Coolidge Corner Theatre is hosting 'Midnight Movies 101.' We have your syllabus

Tim Curry in Jim Sharman's enduring midnight classic, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." (Courtesy PHOTOFEST)
Tim Curry in Jim Sharman's enduring midnight classic, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." (Courtesy PHOTOFEST)

As you can probably tell from all the rental trucks getting stuck on Storrow Drive, the annual influx of new college students has once again arrived in our fair city. In the interests of the recently matriculated, Coolidge After Midnite is devoting the month of September to “Midnight Movies 101,” a canonical overview of cult films curated by director of special programming Mark Anastasio, who this past June received an honorary Ph.D. from Troma University, bestowed by founder Lloyd Kaufman himself before a screening of “The Toxic Avenger.”

The series is focused on introducing audiences to the most notorious of nocturnal blockbusters, from back when people first started getting groovy at the movies after hours. It’s a lineup of classics that Professor Anastasio hopes will be “a beacon for weirdos,” inviting a whole new class to come out on weekend nights and let their freak flags fly. To make things easier for incoming freshmen, we’ve provided a syllabus complete with related courses, discussion questions and recommended reading.

'Pink Flamingos'

The most disgusting movie ever made turns 50 this year, and time has done nothing to dull its tacky, transgressive appeal. (If anything, it feels like an even more necessary provocation today.) John Waters’ signature attack on good taste stars his regular partner-in-crime Divine, here trying to defend her title as the Filthiest Person Alive from a couple of power-mad sex perverts who run a stolen baby ring and push heroin at elementary schools. The film proudly presents rape, incest, murder, sodomy, cannibalism, castration, bestiality, an anus that sings “Surfin’ Bird” and an unsimulated act of coprophilia that sent audiences staggering into aisles slick with vomit. Yet it remains an endearingly ebullient film — full of camaraderie and fellow feeling — taking contagious delight in the deviant antics. Five decades ago, Waters used to get arrested for obscenity whenever the movie screened in certain cities. It’s now part of the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

Related courses: Deviant Psychology 202, Poultry in Practice

'Repo Man'

According to Hollywood legend, Universal Pictures executives were so baffled by Alex Cox’s sneeringly hilarious 1983 debut that they’d planned to bury it on VHS, until local cinema hero George Mansour booked the film for midnight screenings at Kenmore Square’s seedy old Nickelodeon theater, where punks started streaming in after evenings at the Rathskeller or Spit. A triumph of terrible attitude, the film stars Emilio Estevez as a disaffected supermarket clerk mentored in the art of automobile repossession by Harry Dean Stanton’s grizzled old speed freak. Everyone’s chasing a Chevy Malibu that has an alien locked in its trunk, but the movie’s more concerned with giving the finger to Ronald Reagan’s Morning in America. “Repo Man” takes place in a flattened-out, anonymously scuzzy consumerist wasteland set to music by Iggy Pop and the Circle Jerks, where everybody’s generally rotten but at least they’re affable about it. Estevez would never again be this cool.

Related courses: Auto Body Workshop, Advanced Roswell Conspiracy Studies

Suggestions for further reading: "The Many Names of Pablo Picasso" by Jonathan Richman

'El Topo'

Originally screened seven nights a week after hours at New York City’s Elgin Theatre, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1970 acid Western became such a favorite of John Lennon’s that he talked Beatles manager Allen Klein into distributing the movie across the U.S. via ABKCO’s film division. This stark, seriously strange experience stars the filmmaker himself as a gunslinger circling in a spiral to the center of a round desert, hunting four separate masters of mayhem who are each supposed to represent one of the world’s major religions, I think. It’s an elusive movie edited with deliberately destabilizing cuts that reorient the audience to different perspectives on these buckets of bright red blood and abrupt acts of violence. Unavailable on home video until 2007, the film attained mythic status on the repertory and bootleg circuit alongside Jodorowsky’s 1973 follow-up, “The Holy Mountain.” Mesmerizing even if I have no idea what’s going on half the time.

Related courses: Ancient Icons: Eye of Providence, Edibles.

Questions for discussion: What could the woman drinking from the stone phallus water fountain possibly represent?


