Friday, June 6, 2008

Drive-In Memories

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 " 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:

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.


Cathy VanPatten said...

Oh my! Such memories! Good times, man. Good times.

By the way, my very favorite Skyline Drive-In double feature was the incomparable Corpse Grinders followed by the incomprehensible Undertaker and His Pals.

I believe that was the show where Ed Z. got the idea that we should all stumble around the lot as if we were blind. Not all together like zombies, but one at a time. I don't recall what, if anything, prompted this idea, but stumble we did. Well, some of us at least. Me, for one. And without any Rolling Rock or Cold Duck at all.

By the way, did you know Rolling Rock has risen in status in the ensuing years? I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes...

Cathy VanPatten said...

Oh, and thanks for posting the link to "Save the Earth"! We have the DVD, but the song is entirely in Japanese, even though the movie is dubbed. Bah!

You remember, I'm sure, that my rendition of that song (with really only the "Save the Earth!" and "Too many fumes in our OX-y-gen" portions surviving) kind of sealed Jeff's fate. You know it's kismet when you can snare a guy with your arcane knowledge of Hedorah!

Anonymous said...

I LOVE seeing the pictures of the Skyline Drive In! What a hoot! Ah, the glorious memories of Corpse Grinders and Blackula! Cathy, were you ever one of the people in the trunk? And, damn! Ed did get us to walk around like we were blind. What the hell? But I loved every minute of it.

Do you remember the playground they right in front of the screen? That is really smart when you think about it, except of course, if you are wild high school insane children who go up to swing on the swings barefooted! Remember we had to take Patty Fink to the ER cause she cut her foot on some glass - or God knows what?!

Oh, and the Gone With the Wind episode was so perfectly tacky and wonderful, but did you also remember that the most famous quote of the film was "edited" - probably because the age and deterioration of the film itself...... "Frankly my dear... damn!" How amazingly perfect!

We will have to go to the Hull's Drive In (Lexington) sometime when we have a fool gathering and stumble around in the dark and eat crappy pizza from the snack bar. But alas, they only show family fare now, no all night horror fests....

Thanks for the memories!

Barb - one who was never in the trunk, never drank anything but Dr. Peppers and never cut her foot open when playing on the Drive-In playground... but did walk around "blind" and lived to tell about the snack bar pizza.

JSaM said...

Gojira tai Hedora! AArh! bad memories! Saw it at the Skyline on a Sunday nite after an excruciating day at our high school's "Safety" road rally. Our friends Steve and Scott were there (how the hell did you get out of it?) along with my autographed photo of Peter Cushing (for luck)and our pre-printed directions to follow to find the prize (don't even remember what it was). About 20 minutes into it I was passing on a country road near Harriston and come face to face with another driver who had taken a wrong turn and was doubling back- on a gravel back road- at 65 miles per hour. I came out unscathed, but his car careened into a drainage ditch and wound up on its roof. Oh, the humanity! That night we were scheduled to see "GvtSM" on a double bill with "Frogs" (Ray Milland ((wasn't he british initially?))as a southern coot and Sam Elliot as "Smith, Pickett Smith".). I was fearful to touch the wheel again, but my parents encouraged me to go. Godzilla saves the world from a giant tadpole and the earth is dominated by amphibians and reptiles. Great!
Now for some drive-in/TV trivia. The first 'un who can connect these two ideas will win ... well, something. What do "Middibamboo Mama" and and "Mamuwalde" have in common? Hah!

Cathy VanPatten said...

LOL, Barb! No, I was never in the trunk, but I remember one time we put Chibby in there. Then we noticed that they had hired guards with DOGS, and we we afraid to open the trunk, so we went out again, got the Chibster out of the trunk, and came back in, claiming that we had forgotten someone and could we get back in on her fare alone. And they LET us! Even though the look on the ticket person's face revealed that she didn't believe a word.

And I am SO glad I was not the ONLY one of us Ed persuaded to stumble around blindly! I was a bit worried about that!

Hmmm, Sam. Well... Blackula was Count Mumawalde (or however it's spelled), but I don't recall the provenance of M. Mama!

Cathy VanPatten said...

Oh yeah... another snack bar memory:

Cindy F.'s name for the hot dogs that had been rolling around the grill for at least a week:

Old man of the woods!

JSaM said...

