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Midnight madness

By Ray Pride

JULY 6, 1998:  Midnight movies made their mark in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as "head trips" to accompany one's drug of choice.

Think films such as Jodorowsky's spacy "El Topo," the $100-million earning "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and John Waters' rude "Pink Flamingos." "I thought up the entire movie on pot," John Waters once told me. "I did not shoot the movie on pot, but the entire audience was on pot and the reviewers who liked it were potheads."

The advent of videotape changed the face of film exhibition in many ways, but the midnight show suffered the most. Midnight shows play regularly at only a handful of theaters. The Angelika in New York is in its sixth month of showing Harmony Korine's "Gummo." And the Village, Village North and Music Box run shows each weekend.

And in recent years, no company has stepped up to do more than play off a campy hit or a film maudit like "Showgirls." (After Fine Line's playoff of "Gummo," New Line began an advertising-supported, nationwide reissue of "Austin Powers" on the midnight circuit.)

Coincidentally, "Austin Powers"' reissue began the same weekend as upstart distributors Cowboy Booking International combined forces with Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures and Grindhouse Releasing to release Lucio Fulci's never-before-seen English-language version of his 1981 horror item, "The Beyond." Its literally eye-popping violence and hallucinatory badness would have guaranteed it an urban audience in the 1970s, but nowadays such movies go straight to video. "The Beyond" escapes that fate to play strictly as a midnight movie nationwide. As gory horror goes, I'm more fond of the lurid incoherence and slashing visual style of Fulci's countryman, Dario Argento, but the brand-new widescreen prints struck from the restored negative at Technicolor-Rome show off Fulci's story of murder and skin-melting Satanist mayhem in the Louisiana Bayou in the format it was meant to be seen. The screenings at the Music Box will probably lack the charm of the demolished Loop grindhouses like the United Artists - you'll have to bring your own rats and loose joints.

(Ray Pride)

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