me away. The pace and shots and music and the velocity. I had never seen something like that, and when it was over everyone went to get dinner and I had to go walk 40 blocks alone to burn off the energy it injected into me. I loved seeing Speed in a theater, what a blast that was—I remember seeing Big with my family and our neighbors one day after camp and man oh man. It was a full theater and we were cracking up and sobbing our eyes out and when it was over it was like we were… clean. We were more grounded than when we walked in, we were lighter and happier and all got dinner and were in great moods. I weirdly saw the Hard Way in theaters 8 times in 2 weeks. I skipped school to see that movie… two times. I have no idea what it was about that movie but boy oh boy, I thought it was so cool and I think I was in love with Annabella Sciorra.
TH: You recently screened The Final Girls at the Sunshine Cinema in NYC and it was accompanied by a great marketing campaign that urged people to get out of the house and enjoy the film with a like minded crowd. Why do you feel that screenings like this are important for film fans and in particular horror fans?, and why is it something you feel needs to be supported?
In Addition, with so many digital options out there at the push of a button, many people often opt to not go to the theater at all. What do you feel that the theater going experience offers that just cannot be duplicated at home?
TSS: The NYC Sunshine Midnight screening was amazing, and watching The Final Girls in a theater is just the greatest. That movie was designed to be seen with a crowd. I don’t know really how to explain what that means but, it’s the kind of movie that gives you all the feelings—that’s fun to experience–you get to be laughing and jumping and crying in a room full of complete strangers. And for me, that is why I fell in love with movies in the first place. That community experience was crazy fun but it also felt kinda healthy in a way. It was like meditating before meditating or love before love or death before death… I think things are changing and I don’t want to just howl at the moon as the world moves on, but I think there is something important about seeing movies in theaters.
I think getting people to the movies is very hard, and the truth is I can feel it in my own life. I go to the theater less, I stay home and watch TV and the occasional movie on Netflix or whatever…. And also to be fair, at least half of the movies that really deeply affected me as a kid were on home video… So it’s not quite so binary. But if I’m being honest, I feel something missing in my own life. There is something social about movies, about having an emotional experience in a room full of people. Cassavetes has a great quote about movies not being an escape for him… but a reminder… a reminder about how to be human, about the world—They didn’t help him escape, they helped him reconnect. For me that’s so true, to crack up or freak out together — It’s the fucking best! And then there’s that Ebert quote everyone knows that I don’t even wanna paraphrase because it’s so god damned beautiful. It’s “the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It let’s us understand a little bit more about different hopes aspirations dreams and fears. It helps us identify with the other people who are sharing this journey with us.”
I guess that’s why I feel these screenings are, to use your word. Important. They are just more fun experiences, and sorta healthy… to experience dreams like this as a collective. I think things are shifting and I think it’s a loss, but I don’t think it’s gone or extinct. It’s still there. People just have to show up and the artists need to give them a reason to that is more than just noise and spectacle.
Thankfully Todd was able to put into words a lot of my own thoughts and feelings on the subject, probably better than I ever could have. I do agree with much of his sentiment and it helps bridge us to the next thing I wanted to delve further into. He mentioned the social aspect and the shared experience of sitting in a theater with other people all experiencing the same thing. This for me can be the best part of going to the movies. When you get the right crowd (granted not always guaranteed), the experience can be absolutely electric. I have noticed this mostly works with genre films, and yes, particularly horror films.
In recent years horror screenings have become more and more prominent. Whether it be for independent titles like The Final Girls, or classics such as Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and countless other that make their way to midnight screenings across the country. Just recently in Miami I attended a Friday the 13th part 6 : Jason Lives screening on what other date than Friday the 13th. The event was sold out and full of people in Jason tee’s who wanted to celebrate Jason’s special day with other like minded horror fans. While many people in this day and age claim to hate everyone and tout their hermit status on their social media pages, many others are out having fun and meeting new people at these screenings. Plenty of those in attendance have seen the film numerous times before, but are all there because seeing it on a big screen for the first time in years or perhaps ever with other fans is going to be a rewarding experience. Laughs and screams alike were shared and it was an absolute blast. Thanks to watching Jason Voorhees hack up a bunch of teenagers and for that one night, everyone was united by this admittedly kind of silly but still very awesome horror film and new friendships were formed. The screening was hosted at the O Cinema theater in Wynwood, Miami and put together by Popcorn Frights, which consists of life long horror fans Igor Shteyrenberg & Marc Ferman. the duo felt Miami was lacking in it’s horror offerings and are the Co-Founders of the Popcorn Frights Film Festival, which in it’s second year has expanded to a week long festival beginning this Friday, featuring a variety of over 30 films and shorts. after attending more screenings held by them, I realized that these showings are indeed important on a number of levels and that they offer something that you just cannot get at home. Had I stayed home on that Friday the 13th and opted to watch Jason lives on my tv screen, nobody would have faulted me. However I might not have become good friends with Marc and Igor and a few other cool people we met that night. I also may not have had the pleasure of getting involved in the film festival, which as an obvious life long horror fan myself, has been a dream come true and I can’t thank them enough. We hopefully will get an interview up with them soon enough.
