They'd given much thought to how they would see it -- some had been planning for months -- but they did not imagine this kind of pandemonium. They waited in the long line outside the Universal CityWalk Cinemas, staring into the eyes of the movie ticket ushers, and they looked back at them frightened. Surely, it was a good way to watch a movie. At midnight. With other fans.
Around 11:30 p.m., the ushers smiled in a welcoming way as they finally motioned moviegoers into the theater.
It was time for their eyes to be dazzled by midnight showings of "Twilight."
In a sight played out at theaters across the Southland, hundreds of fans came wearing "Twilight" T-shirts -- some homemade with phrases like "Suck my blood, Edward" or "Hunt me, Edward" scrawled with black marker. A few sported "I kissed a vampire and I liked it" buttons on caps and purses; others simply toted around copies of the bulky books, cramming until the lights dimmed inside the theater; and then there were the few trying to reduce the saliva spillage that so often occurs when wearing fake fangs.
The Summit Entertainment film sold out hundreds of performances weeks before its Friday opening. Meanwhile, Fandango sold out 1,000-plus more for Thursday midnight shows. As of early Friday morning, the online ticket retailer had been selling five "Twilight" tickets per second, said spokesman Harry Medved.
"Our robust ticket sales are a bit of a surprise considering the film is a sweet little love story, not a studio tent-pole," Medved said. "These are the kind of ticket sales you expect for a big special-effects movie, but it's the chemistry between Edward and Bella that's clearly what is propelling the advance ticket sales."
Fans not lucky enough to score tickets to the midnight showings -- and even those who just wanted to relive the experience -- planned to miss work or school Friday to watch a few hours of vampire romance. And one teacher, who loves the book as much as her students, suggested catching a matinee rather than ditching school.
"We talked about that in class the other day," said Carla Deleon, 23, a sixth-grade teacher at Frank E. Woodruff Elementary School in Bellflower, who bought tickets to the 12:30 a.m. showing online about two weeks ago. "It would be kind of a bad day to be absent at our school. There's testing on Friday. It won't be a big deal if they see it after school. It will be the same movie."
The film, directed by Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen," "Lords of Dogtown"), is based on the bestselling young adult novel written by Stephenie Meyer. "Twilight," the first book in the four-part series, introduces us to Bella Swan, a 17-year-old who moves to Forks, Wash., and her evolving romance with classmate Edward Cullen, who she discovers moonlights as a vampire.
"I'm not a big reader," said Dallana Deleon, 17, of Maywood, who only recently jumped on the "Twilight" bandwagon after witnessing her sister's fascination. "But I got hooked. Edward is perfect."
She paused to swoon and added: "My boyfriend was jealous when I told him I was coming to watch the movie. He said, 'Oh, you're going to see your other boyfriend?' Yup. That's right."
But, despite the estrogen-charged mob outside the theater, the female-to-male ratio wasn't as high as some were suspecting. Sure, some of the males in line were dragged by girlfriends or sisters -- as evidenced by the many stoic faces in the crowd -- but there were also guys who had willingly been recruited into the "Twilight" cult.
"My girlfriend started reading them and I kind of wanted to know what the big deal was," said Ola Tripp, 18, a student at Cal State Northridge. "Now I'm addicted. I feel better seeing other guys here. It's proof that you don't have to be gay to like a love story."
He's even named his $2,000 Takamine guitar after Bella.
And though there was plenty of shrieking as the lights dimmed and the opening credits rolled, not everyone in the attendance was a teeny-bopper.
"I kept joking that I was the oldest one here," said 30-year-old Ronni Valentine of Studio City, who was already planning a repeat viewing hours later "when the sun's out." "Is it sad that I screamed along with the rest of the teenagers?
"I went in with low expectations because I love, love, love the book. I can't wait to see it again."