Movie Theater Memories!

I remember every theatrical experience I’ve ever had. I think most people do, right?

I’m not necessarily saying that we’re capable of listing every single movie we’ve seen in theaters, but if someone brings up a particular film and you did see it in theaters, you probably remember it.

I know I do. I remember the movies, obviously, but also where I saw them and who I was with. Often enough, I remember the “unimportant” details better than the films themselves. For instance, I saw Princes of Thieves in theaters, but literally all I could tell you about that flick is that I spent half of it having a popcorn fight with my friend Jonathan.

Below are four films I saw in theaters, and the memories of those experiences. This may turn into an ongoing series, if there seems to be any market for articles about what one guy remembers about the soda from long-closed multiplexes.

Garbage Pail Kids: The Movie
(August 1987, Age 8)

I’d caught the flu and was incapacitated for several days, because that’s how kids like me rolled during summer vacation.

After our family doc confirmed that I was well enough to rejoin the living, my mother took me to the movies. I guess that was my prize for surviving the flu? This was an early weekday afternoon, so the theater was almost totally empty.

I have no idea why I picked Garbage Pail Kids. The stickers had already fallen out of favor with my friends, who’d bought into the urban legend that they were “bad luck.” I did, too, and had a wall full of scratched-off demon baby stickers to prove it.

Still, it was hard not to be a little curious about live action Garbage Pail Kids. Surprisingly, we weren’t the only people in the theater. We were the first ones to leave, though, after roughly 15 minutes.

Even at that age, the target age, I was completely grossed out. I get that being “grossed out” was kind of the point, but this was different. I felt my organs blacken at the mere exposure to this movie. Watching it was like drinking from a puddle at the filthiest street corner.

I sunk lower and lower into my chair, until Ali Gator — a Garbage Pail Kid who was half-alligator, you see — casually ate a severed finger. At that point, it was time. I asked my mother if we could leave, and to the shock of no one, she had zero problems with that.

No Holds Barred
(June 1989, Age 10)

We had the row all to ourselves! It was me, my best friend, my best friend’s brother, my second best friend, and that one slightly-older neighborhood kid who was always kind of a jerk to me. I must’ve invited him as a covert bribe.

Six rows behind us was my mother, our sole chaperone. Kids are capable of wild cruelty, and on this afternoon, I asked her to sit far away from us just so we could feel extra adult.

I’ll never forget the sight of that poor woman, alone in her own row, wearing sunglasses and a too-bright windbreaker. This forty-something mother-of-many, forced to act like she’d come to see No Holds Barred by herself on a Saturday afternoon.

We loved every second of that dumbass movie. No Holds Barred was made for kids and safe for kids, but it still sort of masqueraded as an R-rated action movie. Despite the fact that it starred Hulk Hogan basically playing himself, the film was less “World Wrestling Federation” and more “Best of the Best meets The Running Man.”

When the credits rolled, I turned around to get my mother’s attention. That proved difficult, as she was completely asleep. I had to walk over and physically shake her awake. I’m not sure how anyone could sleep through Tom Lister’s stunning turn as Zeus, but she found a way. Maybe it had something to do with those Walkman headphones plainly visible over her ears?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
(March 1990, Age 11)

Even as we were turning into the parking lot, I’m sure my older brother regretted his offer to take me there. It was the film’s opening weekend, and our theater was MOBBED. I’d never seen lines like this for any other movie, and probably would’ve agreed to try again another day if it was for any other movie.

But this was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I had to see it! The line to purchase tickets wrapped around the entire building. By the time we reached the booth, our preferred showtime was sold out and we had to pick another that was at least an hour later.

That gave us just enough time to wait on a second line — this one for ticket holders just trying to get into the theater. It was pure madness. All told, it must’ve been close to a three-hour investment before we could even smell the popcorn.

Worth it? You bet.

We couldn’t get near the snack bar with everything so crazed, so after the movie, we dipped into a little pizzeria. After watching a bunch of mutant turtles praise pizza for 90 minutes, it was the perfect coda.

I scarfed down two slices and explained how in the cartoon version, Splinter was actually a human who mutated into a big rat. I was so proud of being an authority on something, finally.

Jason X
(April 2002, Age 23)

In the early 2000s, I lucked into a freelance gig reviewing movies and covering press junkets. That’s how I got to see Jason X about a week before its official debut.

To be honest, those odd jobs were less fun than they sounded. These weren’t so much “paid” assignments as “covered” assignments, assuming I was diligent enough to submit expense reports. (I wasn’t.)

The screenings were exclusively in Manhattan, where I didn’t live. It was great to see movies for free, sure, but the luster diminished when I had to dedicate four hours getting to and from the theaters. I was pretty ambivalent about it most of the time, but this was Jason X. That was a lot closer to my wheelhouse than, say, Clockstoppers or City by the Sea.

Press screenings normally happened during weird daytime hours, but this one was at night. Only after finding my seat did I realize that it was only partially a press screening. It was mostly a general screening, with the audience full of folks who’d scored free tickets from radio contests and shit.

I’m so glad it worked out that way. Seeing Jason X with that audience was perfect. They practically turned it into Rocky Horror.

Even the dumbest jokes didn’t fall flat, and the crowd cheered for Jason like they were being paid to do it. In a sense, I guess they were. But they were doubtlessly having a great time, and they were infectious.

Before that night, I didn’t fully understand how the sillier parts of horror movies are often made with a “big crowd mentality” in mind. Whenever a character made a stupid decision, the audience just became more invested. The gory moments packed such a bigger punch when I was surrounded by people who weren’t already desensitized by a zillion bloodier movies.

I gave the film a rave review. It would’ve been positive under any circumstances — I love Jason X — but I can’t imagine that I would’ve been that glowing had I seen it with a different audience.

Thank you for reading. We might have to do this again.