The History of the Midnight Movie

Before the internet, before late night cable, before VHS, there was a time and place where you could find the end of mainstream culture and the beginning of the cultish and strange. Birthed in New York in the 70s, it was the world of “midnight movies.” The freaks would come out at night, outcasts watched movies about outcasts, and a beautiful circus of weirdos – that included audience itself – formed. It was a party, a scene, and an ecosystem that allowed for the stranger cinematic creatures to find a home.

For the month of August, Cinefamily is telling the story of the original midnight movie – transporting us back to a time when late night didn’t mean nostalgia, but was forward thinking and counter-cultural – with a series of late night screenings of films that changed pop culture forever.


Pink Floyd: The Wall (Off-site at The Standard Hollywood) – Thursday, July 27th at 8:30pm
Friday Night Frights presents Freaks – Friday, July 28th at MIDNITE
Tribute to Ben Barenholtz featuring Martin – Friday, August 4th at 7:30pm
Alina (w/ Darya Ekamasova in person) – Saturday, August 5th at 7:00pm
El Topo (Off-site at the Vista) – Saturday, August 5th at MIDNITE
Barton Fink – Sunday, August 6th at 7:00pm
Targets (w/ director Peter Bogdanovich in person) – Wednesday, August 9th at 7:30pm
Reefer Madness – Thursday, August 10th at 11:00pm
The Evil Dead – Friday, August 11th at MIDNITE
Harold and Maude – Saturday, August 12th at 10:30pm
Pink Flamingos (Off-site at the Vista) – Saturday, August 12th at MIDNITE
Animation Breakdown presents Fritz the Cat + Down and Dirty Duck- Thursday, August 17th at 7:30pm

Liquid Sky (Off-site at the Vista) – Saturday, August 19th at MIDNITE
The Harder They Come – Wednesday, August 23rd at 7:30pm
Viva la Muerte – Friday, August 25th at MIDNITE
Night of the Living Dead (Off-site at the Vista) – Saturday, August 26th at MIDNITE
A Rocky Horror Mixtape w/ Sal Pirro and Larry Viezel – Sunday, August 27th at 7:30pm
Friday Night Frights presents Plan 9 from Outer Space (with Larry Karaszewski & Dana Gould in person) – Friday, September 1st at MIDNITE

Showtimes subject to change. More titles TBA!

Rocky Horror Show & Tell w/ Sal Piro and Larry Viezel

8/27/2017 - 7:30PM

This event will take place at The Silent Movie Theater, located at 611 N. Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036.

Co-presented by Sins of the Flesh

No midnight movies retrospective would be complete without addressing the longest running (still playing theatrically after four decades at the Nuart theatre in West LA), cult-iest, most audience-engaging late night flick of all time… The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Rocky is more than just a film, it’s a phenomenon. We’ve invited Sal Piro (founding member of the Rocky Horror Picture Show fan club and member of the first shadow cast ever at the original Waverly Theatre) and super fan and collector Larry Viezel to help us host an evening of rare video clips, photographs, and other ephemera, to recreate and retell the story of how it all happened.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

The Harder They Come

8/23/2017 - 7:30PM

This event will take place at The Silent Movie Theater, located at 611 N. Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036.

Co-presented by Hydro Studios

The epochal cultural moment that gave America its first true taste of Jamaica — and the film that made Jimmy Cliff an international superstar! Four decades on, The Harder They Come is still electric with the feeling of cinematic discovery right from its opening moments. This rare blend of crime drama and musical forms a kind of island Scarface, as Cliff’s country-boy-in-search-of-fame worms his way through Kingston in the successive guises of laborer, recording artist, convict, ganja dealer, and finally, outlaw folk hero on the lam. Amongst its perfectly balanced mix of police shootouts, love story tenderness, lush scenery, music biz vérité, and dirt-under-the-fingernails street-level reality, the film also comes fully-equipped with one of the most fantastic soundtracks in movie history — one that finds Cliff at the peak of his creative powers. Before The Harder They Come, our collective American perception of a “foreign film” was narrowly limited to the Bergmans and the Kurosawas of the cinematic sphere; this game-changer blew the doors off of that notion, and still hasn’t lost a single drop of its cool, its edge, and its ability to make you dance.

Dir. Perry Henzell, 1972, DCP, 103 min.

Watch the trailer!

Liquid Sky (Off-site at the Vista w/ special guests in person!)

8/19/2017 - MIDNITE

This event will take place at the Vista, located at 4473 Sunset Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90027.

