As I grow older I find my metabolism drastically lowering; gone are the days where I could eat whatever I wanted, exercise as little as possible and still maintain a lean 130 pounds fully clothed on the scale. Such was my life in the 90’s, a fun and interesting time to be a teenager in Peoria—not as long ago as it seems, yet further away than it feels.
The Madison Theatre was still open and hosting rock shows, loitering at the mall was still okay to do, and the original incarnation of One World (Coffee AND Cargo, whatever that meant) was producing theatre and sketch comedy on its second floor.
But an even more tragic and cruel trick committed by the march of time now is my ability to stay up late gradually weakening. This can sometimes (and often does) severely cramp my love of film. Long before the ridiculous trend of stretching franchises into more movies than necessary came into vogue, I was an avid midnight movie devotee (sometimes even in costumes) and during this formative time in my development, Willow Knolls 14 introduced its “Midnight Flashback” series.
This was an era when most of our smaller movie houses had been bulldozed, Westlake and Metro were still operating a few miles away, and Landmark had seen its recent expansion. The (then) newest and largest movie theatre in town began running six to eight-week cycles on weekends in fall and spring, set at the witching hour and programmed with staples culled from the cult film, rock opera, and John Hughes genres, with horror films like “The Shining” and the original “Nightmare on Elm Street” around Halloween.
For just five bucks, a real deal even in 1997 dollars, you got to take a trip not so far back in time to see movies you loved but had maybe been too young to experience in theatres-or, movies you hadn’t seen, but heard you were destined to love.
Midnight Flashbacks brought together all kinds of people to the showings—brains, athletes, basket cases, princesses and criminals alike, so it’s only fitting that the debut offering in this concept was The Breakfast Club (at least I think TBC was first; I’ve really no concrete proof besides a steadfast memory to back it up), a choice so safe and universally appealing it’s often the go-to for piloting such ventures as this and was even the first offering for the “Dinner and a Movie” series that launched around this time on TBS, which always coupled a cooking segment themed to the corresponding film.
Midnight Flashbacks was not without its own novelty either; for most of its run, local bands with provocatively and very 90’s names like “Inhale”, “LXIX”, and the cryptic “Tonal to Ixan” opened each night with an hour long set of live music, spanning every genre and subgenre splintered from the musical tapestry of a very alternative 90’s- punk, emo, ska, and especially geek rock.
I turned to the once hallowed but now abandoned (like most Angelfire sites) “Peoria Shows” webpage, still online but now a cemetery of dead links and vintage “powered by LYCOS” ads for some possible info on the bands that had played Midnight Flashbacks. I couldn’t find much there or really anywhere online about them since their existence predated Facebook liking and I’m sure was probably fleeting for the most part, leaving them no choice but to fall into the realm of local oblivion.
But seriously though, a double feature of live music and the best in crowd pleasing cinema…well, you can’t even get lunch for five bucks now.
There were no signs prohibiting loitering in front of the building back then, but there was never really any trouble at the Midnight Flashbacks—besides a suspicious odor in the air during Pink Floyd’s The Wall (the only movie to ever make multiple appearances in the Midnight Flashback roster to my knowledge) it was always good clean fun.
So late Friday and Saturday nights, the area outside the theatre filled with young people being dropped off, waiting for rides, sneaking cigarettes before their parents showed up, and bitching pretentiously about music, movies, and life in general.
It was a scene akin to what you saw outside the local legion halls and other show venues of the day, with the din and ambience reaching its peak right when doors opened to the show at 11pm, only to surge again when the screening let out around 2 am.
Curfew laws were lax at the time—so lax that to this day I’m not even sure if there was an actual locally enforced curfew or if it was all just a scam/conspiracy created by a network of concerned parents. Your night usually ended (or your morning began, depending on how you look at it) slouching over a booth in a hazy corner at Perkins. Or maybe another hazy corner over at Lums. But wherever you went, there was more loitering, more smoking, and more pretentious bitching.
Once the bands ended their set, the screenings began with all the original trailers for each film in the series. In the days before YouTube and home video “Bonus Materials” this was often the only way to see these forgotten snippets of film marketing. And if anything was certain at a Midnight Flashback you could count on hundreds of poseurs emitting a contrived group cheer when the giant lit joint appeared during the trailer for “Up in Smoke”.
That aside, the film trailers still served their purpose-enticing viewers to seek them out. I couldn’t catch the midnight viewing of “The Doors”, but after seeing the trailer I was compelled to rent and see it for the first time. And then those naked Indian references from Wayne’s World 2 made sense to me. And every time that trailer for “Nightmare” came on, well, it didn’t quite haunt my dreams, but it damn sure made my long dark drive home alone slightly uncomfortable.
