When you buy a movie ticket for a much-reviewed, “two thumbs up” major studio release starring A-list actors, you pretty much know what to expect. When you load up on caffeine and sugar to attend a midnight movie, however, you never know what might appear on the screen. In fact, the allure of midnight movies isn’t the time the film is scheduled, but the risk involved with watching something designed to push your buttons.

While you’re physically safe and comfortably snuggled inside the theater, you can be exposed to shocking, crude, or frightening images that are intended to make viewers uncomfortable — physically, emotionally, and intellectually. They may be horror films, concert footage, over-the-top animation, or off-color comedy, but midnight movies have one thing in common: You certainly won’t be bored.

The “Rocky Horror Picture Show” has long been a popular midnight feature because of its bizarre interactive blend of comedy, violence, and sexuality. “The Blair Witch Project,” which premiered as a midnight movie at the Sundance Film Festival in 1999, is another late-night favorite because of its guerrilla-style camera techniques coupled with its pseudo-documentary presentation and growing sense of fear and doom.

Art houses and second-run theaters may feature midnight movies regularly or on special occasions, such as Halloween, but you can usually find the best selection of outrageous midnight feature films and shorts programs by attending a film festival.

The midnight movies program for the 2006 Florida Film Festival, for instance, includes Ben Meade’s “American Stag,” which explores the origin of dirty movies, Brett Leonard’s “Feed,” which examines a fetish subculture devoted to large women, and Joshua and Jeffrey Crook’s “Salvage,” a thriller about a woman’s gruesome nightmares. Titles from the midnight shorts program include “Phone Sex Grandma” and “The Tozer Show: The Urine Bomber.”

Matthew Curtis, programming director for the Florida Film Festival and Enzian Theater, says many factors determine which movies make it to the midnight slot. “Usually we like midnight movies to be edgy, off-the-wall, very funny, sexual, perverse, visionary, extreme, cutting edge, violent — something that people can’t see anywhere else,” he says.

Likewise, Thomas Ethan Harris, former programming director for the Los Angeles Film Festival, says when he schedules midnight movies he seeks obsessed, twisted, satirical work that re-envisions a genre.

“The first thing to look for in a midnight movie is creative obscurity,” Harris says. “It doesn’t have to be a weird cult film or a horror classic, but it must be inspired by a far-reaching inspiration that has a style or look that is more challenging than traditional coverage of the subject.”

Harris observes that although midnight programs have changed recently to include all genres rather than just horror films, the type of people who attend remains the same. “Midnight audiences are a really intelligent group of people. They have to know film history in order to understand new satire.”

Midnight horror films usually attract young male audiences and midnight musicals attract older mixed audiences — two of many examples that each film must find its niche.

“Midnight audiences tend to be a little more open-minded and forgiving,” Curtis says. “Although the majority of midnight audiences are college-aged males, we see lots of mixed crowds because women can enjoy a sick joke as much as the next guy.”

So if you’re looking for a sick joke, new satire, far-reaching inspiration, creative obscurity, or just something different from your normal routine, skip the afternoon matinee and head for a midnight movie.

Source by Leslie Halpern