The History of the Midnight Movie

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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!

ABD presents: Fritz the Cat + Down and Dirty Duck

8/17 - 7:30PM
$14/free for members

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!

Friday Night Frights: Bloodsucking Freaks

8/18 - MIDNITE
$12/free for members

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!

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

8/19 - MIDNITE
$12/free for members

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!

The Harder They Come

8/23 - 7:30PM
$12/free for members

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!

Jerry Beck's Midnight Madness

8/25 - 10PM
$12/free for members

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

Animated shorts of all sorts were regularly part of midnight shows in the 1970s and 1980s. Between double features, preceding cult movies, and in between rock shows, cartoons were featured to keep the captive crowd on a contact high. Frequently, a whole program of campy, crazy, vintage ‘toons would hold forth from midnight till 3am. Cinefamily’s resident animation guru, Jerry Beck, actually curated several midnight cult cartoon fests at New York’s 8th Street Playhouse and Thalia repertory theaters back in the day. He’s consented to collect his favorite selection of groovy ‘toons, some from the golden age, others created by the earliest independent animators of the 60s and 70s, and he will give us some insights as to animation’s role in the history of Midnight movies. The Sunshine Makers, Bambi Meets Godzilla, and The Cobweb Hotel are among the films in this rare set. You don’t need to bring your legally prescribed medical marijuana… these cartoons will get you high on their own…

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

Viva la Muerte

8/25 - MIDNITE
$12/free for members

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

For fans of Jodorowsky’s transgressive surrealism and taboo-defying imagery, experimental Spanish playwright Fernando Arrabal’s work will be an exciting discovery. The two of them, along with artist Roland Topor (who created Fantastic Planet, as well as the credit sequence to this film) founded the Panique art movement — because they thought the Surrealist movement had become too mainstream. Viva la Muerte (“Long Live Death!”), Arrabal’s debut film, is a highly personal tale set during the Spanish Civil War, fueled by bizarre images of violence, sexuality, and biting political commentary.

It is more high-minded and challenging than one expects from typical midnight movie fare — it was probably only programmed by distributors chasing the success of El Topo — and a disturbing, striking tour-de-force considered by many critics to be the pinnacle of Spanish avant-garde filmmaking.

Dir. Fernando Arrabal, 1971, 35mm, 90 min.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

Night of the Living Dead (Off-site at the Vista)

8/26 - MIDNITE
$12/free for members

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

Join us to celebrate the sadly-departed master with his essential contribution to the midnight movie canon.

Romero’s ‘68 masterpiece, elegant in its simplicity and stark in its depiction of an American populace sleepwalking through the Vietnam era, remains the template for the modern zombie film, even after all these years. Even if you think you know the film inside and out — when’s the last time you actually sat down and watched it? In 35mm? Come give it another whirl with us, and rediscover its brutal beauty.

Dir. George Romero, 1968, 35mm, 96 min.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

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

8/27 - 7:30PM
$15/free for members

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!

200 Motels

8/31 - 10PM
$14/free for members

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

With an introduction by Diva Zappa

Written in bits and pieces in hotels and motels over a five year period of touring (hence the title), this kaleidoscope of ideas both musical and cinematic was a double album, a symphony, a reinvention of the Mothers of Invention, and a very, very, very strange film. The first movie shot on video and subsequently transferred to film, this allowed for all kinds of wild and weird effects to be used, and on top of that, the collage of ideas and collaborators include animation director Charles Swenson (Dirty Duck), graphic production and production design by Cal Schenkel, Ringo Starr (“as” Zappa), Keith Moon playing a nun, legendary groupies Pamela Des Barres, Janet Ferguson and Lucy Offerall, Theodore Bikel, Flo and Eddie and, of course, The Mothers of Invention. This surrealistic musical comedy was, if anything, about how touring makes you crazy — and that craziness spread onto the set, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra eventually finding they couldn’t handle it (at the end of filming they ripped up their rented tuxedos). Too out there for mainstream critics and filmgoers, it found an audience amongst the late night crowd. Now, the world has caught up to how special 200 Motels is, and it stands as both a midnight movie perennial and a rare cinematic rendering of the Zappa aesthetic.

Dirs. Frank Zappa (characterizations) and Tony Palmer (visuals), 1971, 35mm, 98 min.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!

Friday Night Frights: Plan 9 from Outer Space (w/ Larry Karaszewski & Dana Gould)

$12/free for members

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

Presented by Friday Night Frights

For the uninitiated, Mr. Wood was a filmmaker who pooled all his resources to make movies in the 1950s and 60s; the thing is, the films aren’t very good. In fact, they’re legendarily “bad,” at least by any conventional definition—glued together with the no-budget, eager showmanship that later gave him the unfair title of Worst Director Ever and a fervent cult following from Danzig to Tim Burton. But let’s destroy the “so-bad-it’s-good” term. Ed Wood made lovable movies with strong atmosphere, awkward dialogue, implausible plots, and a static style that is as strange and seductive as it is hilarious. It’s been 50+ years since he made his magnum opus, Plan 9 from Outer Space — with an all-star cast of Tor Johnson, Vampira, Criswell, Bela Lugosi — and we’re here to celebrate with a rare 35mm screening!

Dir. Ed Wood, 1959, 35mm, 79 min.

Watch the trailer!