Drive-In Memories by Bob Statzer

Viva Ann-Margret at the Drive-In
How Bob cultivated a life-long appreciation for redheads at the drive-in!
Model building (blame the glue fumes!) gives Bob flashbacks to his old school days!
Model building (blame the glue fumes!) gives Bob flashbacks to his old school days!

Although autumn has always been my favorite time of the year, I look forward to summer because of all the outdoor activity and getting together with friends that, for some reason, I tend not to see during other times of the year. Granted, summer as an adult is different than summer as a teen. (No three month student holiday during the summer months, for example.) Yet there was something almost magical about these past few months, something that made me feel like I had flashed-back to my school days. Maybe it was actually having the chance to crack open and build a couple of models, something I’ve been planning to do for the last few years that just never happened. Then again, maybe it was dusting off the movie projector during these recent summer evenings, giving it the first real workout it had seen since last winter. The only thing lacking was a trip to the drive-in.

 

It has been so long since any drive-ins my immediate area have been open that my movie memories of them almost seem like something I only imagined. But those dim mental images got recharged recently when--through some "horse trading" with Steve Osborne -- I got a 400', Super 8 color sound digest of the Elvis Presley flick, GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! Could there possibly be a more perfect summer fun film, especially for those of us who can (vaguely) recall going to see this as a first-run feature?...

 

Like Elvis, Bijou Bob is just a red blooded boy who can't stop thinkin' about Drive-Ins! Drive-Ins! Drive-Ins!
Like Elvis, Bijou Bob is just a red blooded boy who can't stop thinkin' about Drive-Ins! Drive-Ins! Drive-Ins!
Intermission Impossible: No Snack Bar to be found at Bob's garage miniplex!
Intermission Impossible: No Snack Bar to be found at Bob's garage miniplex!

Before I could drive, summer vacations in high school frequently found the garage turned into a "miniplex" (the antithesis of a multiplex -- only one screen, no air conditioning and no snack bar!), with friends looking forward to seeing movies (never mind that these were silent digests) on a big screen with no commercials and no "snow." (Some of you may not remember "snow;" this was static that appeared across the television screen when reception was provided by an antenna instead of a cable.) These days, when I ask friends if they would like to come over and see a movie, they immediately think Blu-ray or DVD. Or video tape. Or maybe laser disc. When I mention projectors and screens, there are looks of disbelief, usually followed by "Why would you bother with all that?" or "Didn't they release that on video?"

 

To be fair, some of them are not totally ignorant of the motion picture format, and those enlightened individuals will make comments like, "I thought films decomposed" or "Are they still watchable? We saw {insert name of latest blockbuster here} right before it left the theater, and the print looked horrible! All those splices and scratches...." After explaining about unstable nitrate stock from days of yore vs. modern safety film, and pointing out that few of my films—if any—have been shown as much as the local cinema's prints of hot new releases (which means they are in better physical shape), a few of the friends made during my adult years are somewhat curious about having a look at this "new" way of seeing movies. But once the screen comes out and the projector goes on, most are blown away by the size of the picture! I even had one pal tell me that, after going home that night and flipping on the tube, his TV just didn't seem to cut it anymore.

Bob prefers Heavy Metal Drive-In Sound!
Bob prefers Heavy Metal Drive-In Sound!

There is, of course, always one joker in the group who points out that his DVD copy is a more pristine print, because he noticed my Super 8 print of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND had a few scratches in it. It is no exaggeration when I say this same person prefers seeing films on Blu-ray at home than going to the cinema, because the movies in theaters are not as crisp and clean as those digital discs. As for drive-ins, well "How can you stand to hear that harsh, metallic sound from those little speakers?" (Apparently he hasn’t been to a drive-in since the advent of broadcasting the sound over the radio.)

 

Frankly, I miss the sounds of those tiny, tinny-sounding speakers. For some reason (and maybe this comes from being a kid in the '60s and '70s), it just doesn't really seem like summer without drive-ins. When I was in high school, I could be at one of four drive-ins within 20 to 30 minutes of leaving home. Another 15 minutes of additional drive time would add three more drive-ins to my options. And it didn't really matter what was playing most of the time; it was a chance to get a bunch of buddies together and hang out, having fun with friends and feeling those days would never end. Although sometimes you didn't want the guys to know you were going to the drive-in that night. (For some reason, girls didn't always have a sense of humor about the gang dropping by the car unannounced during the show.) But long before girls entered the picture, I considered a trip to the drive-in to be a major adventure....