The Coolidge’s current pre-show video features Julianne Moore reminiscing about seeing “Eraserhead” at the theater way back in her Boston University days, which as far as I’m concerned beats the heck out of Nicole Kidman welcoming us to AMC. To Ms. Moore’s point, it’s probably impossible to forget where you were when you first saw David Lynch’s demented 1977 debut , a black-and-white phantasmagoria of paternal anxiety and dread, set in a clanging, industrial nightmare space of noisy pipes and an even noisier baby. Some Lynch movies can be abstruse in their intentions but there’s no mistaking here the primordial terror of a young father-to-be facing his deepest fears of being saddled with an ugly, torturously needy parasite that, no matter what, will not let you get any sleep. There ain’t much else a poor dad can do besides long for a woman in the radiator to reassure him that at least in heaven, everything is fine.

Related courses: HVAC Repair and Maintenance Workshop

Suggestions for further reading: "Chicken Recipes for the Entire Family" by the Editors of Reader’s Digest, "Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care" by Benjamin Spock, M.D.

'The Warriors'

Walter Hill’s 1979 action classic is set in New York City but takes place somewhere near the intersection of comic books and Greek mythology. There’s nary a civilian to be found in this nightscape populated almost entirely by elaborately costumed street gang members guarding their turf with bats, chains and any other blunt instrument within reach. When our title crew is framed for an assassination of a rival leader during a meeting in the Bronx, they’ve got to make it 20 miles back to Coney Island with every gang in the city after their scalps. It’s a lean and mean little bruiser of a movie, elemental in its pleasures and infamous among theater owners for drawing rowdy crowds. (Anastasio claims that most of his early-career encounters with difficult customers occurred at late-night Coolidge screenings of “The Warriors.”) But the biggest thrill for local Yankee-haters is bound to be what becomes of the face-painted, pinstripe-wearing Baseball Furies.

Related courses: Urban Planning for the Commuter Era, How to Stitch a Leather Vest

Questions for discussion: 1.) Can you dig it? 2.) Can you dig it? 3.) Can you dig it?

Suggestions for further reading: “The Iliad” by Homer

'The Rocky Horror Picture Show'

The quintessential midnight movie bombed upon initial release in 1975, revived a year later as an audience participation experience at Greenwich Village’s Waverly Theater to become the longest-running theatrical release in cinema history. It’s a beguiling blend of cheesy 1950s sci-fi movie tropes and drag show burlesque, with Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon’s uptight, all-American couple seduced by Tim Curry’s vamping “Sweet Transvestite” Dr. Frank N. Furter in a happy, horny celebration of decadent desires. A “shadowcast” lip-syncing in front of the screen performed at midnight shows for more than 25 years at the Harvard Square Theatre until it shuttered in 2012. (They’ve since moved to the AMC Boston Common but at a more reasonable hour.) The film endures not just because of the rollicking songs by Richard O’Brien, but because it sees sex as something like those old monster movies it spoofs — scary at first, until you realize how much fun you’re having.

Related courses: Transylvanian Gender Studies, Motorcycle Repair

Questions for discussion: Whatever happened to Fay Wray?

Suggestions for further reading: “I, Igor: The Plight of Laboratory Assistants in Horror Literature” by R.M. Renfield.

'The Room'

For reasons that continue to confound, this oddball fiasco from writer-director-star Tommy Wiseau has been selling out midnight shows at the Coolidge since 2009. A rite of passage for area students and quite possibly the worst film ever made, this staggeringly incompetent tale of a very strange man’s heartbreak was immortalized in James Franco’s 2017 “The Disaster Artist,” an overly charitable making-of comedy content to skim the surface of a project so inept on every level it feels like footage of recently arrived aliens failing to pass themselves off as people. Yet I find something off-putting and unpleasant about this whole phenomenon, noticing none of the celebratory or mind-expanding qualities one usually feels at these late-night gatherings. It’s a petty, misogynistic movie made by a creepy guy trying to get back at his ex, and the 11 minutes of graphic, anatomically confounding sex scenes only add to the ick factor. Crazy when “Pink Flamingos” feels like a more palatable alternative.

Related courses: Misogyny 101, A History of Spoons

Suggestions for further reading: “Filmmaking for Dummies” by Bryan Michael Stoller

“Midnight Movies 101” runs at the Coolidge Corner Theatre from Friday, Sept. 2, through Saturday, Sept. 24.


Headshot of Sean Burns

Sean Burns Film Critic
Sean Burns is a film critic for The ARTery.



More from WBUR

Listen Live