I, like you, enjoy watching classic horror films on the big screen. Sadly, since every movie theater schedule isn't Alien ad infinitum, the times that I do get to enjoy them are rare. And while it would be nice if everyone approached these films with a naive sense of wonder and an under-developed sense of courage, seeing modern audiences react to them has been intriguing. These reactions ranged from exuberant to tortured, and nearly all of them were compelling to view.
#6. Halloween (1978)
I was apprehensive about Halloween because of a prior experience that I'd had at the theater that was showing it. I'd seen Paranormal Activity 2 there, and in the middle of that movie, while one of the actresses was talking about how totally strange it is to have your house and sanity slowly dismantled by poltergeists, the man sitting behind me, in a raspy voice, said, "I'mma fuck them titties." Now, he didn't say this with the hesitant but hopeful intonation of, "I'd really like to fuck them titties if the circumstances are right." He allowed no possibility that them titties might remain un-fucked, and he spoke with the confidence of a man seeing the future for the first time. It was the most terrifyingly awkward So Raven moment that I've ever been privy to, and he had to make sure that an entire theater full of people were able to bear witness to the birth of his amazing new mental powers.
If you've ever seen Halloween, you'll know that there are surprisingly few times where "I'mma fuck them titties" would be the appropriate thing to respond with, and even fewer times if you're set on making these intentions known to 200 people. Luckily enough, no one in the theater for Halloween made a single remark about any of them titties. But that's a bittersweet victory at best, because that man and his ghastly premonitions are still out there.
I'm 90 percent sure that was the plot for this one.
Before the movie started, a "History of Michael Myers" mini documentary played, because the best way to hype an audience up for the first film in a series is revealing copious footage from the later films. Edited together like the Halloween series had fucked the editor's girlfriend's titties, it was a slapdash appraisal of 10 movies that no one wanted. By the time the actual film played, the sense of anticipation in the room had been deflated. If they had wanted to see the fifth guy who played Michael Myers talk about how challenging it was to accept the iconic role and how Halloween will still frighten everyone who stumbles across it today, they would've been scrolling through DVD special features. And the movie was never able to regain its momentum.
Which actually makes it a meta-commentary for the franchise itself.
The audience responded to Halloween in the same way that one would watch improvised jazz for the first time. They shyly smiled and nodded along, and there was a mutual recognition of, "Yeah, this is great stuff, and I respect it, but, uhhhhh, yeah." Halloween has long been declawed due to a thousand hours' worth of film history where the killer is also hiding in the dark. At the end of the showing, a man tried to get a clap going, but he stopped when he realized that the balloon of enthusiasm had been popped. Halloween had been propped up for years as one of the scariest movies ever made, and seeing it with an unimpressed audience turned it into just a well-made one.
"Sorry, man. Can't fuck titties with a half-chub."
#5. The Thing (1982)
With Halloween, there was a feeling of "This is a classic movie, dammit! You should dig it even if you hate it." Made just four years later, The Thing gave off no such vibes. It's much harder to duplicate the Oh Shitness of The Thing, and unlike a majority of modern horror effects, where a computer-generated monster dismembers a computer-generated man and no one is affected because it's computers, The Thing is cool to look at. Also, the day we start feeling empathy for computer men is the day that we let the nerds win.
Pity? Maybe. Empathy? Never.
As I've written about before, The Thing has a certain visceral look to it that makes every death scene a thesis on how lackluster it is to have a body that stays in a consistent shape. Chests turn into giant maws, dogs become dog-related death mounds, and heads detach themselves from bodies and crawl away. Anything is possible in The Thing's universe as long as you truly accept that flesh can rip that way. The Thing is all about believing in yourself and trusting that, with hard work and a little luck, you too can be invaded by an alien and surprise your co-workers with your new nightmare form.
Sadly, having hair/beard game as good as prime Kurt Russell will always be out of reach, though.
I have seen two reactions in movie theaters that I'd regard with the adjective "thunderous." The first was when The Joker did his "pencil trick" in The Dark Knight, and I thought that the audience would carry away whatever are the movie theater equivalent of goal posts. The second was during The Thing, when the aforementioned head pulled so hard that it came off its former owner's neck, grew spider legs and antennae, and scuttled away. There were some screams, but mostly it was met with generous approval. People clapped and cheered, because this is what life was all about:
The sheer ecstasy of getting to see that former skull/current crab enlarged to 60 feet wide,
surrounded by people who feel the exact same way that you do.
#4. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is barely a movie. There are no pauses that allow audiences to put two and two together, and even when potential revelations are made, they're accompanied by ceaseless screaming and a soundtrack that sounds like someone attacking an orchestra with a hammer. It's a weird, creaking carnival ride that feels like it's about to break apart and sling you off into the cotton candy and toothless barker stand at any moment. You can compare it to other movies, but the thing that it most aptly resembles is being trapped in a sweaty, revolving cart while "Freebird" blares at you through speakers that should've been replaced 20 years ago. It's a grating, impossibly timed piece of celluloid.
And I love it.
And so did a good third of the people that sat beside me when I saw it. There is a cult of Chain Saw that can barely be replicated by any other movie. It is to horror fans what Jimi Hendrix and Pulp Fiction posters are to your freshman year roommate who just had the best, most interesting, hilarious moment, bro, while being high for the second time: a monument dedicated to everything they stand for. They know every detail of its creation and will eagerly present their Leatherface tattoos as a defense mechanism against predators who don't wear T-shirts with pictures of masked cannibals on them.
Another third of the audience seemed disgusted. The guy beside me kept whispering, "What the fuck?" whenever he saw a piece of furniture made out of something that a person uses to wave. There is nary a couch or table in Chain Saw that didn't used to be a handshake, so "What the fuck?" became a musical cue to inform me that something awful had already happened. When it was over, a woman stood up, said, "That was sick," and then immediately tripped in her aisle, because the world solely exists to laugh at us until we die.
The last third of the audience exploded out of the theater to tell their friends that they didn't find it that scary. There was an intense fervor to these personal declarations of fortitude. It wasn't just an "I wasn't scared!" that you'd use to hint to your unfortunate date that your genitals are intact, fearless, and functional. It was them proving themselves able to sit through Chain Saw's fabled roller coaster of an experience and come out unscathed and with all of their pieces not yet turned into a chair.