While the Miami horror scene could be considered in it’s early stages, Los Angeles is obviously king when it comes to these horror showings, so we reached out to another person who knows a thing or two about horror films and the L.A. horror scene. Ryan Turek, the director of development at Blumhouse Productions. Yes, that Blumhouse, the new home of Michael Myers and production company that has given us such modern horror hits as Sinister and Insidious among many, many others. I have known Ryan for a while now via social media and had the pleasure of meeting him at the John Carpenter show in NYC and he was as cool and down to earth as one would have hoped. He was also kind enough to take time out of his undoubtedly busy schedule to answer a few of our questions about his feelings on horror screenings and the L.A. horror scene.
TH: As a frequent attender of many older film screenings, what is it you enjoy about going to these events?
RT: The horror community, the rediscovery and the opportunity to see films I may not have seen on the big screen in their initial run. Out here, the horror community is a very tight. We’re all super crazy busy and sometimes meeting at a theater like the New Beverly, the Egyptian or at Cinefamily for a midnight screening or weekend event is the only way to catch up and say hi. For me, personally, I try to base my selections on movies I straight-up love and could revisit time and time again (like Rosemary’s Baby) or movies I’ve never seen on 35mm.
TH: Do you feel these screenings are important in some ways, not only to horror fans, but to film culture in general? If so, why?
RT: I certainly think so. Today, there are so many distractions pulling us away from the home viewing experience. Name a device and it will most likely be chirping at you, begging for your attention while you’re watching a movie at home. The revival screenings offer a pure experience in a dark theater surrounded with people who have and have not seen whatever movie you’ve bought a ticket for. The best experiences are sometimes with those who have never seen the movie and you’re vibing off of their first-time reaction to the movie. But yes, I do think these screening are important on multiple levels: Enjoying a movie in a theater, getting a sense of film history, studying the craft… There are so many factors at play. Also, for all of those horror fans that bitch and moan about remakes and say, “Just put the original film in theaters!” well, here’s a chance to see the original film, be it Halloween or Friday the 13th and so on.
TH: Many people I talk to often say they prefer to stay home and watch something on Netflix, on demand or just wait till something hits redbox, rather than go to the theater, while you can’t change everyone’s mind, what do you feel they are missing out on by not going to the theater to watch films they may be interested in and what does the theater experience offer that you simply cannot duplicate at home?
RT: Well, I think there’s a big difference between seeing an older horror film in a theater like one of the aforementioned venues and seeing a new horror release in a multiplex. I try to make it a point to see everything I can on the big screen, but sometimes I just don’t have that luxury and I need to check a film out on VOD. But I think what they’re missing – those who opt to stay at home – is just the general energy of seeing a good, scares-by-the-dozen horror movie with an audience. There’s definitely a pulse there and it’s missing when you’re at home, with the remote, with your phone, with the pause button or a full bladder or a hunger for some snacks…
TH: What is your favorite theater going experience, recent or from back in the day and why? There are so many, but two specific experiences come to mind?
RT: One was when I saw The Exorcist at the Chinese Theater here in Hollywood. It got a re-release in 2000 with that new cut. Regardless of the version that was playing, it was amazing to be there with a packed house. It was totally electric. People were losing their minds. Another great experience was seeing a double-feature of Zombie and Dr. Butcher M.D. at the New Beverly. This was many years back. I had never seen the former on the big screen and I never saw Butcher. That was such a blast. The audience was respectful, but cheered and groaned at all of the right moments.
TH: It is one thing to show an old film in a theater, but that doesn’t always make for a fun or memorable experience. In your opinion what makes for a good horror screening these days?
RT: Hmm, when the audience leaves their bad attitude and jaded views at home? There’s nothing worse than someone going into a screening of an older horror movie and making it a point to prove they’re better than the movie by poking fun at it or cackling at all of the wrong moments. Just get the fuck out of here with that shit. No one wants you there if you’re going to do that. And why are you even there if that’s what you’re going to do? That said, I love when something is made an event with guests and other fun goodies.