And it turns out “The Lost Boys” weren’t just pudgy little Neverland toddlers in animal skins, they were also a band of homoerotic vampires all collectively named Corey. So if anything, the Flashbacks at least expanded and matured my film knowledge.
I went to as many Midnight Flashbacks as I could, particularly when the movie or featured band interested me. I recall one night in the fall of junior year, after volunteering for Key Club at Expo Gardens for the Jaycee Haunted House that I made plans with a group to catch the first Midnight Flashback of the season. At 11:45 later that evening, I found myself in a long line stretching out Willow’s front doors, listening to rumors of a possible sell out.
I abandoned any hope of catching the band (whoever was on the bill that weekend escapes me now) and was growing concerned over the whereabouts of my group when I suddenly noticed just a few spiked heads behind me in line a girl with whom I shared a recent awkward past…there with her much older boyfriend. Ah, so that’s why she didn’t return my calls.
And of course I was there alone, now suddenly feeling very vulnerable. I would learn much later at school on Monday that my group stood me up last minute-at the age of sixteen, the stigma that comes with “no showing” is not fully formed. We also didn’t have cell phones back then-our communications and miscommunications were always handled outright. Everything else fell through the cracks.
This was one of those nights. And of course, the second she notices me, steps right out of line and walks right up to Lonesome Me. Oh god, here we go…
“Hey you!” she fake smiles, like this chance meeting is the greatest thing ever. I pretend I hadn’t already seen her first and act surprised. Dumb mistake, since I always looked awkward when faking surprise. I’ve since become a more convincing actor. I think.
“Oh…hey,” I so smoothly countered.
Bullshitty chit-chat follows, consisting mainly of her asking superficial questions and me answering back in monosyllabic half-words like “hmph”, “acch” and “heh”. This is torture. She’s too touchy-feely for my liking.
Then I’m introduced to Dylan or Brandon or whatever, the large but soft around the middle “punk” that apparently had the experience she’d been looking for after teaching me a few things. Maybe I should bring that up? I pass, since his parted skater hair and chain wallet indicate that he takes himself and his tastes in music quite seriously.
I learn from his unsolicited introduction that he’s in one of the bands set to play in the coming weeks; I learn later from my show-kid friends that his band notoriously sucked pretty hard. So that made me feel better. But that was later. In this moment, I wanted to disappear.
We shook hands (sort of) before she and her self esteem issues drag Gigantor into the theatre ahead of me, and then I make a point to sit nowhere near them. Mercifully, once inside I saw some folks I knew and could act like meeting them was the plan all along. Jenny (the future wife) and I recently deduced there was a solid chance that we were both in attendance for that midnight screening of “Pulp Fiction” that Friday night in October 1997, long before we ever knew each other
It’s always funny to think how you wish the people you’re close to now could have somehow saved you from embarrassing and awkward situations of the past. And looking back, this wasn’t all that bad; lord knows I’ve experienced far worse since then. But at 16-years-old? Devastating.
A week or two after Pulp Fiction, I finally got to see “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” on the big screen with opening act The MiBS, the locally renowned ska band later known as the Ruschies. Then I believe it was a chance to catch the Band Formerly Known as HAM, re-branded as the Amazing Killowatts that motivated me to check out the screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail in spring of 1998.
I was never one of those “Python Kids”—the quintessential guys that giggle and snort in a corner with their friends quoting Monty Pythons ad nauseum. Every school had them. Despite a typically steel-trap memory, I can’t for the life of me recall who I saw this one with, but I may or may not have started to nod off during the rabbit scene.
I was disappointed to miss the Clockwork Orange screening—speech team or some such thing took me out of commission that particular weekend. There was always a fixation with this film among the emo kids—they even sometimes came dressed to school like droogs.
I’m a bit out of touch with the youth of today to know if its teen cult following still exists-or are schools now overcautious on a film that glorifies the ultraviolence? It was pretty benign in our day-as benign as loitering outside a theatre at midnight waiting for a show.
I finally got my chance to viddy Clockwork in a theatre several years later in spring of 2004 on an insanely low quality print at Landmark when they cribbed the Midnight Flashback concept for themselves. But by then, Willow’s “Midnight Flashback” series had died its unceremonious death. After a few seasons, they quit booking bands along with the movies, attendance dropped off dramatically, and that was that. After updates to their systems and the passing of so many years, even Willow Knolls has retained little to no record of the Midnight Flashbacks-what was shown, or who played.
These days they host free spring and fall matinees, early morning kiddie shows that just don’t compare to the live music, pseudo-classic cinema, and teenage drama you could find there late nights nearly two decades ago, as my Saturday morning experience seeing “Rango” proved to me. Looking around the theatre that morning, it was nice to see all the other kids that had gotten old with me. Except now they’ve got their kids in tow, spilling “healthy snacks” down the aisles.