The streets of Coolidge Corner were quiet for a Friday evening, the clock ticking towards midnight as some costumed folk dashed across the street—some looking for parties, maybe, others hurrying into the alley that led to the Coolidge Corner Theater entrance. There may have not been a full moon, but movie-goers were looking for an atmospheric Halloween fix for the weekend. And there was no better place to be.
The Coolidge Corner Theater plays An American Werewolf in London as part of an annual tradition as Halloween approaches, but 2011 marked the movie’s 30th anniversary. Primed for the @fter Midnite program, an original 35mm print, with some scratches and marks, screened in the theater’s biggest movie room, Moviehouse 1. An enormous, Art Deco and Grecian paneled theater, red curtains majestically hung in front of the screen, lovingly graced with the radiance of spotlights. 440 people can fit at capacity. A fair amount showed, and the theater was so large that every seat was a great one.
Those at the showing had seen the film before, judging from the applause and cheers once the names of director John Landis and effects artist Rick Baker appeared on screen. Knowing laughter and whispers before big scenes, but still jumping at the scares. On the big screen, the special effects were impressive all these 30 years later, a gorgeous undertaking and mastery of makeup and puppetry. Baker’s artistry truly trumped the quick-to-expire CGI of today.
The movie held up well, with one minor hiccup about halfway into the film where it went black—the audio went out as well and there was a collective gasp from the audience. Things quickly went back to normal, nervous bits of laughter and relief replacing the anxiety.
Audience reaction was an amazing part of the experience. It made the movie theater into a unit, every person sharing the disgust when a severed arm cracked when stepped on, cringing at the dangling flesh hanging from Jack’s decaying face, laughing at the fake porno featured in the film (this came from Animal House’s director, after all). For those who stuck around through the credits, you could spy a ’81 exclusive wedding congrats/apology to Princess Diana for a joke made about Prince Charles, as well as a recognizable disclaimer for fans of the Thriller music video: “Any similarity to actual events or characters living, dead, (or undead) is purely coincidental.”
For this Halloween weekend, a familiar movie became a brand new experience.