As the elder statesman here at Rogue Cinema, I’ve always felt that it was my duty to pass along my experiences to the younger folk. Now, I’m not saying that I’m some sort of wise Yoda-like dude, in fact, I usually learn more from the staff here at RC than I pass on, but, being the only guy on staff who saw Star Wars in the theatre, in 1977, I’ve had some experiences that others haven’t, the drive-in being one of them. So, gather round the ol’ Bad Movie Guy’s rocking chair and I’ll spin you a tale of the great outdoors, cars and, of course, B movies.
When I was just a little Bad Movie Kid, I would leaf through the papers, which was, back then, the only way to find out what was playing at the local theatre, and there were always these really small ads at the bottom of the page, they usually had a small label that read ‘Adults Only’ or ‘No One Under 18 Admitted’, those were ads for the movies that I really wanted to see, movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House On The Left or The Corpse Grinder. I always wanted to go see these movies, but being under the age of 10, it was a little hard to get to the theatre, let alone buy a ticket to the show.
Not that I didn’t get to go to the drive-in, you see, this was the days before video tape and the only way for a couple with small kids to see a real movie was to head to the drive-in. Every drive-in I was ever in had a small playground directly under the screen, it usually consisted of a swing set, a jungle gym and some type of see saw contraptions, usually on top of a sea of gravel, but you could head down there and play until it was dark and it was movie time. Being a kid at the drive in was great, because you usually got to see a movie and then you’d crawl into the back seat and go to sleep, it was a sort of camp out, only with movies! I can remember seeing more movies at the drive in than indoors, and they weren’t grindhouse fare when I was young, nope, (Damned Responsible Parenting!!) we saw Mary Poppins at the Jolly Roger Drive In, we saw Apocalypse Now at the Wayne and I’ll never forget seeing Young Frankenstein at the Algiers! The drive in was the best place in the world for us, we could head down as a family, my mom, my brother and me, and enjoy the show!
Flash forward to years later, it’s the 80s, I have my own car now, a job at a local restaurant and my weekends are my own. What’s a guy to do? That’s right, head down to the drive-in to see all those movies I’d been looking forward to that no one in the family wanted to see but me! Here’s how it went. The charm of the drive-in was that it didn’t start until the sun went down, so you had the whole day to ‘hang out’ and do whatever we did in the 80s to entertain ourselves, usually wearing parachute pants, break dancing and getting our hairs styled like A Flock Of Seagulls. Then, you had time to get your stuff together and get to the movie. The first thing you needed at the drive-in was a cooler, you could fill it with pop, beer or whatever you decided to refresh yourself with. You could also stuff the car with popcorn, candy, pizza or anything you might want to eat or snack on. Planning was essential, remember we’re not just heading to a movie, this is a double feature with an intermission we’re talking about, it’s gonna start at around 7pm, but it ain’t over until 2am or later, so you had to have enough supplies, or else you’re going to have to head to the concession stand which was usually a small building in the middle of the drive-in where the projector was that also house a small cafeteria that churned out hot dogs, frozen pizzas, popcorn and candy that might have been there since the place opened. The concession stand is also where the restrooms were if you needed to stretch your legs or get rid of an excess of pop you might have ingested!
First you’d arrive a little early, especially if the movie was popular, in order to get a good parking place. You didn’t want to be too far from the screen or you’d have a better view of what was going on at the concession stand than the movie, and you didn’t want to be too close, after all, you’re sitting in your car. So, you’d arrive early enough to get a good spot, often an hour or so before sundown. If you were lucky, the drive-in would be offering a ‘car load’ special, where it was one price no matter how many people you had packed in there, otherwise you’d each have to cough up about four bucks! So, you find a spot, which is a little more difficult than you might expect, you not only had to find a good view, but you had to make sure that the speaker was in good working order, it’s no good having the best view in the house and not being able to hear a thing, is it? So, you’ve got your spot, you’ve got a good speaker and you’ve got about an hour to kill before sundown, what’s there to do? Well, if you brought it, you can sit back, roll the windows down and enjoy your supper in the fresh air. Every drive-in played music through the speakers, so there you’d be, sitting back, relaxing, the cool evening breeze caressing you gently and listening to the music that drifted across the whole drive-in, like some sirens song calling you to the movies. If you were a fan of the drive-in, like me, this was an intoxicating mix!!
As for the movies we’d see, man, we saw everything at the drive-in, Porky’s, Friday The 13th, Kentucky Fried Movie, if it was a the drive-in, odds are I’ve seen it at least once. And adversity didn’t deter us either, my buddies and I once sat at a drive-in, in the rain, to see a ‘cheerleader triple feature’. Why? Well, we were all about 18, nothing to do, and the promise of nubile young cheerleaders who would surely be topless, at the least, was more than we could resist! And it wasn’t just the siren call of sex that lured young men down to the drive-in, it was the fact that the ‘old people’ weren’t interested in these movies, so it was all teenagers just hanging out watching these movies. And I, in particular, loved it! I remember thinking that, unlike an indoor theatre, when I took a girl, I paid for two movies and I got to see two movies…yes, I was a bit ‘girl challenged’ back then…and if you ask my wife, I still suffer from that particular condition…but, I’d see any movie that sounded interesting, and in the 80s it was the height of the slasher movie, I saw every slasher movie that came out! Happy Birthday To Me, My Bloody Valentine, any movie made that featured young people being chased by a maniac with something sharp, I was there!
Now, why do we older dudes look back at this time with such affection? Maybe it’s just the remembrance of youth, maybe it’s that times were so different back then or maybe, just maybe, it’s something that we all lost as we grew up as a society. Kids could run down to that drive-in playground without the fear of some pedophile stalking them, you could roll down your windows and enjoy the movie without someone ruining the experience for everyone, we were all there for the same reason, to see the movie, and those who didn’t want to see the movie, crawled into the back seat and steamed up their windows quietly, so as not to disturb us hardcore movie-goers! I guess it was just a calmer, gentler time that we’ll never see again and it’s really a shame that today’s kids will never have that. Oh, there are great things now, the internet, never standing in line because the local multi-plex has three hundred screens, but there was something about the atmosphere at the drive-in, you could sit on the hood of your car and chat with the guy in the car next to you and, usually, he wasn’t some weirdo, he was just there to see the movie like you were.
Well, I guess that’s about all you need to know about the drive-in. Now, those of you out there who don’t remember TV without cable, or double features, or a time before videotapes can all go back to whatever you young people do. I’ll pull my shawl back over my shoulders, sit here in my rocking chair and reminisce. But…before you go…could you just stick that DVD of Satan’s Cheerleaders into the machine? Thanks.