The Drive-In Oath
We are Drive-In Mutants*
We are not like others.
We are sick, we are twisted.
We believe in Blood, Breasts, and Beasts
We believe in Kung-Fu City.
If Life had a vomit meter, we’d be off the scale
As long as one single drive-in remains on the planet earth
We will party like jungle animals
We will boogie ‘til we puke
Heads will roll
And the drive-in will never die!
--Joe Bob Briggs, the greatest drive-in movie critic of all time
On June 6, 1933, a day that will live in infamy, Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. opened the first drive-in theater.
"Uh, Uncle GW? What's a drive-in theater?"
"Oh, my, you are a bunch of ignorant ankle-biters, aren't you? Well, kiddies, a drive-in theater is like a movie theater except you get to see movies outside under the stars in the comfort and privacy of your own vehicle just as God intended. But not just any movies--we're not talkin' indoor bullstuff, nosiree bob--we're talkin' Drive-In Movies, films saturated with the Eternal Drive-In Triad of Blood, Breasts, and Beasts. We're talkin' slashers. We're talkin' giant lizards. We're talking invaders from space. We're talkin' half-nekkid women with improbable expanses of boobage and ridiculously revealing jailhouse attire all locked up together in one big-ass prison cell a-dancin' and cavortin' with sadistic guards sporting Schwarzenegger physiques and enough firepower to enforce peace in the Middle East. We're talkin' chainsaw-wielding, surfboard-ridin', kung-fu Nazi zombies with bad skin, bad haircuts, and a penchant for kidnapping bikini-clad bimbos having the collective I. Q. of a sessile sponge. We're talkin' low budgets and bad effects and cheap sets and wretched dialog. We're talkin' movies where the plot never gets in the way the of action."
"We're talkin' fun stuff!"
I grew up in a small Southern factory town during the 'Sixties and 'Seventies, the kind of place where a teenager not into sports (bowling being a "sport"), pool halls, slot car racing, underage binge drinking, or drag racing had to generate his or her own entertainment. The choices were severely limited. Remember--this was before personal computers, electronic games, DVD players (even VCRs!), cell phones, big screen TVs...hell, cable TV was just beginning to make inroads. In a place surrounded by mountains we were lucky to pull in three broadcast stations and those allowed, at best, marginal reception (one learned to live with, nay, embrace snow and ghosting). If there was a thunderstorm between us and the transmitter site...oh, never mind. If there was a storm anywhere in the continental United States our mothers made us unplug the TV and detach the antenna connection anyway.
The take-home message is to people of a particular mindset--my friends and me--movies were A Very Big Deal.
The area had several walk-in options available: the Wayne (which catered to the indoor bullstuff crowd), the Cavalier (torn down in the 'Sixties, so it really doesn't figure in this discussion but I mention it as a historical aside**), the Visulite and Dixie in nearby Staunton, VA (and, later, the Staunton Plaza Cinema), but all of them had fairly rigid rules of conduct which served to squelch our teenage enthusiasm and render the experience...uh...non-participatory. Believe me, as wound up on hormones and energy and angst as we were, we needed whatever outlets we could find.
Enter the drive-in, of which we had two: the Skyline...
...and the North 340, located conveniently on (surprise!) North 340 just outside of town.*** Here we could indulge our burgeoning boisterousness free (up to a point) of societal and parental restrictions.
Here's how it worked: once we divined that something particularly trashy and, therefore, immensely attractive, was playing we'd load up a couple of cars with as many people as we could cram into them (including the trunk for those who were short of funds), maybe pick up some Malt Duck or Rolling Rock beer**** (depending upon the crowd, their views on alcohol, and whether someone was able to score such things), some snacks (no one, I mean NO ONE trusted the on-site snack bar unless we'd downed all the Malt Duck and Rolling Rock, at which point both our judgment and taste buds were a little fuzzy and pizza dough topped with bacon grease didn't seem a particularly bad idea), then head over to whatever drive-in we felt we needed to grace with our presence.
And certain movies guaranteed our presence: Billy Jack (and its prequel, The Born Losers--"Kitten on Wheels With Her Bike... Her Boots and Bikini!")*****, Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (with its catchy little psychedelic anti-pollution song-and dance-number "Save the Earth" and, yes, by the third viewing we knew the lyrics and sang along, much to the amusement or disgust of neighboring cars who, usually, were less concerned with environmental issues and more concerned with exploring the basics of human sexuality), The Trip (a cautionary film about LSD with the message "Don't do drugs, kids, or you'll wind up writing a screenplay like this!) any horror film by Hammer Film Productions or American International Pictures, the occasional "Bimbos Behind Bars" extravaganza, oh, the list goes on and on...