With cinematographer Yuri Neyman, and production/costume designer Marina Levikova in person

One of the coolest, funniest, and freakiest distillations of the ‘80s post-punk underground, Liquid Sky is pure madness: blending drugs, UFOs, death by orgasm and a cacophony of searing synths into a jagged neon time capsule that still thrills. In a dual role, Anne Carlisle plays Margaret (a damaged lesbian fashion model) and Jimmy (a gay junkie fashion model), who collide in NYC’s robotic New Wave netherworld. When aliens happen to land on Margaret’s roof in a pint-sized flying saucer (on a mission to extract the life force from the human orgone), they vaporize her many lovers in a dogpile of kaleidoscopic nuttiness. Russian emigré director Slava Tsukerman, himself out of place in the alien world of the ‘80s Lower East Side arthole, has big fun piling on the primitive video abstractions, fractured music, and overwrought melodrama in order to deliver a skewering satire of a weird, weird world.

Dir. Slava Tsukerman, 1983, 35mm, 112 min.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

Friday Night Frights: Bloodsucking Freaks

8/18/2017 - MIDNITE

This event will take place at The Silent Movie Theater, located at 611 N. Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036.

Even in the depraved pantheon of midnight movies, few earn the sort of notoriety of Joel M. Reed’s 1976 splatterpiece Bloodsucking Freaks. Borrowing a page from Herschell Gordon Lewis, particularly his Wizard of Gore, Reed’s film concerns the Grand Guignol theater of Master Sardu (Seamus O’Brien, tragically and poetically stabbed to death a few years later), a sadomasochist master of ceremonies who, along with his little person helper (Luis De Jesus), stages scenes of torture and death to audiences under the pretense of it being faked theater. Blood flows and sexually-charged torture vignettes are performed with a clear sense of tongue-in-cheek camp, O’Brien vamping like Anton Lavey reimagined as a villain from the 60s Batman TV show. Tasteless in the best possible 70s Times Square seedy sort of way, the film clearly prefigures the torture porn craze of the aughts but does so with much needed irony and sleazy pizazz.

Dir. Joel M. Reed, 1976,

Watch the trailer!

ABD presents: Fritz the Cat + Down and Dirty Duck

8/17/2017 - 7:30PM

This event will take place at The Silent Movie Theater, located at 611 N. Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036.

Presented by Animation Breakdown. Down & Dirty Duck director Charles Swenson in person!

The 70s spree of subversion left no stone unturned, and when it came for animation it set its sights on the adored animal idols of yesteryear. Dig if you will a picture of the US Air Force raining napalm on a ghetto riot as the silhouettes of Mickey and Donald cheer them on. The scene belongs to Fritz the Cat, animation auteur Ralph Bakshi’s revolutionary 1972 debut, and sums up the deviant detours toons would take in years to come. Loosely based on R. Crumb’s beloved drugged up, sex obsessed, miscreant meower but heavily baring Bakshi’s own brand, the film follows the crude and callous kitty as he cruises for lays, runs afoul of the fuzz, dabbles with radical politics, and gets mixed up with a fascist biker gang – tokin’ and jokin’ all along the way. Its X-rating, animation’s first, increased its legend but obscured its nature. Abundantly raunchy but far from porn, Bakshi succeeded in creating the urban “documentary of the 60s” he set out to, savagely satirizing race relations, free love, and politics by way of equal opportunity offending. 45 years later and more transgressive than ever, the gruff n’ heady cult classic has lost none of its barbarous bite.

Soon after Fritz grossed a surprising $90 million worldwide, young animator Charles Swenson (later co-director of Twice Upon A Time) approached Roger Corman with an idea for his own filthy fauna freakout. Corman gave the thumbs up and just $110,000 to create the hand drawn feature that would become Down & Dirty Duck, surely the 70s scruffiest, strangest and greatest animated oddity and one that feels like it ONLY ever screened after midnight. Fresh from animating the stand-out Dental Hygiene Dilemma segment for Zappa’s 200 Motels, Swenson recruited the Mothers of Invention’s Flo & Eddie (né Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman of The Turtles) to lend their voices, songs and warped brains to the mostly improvised film. What resulted was a stream of consciousness, offend-everyone-possible tale about a morose insurance co. flunky, the ribald humanoid duck he unwittingly inherits, and their surreal and smutty misadventures. All this combined with Swenson’s strikingly psychedelic style (shaggy doodles+cutouts+collage) puts Duck even further in the comix-esque vein than Fritz. Come discover what LA Times critic Charles Solomon once called “a sprawling undisciplined piece of sniggering vulgarity that resembles nothing so much as animated bathroom graffiti” – music to the ears of the midnight movie mindset!

