Long-running midnight movie developing cult following

The face on the billboard leers down over Highland, half-lidded and haunting in black and white. The image — actually the headshot of helmer Tommy Wiseau — has branded “The Room,” a self-distributed directorial debut so hopelessly amateurish that auds reportedly walked out during its two-week run in July 2003.

So why is the movie still playing to near-capacity houses at midnight screenings at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in Hollywood?

“I am a fan of bad cinema,” says Michael Rousselet, an aspiring filmmaker who paid good money to see “The Room” five times during its original run, marveling at the bizarre editing, bad bluescreen, uncomfortably explicit sex scenes and, of course, the enigma of Wiseau himself.

Rousselet called his friends, dozens of them, and they started interacting with the movie, shouting comments, bringing props. Others gradually joined in.

Embracing the response, Wiseau began hosting monthly midnight shows in June 2004. He leases the theater, and slips in and out during the movie, watching with arms crossed from the back as college kids hurl insults (and plastic spoons) at the screen.

“Sometimes it is negative, it is pretty nasty,” shrugs the New Orleans-born Wiseau. “I don’t mind.”

He’s just delighted the film has found an audience. According to Roger Christensen, who manages the Sunset 5, “The Room” outsells other midnight shows by five or six times, bringing in a record 194 patrons in January.

Which means Wiseau makes about $1,000 on each screening, tops. As for the spooky billboard, which he just renewed for another year and a half, that goes for $3,000 a month.

“The Room” screens again Saturday, April 29. Bring spoons.

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