Monday, April 7, 2008


When I was in high school, my sister came home to visit from college insisting I watch the movie Aliens with her. She’d seen it in a film class and wanted me to watch it. Really, she wanted to watch it again but didn’t want to watch it alone. Now, many years and countless viewings later, I wish I could recapture the sheer terror and intensity of that first time.

Friday night, I recaptured a glimmer of that first experience when I saw the film for the first time on the big screen. The Castro Theatre, one of the last remaining relics of a day when thousands of people watched movies on one screen in palaces of the cinema instead of the multiplex, showed three sci-fi movies Friday night: Explorers, Aliens, and Dark Star. My girlfriend and I skipped Explorers, featuring a very young pre-fame River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke, but ducked in for the end of it to ensure a good seat for Aliens.

A friend of mine, a fan of Explorers from childhood, explained that the bizarre-strange, acid-trip ending to the film that we saw was, in fact, the worst part of the movie and begged me not to judge it on that part alone. I’m not sure I believe him.

Between films, an organ rose up out of the floor for a brief concert and our host gave us a brief introduction wearing a shirt with a 3 dimensional stuffed Alien bursting through the front. He, quite rightly, described Aliens as the best action movie of the 80’s. Raiders of the Lost Ark would probably come in a close 2nd, but even Raiders can’t match the adrenaline overdose of Aliens.

Then, after some previews for an upcoming “animals attacking humans” festival (including a hysterical trailer for Jaws), the movie began.


My girlfriend, having only seen the move once before, nearly squeezed all the bones out of my arm. Most of the thousand or so people there had obviously seen the movie as many times or more as I had. The lesbians in the crowd cheered vigorously at Sigourney Weaver’s bad-ass-itude. Everyone booed and chuckled at the juxtaposition of a young Paul Reiser playing the slimy Burke, Carter J, long before his lovable nebbishy days on Mad About You (or My Two Dads). Seeing a movie in a crowded theater always heightens the experience. The scary bits were scarier when the few “virgins” in the audience jumped or screamed or gave a grossed-out “Eeew.” The funny bits were funnier. Frost has the best comic lines in the first half of the movie (“I guess she doesn’t like the cornbread either” or “What are we supposed to use man: harsh language?”) Then Hudson picks up the comic relief, played by a very young pre-fame Bill Paxton. (The first time she saw it, my girlfriend was convinced Hudson would survive the movie because Bill Paxton was so famous.) Everyone laughed and cheered at “Game over, man. Game over!” (Was I the only one who kept waiting for him to say that in Apollo 13?)

But my two favorite spontaneous audience participation moments were these: A thousand people whispering the second “mostly” in Newt’s famous line “They mostly come at night. Mostly.” And those same thousand shouting the last word of “Get away from her you bitch!” (The lesbians shouting the loudest.)


We did not stay to watch Dark Star. Aliens was too perfect to muddle with another film immediately afterwards. This was more than a movie. This was a collective experience, a bonding with a thousand strangers, a welcoming of new viewers through whom we could all experience the movie for the first time, a place where us obsessive fans could speak in the same language and feel validated in our adoration of the film. This was an interactive theatrical, cultural experience both spontaneous in its reactions and static in its presentation of a classic film.

Even so, as I walked exhilarated through the streets of the Castro to my car, I still found myself yearning to be back in my basement as a teen-ager with my sister with no idea what was going to happen next.


  1. Dude.. Explorers is awesome. Just rent it and watch it from start to finish. Just so the ending can make sense!

  2. When I first started reading your post, I was going to comment with: "They mostly come at night. Mostly." But, alas, you and all of the Castro beat me to the punch....

  3. One of the best movies ever...and you forgot

    10 millimeter exploding tip caseless standard light armor piercing round, why?


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In 1789, the governor of Australia granted land and some animals to James Ruse in an experiment to see how long it would take him to support himself. Within 15 months he had become self sufficient. The area is still known as Experiment Farm. This is my Experiment Farm to see how long it will take me to support myself by writing.