One of my favorite memories of the North 340 involved their showing of skin flicks on fridays and saturdays at midnight. Now, I never saw any of THOSE, but in the summer of 1972 they were showing a triple bill of the original "Frankenstein" and "Dracula" and topped it off with Hammer's "Plague of the Zombies". I went to see them on the thursday of that week with a paramour, and then went back on saturday night to see them with Steve and Scott. To accomodate the upcoming nudie features at midnight, the management removed a FULL REEL from each of the other three films, that's right, just left one out of each! It was about that time that I had one of my trademark pseudo-grand mal seizures and my pals spent the next 45 minutes restraining me and trying to decide whether to call for help. People must have wondered what in the name of Karloff was happening in the Impala. To top it off, before the "Zombie" feature, the snack bar attendant (who had that whittlin'-hickory-behind-the-barn twang)announced that the last feature would be "in colorED". The perfect drive-in experience!
Actually Lee, the erzatz spokesman for the Count Dracula Society was none other than Barry Atwater, the original Janos Skorzeney from "The Night Stalker"! So help me Christopher Lee! It was a short promo for the Cushing-Lee fest "Dracula AD '72" that took on an (un)life of its own.
Cathy, you are totally correct about Mamuwalde and I think Lee will get Middibamboo mama, but lets see if he can put it together. One more clue; "oooh, I'm so scaaaared!"

G. W. Ferguson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
G. W. Ferguson said...

Oops. Let's try again.

Here we go--

"Mamuwalde" was "Blacula"'s real name and he was played by William Marshall (I almost wrote "E. G. Marshall;" that would have been interesting!) who was in an Alfred Hitchcock Presents adaptation of "The Jar" by Ray Bradbury and "Middibamboo Mama" was what Marshall believed was in the jar.

And the hint, "Oooh, I'm so scaaaared!" was William Marshall as the Video Pirate captain in Amazon Women On the Moon.

I WAS at the road rally! I was manning one of the checkpoints, one of the later ones which few people ever found. I spent most of the time bored and wondering when this wretched thing would be over and whether anyone would remember to pick me up (no car).

G. W. Ferguson said...


"So help me Christopher Lee!" and Barry Atwater!


*begins the Nostalgia Dance*

G. W. Ferguson said...


I was going to write about the playground and what happens when a Slew o' Fools stage a coup, but this particular entry was developing a life of its own and I edited it out.

And yeah, I meant to add the "Frankly my dear...thunk...damn!" part, but I forgot. Only at the drive-in!

Other items I neglected to add--the inevitable battle cry of "How cheap!" whenever there was a sub-par special effect (the monster is a man in a rubber suit or resembles a crawling carpet remnant) or the always hysterical "Well, how RUDE!" whenever someone was sliced, diced, and/or decapitated. To this day I STILL mutter those things under my breath at a horror movie (causing nearby patrons to give me the Evil Eye).

JSaM said...

Right on the mark! I can see E G Marshall doing it too. I do remember that labor day dust to dawn extravaganza. It was at the Harrisonburg drive in (or maybe Verona)behind the restaurante with the large fiberglass bull on the roof. The screen support stubs (telephone poles)are, I think still there, along with the bull but the palace is gone. I wanted to see "The Horror of Dracula", which, thankfully, was intact. The other features, "Blood of Dracula' Castle" was just stoopid and the last "Whatever Happened to Count Dracula?", was, well, I can only remember the title- and the fact that they lost the last reel, as you said, and substituted the last reel of an upcoming feature with a bang up car chase. We'll probably never know what that reel was from, but I'll probably spend the rest of my life trying to find out!

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

You guys had more fun than I ever ill in my whole sad, sorry, misbegotten life!!!! But, hey, you set the bar high. Lee, do you still think I'm psycho, mama?

JSaM said...

Sorry, I almost missed that comment about "The Head", and this is pure Lee-ana. Lee and I first met in Mrs Wheeler's first grade class at Jackson-Wilson elementary, in 1961(!). The newspaper had run an advert for the film displaying the desembodied head of Michel Simon trailing arteries and tubes and with the immortal tag line "The body is gone, but the head lives on!". Well, we had show and tell )and Lee had the spotlight (I guess this would have been just before easter week break, 1962) and Lee is at the front of the class talking about "The Head" and basically making up the plot synopsis off of the top of his head (so to speak). Mrs Wheeler, seated at her desk grading papers or some damn thing, eyes the clock and tells Lee that he'll have to finish his presentation after Easter break. True to form, the Monday after Easter break, Lee is back in front of the class finishing up his ruminations about a movie he had never seen (a rather gruesome movie at that). At some point Mrs Wheeler looks up from her work, having finally caught the gist of his review. "Lee Snavely, sit down!" While she tried to repair his damage to our impressionable minds as best she could, giving sideways glances to himself, as I sat in the class doing my best crypt keeper "heh-heh-heh!". And Lee is the same, which is why I love him. Have him tell you about "Levitation" sometime

Elizabeth Massie said...