Behind the scenes with Patrick McGoohan as The Prisoner, and his co-star, Rover, the omnipresent balloon sentry!
Behind the scenes with Patrick McGoohan as The Prisoner, and his co-star, Rover, the omnipresent balloon sentry!

Having been born in 1960 (I share Bela Lugosi's birthday, which might explain my life-long love of vampire movies), I grew up in an enchanted era. Television had things like THE AVENGERS, BATMAN, THE INVADERS, THE PRISONER, STAR TREK, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, and THE WILD, WILD WEST. It seemed like science fiction raced to meet science fact as America was getting ready to put a man on the moon. Meanwhile, Aurora Plastics was putting out the coolest models imaginable, G.I. Joes stood a towering 12" tall, the Beatles were on the radio and a guy named Elvis Presley was making movies. Now even in my pre-kindergarten days, I knew Elvis was a singer, but back then I figured that was just a sideline. Most of what I knew about the "King" came from the movies...drive-in movies to be exact.

 

The Highway Drive-In was the drive-in of the day, its two-story screen could be sighted miles away with that giant blue, green and pink (or was it supposed to be orange?) neon star that faced U.S. 40 and National Road West in Richmond, Indiana. The glass block box office (also lined with pink and green neon) and actual entrance into the drive-in were surrounded by tall evergreen shrubs, making it seem like a gateway into another world as we passed through them. While I'm sure my mental editor has spliced and recut reality into a Never-Neverland of Nostalgia, for some reason it seems as if there was always an Elvis movie playing at the Highway Drive-In. Images from these blur together into one long film playing in my "mental matinee," and even with the advent of video I still sometimes have trouble telling one from another. Two of Presley's pictures stand out the most, though: TICKLE ME (in addition to Elvis getting attacked by a man disguised as a werewolf, the film also featured Julie Adams of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON fame) and VIVA LAS VEGAS! (Was there ever a more heavenly vision as Ann-Margret? Her embodiment of voluptuous innocence was all the more attractive because of her approachable sincerity...a warmth that was no act, but actually came from within the woman, herself. No wonder I’ve had a life-long love of redheads.) Another memorable Elvis outing was LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE, with the gorgeous Michele Carey as a beach-loving lass undergoing an identity crisis. (A former model and accomplished pianist, Carey had also made appearances on THE WILD WILD WEST.) As an "added attraction," right across the road from The Highway was another drive-in: A Frisch's Big Boy! After the show, we would be treated to tenderloin sandwiches, french fries or onion rings, and a slice of ice cold strawberry pie, topped with rich whipped cream! (There's never been such deep, dark reds or bright whites as those strawberries and cream.)

No Dusk-to-Dawn Drive-In Ape-Out for Bob!
No Dusk-to-Dawn Drive-In Ape-Out for Bob!

As I got older and my baby sister came along, drive-in fare changed. Elvis wasn’t making as many movies, and Disney double bills were now frequently featured at the Highway. When my own tastes changed as I "matured," I began wanting to see other films. Unfortunately, I was at that "awkward time" of life, with my adult interests being somewhat handicapped by the fact I was still way too young to drive. When the Highway held its Beatlemania marathon (HELP!, A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, YELLOW SUBMARINE and LET IT BE), it sparked little (if any) interest in my parents. (Although we had gone to see A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, as the second half of a double feature when it first opened.) And when "Dusk-to-Dawn Ape Marathons" of all five PLANET OF THE APES films played at drive-ins across the country, there was no talking Mom and Dad into this all-night saga of simian cinema. (My ever-patient parents did not have the same enthusiasm for science fiction and horror that I did...although my Dad did like GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD and STAR WARS.) I had to make due with cutting out all those cool ads in the newspaper for the latest horrors from Hammer, Amicus and AIP that were playing on the big screen, waiting for the day that they would eventually turn up on the late show. (Sadly, in recent years those nice, big illustrated newspaper ads for films seem to be getting scrunched smaller and smaller in size like the screens at the local multiplex. Even worse, some theaters no longer run newspaper ads at all.)

The promise of crazed women desperate for satisfaction lured Bob back to the drive-in during high school!
The promise of crazed women desperate for satisfaction lured Bob back to the drive-in during high school!