Fritz the Cat, dir. Ralph Bakshi, 1972, 35mm, 78 min.
Down and Dirty Duck, dir. Charles Swenson, 1974, 35mm, 75 min

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

Pink Flamingos (Off-site at the Vista)

8/12/2017 - MIDNITE

This event will take place at the Vista, located at 4473 Sunset Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90027.

“Kill everyone now! Condone first-degree murder! Advocate cannibalism! Eat shit! Filth is my politics! Filth is my life!” — Divine, Pink Flamingos

Long before reality shows and sex tapes, drag goddess par excellence Divine showed us how to become the most notorious celebrity in the world with John Waters’ taboo-demolishing Pink Flamingos. Here she’s on the lam as trailer trash crime queen Babs Johnson, who will stop at nothing to beat a competing couple and earn the crown of “Filthiest Person Alive.” Watch as Divine shoplifts, murders, and castrates her way into your heart! Gasp at Divine’s proto-punk sense of fashion! Marvel at her show-stopping finale with a canine co-star! If you still haven’t seen this all-time shock value champ on the big screen — with an appalled audience at your side — then you really haven’t lived at all.

Dir. John Waters, 1972, 35mm, 92 min.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

Harold and Maude

8/12/2017 - 10:30PM

This event will take place at The Silent Movie Theater, located at 611 N. Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036.

“Harold is death, Maude life, and they manage to make the two seem so similar that life’s hardly worth the extra bother.” —Roger Ebert

“Harold is a young man who doesn’t want to live. Maude is an older woman who has a talent for living. They meet at a funeral and the fun begins there. The quirky and intelligent Hal Ashby (Being There, Coming Home) made a poignant, romantic film that wasn’t initially a hit but became the very definition of a cult classic” (Greg Proops). This heavy dose of black comedy and romantic existentialism is a must in the midnight-canon.

Dir. Hal Ashby, 1971, 35mm, 91 min.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

The Evil Dead

8/11/2017 - MIDNITE

This event will take place at The Silent Movie Theater, located at 611 N. Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036.

Some of the finest seat-jumping moments ever put on film are present in this pure, gut-wrenching horror experience that only gets better with age. In an unrelenting roller coaster ride of pure cinema, Sam Raimi splatters across the screen a tale of five college students who unwittingly unleash demons while vacationing at an isolated cabin. Star Bruce Campbell summed it up best when he recalled Evil Dead’s filmmaking credo: Often mistakenly thought to be a Michigan experience (due to Raimi and Campbell’s background), but in reality filmed in the hallowed woods of Tennessee, Evil Dead is a powerhouse of ingenuity and style in the face of inexperience and impossibly low funding. Without this film, not only would we not have Raimi’s hyperkinetic output, but there would also be no Coen Brothers (who grew from being early Raimi collaborators into masters in their own right) — and most likely, way fewer over-the-top Hong Kong fantasy films.

Dir. Sam Raimi, 1981, 35mm, 85 min.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

Reefer Madness

8/10/2017 - 11PM

This event will take place at The Silent Movie Theater, located at 611 N. Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036.

“Because the dread Marihuana may be reaching forth next for your son or daughter…or yours…or YOURS!”

Heed this, curious cinephiles, or you too may join the ranks of pink-eyed, late-night loonies indoctrinated by this mythic midnite rite of passage! Over 80 years after its release, Reefer Madness remains one of cinema’s first and greatest unintentional gutbusters, and its most uproariously absurd example of anti-drug propaganda. Beginning its life as a righteously sincere morality play (theories accredit its funding to either a wealthy church group or, more juicily, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics), it soon wound up in the hands of proto-exploitation icon Dwain Esper, who played up its seedy sordidness to capitalize on a widespread Green Scare hysteria. It then seemed fated for obscurity, if not for NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) founder Keith Stroup. Recognizing it for the unwitting satire it was, Stroup purchased a print from the Library of Congress in the early 70s and toured it around smoky college auditoriums nationwide, using the ticket sales to support his crusade against similarly absurd drug laws. Thus a midnight mainstay was born, and it’s not hard to see why bleary boys and girls kept coming back to crack up between coughs. Join your fellow “undesirable people” (as the film’s Dr. Alfred Carroll calls us) and get hooked on the hilarious habit you’ll never kick!

