Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you the responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week's question:
Q: From its psychedelic imagery to its bizarre sci-fi premise, from its graphic violence to its sleazy synth score, 'Beyond the Black Rainbow' — opening in theaters this Friday — feels like a throwback to the golden age of midnight movies. So this week I want to know: what is the ultimate midnight movie?
The critics' answers:
"First of all, everyone should go see 'Beyond the Black Rainbow.' It's not a movie for everyone, but everyone should see it because (love it or not) it'll be a new experience. Bring your grandma along. She'll love it. Especially if she's sober. As for the main question, it's difficult to answer. Credit must be given to 'El Topo' for being there at the beginning and to 'Rocky Horror Picture Show' for making the biggest popular impact, but amidst the sexual depravity and gore, my money is still on 'Night of the Living Dead.' For its independent labor-of-love-ness to its trenchant social commentary to its pure fear-inducing tension. It's exactly the kind of flick that must be seen at midnight and discussed at length over lingonberry pancakes afterward."
"'Repo Man.' It has the essential midnight movie elements: science fiction, a tremendous Iggy Pop theme song (one among many brilliant cuts on the soundtrack), violence, and a firm and proud sense of the weird. Also, the exchange 'C'mon, let's go do those crimes'/'Yeah, yeah let's go get sushi, and, and not pay!' will be the single funniest thing in the world after finishing that 40 you smuggled into the theater."
"I'm not sure if it ever actually played the midnight circuit, but for sheer quotability, rewatchability, and general strangeness, I'm going to go with 'Rock 'n' Roll High School.' What doesn't this movie have? It's got that scrappy late-70s Roger Corman aesthetic wherein absolutely anything could happen: I mean, there's not one, but two 6-foot-tall mice in the film without anyone even really acknowledging the fact that there are life-sized mice running around wearing human clothes. Exploding lab mice. Also (spoiler!), an exploding high school. It's got cult staples Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov in quintessential roles, a great screw-authority attitude, and an amazing soundtrack. And that's without even getting into the presence of the Ramones, which is much more than the simple cameo one might expect. Finally, it's got the single worst acting moment of any rock star who ever found himself in a feature film, as Dee Dee Ramone was asked to deliver but one line, and can't even manage to say something as simple as 'Hey! Pizza!' convincingly. That line reading alone is the stuff great midnight movies are made of."
"As a long time Giallo fan, I can't think of a better midnight movie platter than the genre's offerings. Argento, Bava, Fulci — it doesn't get much better. That being said, I'd say the ultimate midnight movie for me is a toss up between Argento's 'Suspiria,' or Fulci's 'Zombie' (or 'Zombie 2' for all you purists). 'Suspiria''s stylized, colorful visuals and grandiose gore are legendary, but 'Zombie' does have an underwater fight scene between a zombie and a shark, so there's that."
"Though 'Beyond the Black Rainbow' strikes me as equal parts early Cronenberg and Carpenter, two fine directors whose work certainly would fit in with the midnight movie theme, there's only one film which immediately comes to mind when you say 'ultimate midnight movie.' That film is 'Eraserhead,' David Lynch's surreal depiction of his purgatory-like existence in a very industrial Philadelphia with a new family, the stresses brought on by new parenthood and dislocation from the type of small town environment in which he grew up. The black-and-white film is everything a midnight movie should be. 'Eraserhead' is low-budget, disturbing, mind-blowing and bears the promise of a rising talent about to explode onto the mainstream."
"Graphic violence is one thing in a midnight movie, but to me what's more important is that the movie be a total blast. It can be violent, but it has to be fun too. Which makes me think about one of the zaniest, bloodiest, laugh-out-loud funny movies I've seen: Peter Jackson's 'Dead Alive.' Gore and levity make a great pair, and Jackson shows boundless creativity in delivering both."
"Since I actually went to midnight movies in '83 when 'Beyond the Black Rainbow' takes place, I'd probably go back to some of the midnight movies I saw in Norwalk, CT, which included 'Maniac' starring my look-alike Tom Savini, and Herschell Gordon Lewis' 'Two Thousand Maniacs" both pretty bad but perfectly suited for that environment. But more generally, the ultimate midnight movie is one that's fun and funny which you can enjoy without doing too much thinking (because most normal brains should be asleep after midnight)."
"If for nothing but longevity, 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show.' It's not the best of the genre, but it's the most successful. It's also how gays found each other before the Internet."
