Security has been ramped up at cineplexes across the country including in the Northern San Joaquin Valley in the wake of the deadly shooting in Colorado.
In downtown Modesto, police will walk extra foot patrols past Brenden Theatres. Police agencies across Southern California will have undercover officers inside theaters. New York police posted officers at dozens of complexes. Ticket takers at a multiplex in Washington searched customers' bags and purses. And many national and regional chains have banned masks, costumes and prop weapons.
"There will be more private security inside the theater, as well as police presence outside of the theater," said Brenden Theatres Executive Vice President Bruce Coleman. "We've stepped things up to the extent we're being acutely aware of the surroundings. We're not looking to create undue panic. But we realize there'll be a lot of people nervous as to what the movie theaters are doing, making sure this doesn't happen again."
Coleman said Brenden, which runs the 18-screen downtown Modesto cineplex, has banned costumes during the entire run of "The Dark Knight Rises" after a gunman in body armor and a gas mask killed a dozen people at a theater during its midnight screening in a suburb outside of Denver.
Other valley theaters have taken extra precautions and are limiting the degree that moviegoers can dress up in costume to see the film.
Galaxy Theatres, which runs the Riverbank multiplex, issued a statement on its Facebook page saying it will "not allow any guests into our theatres in costumes that make other guests feel uncomfortable and we will not permit face-covering masks or fake weapons inside our buildings." It offered refunds or exchanges for tickets by request.
Not all cinemas banning costumes
Regal Cinemas, which has theaters in north Modesto, Turlock and Sonora, has set no corporate ban on costumes. The company issued a statement on its Facebook page offering condolences and saying, "As is our custom, we will continue to monitor the situation and adjust our security needs as necessary."
The Modesto and Turlock Regal theaters have banned costumes and masks, while the Sonora location is allowing moviegoers to come dressed up.
For some valley movie fans, the events in Colorado gave them pause. But for many, the tragedy was not enough to stop them from catching the flick on a Friday night.
"We thought about it and we talked about whether we should go. But we felt it was safe," said Modesto resident Chris Coleman, who went with his 12-year-old daughter to see "The Dark Knight Rises" at Galaxy.
Still, there were some signs people were staying away. Inside the Riverbank theater, 15 minutes before the 7 p.m. showtime, the seats were only about a quarter full. Modesto resident Ryan Empie, 28, said the massacre was on everyone's minds, leading to some nervous humor. "Everyone who walks in has been joking about it," Empie said. "One guy said, 'I'm not going to shoot.' "
Lines for the early evening showing of the much-anticipated final installment of the Batman trilogy were sparse in the early evening in Modesto. Gates had been set up to control lines at Brenden, but most moviegoers easily walked up to the ticket counter.
There were no people in costume, though a few people in line at the Regal Theatres Modesto Stadium 10 wore Batman T-shirts. It was a marked contrast to the night before, when local theaters had long lines and throngs of costumed fans eager to pack the midnight screening.
Twelve-year-old Sergio Serrano of Stockton was at the midnight screening at Brenden and said there were many people dressed as Batman and other characters from the trilogy. He heard about the shooting the next morning, and was a little bit worried about going to the theater again.
But he and his aunt, Modesto resident Cynthia Favela, decided to hit an early screening of the new "Madea" movie at Brenden Theatres.
"I didn't want to go at night," Favela said. "I was so scared when I heard the news. You send your children off to see a movie and you just don't know."
In Washington, the Homeland Security Department held a conference call with officials from the commercial, entertainment and shopping mall industries to discuss what security measures they could take to prevent something like this from happening again.
Trade group working with officials
The National Association of Theater Owners said it was working closely with law enforcement authorities and reviewing security procedures, but gave no details of any precautions taken.
AMC Theatres, the nation's second-largest theater chain with more than 300 movie houses, said it will not allow people to wear costumes or masks into its theaters.
Coleman said Brenden Theatres and other such chains are just being extra-vigilant.
"We're sensitive to employees, customers, parents and all people around this awful, awful incident," he said. "We're going to be very, very cognizant of our surroundings and customers."
Modesto resident Arturo Ruiz went to an afternoon showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" at Brenden. Emerging afterward in his Batman T-shirt, the 25-year-old said he wasn't worried about seeing the movie. But he expects many people will be.
"People come to the movie theaters to escape reality," he said. "And if it doesn't feel safe, people will stay home."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2284.
Bee staff writer Lisa Millegan Renner contributed to this report, as did the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times.