It was around nineteen-ninety one, I think. I was nine or ten years old. I'd seen the trailer, as had most of my friends. The posters and the life-size cardboard cutouts of the cyborg on the Harley, the twelve-gauge shotgun pointed toward the sky. Schwarzenegger in the cold light, the cut of his bones sharp as granite. He looked meaner than he had in the first film, but the rumour was he was a goodie this time around. It was too much to take in.
At the turnstiles, the candy-floss haired owner asked our age and we told her we were twelve because we knew she let some of the first year comprehensive lads into the more violent films. She motioned us under the barrier, past the revolving hot dogs and scent of burned popcorn. Inside, I brushed past familiar neighbourhood faces: Tom Brooks. Sharon and Kev Bonner. Mike Derr. Bernie. Mark Blackburn. The Poland twins.
My friends and I rooted out a quiet a corner so not to draw attention to ourselves. The film itself shocked me to my core. The special effects, the violence, the image of a teenage John Connor tearing through a disused city aqueduct on a motorcross. Most of all, the scene in the kitchen where T200 murders John Connor's stepfather, Todd. That scene especially.
After the film had finished and I stumbled down the steps into the street, I stopped for a moment and leaned against the bonnet of a car, and recognised that I had been wholly changed.
That sea-facing cinema in Hoylake has long since been demolished. In its place are luxury red brick retirement flats with identical Paisley drapes hanging from each window. There is a palpable silence along that shoreline now. It serves as a kind of purgatory for old folks- a waiting room of sorts, before the golden stairlift hums down from the clouds to take them away.
The building in its prime was a beautiful place. Ok, it was a grotty shed that needed renovating way before it was demolished, but the small steps that led to the double doors under the concrete parapet are still clear in my mind. The word CLASSIC pasted across the marquee and the bright posters behind frosted plastic- there really was a sense of otherness, an entry into some portal, some secret world.
We'd break in, years later, when it stood derelict. The huge pearlescent white vinyl screen remained, albeit pockmarked and dirty, still hanging from the cracked ceiling. The seats were moth-eaten and pigeons nested high up in rotten rafters. Down-and-outs would sleep there. But the feeling remained. The same eerie magic as when it had been in use.
After the Terminator 2 experience, I found myself pining for that feeling again- a kind of shock that isn't limited only to horror or gore; just the sense of having never fucking witnessed anything like that. It was the emotion I began seeking out in films. A few others came close: the closing scene from The Blair Witch Project had me reeling for weeks. A re-showing of Kubrick's 2001 in Liverpool Philharmonic- the Stargate sequence at the end- had my eyelids glued open. I remember watching The Exorcist on VHS at least twenty times when it was still banned in the UK (I think- it was hard to get hold of, anyway). More recently, Irreversible had my guts on the torture rack, and then the deft, subtle suspense of the J-Horror genre.
There're three cinemas left in the wider area where I live. Two are mainstream Odeon cinemas and one an arts council funded place in Liverpool called Fact Picturehouse (brilliant, by the way), which struggles under the weight of massive funding cuts. Because of dwindling numbers, going to the flicks is an expensive hobby now. If you're short of a few shekels, you can always wait until midweek for someone to throw an Orange Wednesday code your way, but the chances are your choices will be limited to a superhero franchise movie or a pointless rehash of a classic. There are exceptions, of course.
Recently, I decided I'd go and see the new Coen brothers movie Hail Caesar, but could only find one showing. That was at 2pm It had only been out a week. I skipped that because I vowed to myself I'd never go to the cinema in the day again, since watching Daredevil in Birkenhead on my own some time in the noughties at about eleven a.m. I was wracked with jetlag after a Japanese tour and the cinema foyer was full of kids on a school trip. The film was crap, too, but that's beside the point. The point is, I couldn't freely see a Coen brothers film that had four Oscar winners in, not including the director or producer.
If the Coen's are taking such a hit, then where does that leave something like Miike Takeshi's new movie? The next David Lynch? Though apart from consigning cult films back to the straight-to-DVD market, the bigger tragedy lies in the closure of many local picture houses.
You can time travel in a cinema. You can peer into other dimensions. You can have feelings implanted into your subconscious. You can fall in love and cry amongst complete strangers. It can split your imagination open with a pickaxe. It can change the way you live, the way you think.
I remember a major turning point. It came shortly after I'd seen a Mulholland Drive re-showing at a community cinema. That was around 2005. Not long after that, home Internet, streaming, and uncensored media websites took over, and then all bets were off. They presented probably the biggest challenge to cinema yet: you can go on a multitude of websites now and see anything from a Tsunami ripping it's way through a rural village to Casablanca in its entirety to Mexican gang members having their heads chainsawed off in broad daylight. Does the cinema still have the power to move, to shock? I'm not sure. But it'll get you out of the house. And that might be enough to keep going.