But the real fun of the drive-in came through generating a running commentary on whatever film we happened to be watching, points being awarded to whoever caused the biggest spit take. Yes, kiddies, we anticipated Mystery Science Theater 3000 by almost twenty years and though I'd love to recreate those moments for you, that would require some serious electrical stimulation of my temporal cortex. Trust me, it went something like this.******
Random Drive-In Memories
--in an almost ritualistic response, whenever anyone got out of the car for whatever reason (bathroom, Dr. Pepper refills--THE drink of choice for the hardy drive-in theater patron, foolishly braving the snack bar pizza) all occupants would make a mad scramble for the dome light, shouting (duh!) "LIGHT!"
--the mens' bathrooms resembled the worst toilet in Scotland. Well, maybe not quite that bad, but it was pretty bad. One toilet only and in lieu of urinals there was a six-foot, continuously flushing trough.
--after a couple of experiences with drive-in theater popcorn, we decided the "butter" was actually lubricating oil for the projectors or, if it wasn't, should be.
--once during a Labor Day Dusk-Till-Dawn horror movie marathon, in the middle of (I kid you not) Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula, the projectionist must have discovered the distributors had sent the wrong reel--a car chase sequence from some unnamed action/adventure film--but he played it anyway.
--during the same Labor Day Dusk-Till-Dawn horror movie marathon one of the films (my friend Sam might recall which) had a sequence where an ersatz Dracula indoctrinated us into the Count Dracula Society or somesuch with a solemn oath (which we recited at the top of our lungs) that ended with "...so help me, Bela Lugosi." Cue spit take.
--during a showing of Gone With the Wind (yeah, yeah, indoor bullstuff, but what the hell) the following issued from our window-mounted speaker:
"As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness" "THE SNACK BAR WILL BE CLOSED IN FIFTEEN MINUTES!"
--frequently during double- or triple-features we would perform Chinese Fire Drills.
Ah, me. Those days are gone forever. Still, "they can knock down that drive-in screen, but the drive-in in our hearts will never die."
--pic from The Drive In Theater Turns 75
* Typical Teenage Drive-In Mutants (as opposed to casual film-goers) carousing in the park. I'm the guy in the middle (and thanks are due Cathy VP--standing to my right--for the photo).
** The Cavalier tended to show movies of a, uh, less respectable nature--"B"-level horror and sci-fi, exploitation films of all stripes and varieties, the kinds of things my parents would never take me to. I was so jealous of my friend Sam when I was in elementary school because his parents took him to the Cavalier on a regular basis, thus giving him in-depth knowledge of the things I could only read (and dream) about in the current issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Ask him sometime about how I regaled our first grade class with the plot of The Head I derived entirely from a 30-second TV spot.
*** I've looked, but I can't find any pictures online and I don't have any of my own. Incidentally, during the heyday of Joe Bob Briggs one of my numerous alter-egos formed the North 340 Memorial Drive-In Society (with a membership of 1) and offered him a life achievement award (bottom of the page). The North 340's death was hastened when Eastside Speedway, the local drag strip immediately adjacent to the drive-in, began holding really noisy (as in decibel levels capable of rendering toads sterile for 2000 yards) competitions during showtime.
**** Malt Duck was this noxious grape-flavored malt liquor (think Kool-Aid-flavored beer) that was something of a cult fave in the 'Seventies and certainly made low-budget movies seem more entertaining than they actually were. The manufacturer had some amusing radio commercials as well:
Announcer: "HOW TO OFFER A LADY A DELICIOUS MALT DUCK!"
Voice: "Uh, I'd like to offer this lady a delicious Malt Duck?"
Announcer: "YES, IT'S JUST THAT EASY!"
Rolling Rock was beer that, at that time, came in 8-packs of tiny little green bottles any one of which could be swilled in a single gulp, thereby speeding up the process of making a low-budget movie more entertaining than it actually was.
***** It was through repeated viewings of both Born Losers and Billy Jack that I learned the importance of having a decent continuity person as part of the film crew--rifles changed makes from one scene to another or magically disappeared and reappeared, shoes changed style within scenes, mirror reflections didn't match, panties remained where they shouldn't be... oh, and I became an expert at spotting boom shadows. Sing it with me now: "I'm being followed by a boom shadow/boom shadow, boom shadow..."
****** Yet another example of how I'm often ahead of my time. I'd seen Bride of the Monster as a 10-yr. old at which time it totally terrorized me because it just didn't make sense! When I saw it again as an adult, long before MST3K, I thought it was hysterically funny and at a critical juncture made the aside "Oh, no! Now (Bela Lugosi's character) has the strength of twenty heroin addicts." Note what is said at the five minute mark.