Thursday, August 23, 2007

Going to the Movies - Two B-Horror Films

Two recent trips to the movies brought an interesting perspective. The first trip to see a current feature film was enjoyable enough, despite the inevitable scenes which are geared to attract the immature and unintelligent, and enough of those folks to pay for the making of the film. Enjoyable despite the previews of coming attractions which contained enough key scenes of similar immature and unintelligent (read vulgar) material to attract some key demographic which will evidently stomach that sort of thing better than I do.

However, though I was curious to see the film, I probably would not have gone had I not gift certificates to use. A brief stroll through the mega movie cavern where multiple films played, and a glance at the variety and prices of the food served, left me more in awe than the film. As, I think, it always does.

Then another movie going experience brought a curious balance to this. Since this is a blog about OLD movies, it fits in here. A group of friends and I met on a warm summer evening, after a spur of the moment meal at a family-owned diner/hot dog stand of the kind of variety that has been called Road Food, where the food is homemade, great, and inexpensive and the shack of a building has more history than your family tree, we went to the movies.

Not just any film, but a double feature of horror B-flicks from days gone by, back when you dressed for the movies like you dressed for church (since a lot of people who still go to church don’t dress for it, this might not be a good analogy). These were two really lousy films, and we had a terrific time.

The films were “The Terror” (1963) with Boris Karloff and a young Jack Nicholson in one of his early roles. Mr. Nicholson has likely crossed this one off his resume and done his best to forget it. It is perhaps inelegant of me to raise it here. The second was “House on Haunted Hill” (1959) with Vincent Price and a young Richard Long, and a genuinely spooked Elisha Cook, Jr.

We played trivia and won prizes. We laughed when the evil ones were terminated, and applauded when the “scary” parts occurred. We mimicked the actors as we left the theater. None of this was done in derision, but ironically, in appreciation of being entertained. There were men as well as women in the audience enjoying the show equally, because these were not chick flicks, nor action films, so we were not marketed to by gender. There were all ages in the audience, from nerdy teens taking it much too seriously, to oldsters with shining eyes remembering their first dates at the drive-in. When the film was over, we talked spontaneously about our old neighborhood movie houses, long since gone, where we had seen films of this sort. When the audience was asked to fill out a survey in the lobby, many hands eagerly reached for the forms and pencils, not brusquely passing by as usual, but wanting to share what they felt. Conversations erupted among strangers.

It occurred to me that the big difference between the first experience of seeing a current pretty okay Hollywood film and the double feature of two ridiculous old ones, was that we enjoyed the old ones more because we felt entertained. As silly as the “frightening” scenarios were, we were not made uncomfortable by unnecessary vulgarity intended to play us like an instrument. What violence that occurred in these films was laughable. Mostly, and above all, we did not feel as if we had just been targeted, marketed, merchandized, and been viewed by the operating officers of some media conglomerate as a demographic to be exploited. Which is how I usually feel when I go to the movies, like I've been had.

We felt entertained, and when we clapped at the end of the double feature, (not having clapped at all at the current film, only slipped away from the theater as quickly as possible without lingering), it was with real appreciation at having been given a night of lighthearted fun for the price of admission (a much lower price obviously than the feature film). Perhaps it's simply because films are not made for a general audience anymore that we do not experience this sense of community. Much in the same way there are no more "popular songs" that everyone knows.

The business of making movies has always been about making a profit. That is a given, but it seems there is less showmanship, for want of a better word, than there used to be. Only push the product to a targeted market until the shelf life expires. It’s not the same thing.

That’s it for this week. See you Monday. Have a good weekend.

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