Spending 12 hours locked in the same room with complete strangers may sound like a hostage situation but it’s all the rage at London’s Prince Charles Cinema, who regularly put on all-night movie marathons for pyjama wearing film buffs.
“We wanted to recreate that fun feeling of being at a massive sleepover,” Paul Vickery, the cult cinema’s head of programming, tells me. “People go away with a sense of achievement and get to see some really amazing movies!” Paul credits an all-night showing of Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright’s films, which saw Wright and actor Nick Frost turn up to replicate THAT air gun battle from cult TV show Spaced, for helping to grow the trend.
All-night cinema events are far more common in the U.S. and Vickery expects the bigger UK cinema chains to soon follow suit. “If there’s a new Star Wars movie coming out, a big chain could play all the older movies until midnight and then screen the new one as soon as it’s released,” he speculates.
Tonight, though, I am at the off-Leicester Square Cinema for an all-night classic horror movie marathon, which starts at 9pm with Friday the 13th and concludes at 8.30am after Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Fair to say, I’m a little uneasy at what lies ahead, but armed with tips from Paul (“Avoid eating too much sugar as it zaps you of your energy, and make sure you regularly brush your teeth and eat fruit; this will keep you awake!”) I’m keen to get started.
*MAJOR spoilers ahead.
The first film of the evening Friday the 13th begins and there’s a palpable buzz of excitement in the air. The crowd is primarily made up of students, many of whom have never seen these movies, as well as a sprinkle of more seasoned horror aficionados. A teenager behind me whispers: “I can’t wait to see Jason go on a rampage!” Bless.
The killer is revealed as Mrs Vorhees (Betsy Palmer), Jason’s mother, who is taking revenge on Camp Crystal Lake’s useless councillors for not noticing her young son drowning. Her performance famously depicts a mother who has literally turned insane with grief, chillingly channelling Jason’s spirit as her voice eerily switches from adult to child. However, some of the younger members of the crowd aren’t buying it and seem to find Palmer’s exaggerated mannerisms absolutely hilarious, much to the dismay of the guy sat in front of me, a horror purist proudly wearing an Exorcist t-shirt. He tuts A LOT. I sort of love him.
The rampage is over and heroine Alice (Adrienne King) is escaping on a boat. All good here, nothing but gentle waves and lovely scenery to enjoy. For the first time I feel a sense of calm, at peace. Maybe I could even squeeze in a quick power nap before the next film starts… ARGH. Out of nowhere, Jason’s corpse jumps out of the sea and grabs her. The famous, heart-stopping scene provokes a collective gasp among the audience; one woman throws her popcorn in the air in shock, and then sulkily shuffles out to spend a fiver on another bag. Eek. I knew what was coming but it still gives me a jump, and surrounded by a younger audience I feel like I’m viewing it for the first time. That was fun, bring on the rest.
It’s nearly midnight and I’ve finished a pack of Maltesers and am on to my second carton of Ribena. Fair to say I’ve completely ignored Paul Vickery’s advice. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is up and running. Danny Torrence (Danny Lloyd) rides through the Overlook Hotel on his pedal bike encountering the ghosts of the murdered Grady twins in a hallway, who want him to play with them “forever and ever and ever and ever!”– which would also work as a tagline for this event. Seeing this psychological caper on the big screen is a real treat, though, with the film’s claustrophobic dread far more compelling than the sillier slasher thrills of Friday the 13th. And yet nothing on the screen comes close to the horror of what is happening in the next seat over, where someone is consuming their fifth Peperami of the night, carefully sliding the brown sausage out of its plastic packaging as though opening a very small and delicate present. Jack Nicholson’s “Here’s Johnny” frenzy suddenly feels strangely logical.
A big portion of the capacity crowd remains, seemingly determined to make it through to the end. I, however, feel like a reanimated corpse, my legs jelly-like and my eyes as heavy as boulders. It’s time for another hit of sugar. Can I make it to the end? I’m not sure. But as Roman Polanski’s masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby begins I get a second wind.
Yeah, so I had forgotten how deeply discomfiting this film actually is. The narrative tells the story of Rosemary, played by Mia Farrow, who gives birth to the son of Satan. She has lost control over her own body, a dark theme that feels particularly prescient in the current Me Too climate. In my sleepy state, I begin to wonder if the film is actually a metaphor for Hollywood itself, with Satan representing the dark side of the film industry? It’s a theory, I suppose, but not one totally rooted in consciousness. I’m seriously struggling now, and decide to change seats in the hope that a fresh seat (and fresher air) will keep me awake.
FYI: it doesn’t. I’ve just woken up from some pretty weird, 1960s horror-infused dreams, having used the bloke next to me’s shoulder for a pillow. The demon Pazuzu flashes up on the cinema screen, as Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), the mother of possessed schoolgirl Regan, walks through her kitchen unaware that it’s haunted. Yep, it’s Exorcist time. But for me, I’m afraid, it’s also bedtime. I am defeated. I just can’t bear the thought of any more demons, or possessions or smoky snack sausages resembling ET’s fingers. I load my taxi app quicker than one of Regan’s head spins and collect my stuff.
As I leave the auditorium, I observe the scene for the last time: a few hundred people – some sleeping, others hugging loved ones in terror, and a handful of people doing something between the two. It’s amazing that so many people are willing to give up a night’s sleep to experience these horror classics – some of which are fifty years old – in the company of others. Their commitment is admirable and testament to the power of cinema.