The religious right turning out in record numbers to vote in this past election.
There are two aspects to seeing a film in the theater that can not be replicated at home. The first, and most apparent, is that when one sees a movie at the cinema, one is seeing a projected film image, rather than a video approximation of that image. There is just no way that the scale or contrast can compare. The other is the audience.
There are major drawbacks to seeing a film with an audience, especially in today's post video explosion world. Because so much movie viewing is done at home, many people have trouble understanding that they are no longer in their living rooms and that their comments are not in order in this type of setting. Most of these people can easily be dealt with in the theatrical situation, as if they are pissing off you, then chances are they are pissing off a lot of other people in earshot as well.
There is a distinct advantage, however, to seeing certain genres of films with an audience. There is a certain strength to the wave of shared emotional response to a film. Comedies are where this is the most apparent, which is why television uses laugh tracks, but it is true with many pictures. This is certainly one of the main reasons why it takes myself and many of my friends a few weeks to have realized how much the most recent Star Wars prequel has really sucked (we have gotten to see both of them opening night at the Ziegfield with an audience consisting of even bigger geeks than ourselves), and why there was such a crest of emotion at the conclusion of The Return of the King (seeing guidos trying to pretend not to be crying in front of their girlfriends when Sam picks up Frodo was worth the price of admission).
One genre that I think is much, much more effective when seen with as many people as possible is horror. There's just something about sitting in the dark with a bunch of other people watching a scary movie that makes the chills all the more chilling. One of the things I love most about taking film classes is that you get to see films with an audience, and it is great fun to feel everybody being right where you are. I have fond memories of getting to see The Hunger, Carrie and The Haunting (the original, not that fucking remake) with a large audience. Trust me, the end of Carrie, even after you've seen the film and know what's coming, gives you one hell of a shock when you're only one of many.
In fact, when one surfs the internet and comes across various different movie commentary sites, many of them are written by kids who have never seen many classic horror movies with an audience. Often, they comment about how they liked the movie but didn't consider it particularly scary. This is, of course, because there is a very different experience seeing a film in the theater than at home, especially one made before the video explosion (and, as I pointed out when I saw Alien last year, the visual impact of the larger screen can make a huge difference).
I have always thought that Night of the Living Dead was one of the best horror films ever made because the first time I saw it, it was on cable, and I was frightened out of my mind, wanting nothing more than to change the station and make it stop, but I couldn't. The film is so effective, brilliant in its minimalist execution, that I couldn't tear my eyes from it. It is a film that I have an immense amount of respect for, but it is so effective in its communication of a desperate situation and total terror that I can't watch it very often.
This was the screening in my Theory of Film class today, and for the first time, I got to see Night of the Living Dead with an audience, consisting primarily of people who had not seen the film before. It was fascinating because the film gripped everybody; it can be expected that in every showing in this class, at least one or two students will phase out, but it didn't happen this time. At the beginning of the film, most of them were just kind of seeing where it was going. Twenty minutes in, they were all entranced. The entire class was at the very edge of their seats. I remember reading accounts of audience reactions to this film when it first came out, and it seemed to me that my classroom was having an analagous experience.
That a film made in 1968 can be as terrifying today as it was when it was released is a very fascinating thing. Fear was palpable in that room today, and when the class left, they were all clearly effected by the movie. Of course, Night of the Living Dead was one of the most explicit films of its age, released without a rating because the MPAA would only award it an X without significant alterations, and there are some scenes that are about as grisly as they come even by today's standards. It is interesting that these scenes, while incredibly disturbing, do not feel gratuitous by any means. They are more gruesome than anything in this year's crop of films, but they are part of the story and integrated into the fabric of the film in such a way that they don't feel forced. Modern terror pictures couldn't handle that level of explicit detail because they don't have a strong enough core to support them.
The political and social commentary in Night of the Living Dead is one of the most discussed aspects of the picture with good reason. It is perhaps one of the best examples of using a genre in order to hold up a mirror to society. While George A. Romero protests that the casting of Duane Jones was done simply because he was the best actor for the part, there is no avoiding the fact that the use of a black actor for this role was revolutionary, especially given the political landscape of the United States at the time, nor does it seem to be particularly irrelevant that the overzealous zombie hunter posses seem to be made up entirely of rednecks. As more time passes, these aspects of Night of the Living Dead, plus its comments about the disintergration of American society and the breakdown of the traditional family structure, become more apparent as valid statements.
The fact that it is such an effective horror film would almost seem to be besides the point if one looks at the many writings on the subject, an aspect which is what made it such a relevant comment at the time, and one which I would not hesitate to say is sort of missing the point. Yes, Night of the Living Dead is about race, politics and society, but its main purpose was and remains to scare the everloving shit out of you.
And that it does.
For all your grisly, blood-splattering
needs in black-and-white.