There is a picture house that has toured the country in secret for decades. Sometimes it is in a small town and others it is tucked away in bustling city. It usually appears within the confines of an existing cinema but when none are suitable it can be found in formally empty shells of buildings.
Its interior is run down, with peeling wallpaper, loose light fixtures and vermin. The staff shuffle through the motions, preparing the next screening and cooking hotdogs of ill-defined origin, ready to welcome their specially invited customers.
The audience consist of those who were handed intriguing flyers in the street, the homeless seeking warmth or those who were drawn there by the sudden realisation that they were always supposed to be there. None know exactly what it is they are about to see.
The Midnight Screaming show only one genre, horror. These movies are unlike any other and have never been seen before. They are created by the combined fears and anxieties of the audience, their darkest nightmares projected on to the screen.
For the next two hours (although it can feel longer) the audience loose themselves in the film. While their physical bodies remain in their seats their minds are cast into the role of a character in the film. Within this fictional landscape they must face their inner demons or die.
That is the sacrifice the Midnight Screaming demands and needs. For the staff are slaves, just as the audience are victims. The cinema itself is an entity, preying on the horrors that mankind inflicts upon itself. If not appeased with blood it will take a greater sacrifice in the surrounding area before moving on, relocating overnight.
Brave souls, who become aware of the Midnight Screaming, can foil its plan. They can even take advantage of its ability to warp reality to shape it to their own design. It is an eternal conflict, one where the borders between the real world and movies start to blur.
USING THE MIDNIGHT SCREAMING
The Midnight Screaming can appear in any genre and location. It could appear in the 1930s or 40s, infused with eldritch energies in ‘Trail of Cthulhu’ campaign or part of an experiment by the ‘Esoterrorists’. It could be an elaborate hoax by mutants in ‘Mutant City Blues’ or a twisted use of advanced technology in ‘Ashen Stars’. It targets ordinary people so is perfect for ‘Fear Itself’.
If you own ‘Shadows Over Filmland’ the Midnight Screaming could be used as a framework for the movies depicted with.
The cinema itself doesn’t want to draw too much attention to itself. It will appear in secluded areas, where it can attract just the right audience. If it has taken over an existing cinema it will only manifest after the establishment usually closes (so it will pick places that close by at least 11pm).
The staff will consist of either those people that normally work at the cinema (placed into a mesmerised state so they aren’t alarmed by the transformation) or people who won’t be missed from the local community. Staff members won’t remember anything about the events of the night before, although they will be fatigued.
The primary purpose of the Midnight Screaming is to scare the audience but it can be a cathartic experience. The odds are stacked against the audience members, as their reality follows the genre rules of a horror film, if they can overcome the challenges they face they will have conquered personal fears.
It can also be beneficial to the property it inhabits, bringing in an additional source of revenue (not that the staff remember where the money has come from). The Midnight Screaming can also influence memories and create forged documents that create the illusion that the cinema has always existed there, eradicating any problem that could force it to be closed down.
GETTING PCS INVOLVED
The easiest way for PCs to be introduced to the Midnight Screaming is for them to become members of the audience. This can be a good way for a group of strangers to be thrown into a dangerous situation together, emerging as a team if they survive.
The influence of the Midnight Screaming can affect any established group of PCs, over-riding any natural hesitance in accepting the invitation. The PCs might only realise that something is wrong when the film begins and by that time it is far too late.
The PCs could work at the cinema which is the current host of the Midnight Screaming. They could be troubled by their lost time and unusual events at their place of work. Gradually they might become aware of what is happening, retaining their freewill during the next screening.
The PCs could begin on the periphery initially, investigating the consequences of a Midnight Screaming. This could be the sudden change in behaviour of someone who has emerged unscathed or the discovery of the gruesome remains of an audience member who wasn’t so lucky.
The goals of the PCs could initially be to survive a screening or force it to move on (by ensuring that no one dies).
Once they understand what the Midnight Screaming is and what is capable of they could attempt to take control of it. As long as they are prepared they can help audience members survive a screening and influence the shape reality is left in when the movie ends.
This allows you to run an anthology style campaign, with each adventure featuring a new selection of audience members. Their individual personalities and histories create the scenario, with the PCs helping the audience and providing them with a reward should they succeed.