Ryan makes some excellent points when it comes to the value of older film screenings. Earlier I mentioned my “Jason Lives” screening experience, reading his answers reminded me of another recent screening I attended, the original Creepshow. My buddy Cesar and I went to go check it out as it was playing at the old theater we used to go to when we were kids, the same theater where we watched so many other horror classics for the first time in their initial run. It was a surreal experience to say the least as we had not been back there in easily 18 years if I had to guess. It had closed and and later reopened as an art house theater years later. I personally hadn’t seen the original Creepshow in it’s entirety in years, as I always resort to part 2 for my Creepshow fix.
The point of bringing this up is that sure, we could have easily popped in a dvd, and watched it at one of our apartments. However, like Ryan mentioned above, we would have the remote, our phones on, checking texts, pausing the movie, ordered food, lights on, etc. but it would have been a COMPLETELY different experience, Seeing it in this old theater at midnight, on 35 mm, with the discoloration, scratches and pops along with the old seats that don’t even have cup holders, and are all at the same eye level, it was just the perfect scenario for watching Creepshow and instead of being just a movie we watched one night. it was an experience we will never forget because again, Just like Jason Lives, the crowd was into it and were all there because they love the film, the genre and the vibe of seeing it this way.
There have been so many times a movie has been made better for myself by the fun of seeing it with a crowd. Whether it is the memories of a Friday night out with friends seeing Freddy’s Dead in a sold out theater, or more recent horror outings for films like You’re Next and Insidious where the audience really got into the film. Hell, some of the greatest theater going experiences I have had were recent with the 2014 Godzilla where the theater went berserk when Godzilla first fully appears on screen and lets loose his roar and even more recently, with Captain America Civil War, which the crowd was absolutely electric for throughout the entire run time, cheering, clapping, laughing and just enjoying the hell out of it, it was great to feel that energy and be a part of it and this is just something that you cannot replicate while watching at home.
Earlier of course, Todd did bring up a valid point stating how he saw many films for the first time at home on video and remembers those fondly. I can completely relate to that too as I have written before about my VHS related memories of Candyman, Child’s Play and of course Puppet Master. I will say though that nowadays, (and this is not to negate Todd’s point in anyway as I agree) you rarely have that same feeling of wonder ordering something on demand or clicking play on netflix, that you used to as a kid searching for that nights movie on the shelves of the video store. There are also certainly some movies that may play better at home alone . But the point being, these days, watching a movie on demand, may not provide any sort of memorable experience to go along with the film. If you as a movie watcher don’t care about that, that is okay and your right. I am not trying to tell anyone that they NEED to go to the movies to enjoy a film. Simply stating that there is indeed a missing social aspect that part of society seems to not value anymore due to a number of various factors. Part of that is understandable, as movie theaters are expensive and not all crowds are created equal and let you enjoy a film, but part of that also makes me a bit sad, that people don’t enjoy getting out and experiencing a film for the first time with other fans and like minded people. It IS important as a film fan to support these independent screenings in your area, because if you do not, they will eventually go away for good. Much like the Bleecker Street Cinema and many other classic theaters that are just a fond memory. It IS important to get out and meet new like minded people and make new friends. If you look at it as, “oh why bother to go out to see that when I can just watch it on cable?” then you probably won’t get the point of all this anyway.
The point of this article isn’t to try and say anyone is wrong for not going to the movies or to screenings, we all have our ways and habits, and chances are, this won’t change anyone’s mind either.
The point of this article is to say that I and others still truly enjoy and love going to the movies and that there are absolutely many reasons going out to the movies and screenings is worth your time, effort, and money. If this article helps even one person decide to go check out a local screening of a classic, or hit the big theater for a new release and they happen to have a particularly memorable time, or make a new friend, then it was all worth it. Life is about experiences and sometimes something as simple as a horror film can lead to some new fond and fun memories.
TrueHorror.net would like to extend major thanks to Todd Strauss-Schulson and Ryan Turek for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer questions and contribute to this article. You both really gave us some great answers and it is greatly appreciated.
Be sure to check out The Final Girls if you for some reason haven’t done so yet, it is without a doubt a special film full of heart. Also be sure to check out the Blumhouse podcast Shock Waves for some excellent horror content.
You can follow both Todd and Ryan on twitter by clicking their names above.
We also want to thank the Popcorn Frights team Igor and Marc for also helping to inspire this article.