"As the co-conspirator (together with Gavin Smith) behind a new midnight movie series here at Lincoln Center this summer, this is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot quite recently. When I think back on my own years of midnight moviegoing — mostly as a college student in Los Angeles in the late ‘90s — the titles that tended to get me and my friends the most excited were movies we had loved growing up but never seen on the big screen ('Alien,' 'Big Trouble in Little China,' 'Superman'), many of them seen at the late, lamented Mann Plaza in Westwood, which also had a tendency to screen 70mm prints when available. Then, of course, there are the canonical 'Midnight Movies,' thusly christened by J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum in their book of the same name — 'Eraserhead, 'El Topo,' 'Night of the Living Dead,' et al. — many of which I also hold dear, but relatively few of which I actually saw at midnight screenings. And finally there are those latter-day claimants to the throne, chiefly Tommy Wiseau’s 'The Room' — which I have the somewhat infamous designation of having panned in Variety when it was initially released as a 'straight' independent movie in a handful of Los Angeles cinemas — and a film I vastly prefer, the late John S. Rad’s utterly indescribable 'Dangerous Men,' to which we devoted quite a bit of ink in the pages of the L.A. Weekly, but which, despite the best efforts of Cinefamily’s Hadrian Belove, never quite caught on as a late, late show.
"Maybe the 'ultimate' midnight movie of recent vintage is one that has actually been shown more often in prime evening screenings at museums and highfalutin avant-garde film showcases than in commercial theaters at the witching hour. It’s Damon Packard’s way-out-there 'Reflections of Evil,' which stars Packard himself as an obese, Spielberg-obsessed mama’s boy given to mass consumption of sugar products and frightening, Tourette’s-like outbursts, who wanders the streets of L.A. and randomly terrorizes its denizens. I saw the movie for the first time on DVD around 2002 or 2003, when Packard was handing them out for free at various video stores around town, then again properly a couple of years later in an independent film showcase at REDCAT. Both times, I found it queasily funny, authentically disturbing and compulsively watchable, as have many other since. But it’s a film that still deserves a larger — and more varied — audience."
"'Eraserhead.' Because it is beautiful and heavy and open to one hundred meaningful interpretations, but it is also really funny. Humor has to play into a midnight movie because otherwise, let's face it, there's a good chance someone in your group is going to fall asleep."
"For me, the ultimate experience of literally watching a movie at midnight would go to David Cronenberg's 'Crash.' I snuck downstairs to watch it at midnight while my parents slept, and the combination of my deception and the film itself created a heady out-of-body atmosphere which left me feeling like another person on another planet. Cronenberg is particularly adept at quietly putting you into a seemingly familiar world that is anything but that before ramping up to an outward explosion of beautiful horror and at midnight, roughly 16 years ago, he blew my little 13 year old mind."
"How can you have more campy midnight fun than Charlton Heston as the only living man in L.A. hunting down bloodthirsty post-apocalyptic mutants in 1971's 'The Omega Man?' From the brilliant dialogue — 'Hi, Big Brother, how's your ass?' — to some of the most heavy-handed Christ references and mainstream vs. counterculture parallels you'll ever see, it's like a perfect storm of '70s cheese. Plus, it taps into the communal aspect of seeing a movie on the big screen; Heston's only human interaction is repeatedly watching a print of 'Woodstock' at his nearby cinema."
"I'm going to go with 'Brazil.' It's not exactly a midnight movie in accordance with the kind that 'Beyond the Black Rainbow' explicitly salutes, but Terry Gilliam's masterful blend of visual oddities and a droll sense of humor operates with a dreamlike logic that works startlingly well in the wee hours of the morning, as I learned at a midnight screening at New York's IFC Center a few years back."
'I've never been a big "midnight movie fan" — my favorite times to go is often at 10AM on a Sunday (quiet and uncrowded). However, I do enjoy a scary movie during the darkest hours, and there's nothing like getting a screaming audience at something like Tobe Hooper's 'The Texas Chainsaw Masacre.'"
"When I think of midnight movies, the 1960 Italian import 'Atom Age Vampire' always comes to mind. When a statuesque stripper (Susanne Loret) is disfigured in a car accident, she's taken in by a professor (Alberto Luno) whose healing serum must be extracted from the glands of other young women. There's an evil henchwoman for a change, as well as a bizarrely incongruous score that features jazzy, up-tempo music whenever there's a close-up of Loret's scarred face. Deliciously weird stuff."
