Movies where 'you had to be there'

I was 2 when the Godfather came out, 4 when the second one came out, 8 when I saw the “Godfather Bullet Car” that Sonny was assassinated in at the “Auotorama” and got a piece of clear lucite swag with the Godfather title and a bullet hole on it. But, I didn’t actually see the Godfather movie until I was, I don’t know, 17, 18, or 19 maybe as an avid moviewatcher and buff (tapes, theater, HBO, cable, etc). I remember my first reaction was “Wow” what a great story and piece of filmmaking/direction, I had no idea it was that good and perhaps not mature enough for it until that point but it was seminal for me in my own discovery of film… then I had to be disappointed when Godfather 3 came out when I was 20 and saw it in the Theater.

That’s actually the thing about quite a few horror films: the build-up is great. Everything is subtle and creepy and still relies on your imagination. Once you actually show the “creature” or “evil thing,” then it all goes downhill from there.

I am an American who first saw this movie in Madrid in a theater full of Brits. As so much of the humor seemed based on seeing English society through American eyes (both Jamie Lee Curtis’ and Kevin Kline’s characters) I thought it was one of the funniest movies ever. On subsequent watchings, it was never quite the same.

When I was a freshman in college - so this would have been '96 or '97 - someone in my dorm rented The Exorcist, and several of us watched it together in the dorm lounge. None of us had ever seen it. We started out kind of mocking it, laughing at how easily people must have been scared back in the 70s.

By the time it was over, we were all totally terrified, and were afraid to go back to our rooms. We sat there in the dark lounge for about fifteen minutes, looking at each other with :eek::eek::eek: expressions, working up the nerve to leave the company of others.

A lot of the “revitalization” of the Godfather at that time in the late '80’s rode on Al Pacino’s popularity as the “other” Godfather, “Scarface”. I had actually seen Scarface before I had seen “Godfather”, so that’s how I knew Pacino. I think they are both excellent films and close in subject.

You really had to know a lot of punk, gang, mobster, wannabes, cracksters, and cokeheads and really be there to realize just how popular Scarface was in the '80’s and continues to be.

Not exactly a movie director, but Kafka understood exactly this concept. He insisted that the cover illustration of the first edition of The Metamorphosis not show the insect itself whatsoever. Instead, the cover showed someone recoiling in horror at the unseen creature behind a doorway, making the unseen seem all the more horrible.

The Matrix - it’s hard to imagine now, but this movie had only a modest amount of pre-release buzz. Nobody had any idea how big it was going to become. The television ads showed enough to be intriguing, but they didn’t give all that much away. I went with a friend opening weekend and we didn’t really have any expectations, but we were sci-fi fans and this looked like it might be cool. The audience was cheering by the end and when the lights came up everyone in the theater was abuzz about what we’d just seen. Criticize the story all you want, but the action scenes and visual effects were really impressive and different. Unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

It’s another movie whose look and style have been copied so much since it came out that watching it for the first time now would definitely not have the same impact.

Also, it was sandwiched between the Mummy and Star Wars Ep 1. I was working in a theater, and the week it opened, everybody was watching the Mummy instead. Then, day by day, the lines started getting longer and longer. We were getting out the door lines during the day. Then, it all died when Star Wars Ep 1 came out.

On that note, I would like to point out the almost crippling disappointment with Star Wars Ep. 1. Nowadays, everybody knows they should have low expectations when watching it, but back then, you had to be there to feel how thick the expectations were. People were camping out months in advance for tickets, in full Star Wars costume. And then, after you watched it, the utter silence and empty feeling that whatever magic happened in the summer of 1977 was gone forever.

Sometimes it’s good to be old, seeing original movies in a theater, before they’re imitated and dissected to death. Movies that blew me away – Shane, Psycho, The Fly, Star Wars, Easy Rider, Raiders, Alien, The Godfather, Saturday Night Fever, Bonnie and Clyde, Highlander, Night of the Living Dead, Silverado. Hell, even Grease.

The only classic that didn’t work for me on first viewing was The Wild Bunch, but I think that was because I was too young and it was too far ahead of its time.

I think that’s what makes a handful of horror films really stand out: the horror continues after the big reveal:
Halloween
Saw
Class of 1990
Blackboard Jungle
Fatal Attraction
Aliens

A literary example not a movie one, but I once read that nobody nowadays experiences The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde the way people did back in 1886.

Everyone, even young children, now knows about Jekyll and Hyde. But it was a mystery back when it was first published. The revelation that Jekyll and Hyde were the same person was a surprise ending.

Pulp Fiction - it seems that nowadays it’s fashionable for film buffs to say it "wasn’t all that great, but it was stunning to see that on its’ opening weekend. Especially the notorious “gimp” scene.
Silence of the Lambs - Hopkikns’ Hannibal Lecter eventually became a parody of himself, but that first scene, where Foster’s Clarice Starling meets him. THAT was frightening.

Or the horror starts out sorta small and manageable, maybe even with a touch of humor, and builds all the way through the movie. I’d put Poltergeist in that category. Remember how much fun mom and the kid were having in the kitchen? And Carrie, with Carrie moving small items around and discomfiting the adults? Both movies could have been comedies.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate… I also knew Pacino from Dog Day Afternoon.

I saw it for the first time a few years ago and even though it’s very short it was almost excruciating to sit through, especially the scenes without Karloff. I still haven’t seen the Lugosi Dracula and wonder if it’s the same. I can watch and enjoy silent movies but I have to “prepare” for them.

I happened to see two of the films in the OP this weekend.

I had seen the Christopher Reeves Superman movie during it’s first run. It was fun escapist fare. Adequate special effects but nothing mind-blowing. The flying scenes were lauded at the time for being high-tech. Saw it again Saturday and the effects were laughably crude. The flying scenes looked a Stephen Colbert green screen skit.

I had not seen Titanic before now or paid much attention to it during its initial release. Nice sets but unbelievably bad screenwriting and acting. The special effects were OK but I kept wondering why everything in the middle of the ocean, in 1912, in the midst of sinking, was so brightly lit. Water filled hallways to the ceiling, yet it glowed as it rushed up stairways. You could tell what color clothing the people in the water a hundred feet from the boat were wearing.

Either you’re mixing times up here, or your experience was vastly different from mine. But, no offense, I think you’re simply wrong.

Nobody was camping out “months in advance” for Star Wars – the flick’s advance trailers weren’t as interesting as the movie, and there was little buzz until just before it was released. Nobody was dressing up in character, because – aside from the cover of the novelization, no one knew what the characters were or looked like.

Star Wars got a cover story in Time a week before release and the comic-book version started running a couple of weeks before release, and the Boston papers had a rare front-page ad about it, but Star Wars pretty much came up very suddenly and too everyone by surprise.

This is a very small one, but when I went to see For Your Consideration in a theatre when it first came out: The film has started to get Oscar buzz, and the Harry Shearer character appears on an MTV-type teen show called Chillaxin’. When the host introduces him and Shearer comes out and smiles, the entire theatre erupted because Shearer’s character had had his teeth whitened so brilliantly that it burned our retinas. It was the funniest thing ever, and it just does not show up on TV. He’s wearing hip-hop type clothes and highlighted hair, which also make him look stupid, but people who didn’t see that movie in a theatre will never get the jolt of those million-jigawatt teeth. You had to be there.