I remember seeing "Poor White Trash Part II" at the North 340. Never saw Part I but it didn't matter; it was just gals in ripped flannel shirts running through the woods away from the hillbilly dudes. At least, that's all I remember. I also recall, again at the North 340, going to see "Romeo and Juliet." During the last speech by the prince, while the sad, dead couple were being hauled into their mausoleums, we were blessed with a loud cracking sound over the speakers and then the ever-popular, "Snack bar'll close in five minutes. We repeat, snack bar'll close in five minutes." How's a teenaged girl supposed to enjoy her angst and tears with that honkin' over the pipes??

Loved the playground at the Skyline, too. I remember kids would come in their pjs and then fall asleep in their parents cars during the film. And I was one of the rare souls who actually ate hot dogs from the snack bar. They had a green tint. I hope it was the lighting.


G. W. Ferguson said...


Rolling Rock is no longer merely the choice of impoverished redneck boys everywhere? RUN!!! The Apocalypse is almost upon us!

"You know it's kismet when you can snare a guy with your arcane knowledge of Hedorah!"

Absolutely! He had ME when I discovered he knew the words to "The Bunny of Seville" and "What's Opera, Doc?" If YOU hadn't married him >>>I<<< would have...oh, wait...Jeff and I are straight. Dammit!

"Old Man of the Woods" You made me aspirate Diet Pepsi!

G. W. Ferguson said...

@wayne allen sallee:

Of ALL my friends, you remain the most endearingly psycho of 'em all.

'Scuse me, now; Mary's frying fish and I'm as hungry as can be.

JSaM said...

About the Skyline's playground . . . My earliest memory of drive-ins and movies in general came at that playground a little after the first feature began, October 3rd, 1959. It was a monumental moment for a four year old which is why it "sticks in my mind", and accounts for so much of my life and interests.

That evening, a little after 7 in the evening, I was on the swings (they weren't roped but rather suspended by elongated metal links for maximum manual damage)and for some perverse reason I decided to take an interest in the action on the screen from my low perspectived position (the characters on the screen seem distorted to a height of about 50 feet from this vantage point).

The movie began. A shapely blond in a black dress receives a package in the mail from "an unknown admirer". She opens the package, removes a pair of binoculars, puts them to her eyes and adjusts the focusing mechanism. In a matter of seconds her hands are over her eyes, blood streaming through the cracks between her fingers as she screams, "My eyes! My eyes!!" She falls to the floor, dead, as the camera focuses on the innocent binoculars which are now revealed as a lethal weapon sporting a 6 inch spring-loaded spike from each eye piece.

Little Sammy was off that swingset in mid-swing and within seconds beating on his parents' car door screaming, "let me in! LET ME IN!!". The movie, "Horrors of the Black Museum" was actually a catalogue of creative serial murders (portable guillotine, acid bath, electrocution, etc) and after that opening I tried to hide and sleep in the back seat of the car. I could still HEAR the proceedings and everytime my curiosity made me peer over the back seat something nasty was going on!
My life experience was increased ten-fold that evening!

G. W. Ferguson said...


My parents opted out of horror movies (big "duh!" there!), but I do remember going with them to see Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960), of all things, at the Skyline. Later, as I recall, we saw The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964) and Dr. Zhivago (1965), the latter being unspeakably impressive on a big-ass screen! Soon thereafter the Skyline pretty much quit showing indoor bullstuff and focused on Elvis and AIP biker films until we came of age.

And a side note: Bunny STILL remembers going with us to see The Exorcist and wonders if you ever got the butter stains out of your pants.

JSaM said...

I should mention, in defense of my parents, that I was usually just along for the ride in the early drive-in experiences. I was dressed in my jammies and they fully expected I would be asleep in the back seat soon after the movies began.

Synchronistically speaking, I too remember seeing "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" at the Skyline, and due to limited runs and limited viewing times (either fri or sat nights, usually sats for my family)chances are good that we were there the same night. I remember the title song and Doris Day skip dancing through the yard playing a uke leading a bunch of too-cute rugrats. Bor-ing. I also remember seeing such high-minded fare as "Summer and Smoke" and "The Gazebo" and other somniferous stuff.

Problem was, in 1959 particularly, cinema changed and some really gruesome low-budget stuff began coming out looking like major productions and I don't think anyone was prepared for that. Usually it was just "now, lay down and go to sleep back there!", but the seed had been planted.

Occasionally we would see big budget spookers ("The Birds", "The Haunting")and we made a special trip to see "The Raven" for my benefit (Boris! Vincent! Peter!) but it wasn't until the mid-60's that I started begging, cajoling, and pleading to go see "those movies".

Oh, and please tell Bunny that some stains never come out!

RobN said...

Hello Lee! I tried this before but I don't think I did it correctly so let me try again. So my Skyline memories are you, Sam, Scot, Steve, and I crammed into someone's car watching some God knows what horror movie. One time we each got a large pizza from Pizza Hut and a 2 liter soda. That station wagon we were in had enough gas to rival OPEC by the end of the movie!
Cioa! Rob Nacrelli