NEVER SEEN BEFORE
The movie that the Midnight Screaming creates can copy the style and format of any era. In some cases it can imitate specific directors and writers. It could be a gothic, silent black and white film or a schlocky grindhouse flick complete with scratches on the film print. It could be an 80s gorefest or a modern day ‘torture porn’ film.
It is shaped by both what the audience expect to see and what they fear will be shown. There is a palpable sense of dread that what you are most frightened off will be shown. Jump scares are used to draw out the suspense, so the audience is constantly on edge.
The audience are cast in roles that will force them to confront their personal issues. Someone who has lost family in a car crash will be forced to relive it. Those who can’t control themselves could find themselves possessed by demons or transforming into monsters. If someone failed to act, causing others to be hurt or die, they will find themselves in a similar situation.
There is no weakness that the Midnight Screaming won’t exploit. It is particularly cruel to those with mental illness, trauma or disabilities. Frequently it will take people who were already unstable and push them over the edge into insanity.
The Midnight Screaming wants people to be afraid. The scenarios place the audience in danger but they always have a chance of survival, however slim. If there are those who refuse to provide the emotional responses it seeks it may kill them from shock value in order to heighten the fear of others.
It favours scenarios in which the audience are isolated and preyed up. The simplest of these is placing them in a deserted summer camp or other remote location and have them picked off one by one by a deranged masked killer. This killer is either a creation of the Midnight Screaming (an amalgam of the audiences worst fears) or one of the audience members themselves (forcing the others to kill their attacker in order to survive).
Occasionally the movie can be seen as a way to test specific nightmare scenarios or the effectiveness of supernatural creatures. This suggests there is another agency at work, using the scenario for research purposes.
The most dangerous scenario is one involving infection. Whether it be vampires, zombies or demonic possession audience members of succumb to the infection could be returned to the real world to spread it to the general population.
Those who survive are returned with all wounds healed and their mental stability intact and better than ever. They will only recall enjoying a scary horror film, the details of which will quickly fade. They’ll leave the cinema happy and might never realise what happened.
There is a magical moment for those who survive, where they sense that the movie is coming to an end. Those with enough will power can influence how their characters story is resolved, whether it be finding true love or gaining riches. The Midnight Screaming will manifest this into the audience members life within the next few hours. This is not a benevolent act but the audience member hijacking its power.
Those who die in the film are deposited by the Midnight Screaming somewhere isolated in surrounding area. It removes any memories or records that could reveal the deceased was going to the cinema. The blurring of reality often leads to the victim being misidentified as a little known actor in a horror film that no one can find a copy of.
ON GENERAL RELEASE
The Midnight Screaming sometimes unleashes horrors on the real world. It will find locations that are similar to those in a horror film (its own or one that exists). It will then introduce elements of true horror so that the barrier between fiction and reality weaken.
If it can convince people that they live in the world where the supernatural exists or that there really are crazed killers on the loose it gains more power. People will be more afraid when they become members of the audience and more willing to accept the horrors they are faced with.
Theoretically the Midnight Screaming can only manifest in areas with a certain level of ambient fear. These breaches in reality can allow it to gain a foothold and manifest physically. If such intrusions were defeated and the fear levels lowered the Midnight Screaming would be unable to appear in the local area.
The Midnight Screaming has a limited ability to see the future. As a lure it can show glimpses of the audiences future in ‘Coming Attraction’ trailers. These are always edited to inspire fear or concern from the audience. While often misleading they can act as a warning.
The price for this sneak peak at tomorrow is that the audience member must then survive the scenario the Midnight Screaming places them in.
Even the Midnight Screaming isn’t immune to piracy. Audience members have been able to smuggle in recording equipment and capture a copy of the movie that is created. Bootleg copies have exchanged hands over the years and been uploaded to the internet.
These are considered oddities by most. 4th or 5th generation copies, badly degraded through copying, show intriguing but nightmarish images. This can make people curious enough to seek out their source, eventually leading to the Midnight Screaming.
Each copy of these films can allow the Midnight Screaming to gather the fear it desires. When a particular recording has raised enough fear it can inspire madness and manifest horrors. The Midnight Fear uses this like a virus, ensuring that its films maintain their mystic and continue to be shared.