Dir. Louis J. Gasnier, 1936, 35mm, 66 min.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

Targets (w/ director Peter Bogdanovich in person)

8/9/2017 - 7:30PM

This event will take place at The Silent Movie Theater, located at 611 N. Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036.

Regarded as one of the 70s most celebrated auteurs, it’s easy to forget that Peter Bogdanovich made his bones on the midnight movie circuit with the Roger Corman produced Targets. Keying into the high-profile political shootings of the 1960s (though shot before MLK and Robert Kennedy were killed) as well as the Charles Whitman clock tower killing spree, Bogdanovich – who also plays a small role – deftly weaves parallel narratives; one a thriller involving a clean-cut but unstable Vietnam vet, the other a drama concerning an elderly 1930s horror star (Boris Karloff in a meta role) struggling to find his place in late 60s Hollywood. Smartly co-written by his at-the-time partner Polly Platt and shot by the inimitable Laszlo Kovacs, Targets shows incredible assurance for a first time director, proving that Bogdanovich’s years as a critic and student of cinema were merely a precursor to the awakening of a major talent. Too challenging for general audiences upon release, Targets’ prescient subject matter found resonance with counter-culturally minded movie fans, who, still reeling from the assassinations of their heroes, granted it a second life as a surprise midnight movie hit.

Dir. Peter Bogdanovich, 1968, 35mm, 90 min.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

Barton Fink

8/6/2017 - 7PM

Part of our tribute to Ben Barenholtz, creator of the midnight movie!

Inspired by Clifford Odets’ bitter experience of Hollywood, Joel and Ethan Coen produced a modern classic with Barton Fink — cleaning up at Cannes with the Palme d’Or, and both Best Director and Best Actor prizes. John Turturro delivers one of his greatest performances as Barton Fink, a successful New York playwright dubiously fixated with writing for the “Common Man,” who reluctantly enters the seedy, corrupted rabbit hole of the 1940s film industry. Suckered into moving to a crumbling Hollywood hotel, with audibly peeling wallpaper, and penning a mediocre wrestling pic, he quickly develops writer’s block and and falls into a noirish murder investigation. Aside from the thinly veiled characterization of Clifford Odets, the film is a densely woven tapestry of Hollywood gossip, legend, and apocrypha from Faulkner to Louis B. Mayer, with dashes of religious and literary references thrown in for good measure. The Coen brothers clearly had a field day skewering both the writer and the nightmarish characters that surround him, with the offbeat sensibility that’s made so much of their work essential.

Dir. Joel Coen, 1991, 35mm, 116 min.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

El Topo with Ben Barenholtz (Off-site at the Vista)

el topo
8/5/2017 - MIDNITE

This event will take place at the Vista, located at 4473 Sunset Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90027.

The original midnight movie – “A film too heavy to be shown any other way.”

If you mixed Federico Fellini, Sergio Leone, and a heavy dose of psilocybin in a blender, you might arrive at something close to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “acid western” masterpiece, El Topo. Part spaghetti western, part surreal philosophical allegory, the film – starring the director himself as the black leather-clad, vision-questing gunslinger – is a crystallization of his peccadilloes, including explosive, blood-gouting violence, deformed and/or mutilated characters working in tandem, nudity, and, most crucially, Eastern themes and Judeo-Christian imagery. And yet somehow, despite all the craziness, the film is an expanding, spiritual journey that is as entertaining as it is resonant – a feat Jodorowsky would repeat in his equally miraculous Holy Mountain. It’s easy to see why midnight movie trippers embraced El Topo and made a countercultural icon of Jodorowsky – you don’t have to be high to get it, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

With Ben Barenholtz – the man who literally invented the midnight movie, as a marketing stunt for El Topo’s original release! – in person.

Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1970, DCP, 125 min.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

Alina (w/ Darya Ekamasova in person)

8/5/2017 - 7PM

Part of our tribute to Ben Barenholtz, creator of the midnight movie! Introduced by a special surprise guest. Q&A moderated by Radha Mitchell.

