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24 Hour Reporter, Class Work

Cult movies feature shared experience

In a single day in London, Ontario, you’ll find cult movie fanatics, a sixth-generation maple syrup farmer and disabled children meeting the challenges of the everyday. From late-night guitarists to early-morning aquafit fanatics, there’s always something exciting going on in the Forest City–you just have to take a closer look.

Cult movies feature shared experience

24 hours in London: midnight–2 a.m.

By Patrick Callan
pcallan@uwo.ca

It’s midnight. A boisterous group of young men walk into the room, carrying drinks, telling jokes and scoping out the best seats.

They head upstairs, choose front row seats, and place their drinks on the nearest ledge as the lights dim.

But this lively group won’t be catching last call any time soon, because they’re settling in for their weekly Midnight Cult Movie at Western Film.

The four movie buffs have been attending the Friday midnight cult movie for the past two years, and rarely miss a showing, said Ethan Butler, a second-year film student at Western University. This week, they watched Peewee’s Big Adventure—a vintage Tim Burton movie from 1985 that tells the story of Peewee’s quest to find his stolen bike.

Cult moviegoers
Photo by Patrick Callan
Jason Higgins, left, joins friends Canaan Legault, Kieran Wacasey and Ethan Butler as they get ready to watch Peewee’s Big Adventure.

“It’s great to see movies that are before my time on the big screen. It’s something I thought I’d never be able to do in my lifetime,” Butler said. “Seeing a classic film on the big screen with my friends is a lot of fun.”

The theatre has 392 seats, and for most of the showings there are anywhere from 50 to 80 people in the audience, said James Waite, Western Film co-ordinator. Midnight cult movies have been a feature at Western Film for the past two years, and last summer, Western installed a high quality film projector to play movies from DVD and Blu-Ray. A ticket costs $4.99—but if you come dressed as a character from the movie, you get in free.

“Last year we had people just showing up on their own in costumes and it made the whole experience more fun and memorable. So I thought this year I would try to encourage that and promote it, “said Waite, who earned a film degree from Western in 2008.

Waite is also the projectionist for the midnight cult movies. He decides what movies are shown, but makes sure to mix things up because his audience includes more than just students looking for a cheap night.

“I see people who I don’t think are students on a fairly regular basis. The older films, like Kubrick, tend to get more of an off-campus market,” Waite said. “I’m surprised how mixed the crowd has been at times.”

Choosing movies can be tricky, he said, because you never know what the turnout will be. But he was overwhelmed at the reaction he got from a movie he aired early February on a whim.

Mean Girls had one of the biggest turnouts. We had many groups of four girls dressed alike, as characters from the movie. I thought it was quite inventive,” he said.

James Waite
Photo by Patrick Callan
James Waite opens the theatre doors for the midnight cult movie.

The shared experience of seeing cult movies in groups, and audience participation is one of the biggest attractions, said Joseph Wlodarz, film studies professor at Western.

“A key component of the cult phenomenon is the fact that there is a communal experience to it. The pleasure is in watching it with an audience, with the people in the theatre space as with the film itself. It’s much less about what the film is doing itself but what the audience does with the film.

”A social experience is formed in relation to a film,” Wlodarz said. “You can’t do that in the confines of your own home. It’s not a public forum.”

The midnight movie culture has a tendency to blend nostalgia and a longing to connect with past eras, Wlodarz said.

“The 80s nostalgia is playing out with the generation who was too young to really experience the 80s. We can see this with the 1960s too, where people who weren’t born in the 60s have an affinity with what that period was about,” Wlodarz said.

The modern phenomenon is an offshoot from the 1975 Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is generally accepted as the first midnight cult movie, where audiences participated, Wlodarz said.

“There’s a long history of films that are appealing to audiences outside the mainstream, but I think the cult phenomenon is something that comes together in relationship to the midnight movie phenomenon of the 1970s,” Wlodarz said.

He added that seeing a film, dressing up in related costumes and shouting back at the screen were some of the hallmarks that carried over from the 1970s to the modern trend.

Butler and his friends did not dress up as characters from Peewee’s Big Adventure, but they have for other movies.

“We dressed up for (cult favourite) The Room, and for Dead Alive we tore up some shirts, put on fake blood, wore some leather jackets and pretended to be zombies,” Butler said with a laugh.

It’s almost 2 a.m. as the 19-year-old gathers with his friends outside the theatre to chat about the film before heading home.

Butler said he was looking forward to seeing the classic Burton movie because he’s never seen it before and is a big fan of Tim Burton’s work.

“It’s fun to come out to a midnight show and see the lesser known, more out-there movies that you don’t get to see normally,” Butler said.

“Tim Burton is always creepy and delightful. You can’t really go wrong with him.”

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About Western Journalism

We're members of the University of Western Ontario's master of arts in journalism program. Our blog represents a common theme in stories through our third term.

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