Midnight Madness Strikes La Jolla Landmark

“Time is fleeting. Madness takes its toll,” chants the stringy-haired character Riff Raff at countless midnight screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” on any given weekend. At Landmark’s La Jolla Village Cinemas, the sentiment is appropriate to the occasion.

Midnight Madness, a series of movies that screens at midnight, kicked off its fourth fall season on Sept. 16 with Prince’s movie debut “Purple Rain” and concludes Nov. 18 with a brand new 35 mm print of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Even though “Rocky Horror” isn’t among the films selected, Midnight Madness is taking its toll on movie audiences in La Jolla, and yes, time is indeed fleeting.

Although the midnight movie series generally does well, La Jolla Village Cinemas manager Brad Hesselbrock said it’s still sometimes a “David and Goliath” effort.

“We’re always competing against so many different things,” he said. “And with Halloween fast approaching, it may get even tougher. Halloween’s a hard one to pinpoint. We did ‘The Lost Boys’ one Halloween weekend, and it did not perform nearly as well I thought it would.”

Hesselbrock said the competition from San Diego’s numerous haunted houses is an obstacle that’s often tough to hurdle. Not to mention all the private parties he’s up against.

But he perseveres. Changing tactics, he booked “Ghostbusters” for Halloween weekend last year.

“We thought, ‘If we can’t get them with scary, we’ll get them with funny,'” Hesselbrock said.

While one expects audiences for “Rocky Horror” to be peppered with people in costumes, the audiences of La Jolla’s midnight series are no different, and they dress up as their favorite characters as well.

“The first year we did it, we actually had costume contests that we still advertise on our fliers and on our Web site,” Hesselbrock said. “But it kind of depends on what film. I imagine when we do ‘Bubba Ho-Tep,’ there will be a lot of people in Elvis costumes.”

Still, you don’t need to wait for Halloween to see people dressing up for their favorite flicks. Jessica Rabbit was in line for the recent screening of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

“I’ve seen (‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’) so many times,” said Chelsea Pickell, a San Diego resident who was decked out in a red satin evening gown and violet gloves. “I have it memorized. I can actually do her whole (routine).”

When she heard her favorite movie would be playing in La Jolla, Pickell said it was sheer serendipity.

“I already had the outfit (for Halloween), and I was like, ‘That’s perfect. I can go in costume,'” she said.

Moviegoers go commando at a recent screening that was part of the Midnight Madness series at Landmark’s La Jolla Village Cinemas. Similar to ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ attendees frequently dress up as their favorite movie characters.

Pickell is a regular who has been coming to the midnight movie series for a couple of seasons. She attended the recent spring series, Revenge of the Sequels, where she said her favorite selection was “Aliens.”

“It was messed up a little because it was an old reel and there were a couple of parts that skipped,” she said, “but it was really awesome.”

Though Hesselbrock tends to get new or very good prints, occasionally he has to make due with one that’s been touring the country for several years.

“A lot of these films, even though they are in excellent condition, are actually original prints from the year they were released,” Hesselbrock said. “They were actually shown in a theater that weekend when they opened, and ‘Aliens’ was one of them.”

Hesselbrock said his biggest frustration is availability.

“It’s a long and heartbreaking road finding out what prints don’t exist anymore, and what prints are in legal limbo,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to do ‘Blade Runner’ for a long time.”

Hesselbrock said the films he selects are chosen through a collaborative process.

“A lot of them are suggestions from people,” he said. “We have a MySpace profile set up (www.myspace.com/lajollavillage), and people in the audience e-mail us directly with suggestions (lajolla@landmarktheatres.com).”

“It’s a fun series,” Hesselbrock said. “I love doing it, but I can only continue doing it as long as people show up for it. It’s still very much a word-of-mouth, grassroots marketing, flier-in-hand sort of effort.”

Originally published in The Daily Aztec.