From film programmer of the legendary Elgin theatre, to indie film distributor par excellence (Libra Films put out everything from Guy Maddin to Melville), to producer for the Coen Bros and George Romero, Ben Barenholtz has already had a full life and legacy. Now, he begins a whole new phase, at the age of 80 making his debut as a feature film director! Starring the talented Darya Ekamasova (featured on FX’s The Americans), Alina draws upon Barenholtz own experience as an immigrant to tell the tale of a young Russian woman coming to America in search of her lost father – with only a 25-year-old photo to guide her. Ultra-low budget, independent as all hell (as always for Ben!), fiery, and moving, Alina shows that it’s never too late to start making movies. Come celebrate with this special sneak preview. Q&A to follow with Ben Barenholtz and Darya Ekamasova.

Dir. Ben Barenholtz, 2016, digital presentation, 89 min.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

Tribute to Ben Barenholtz featuring Martin

8/4/2017 - 7:30PM

Part of our tribute to Ben Barenholtz

Producer, distributor, and showman Ben Barenholtz — who ran New York’s legendary Elgin theatre in the early 70s — is the man who literally invented the midnight movie, creating the time-slot as a marketing stunt for the original release of El Topo (“A Film Too Heavy To Be Shown Any Other Way” was his incredible tagline). Oh right, did we mention he discovered El Topo? And distributed Eraserhead when no one else would? And produced movies for George Romero and the Coen Bros? And now he’s directed his first feature at the age of 89? Join us as we celebrate one of the great behind-the-scenes forces in movie history!


“Don’t worry, I’m always careful with the needles,” advises the troubled Martin to a female victim as he injects her with a sedative. In a dim train car, he embraces her unconscious body and uses a razor blade to open her veins and drink her blood. With this unforgettable opening, Martin finds George Romero taking vampire lore into devastating waters, with the same precision and down-to-earth gusto found in his previous studies of zombies, witchcraft, and urban paranoia. The teenage Martin (John Amplas) lives with his stern uncle, who claims that Martin is actually an ancient, traditional vampire who stalks the streets at night; the viewer is never completely sure about the true nature of Martin’s identity, with eerie gothic flashbacks reinforcing the uneasy coexistence between past and present in his family. Plus, the violence is tastefully handled, with startling bursts of blood suddenly pooling out of characters who seem all too human. The kind of film that horror buffs adore, Martin is Romero’s true masterpiece, a perfect example of his personal expression as a filmmaker, and very rarely screened.

Dir. George Romero, 1977, digital presentation, 95 min.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

Friday Night Frights: Freaks

7/28/2017 - MIDNITE

Presented by Friday Night Frights

A whole generation of midnight moviegoers and cult film fans were weaned on this most disturbing of visions, and the true feather in the horror hat of Tod Browning (director of Dracula). Browning employed real “sideshow professionals” to tell this tale of betrayal and murder in the world of carnival freakshows. Here the freaks take center stage, and the result is startling, provocative and wholly sympathetic to its titular creatures. From cavorting microcephalic “pinheads” to a limbless human torso slithering under a carnival wagon en route to a murder, Freaks packs a wallop that still holds up even in our cynical, seen-it-all times.

Dir. Tod Browning, 1932, 35mm, 64 min.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

Pink Floyd: The Wall (Off-site at The Standard Hollywood)

7/27/2017 - 8:30PM

This event will take place at The Standard Hollywood, 8300 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069. Screening begins at 8:30pm; early arrival suggested.

Holy shit, ‘Floyd fans – if you’ve never seen Pink Floyd: The Wall, now’s the time to take the pill; as the film is more than a video album, more than a rock operetta, more than the sticky makeout party known as Laser Floyd at the Science Center. Director Alan Parker takes classic-rock-giant Pink Floyd’s eleventh (and most contentious) studio album and adds dimension after visual dimension to its iconic composition, slowly revealing the plummeting and heartbreaking internal depths of The Wall’s unexplored stories.

Following young Pink through a childhood of turmoil and hostility, The Wall is a visually rich yet morally devoid bildungsroman of mounting anxiety, as Pink struggles for connection and expression in an uncaring, violent world. Written by Roger Waters, based on the life of rock ‘n roll’s arguable persephone Syd Barrett, and rife with psychedelia, the film hypnotizes us deeply into the psychological sub-terrains of a soul’s disconnection from society – in only the way Waters can be our Virgil. With animation by Gerald Scarfe that brings an interplanar breadth to this sludgy, woeful musical epic of postwar algos, Waters has crafted a crucial forewarning – perhaps now more relevant than ever – of the psychosis of a human kept behind a wall.

Dir. Alan Parker, 1983, digital presentation, 95 min.

NOTE: To help track attendance, you must pre-register for “first-come, first-serve” admission. Your registration does not guarantee you a seat.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!