From “Knives and Skin.”

New York’s still ripe for catching movies, be it the common blockbuster or obscure fare, but it’s tough getting people in the door. Yet over at arthouse temple IFC Center, a cult grows. Since September, Planet Midnight – a Cronenbergian meld of cult distributor IFC Midnight and storied comics shop Forbidden Planet – has been offering a premium experience for cheap thrills: free movies, free popcorn, free beer, interaction with the filmmakers themselves, all at a decent hour.  

For folks hesitant to gamble on shared theatrical experiences, Planet Midnight boasts the chance to re-evaluate while supporting underground artists. That chance is rare; for Planet Midnight’s curators, it’s essential. “Providing something community-based, opening up the definitions of genre, making spaces for different voices, and giving voices to women and people of color are what it’s about,” curator Kate McEdwards explains via phone. 

This Thursday’s choice cut is Jennifer Reeder’s Knives & Skin, an overwhelmingly colorful teen nightmare which owes more to a melting John Hughes mixtape than to David Lynch. 

Writer-director Reeder jams imagery both comforting and disturbing into a busy satire about the trials of girlhood in a barbaric yet harmonic world. The weirdness never stops – moms sleep on tin-foil pillows and throw raw meatloaf; dads wear clown makeup to cope with unemployment; acapella groups sing the Go-Go’s while their teacher cries. The Midwestern town – one of many nods to John Hughes – is full of secrets, which the film only begins to uncover. Don’t expect narrative closure from Reeder’s art, just ride the vibe. Her Vimeo page offers a glimpse into the kind of artist curators Kate McEdwards and Matt Desiderio are elevating.

A publicist for IFC, McEdwards champions IFC Midnight’s titles, which include some of the decade’s best (The BabadookHouse of Pleasures). McEdwards also co-hosts the Ladies Horror Night podcast with filmmaker Daphne Gardner, highlighting women’s roles in horror, both in front of the camera or behind (see their pre-show sizzle reel of Mary Lambert’s wonderfully bizarre Pet Sematary II). 

On Forbidden Planet’s end is manager Matt Desiderio, who has screened underground movies at Drafthouse and Spectacle, and curates Forbidden Planet’s collector-friendly Blu-ray/DVD section. (See our coverage of his Museum of VHS and Charles Pinion showcases.) 

Desiderio and McEdwards have created a cost-effective program adjacent to the film-festival circuit, allowing a pinhole into a plethora of overlooked goods. Many of the films picked for the IFC Midnight slate are from international festivals, which even avid filmgoers have trouble attending. Very few films enjoy a life when the circuit closes. The other mission is to return the midnight movie to the dreamlike realms of Pink Flamingos, Rocky Horror, and Eraserhead. These films don’t fit into a distinct slot, all incorporating tropes from musicals, horror, and melodrama. 

The Planet Midnight slate follows that lead and encourages collective fun; legal-age filmgoers get a drink voucher to a nearby bar, The Half Pint, where they can unpack what they just saw. Knives & Skin is chock-full of conversation fodder.

Jennifer Reeder

Over the phone, Reeder discusses young life in the 1980s, an identity that the Knives & Skin uses as a lens. “The film itself is a teenager,” she says, “trying on many identities. It’s about transitions, and it is a film itself in transition.” Knives & Skin thrives when changing appearance, just as its characters find strength in their emblematic costumes; much of Reeder’s inspiration comes from her roots in ballet’s heightened scale. She says her deadpan interactions and emblematic characters are owed to Whit Stillman (The Last Days of Disco) and Oscar Wilde, whose works are defined by characters in comedies of manners and profound transitions. As Knives & Skin demonstrates, that shock affects adults and teenagers alike. Music plays a collective role in that, be it in a lamentful take on Naked Eyes’ “Promises, Promises” or in the peripheral probe of Nick Zinner’s synth score.

Having grown up in central Ohio, Reeder found refuge in misfits, be it her friends or in music or film. Knives & Skin embodies the type of film she wishes she found as a kid. It was picked up by IFC Midnight after playing Berlin and Tribeca. Her biggest dream for the film now? “Fast-forward to the midnight cosplay singalong version.” 

One could draw a straight line from Knives & Skin to Greener Grass, an only slightly less ghoulish take on soul-sucking suburbia. That colorful off-color comedy, starring writer/director duo Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe, screened for Planet Midnight before beginning a small run at IFC Center and Nitehawk Cinema. With a flavor reminiscent of John Waters siphoned through Adult Swim, it’s an eye-popping dark comedy that offers something to inspire conversation. The same can be said for the series’ other past picks, be it the unlikely star or jittery use of past Hollywood stars – no holograms, please – in Jesus Shows You The Way to the Highway, or the practical/fiscal possibilites of creating a Frankenstein’s monster in a New York apartment a la Larry Fessenden’s Depraved.

Thursday’s screening of Knives & Skin is nearly filled up, but in case newcomers miss out on the screening, Planet Midnight’s spring slate will be announced this month. They even have an exciting batch of filmmakers and studios in tow to help spread the fun. Meanwhile, midnight riders can hit up IFC Center or Nitehawk for limited screenings beginning Friday, December 6th, when the film will also be on VOD. You can also follow IFC Midnight and Forbidden Planet through the usual social media outlets.