Back in 2010, I had my greatest experience watching a movie in a theatre. To coincide with a number of its guests, the Saturday Nightmares convention hosted a screening of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in 35 millimeter. I’d been thwarted at least twice in my desire to see it on the big screen, first and most memorably at the Texas Frightmare Weekend, when my flight tripped me up. NOTLD had a legacy with me, not only because it was directed by my favorite horror director George Romero, but because of the experience my mom had with it back in 1968. Finally, I had my chance, and it was awesome.
The whole thing was enhanced greatly by my company for the film, Gary Streiner. Gary and I have been friends for several years since I met him at Chiller and supported his Living Dead Festival, and I genuinely him because he’s a great guy. But he also likes to talk, and with him in the seat next to me, I got a running commentary on the film, with all sorts of facts that nobody else covers in those things. This was an awesome experience for me, and I smile every time I think of it.
One thing Gary said that night is particularly poignant. As the print played through the projector and the title screen came up, Gary smiled and said, “God, I love every scratch on that film.” Gary clearly appreciated that 40+ years out, he, I and a few hundred other people were viewing NOTLD the way it was meant to be viewed.
None of that sucked. In fact, all of it was awesome. I wrote a report on it that night, and posted it for the world and Gary and Russ Streiner to read.
What does suck is the way the Huntington Cinema Arts Centre jobbed me this past Saturday when I went to see THE OMEN.
For the past several summers, the Centre (CAC for short) has run its Summer Camp Cinema, a festival of mainly horror flicks. The appeal for someone such as me, who grew up on VCR tapes and didn’t see so many horror shows in a theatre, is to see them at the CAC in their original 35 mm format. That’s supposed to be the deal, and I happily paid my 13 bucks to abide by it.
What happened when I got to the theatre was not that at all. The guy hosting the double feature screening of THE OMEN and ROSEMARY’S BABY thanked us all for coming and assured he was just as excited as we were to see two classic devil stories.
And then the hammer dropped.
“Unfortunately, I looked at the 35 mm print of THE OMEN about 2 hours ago, and it’s as pink as pink can be. So tonight we’ll be projecting a nice, crisp digital copy.”
Whoa whoa whoa. Hold up, buddy. Who in hottest Hell whispered in your ear that that would be some great idea?
With that one sentence, I went from elated to furious.
A few days later, I’m still pissed off about it. For a number of reasons, the sum of which point me to say what the CAC did with their OMEN screening was inexcusable.
I haven’t been to the CAC a whole lot, but I’ve seen enough films there to know they’re not averse to showing dreadful prints. When I saw BLACULA back on Halloween (the day my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She’s playing a greater part in my movie going now than she ever did when she took me to see BAMBI at age 5), the film looked as if it were being projected over a Christmas tree with red, blinking lights. The second feature that night, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, was a cleaner print, though still marred with age and by the fact that the flick sucks. Mike Cucinotta’s told me their CREEPSHOW print was drained and brownish yellow. So why shelf the 35 mm print of THE OMEN, when the theatre has happily shown poor prints before?
On a personal level, this irked me even worse. As anyone who’s been reading the site lately knows, THE OMEN is my favorite horror flick. It nudges past NOTLD by a nose. I took off from my restaurant job that night and trekked all the way to Huntington not just for the movie—which I’ve seen hundreds of times—but for the experience. And the CAC denied me the experience. This is unacceptable, and ultimately unforgivable. I was 4 when the film came out, and even my extremely liberal parents weren’t taking me to an R-rated flick about the Antichrist (Goddamn Bambi!). This may have been my only shot to see THE OMEN on 35 mm. And the people running the show dropped the ball. Big time.
It also frustrates and annoys me that I’d watched THE OMEN four times in less than a month on DVD, in preparation for my retrospective on the franchise. Not only had I watched it with its original soundtrack twice, but with two different commentaries. It hadn’t cost me a penny to do so, because I’ve owned the flick since 2000 on DVD. So why was I paying 13 bucks to do what I could’ve done at home? I could’ve invited Mike and his boyfriend Mark over, cooked some kickass crab cakes and scallop dogs, popped open some beers and had a killer experience watching it at home, with exactly the same visual quality the theatre offered. Yes, I was getting a second feature, and yes, that was on 35 mm. And yes, that second flick was ROSEMARY’S BOREDOM—errr, BABY.
Lastly, I was bothered on your behalf. I’d hyped the CAC’s double feature to my small audience here at Death Ensemble. It’s likely that none of my readers made it to Huntington. But if I sold one ticket for the theatre, that’s on me. It makes me and ultimately DE look bad, and that’s not good business for anyone.
Movie going is supposed to be an experience. For the niche horror audience who’s going to come out for two flicks the newest of which is 36 years old, it should be a special experience, maybe once in a lifetime. The CAC should’ve pondered that for a moment before dumping a disc in a DVD player.
The teacher in me feels compelled to sum up this lesson as such: If revival movie programs show only the original 35 mm prints of films to horror fans who want to see them that way, it makes horror web writers look a-ok to their audience, and all is well in the universe. If not, Shao Kahn will be the next one to drop a hammer, because… IT’S OFFICIAL! YOU SUCK!