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Midnight at the Sunshine: Revisiting and Reveling in Film Faves

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Photo via: Cinema Treasures.

Editor’s note: The following article first appeared in our June print magazine. It was written by TLD contributor Giacinta Frisillo.

Second-run films are first-rate fodder for a fun, rowdy, happening time Friday, Saturday, and sometimes Sunday nights at the Lower East Side’s Landmark Sunshine Theatre. That’s when the Houston Street cinema turns from independent and experimental to weird and a little bit wacky. The Midnight Movie at Sunshine offers a unique chance to recreate the experience you had while watching the films you loved — or loved to hate — on the big screen the first time around. Re-watching with audiences as caught up in the show as these nighttime moviegoers are keeps the magic of the movies alive.

“The crowd tends to be very different at night,” notes Hanlon Smith-Dorsey, the house manager at Sunshine. “The midnight crowd has to be up for staying up late. They’re usually younger and hipper, and sometimes even nerdier.” Making a case in point, Mitchell Fesh, an usher, recalls when Super Mario Bros. ran. “People came in with the T-shirts on and were really jazzed! The fandom was incredible.”
And since Landmark Theatres opened Sunshine in New York City in 2001, the fan base for the Midnight Movie has been a solid staple. After it began in Los Angeles as a theater playing second-run and cult films, its operators believed there was a market on the East Coast. And they were right. Cas Pineda, who sometimes works in the box office during the late showings, knows of “one guy who comes to every single Midnight Movie there is.”

It’s not just him attending; Sunshine regularly sells out its midnight showings, especially when crowd-pleasers like Jurassic Park, a staff favorite, are on the bill. Other staff picks (everyone in Sunshine’s employ, from management to janitor, has a chance to suggest titles) like Jumanji don’t fare so well. “Everyone remembered it from childhood and thought it would be great to see again on the big screen,” remembers Smith-Dorsey, but New Yorkers didn’t agree.

The breadth of films shown at the midnight screenings, however, is wide enough to cover the expansive range of tastes found in the city. Revered classics such as Some Like it Hot are followed up with revered atrocities like The Evil Dead. Fright nights are thrown in for good measure with A Nightmare on Elm Street and are softened with laugh-riots like Zoolander. And then there are the notable and recurring first-weekend-of-the-month screenings of The Room, a 2003 instant cult classic known for being one of, if not the, worst movie ever made. “The people who come to that are really weird, but they’re fun,” says Pineda.

“[The Midnight Movie is] actually a lot of fun for all of us,” adds Smith-Dorsey. “We get to bring in special guests and do giveaways.”
And there’s nothing that can pump up an already raucous crowd more than free movie merch.
With all the freebies and at only $10 a ticket, the Midnight Movie at Sunshine is really one of the cheapest nights of fun you can have around these parts.

With the exorbitant rents in the area, though, you might wonder how they manage to stay open. For that, Sunshine has concessions sales to thank. “Most people have already been to dinner by that time,” says Smith-Dorsey, thinking aloud, “but we can always count on concessions sales when we play a ‘stoner’ comedy. We know we’re going to sell out on the nachos. It’s like, ‘Hey! We’re running through the Slushies!’”

To the Midnight Movie’s continued existence as one of the best ways to spend your weekend night in New York, we raise our cups.

Giacinta Frisillo is a teacher, writer, and visual artist. She works and lives on the Lower East Side with her cat and constant companion, Chairman Miao.

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