“American Summer” at the Avalon and Milwaukee’s Cult Cinema Scene

Tonight’s sold-out screening of “Wet Hot American Summer” at the Avalon Theater shows that the pieces are in place to rekindle a former cinematic tradition.

With the film festival just days away, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d be providing a little more advance coverage to that fifteen day celebration, but I’m going to take a brief detour this week and take a look at a screening taking place tonight at the Avalon and what this could possibly mean for a long-dormant cult movie scene in Milwaukee.

It’s been more than nine years since the Friday Night Freakshow — a joint consideration between WMSE and Eric Levin, then-owner of the Times Cinema — officially shuttered its operation. The weekly midnight series showcased cult cinema both beloved and obscure. I remember seeing 80’s schlock like Friday the 13th Part 3 (in 3D!) and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone with a boisterous, enthusiastic crowd of like-minded individuals. But when many independent theatres felt the crunch of low attendance from an audience that largely migrated to the home video market in the early-to-mid Oughts, both The Times and The Freakshow saw the writing on the wall.

Cut to last year, and the reopening of the Avalon Theater in Bay View after nearly a decade and a half of dormancy, with a gorgeous remodel to its name and two screens to play with – a main auditorium that would play host to recent blockbusters, and a smaller side theater whose intention looked to be a showcase for independent and under seen cinema. In the year of operation since that reopen, it’s safe to say the Avalon has more or less shied away from that mission statement, instead showing safe Hollywood fare on both screens with nearly no special events to speak of.

Which makes tonight’s sold out screening of the cult comedy Wet Hot American Summer such a warmly welcomed development. With Milwaukee Record bringing Michael Showalter and David Wain’s lunatic ode to coming-of-age films to the Avalon tonight, the time might be right for that disparate movie-going audience to come back together and reignite the thriving scene that helped sustain the Freakshow for so many years. With attendance for the Milwaukee Film Festival booming and midnight screenings of The Room and Rocky Horror always proving a draw for the Oriental Theatre, the audience might be ready to reconvene in order to celebrate more off-the-beaten-path cinematic choices. And with Bay View proving to be one of the hipper enclaves in the Milwaukee area along with the Avalon’s full bar and wildly comfortable seating arrangements, all of the pieces are in place to rekindle a former Milwaukee tradition.

This doesn’t mean the Friday Night Freakshow may ever be destined to return (requests for comment from both WMSE and the director of operations for The Avalon, John Brannan, both went unanswered), but a sold out screening of a cult film late in the Milwaukee evening in the year 2015 feels like just the kind of theater-going throwback local cinephiles are desperately in need of.

Quick Links

With the festival fast approaching, check out which tickets are selling quickly or already have sold out here.

MFF 2014 alum and one of our country’s very finest film writers Wesley Morris has been named Critic at Large in Culture at the New York Times.

Trailer of the Week

The Milwaukee Film Festival kicks off this Thursday evening with the latest from Oscar-winning director Pablo Sorrentino, the Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel-led Youth.

On the Marquee

Tuesday, September 22: BackUp Film Festival

7 p.m. @ UWM Union Cinema (FREE)


Tuesday, September 22: Wet Hot American Summer

9:30 p.m. @ The Avalon Theatre ($5/Click here for tickets)

Wednesday, September 23: Scarface (1983)

7 p.m. @ Select local Marcus Theaters (Click here for tickets)

Wednesday, September 23: Because I Was A Painter

7 p.m. @ UWM Union Cinema (Free for students/members, $5 general admission)

Wednesday, September 23:  Arcade Fire: The Reflektor Tapes

7 p.m. @ Select local Marcus Theatres (Click here for tickets)

Thursday, September 24: Nashville

7 p.m. @ Landmark Downer Theatre (Click here for tickets)

Friday, September 25: Sicario, The Green Inferno, Hotel Transylvania 2, The Intern, Stonewall and Pawn Sacrifice all open locally

Check local listings for showtimes/pricing


Friday, September 25 through Sunday, September 27: Felt

7 p.m. @ UWM Union Cinema (Free for students/members, $5 general admission)

Saturday, September 26: The Kennel Murder Case

7:30 p.m. @ The Church in the City, 2648 N. Hackett Ave. ($3)




Tom Fuchs is a Milwaukee-based film writer whose early love for cinema has grown into a happy obsession. He graduated with honors in Film Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has since focused on film criticism. He works closely with the Milwaukee Film Festival and has written reviews and ongoing columns for Milwaukee Magazine since 2012. In his free time, Tom enjoys spending time with his wife and dogs at home (watching movies), taking day trips to Chicago (to see movies), and reading books (about movies). You can follow him on Twitter @tjfuchs or email him at tjfuchs@gmail.com.