This weekend marks the final shows of Night School presented at Facets Multimedia, which has served as the home of the most inventive midnight movie presentations in Chicago for 4.5 years. It’s been my pleasure to host a dozen film screenings during that time, including a feature-length film–Sisters of No Mercy— inspired by Night School.
When Night School founder Phil Morehart brought forth the idea of having midnight movies at Facets, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. In the past, I had enjoyed thoughtful reviews of unusual rare films in such great magazines as Shock Cinema (to which I once contributed) and Psychotronic Magazine. I knew there was a great well of strange movie from which to draw.
The emergence of Night School came at a perfect time for experimentation of how screenings could be formatted for independent theaters. Studios were changing to digital projection exclusively, leaving many theaters holding the bag with now outdated 35MM equipment and expensive digital changeovers. Netflix went through a nasty PR period of growing pains with the perception of unlimited streaming and the roll out, and then roll back, of Quixster, the video world’s version of New Coke. Blockbuster was evaporating from its video (and retail) dominance of the late 1980s and 1990s. All this was compounded by The Bush Depression of 2008, which threw hundreds of thousands of people out of work monthly.
From the outset, I knew that Night School had to be different from other movie series. Studios and movie chains could use their large wallets to entice viewers to theaters with larger spectacles, more advanced 3D capabilities, table-side food service and movie discount specials.
This all seems fine for the bottom line, but the major point being missed by the chains and the studios was that they are not suited to cater to the needs of movie viewers at the community level. Sure, you can have chats online with people via Netflix about movies, but there’s also the probability you’ll never meet them in person. I used to joke about having film appreciation groups meet up at a local Redbox in the pouring rain. And I’m very doubtful the studios will have cast members of new movies make dozens of public appearances across the country without them being paid lots of money for the trouble.
What Night School proved was that poverty-stricken creative folks can come up with a truly forward-thinking solution: engage with fans on a collective idea. Bring back variety with each show. Give viewers a spectacle without having to break a budget. Indeed, with a budget of exactly $0, you can actually accomplish a great deal. You can still jump out of a cake (Eat the Rich); have an interview with the mother of The Terminator and Lady Terminator (Lady Terminator); have Yor the Hunter from the Future show up for Q&A (Yor, The Hunter from the Future); have zombie whores dance and hand puppets sing (Sisters of No Mercy); uncover a lost Idi Amin toothpaste radio ad (Amin: The Rise and Fall); perform a live interactive radio skit (Wonder Women); have spectacular live music performances to such films as Haxan, The Fall of the House of Usher and A Page of Madness and more.
You can also meet and form a production partnership with an incredible talent named Joseph R. Lewis. Night School gave birth to The Underground Multiplex and the notion that you can rely on the genius of others here in Chicago to do great things. We have, thanks to the incredible presenters we’ve had over the years, the forethought of overseers Phil Morehart and Susan Doll and the hands-off policy of Facets Multimedia, which allowed the inmates to run the asylum one night per week. I’m grateful to Facets for allowing me the chance to change the way viewers experience movies. Major unending thank yous to all the presenters, volunteers, projectionists and everyone who’s ever come out to see some craziness in action.
As our award-winning program moves on to different venues, The Underground Multiplex will continue its commitment to presenting great forgotten and underappreciated films with the ballyhoo, fun and zaniness the great city of Chicago deserves.