What was the last movie you saw at the theater before the world went to shit? Me? My son and I saw The Invisible Man. I loved it. I wish I could go see it again. Or go see anything at all. Hell, give me an Ernest Comes Back From The Dead or Final Destination XII, just so long as I can pay more for snacks and drinks than the actual movie and sit in the cold darkness for a couple hours. Some popcorn that will slide right down my gullet thanks to the industrial-grade oil/butter they slather it in, or the peanut M&Ms packaged in a container the whole theater can hear every time I shove my sausage-like fingers in for one more. Give me the goofy local commercials they play on a loop 20 minutes before the show starts, and trailers to 12 new Disney flicks I won’t go see.
I don’t care what it is, I just need the quiet, chilled, dark solace of a movie theater where I can be alone with no thoughts other than “I can’t wait for this to start!”
I’d go to the movies all the time as a kid, as my parents went quite a bit. Either they were fans of the cinema as well, or they just knew I’d shut up for 90 or so minutes and not bug them. Summer movies were the best as we could escape the Midwest heat for the length of a movie. I didn’t care what the movie was. If I could sit in an air-conditioned theater instead of sweating on our Flexsteel couch at home I was in. I remember my dad took me to see Krull and Cloak and Dagger, while my mom took me to see Pete’s Dragon and Stand By Me. We all saw the Star Wars films together, as well as Spielberg fare and Ghostbusters.
I remember the first R-rated movie I saw in the theater was Tom Holland’s Fright Night. Man, what a great flick. Gory, funny, and some great jump scares thrown in for good measure. This started a horror movie theme that went clear up into my 20s with my parents. I remember seeing Silver Bullet, Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, House, Return of the Living Dead, and the list goes on. We also saw quite a few 80s action movies, too. Commando, Rambo : First Blood Part 2, Rambo 3, Predator,…well, pretty much any cheesy Arnold or Sly flick we took in.
I was bored one night and the parents were heading in to see Witness. Figured why not? I’ll go. There’s Han Solo, the chick from Top Gun, and some Amish. I know Amish people. Turned out I loved that movie. My first experience with Peter Weir and my appetite for “film”, as opposed to “movies”. I’d already been a fan of At The Movies with Siskel and Ebert. I almost always agreed with the big guy and disagreed with the bald guy. I think those weekend viewings on Channel 34 out of South Bend, Indiana are what turned me into a fan of film. I was so excited to see them talk about something I was excited to see, and so disappointed when they gave it two thumbs down. Most of the time they were right, though. Not always, but most of the time.
We were pretty lucky in our small town because as a kid we had two options for the cinema and four in the summer time. We had two drive-in theaters and one was a double screen, the Warsaw Drive-In and the Lincolndale Drive-In(with two screens.) Downtown we had the Lake Theater and on the east side of town there was the Center Cinema which was two screens. In the mid-80s they converted the beautiful old style Lake Theater into two screens as well. It was nice to have more options, but in retrospect I was sad to see that majestic large-scale theater be cut in half. When it was a single screen it was a large auditorium, complete with a stage, curtains, and colored gel lights that shined up onto the screen. It was almost dream-like to sit in there and wait, popcorn in hand, as music played quietly above in what felt like a seemingly endless blackness above our heads. Showtime would hit, lights would dim, curtains would spread, and then magic.
What we’d lost in the Lake Theater truly hit home when in my late-teens my best friend and I saw Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead remake in an old downtown Elkhart, Indiana theater. It was a single screen with the stage, colored lights, and curtain. We were the only two in the theater and it kind of felt like the end of the world, in the best way possible. The last two souls sitting in an ancient hall watching horror on screen as desolation painted the world outside of the screen.
I kept going to the theater often clear into my 20s. But then when we became parents things changed. Babysitters, G and PG fare, and just the genuine lack of funds thanks to diapers, saving up for Christmas, and fading sanity. But as the kids got older it was more fun to go. I didn’t mind the Pixar stuff and I was always down for a Spongebob movie. Then came along those magnificent bastards at Marvel and my son and I had a built in cinema schedule. Regardless of what you think of the superhero movies, those are MADE for the cinema. Big, colorful, entertaining, and thrilling. You got your money’s worth. You STILL get your money’s worth. It was a cinema experience I could share with my kids, then eventually just my son when the girls got bored with the whole thing.
And now that my son is a teenager and he’s fully steeped into horror and sci fi we hit up everything that looks reasonably good. We saw It Comes At Night, Midsommar, Hereditary, Doctor Sleep, and I’m sure more that my middle-aged brain can currently recall. It’s one of those experiences that I’m sure dads and sons that love sports share when they go to a ballgame.
For us, our ball diamond is the cinema.
It’s our house of worship. It’s our portal to another realm. It’s a place of dreams and fantasy where you can leave the bills, the jobs, the stress, and the heartache of a world going mad behind and just lock into a story. A story told in moving pictures, imagination, and sound. Where fear and joy are meant to be experienced side by side. Where humor and sadness interlock like hands on a cold night. The cinema is a magical place where if you can shut your brain off for a bit things get a little fuzzy and quiet and beautiful.
I miss it.