As much as we love our Netflix accounts here at Cinephile City, there’s a certain experience you can have only when you see a film live and in person. Theatrical Experiences is an occasional series in which we tell our best/worst/creepiest/funniest stories of going to the movies.
It was an awful January night. The temperature just a breath above zero, with brittle, icy snow lashing out at anyone stupid enough to leave the warmth of their home. I am pretty stupid and my apartment wasn’t all that warm, but I also had a damn good reason to brave the elements: Nicolas Cage.
Beginning with the first National Treasure, my friend, filmmaker Mike Olenick, and I attempted to see all of Nicolas Cage’s films in the theater together. While this dedication was occasionally ill-advised (I’m looking at you Bangkok Dangerous), more often than not we were rewarded with something of lasting value: the didactic camel toe montage in The Weather Man, the “MULTICAGE” glories of Next, the “iguana cam” of Bad Lieutenant, and so on. Cage movies aren’t always good but they’re usually, at the very least, fun. So while the reviews had been universally terrible for his latest, Season of the Witch, I still walked to the lobby to meet Mike hoping for something memorable.
The 10:55pm show was the theater’s final film of the night, and the staff mentioned they were hoping nobody would show up so they could go home early. After entering the theater we didn’t feel too bad about denying the staff their free time, as there was an older woman already seated in the middle of the auditorium. Mike and I nodded to her as we took our usual seats towards the front. After the minimally amusing opening sequence, where Holy Crusaders played by Cage and Ron Perlman slaughter thousands before growing a conscience, Season of the Witch becomes a nightmare of tedium. Perlman at least brings an anachronistic charisma to his role, but Cage is atypically inert and boring.
I began to fear we made a mistake. Witch was turning out to be the rare Cage movie without a single enduring scene or notable moment. Then a couple entered the dark theater. Giggling and obviously a bit drunk, they quickly made their way up towards the back of the auditorium. They were being pretty talkative, and I have no problem shushing annoying people at the movies, but I couldn’t even pretend to be invested enough in the onscreen antics to care.
Eventually the couple settled down and, surprisingly, something legitimately interesting happened in the film. Christopher Lee appeared as a deformed Cardinal, his lips eroded by the Black Plague exposing yellow and rotting teeth, and a forehead bulging with bleeding tumors. It was repulsive. So, initially, I thought the groan emanating from behind us was in response to the disgusting character. The next scene took place in a dungeon, so I thought the moaning was part of the immersive 3D sound design. Finally Mike nudged me and whispered, “I think they’re fucking.”
I turned around and, sure enough, the girl was mounted on top of the guy, grinding. The moans got louder. I looked towards the older woman and she was fast asleep. The couple continued to have sex, getting louder and louder, the movie continued being awful, and Mike and I giggled like immature teenagers.
I had been a projectionist at the very theater we were at. In addition to threading up and starting films, the job involved checking the auditoriums to ensure the picture quality was good and monitor audience behavior. From the booth it was hard to see minor infractions, but it was easy to see people having sex. I don’t know if it was because we were close to a college campus, but it was quite common to catch people in the act. I’ve busted a straight couple copulating on the floor of an almost sold out screening of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, gay men making love during Because I Said So, and many others. But I wasn’t working now, so didn’t bother interrupting. I mean, at least someone was having fun.
After a while the moaning stopped. A few short minutes later the couple got up and hurried out of the theater. An hour or so later, the sleeping woman woke up and walked out. Mike and I stayed to the bitter end. I remember literally nothing about the movie after the couple exited. Still, as Mike and I bundled up to face the bitter cold outside, we passed the poster for Nicolas Cage’s next film, Drive Angry 3D, and made instant plans to continue our tradition.
The next night I met up with one of my best friends at a bar. After we said hello, he started to tell me something; but I immediately interrupted to tell him about what happened during Season of the Witch. As I told the story he started laughed hysterically, like it was the funniest thing he ever heard. After we finished laughing I said, “I’m sorry, what were you going to say?”
“Um,” he replied, “I was just going to tell you about my date last night. We went to see Season of the Witch.”
Kevin Cecil is an ex-substitute teacher trying to figure out what those who can’t teach can do.