"I'm always surprised 'Starship Troopers' doesn't get more traction. It's Verhoven at his most Verhovian, it's full of crowd-friendly, screamy moments and it even has Neil Patrick Harris. Seeing this movie in a crowded LA theater at midnight the night it opened with a packed, ready-to-rock crowd remains one of my most pleasant movie memories."
"I guess the obvious choice is 'Rocky Horror' but I had one of the best times of my life at a movie at the midnight screening of 'Cabin Fever' at the old Alamo Drafthouse at SXSW. Such a blast. Just the perfect place and the perfect crowd for that film."
"The ultimate Midnight Movie has to still be 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show.' There's a decent challenger out there in 'The Room,' but for me… I can't match that craptastic flick with the classic musical trainwreck that I know my grandfather once showed as a Projectionist, my parents went to see at midnight while dating, and now I've seen with my own girlfriend. Besides the personal significance, who can vote against a movie where people are driven insane by a pelvic thrust? I rest my case!"
"There are lots of midnight movies I adore, but I've got to follow my heart and go with 1990's "Frankenhooker." For years, I carried a VHS copy around to make my buddies watch it. Every single one of them will tell you they saw it under my coercion. For the uninitiated, the movie is about a guy who accidentally runs over his fiancee with a riding mower. Taking the few salvageable parts of her body left, he sets out to reconstruct her, Frankenstein-style. To replace the missing appendages, he invents a strain of super-crack, which he then doles out to local prostitutes, who smoke it and promptly explode. Once the fiancee is fully reconstructed, she escapes the lab and goes on a sex spree. There's too much hooker in her now. Why do I like this movie? For starters, it's genuinely funny. (Bill Murray was quoted on the video box calling it 'the best movie of the year.') It also has everything you could want from a midnight movie: sex, nudity, violence, gore, and a healthy dose of insanity. Plus, you get one of the best lines of dialogue ever written: 'Good luck with those exploding bitches!'"
"'Blue Sunshine' is an acid-laced freakout. Cronenberg's 'Shivers' has more than enough sleaze. Another favorite is 'The Holy Mountain' by Jodorowsky, who is marvelous and mischievous as The Alchemist. Hallucinatory and loaded with occult imagery."
"Hands down 'El Topo.' Jodorowsky is the best surrealist of them all. Nothing is as mind-altering as a Jodorowsky film."
"I feel the ultimate midnight movie is a movie that spans many genres; it should be loads of fun and should be enjoyable whether or not you are under the influence of questionable substances. That's why I pick Bob Rafelson's 'Head," a wacky, surreal odyssey featuring America's favorite manufactured 60s pop band, The Monkees. 'Head' is part musical, comedy, drama, western, romance, horror, sci-fi, action, war movie, documentary, concert film and mind-trip all wrapped into one glorious 85-minute film. It's a movie that worked back in 1968 as much as it does in 2012. There is too much to love and hate about this movie, which is why I feel it would be perfect for any midnight screening. 'Head' should not only be watched with your eyes, it should be experienced with your mind."
"In terms of sheer popularity and influence, the ultimate midnight movie remains 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show.' For my taste, however, I prefer 'The Evil Dead' (and its superior sequel), which perfectly melds over-the-top horror that's genuinely scary with rollicking, cartoon-crazy humor — a marriage that's exactly what I'm looking for in my middle-of-the-night cinematic entertainment."
"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
"The ultimate midnight movie is 'Wild Zero.' Even though I wasn't a huge fan of 'Beyond the Black Rainbow' — it was just too damn weird for me — I agree that a midnight movie must have details that exclude it from mainstream audiences, whether it's the score, imagery, or whatever. In the case of 'Wild Zero,' it's a Japanese punk rock zombie movie. It is brimming with explosions, gore, and friggin' eye lasers. As far as I know, it's the only DVD that has its own drinking game as a bonus feature. In other words, there is enough esoteric weirdness to satiate the most hardcore genre fan. I haven't seen 'Wild Zero' at many midnight screenings, but the movie has developed a word-of-mouth cult following, and longtime fans love to introduce it to their friends. In the coming years, I think it will finally get the recognition it deserves. Rock 'n' roll!"
The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on May 14, 2012: