True Tales Of The Theater

“If someone threw up at one of my screenings, it would be like a standing ovation.”

–         John Waters.

You never forget your first time. Immersed in pitch darkness with a partner, or group of choice, all anticipating a mutual inevitable payoff. Flesh presses against flesh ‘accidentally’, and liquids are spilled on the floor. And then the moment that everyone is waiting for arrives, and the grand lady of the theater parts her red velvet curtains, and the camera casts its magic on the screen.. All eyes are locked in, and the audience sinks into a relaxed lull, until some juvenile shit stick decides to light up a brand new pack of M-80 red rocket fireworks, and all hell breaks loose.

Those who have worked in theaters, and those who haunted enough, will all clearly tell you that anything and everything can take place between its grimy walls. While the experiences all varied from good to bad, to those requiring a hepatitis shot, they could never be erased. The assortment of sights, smells, stains, and characters are all locked away in the theater of our minds, encased in celluloid dreams forever more.

It’s no word of a lie when I say that some of the most enjoyable moments of my life were spent within the confines of a cinema. While the whole act may be ritualistic in itself, it was never the same thing twice. While you could always assume to know what was happening in terms of the film, you never knew what was going to take place in the darkness….

1974 – The Breezes Drive In – Canada

The first ‘movie memory’ that springs to mind is as a young whelp on an outing to see ‘Grizzly Adams’ at a local drive in. As expected, numerous ‘Coming Attractions’ were always previewed in between the features. Only imagine what sadistic intent the projectionist had in mind as he spooled out the trailer for Hershel Gordon Lewis’s pinnacle of sleaze, ‘The Gore Gore Girls’. Within 2 short minutes, I think every kid in the lot must have filled their shorts at having to bear witness to the brazen gore and all out carnality.

Attempts to quickly switch the reel for a Felix the cat cartoon were all in vain. The damage had been done. It was that sleazy trifecta of boobs, blood, and a fake fork in the eye that warped our fragile young minds ineludibly. Many years later I was able to share my recollection with the director himself. While HG Lewis thanked me for appreciating his films, the only thing he could say regarding the incident was, ‘That projectionist was insane. He should have been arrested’

1987 – Ottawa Canada

I never had the chance to see, ‘Platoon’ during its initial release, so decided to catch a screening at a nearby rep cinema while attending university. It’s no surprise that people have been known to fire up various kinds of ‘smoky treats’ while in the cinema, and others have sometimes reacted less than favorably.

The hophead in question tried to play it incognito by sitting in the back row against the wall, but the pungent odor of his skunk weed gave him away. While most of the theater tried to ignore the green fog that hung in the air like a Godzilla fart, one man wasn’t having it. After telling ‘billy burnout’ several times to, ‘quit burning that shit’, the man finally got up, and grabbed a fire extinguisher posted beside the exit, and blasted the baked bean, covering both stash and stoner in a white sticky chemical foam. Now we were all treated to the delightful scent of dirt weed, and toxic foam.

The irony was that after both were escorted out of the theater, and the film resumed we all sat and watched as a young Charlie Sheen got high by taking a mega shotgun toke from the barrel of a rifle. Does life mimic film, or does film mimic life?

1987 – Ottawa Canada

Months later at the same theater during an Exorcist/Hellraiser double bill, the audience really lost their shit during a simulated medical ‘possession’.

We were seated near the front of the theater, and had no visible vantage point to what was going on behind us. At some point in the middle of The Exorcist, a woman seated behind us suddenly lets out a scream like a shotgun blast. Immediately the whole theater pulls a Linda Blair and spins their heads to see what was going down. The woman continued screaming in agony as her hair was knotted in the fist of a man seated immediately behind her. His eyes were rolled back in his head, and he was bent as if someone broke his spine. After rocking his head back and forth, he unloaded a stream of spittle and vomit over those near by.

A quick thinking patron recognized that the poor guy was in the midst of a ‘Grand Mal’ seizure, and quickly crammed his wallet in his mouth, and called an ambulance. After finding out he was going to be ok, and that the woman didn’t lose that much of her scalp, we didn’t have the heart to sit there and watch Lind Blair re-enact what just took place in the theater, so we left.

1992 – Toronto International Film Festival – Midnight Madness

Whodini was right on the money when they said that the ‘freaks come out at night’.

Back in the day when the ‘Midnight Madness’ program was based out of the Bloor cinema, every funky film junkie would burn the midnight oil to catch the latest fringe freak out.

It was during a screening of the notorious Belgian serial killer mockumentary, ‘Man Bites Dog’ that I was introduced to, ‘The giggler’. He sat alone in the dead center of the theater, and softly chuckled to himself at first. As the film progressed, and developed in violent intensity, the man began to respond with giggles, snorts, and a  snicker like Ernie on Sesame Street.

At first,  while some in the audience nervously laughed along, thinking they missed the black humor in the film, it soon began apparent that the giggler was beginning to wig everyone out. The film was billed as a, ‘killer  comedy’, and there were points where people laughed understandably, but the giggler was in a zone of his own, reveling in glee at all the wretched low points the film had to offer

As the film reached the point of a horrendous rape and murder, chuckles could hardly contain himself, and laughed and giggled, and bounced in his seat like a kid on Christmas morning. People might have their fetish of choice, and all the power to them, but  this guy was ready to launch,  and it was flat out capital D disturbing. Without a doubt, this was probably the creepiest experience I’ve had in a theater to date.

The ironic point to be made about the giggler is that he comes in many forms and variations. We had our own hometown giggler who used to haunt the local Brantford mall, and Odeon cinemas, alone in the dark, chuckling away at whatever amused his twisted sensibilities.

Our final true tale of cinema also took place during the 92 Midnight Madness run. A female friend and I decided to check out the latest splatastic film of a talented low budget director who would soon establish himself as a major player in Hollywood, and abroad.

As we sit down, I happen to notice a crew of stewed prunes in suits seated right behind us, just reeking of hooch. My friend happened to ask me if I had seen any other films, and I had mentioned that I had seen an up and coming crime film that was pretty decent.

All of the sudden one of the loudest pissed suits behind us leans over to inform me that the  crime film I had just commented upon was in fact a, ‘piece of shit’. When I asked the slobbering drunk why he happened to think so, all he could say was ‘because I directed the fucking thing all right?’ His arms started flailing like propeller blades,and from there on in, he could not be stopped. Off he goes into a non stop balls to the wall coco puff spastic diatribe about how he had to get his cast for the movie, most of who were seated beside him, barely vertical.

Soon the lights dropped, and Mr. ants in his pants danced out of the theater nowhere to be found. Apparently rumor has it he crawled into the lobby, and blew enough chunks to fill a reservoir ten times over…..

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Everybody’s got a true theater tale to tell, and we encourage you to lay it on us.

It doesnt have to be sick, sordid, or crazy shit. What were you fondest moments in a theater, or the moments you keep trying to forget? The moments that made it all more that ‘just a movie’….Let the tales commence….

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One Response to “True Tales Of The Theater”

  1. MaggotBrain Says:

    Great stories. Love the ending of the last one. You could say he handled himself ingloriously!

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