If a “midnight movie” is being streamed to a laptop at two in the afternoon – and no one is there to obsess over you – is that even a midnight movie?
Some movies automatically qualify as a midnight movie thanks to subject matter or conceptual bravery; Divine didn’t eat dog shit to disrespect you to “Pink Flamingos” (1972). Others get their genre credentials acquired from decades of fans selecting them; cheesy or not, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) always counts.
But past countercultural phenomena can’t forever drive the future of genre and weird film culture. A tradition rooted in transgression, allowed to wander down a sad path of static nostalgia and quotes from “The Big Lebowski” (1998), is not transgressive at all. And it’s not like there’s a shortage of cinema in the face that’s being produced. We live in a world where Agathe Rouselle fucked a fire truck in “Titane” (2021), and a certain cartoon bear used Eeyore’s severed tail as a whip in “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” (2023 ). And yet, the 21st-century embarrassment of ridiculous riches seems to somewhat undermine the midnight movie moniker.
With countless taboo, transgressive, low-budget indies streaming 24/7 (for all we know, “Midnight Movies” may already be the name of a niche streaming service), the real-world subculture that revolves around midnight movies of the last century feels oversaturated and understated at the same time.
On the one hand, identifying and canonizing new midnight movies should be easy; we have more than enough movies to watch and countless artists screaming to saysomething. On the other hand, the days of her sneaking off to the theater in search of provocative images found nowhere else are effectively over. Anyone with wifi and ten seconds to kill can find myriad opportunities to shock themselves in unspeakable ways. Hell, “Hostel” (2005) was on Hulu.
But with cinemas supporting the life of superheroes — and the internet colder and broader than ever — where to start turning titles you can theoretically stream anytime into communal experiences best enjoyed by hardcore cinephiles in the dark?
What makes a midnight movie?
In the world of festivals, “midnight movies” have taken on a broader definition as a category encompassing shit that’s too weird to be programmed alongside more mainstream fare. Major players like TIFF and Sundance have Midnight sections showcasing the most shocking and genre-bending works from indie filmmakers on the rise. For a certain breed of independent artist, making Midnight’s lineup at one of these festivals is a goal in and of itself. There’s a delightful irony in the idea of conferring institutional legitimacy on films that do everything in their power to challenge common decency, but we’re not complaining because it’s cool as hell.
However, outsourcing an entire counterculture to a handful of institutions is foolhardy. Festivals have a vital role to play in the midnight movie ecosystem, but their understandable focus on new releases means they will always be an incomplete solution. A burgeoning midnight film culture is a constant dialogue between the past that is ahead of its time and the present that pushes the boundaries. The first century of cinematic history is littered with hidden gems begging to be discovered and, in some cases, re-evaluated with a modern cultural context their creators never dreamed possible.
As of right now, the Internet is an embarrassment of riches for cinephiles looking to explore once-forgotten movies. But the heartbreaking dispatches from the battlefields of the Streaming Wars are a constant reminder that it could all disappear at any moment. The sad reality is that the shocking movie you’ve been obsessing over could be unceremoniously pulled from every streaming library tomorrow without so much as an explanation. It’s time to appreciate what we have while we have it and build a new midnight movie canon that is worthy of continued preservation.
What is IndieWire After Dark?
With over a century of media at hand at all times (*nervously knocks on wood as he updates the Max library*), it often seems that the plight of the modern cinephile has gone from dying of thirst in the desert to making it out in the middle of Ocean.
But rather than making midnight movies an anachronistic tradition, we believe cultural saturation only makes them more essential. We need bold and depraved cinema to cut through the noise and remind us that yes, thereANDstill something out there that we have never seen before.
In our new column, IndieWire After Dark, we’ll be making a feature film every week to highlight Weird, Wonderful, Way Too Much cinema and honor the ever-changing experience of communal viewing. Each edition will anoint a new midnight movie that one of us thinks is always worth remembering and the other is experiencing for the first time.
We’ll highlight new filmmakers whose brilliantly messed-up visions demand a wider audience, while celebrating old ones whose work is just too weird to forget. A wide range of genres are welcome here, but every selection of IndieWire After Dark is a film that has thrown caution to the wind and unapologetically turned around the fences. Some have achieved their lofty goals and others have failed in ways that created unintentional brilliance, but all reinforce the idea that creative independence thrives after the clock strikes midnight.
IndieWire After Dark posts midnight movie recommendations at 11:59 p.m. ET every Friday. Or at least until someone gets sucked into a wormhole or something.