In high school, the Highway Drive-In did a special “end of the season” Halloween weekend triple feature of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and THE VELVET VAMPIRE. (I’ve never been able to figure out why the third film wasn’t TWINS OF EVIL, the final part of Hammer Films’ “Karnstein Trilogy” started by the first two films on the bill.) And during the summer of 1979, when a new radio station (K-96) came to town, the station paired with the Highway to do a live remote from the drive-in to kick off the horrifying double feature CEMETERY GIRLS and GRAVE DESIRES. Only after the program got underway did we discover these two tales of terror were actually a couple of older films (1973’s COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE with Paul Naschy and 1974’s THE VAMPIRES’ NIGHT ORGY with Helga Liné) with new titles tacked on!...

 

Another local drive-in, the Bel-Air, went through several phases as I grew up. At one point a family drive-in, there was a period where it almost became an outdoor grindhouse, with horror films and risqué comedies frequently filling the bill. During that period, it was common to see a trailer for the double feature RAW MEAT (aka DEATH LINE, 1971) and CARNIVOROUS (aka THE LAST SURVIVOR, 1977) during intermission. They never actually showed the two films, just the trailer…repeatedly.

Welcome to the Bel-Air Drive-In circa 1958!
Welcome to the Bel-Air Drive-In circa 1958!

And if you went to the Bel-Air on the 4th of July, you would be treated to fireworks during the intermission. The Bel-Air is now gone, replaced by a self-storage facility several years ago. The only remains of the drive-in at the new business are the name, the stone-lined entrance, and the concession stand…which serves as the rental office.

 

One of the old drive-ins from my misspent youth still remains (although under new ownership), the Airline-Auto Drive-In. (About a 20-30 minute trip up north from home, it has recently expanded into a two screen facility.) My buddies and I became such familiar faces to the original owner that he would pass a few posters our way if we came to the concession stand during intermission. Although smaller than the Highway or Bel-Air, there was almost always something worth seeing there. One highly anticipated double bill from them during the summer of 1977 was THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, the classic Ray Harryhausen film reissued by Columbia Pictures that year after the success of GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD and the subsequent re-release of 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD. The fog that rolled in, partially obscuring our view, didn’t lessen our enthusiasm and we stayed until the last credit of the last film and the screen’s spotlights came on, announcing the end of the evening’s show.

Even though it has been several years since we last had a drive-in open here in town, it still seems "unnatural" to live in an area that has gone from three outdoor screens to none, with the nearest one still in operation taking about an hour to get to. The city's Parks and Recreation Department has made some attempt to compensate by having "Movies Under the Stars" on Saturday nights during the summer months, showing 16mm prints and DVDs of recent releases in a wooded lakeside area. While not quite the same as sitting in the comfort of your car, the outdoor setting greatly enhances the atmosphere of watching such fare as JURASSIC PARK or TWISTER (especially when a storm came up during the screening of this last title!) The successful turn-out these films have had has made this an on-going event for the park's summer activities. I'd like to think I'm watching the birth of a new tradition.

 

I hope everyone had a great Super 8 summer, and remember—

Keep those projector bulbs burning!

“Bijou” Bob

The Bel-Air Projection Booth in 1996, after the drive-in had closed its doors forever!
The Bel-Air Projection Booth in 1996, after the drive-in had closed its doors forever!

Write a comment

Comments: 0
ESC Lamp Buy Out: That's REALLY All, Folks!
ESC Lamp Buy Out: That's REALLY All, Folks!
The Reel Image is published by Steve Osborne!
The Reel Image is published by Steve Osborne!
The Reel Image: A Reel Film Company
Visit The Reel Image Showroom!
REEL-y Nice Tuscan Reel/Can Sets Now Available from The Reel Image!
REEL-y Nice Tuscan Reel/Can Sets Now Available from The Reel Image!

Online Editor,

Alfred E. Osborne,

invites you to peruse

our super library of

archived articles on

Our Back Pages!

Click for Archive of Reel Image Articles!
Click for Archive of Reel Image Articles!

Plenty of vintage

8mm Memories on tap

at the newly-updated

Castle Films Tribute

page!...

W.C. Fields makes Castle Films debut
Click for Vintage Castle Films ads!

We pity the fool

who doesn't visit

our updated

Funny Film Fotos page!

As Boris Karloff would say, "This is a Thriller!"
As Boris Karloff would say, "This is a Thriller!"
Wanted! More Reel Image Readers like Joey Schmidlap!
Wanted! More Reel Image Readers like Joey Schmidlap!

Bijou Bob Statzer

overcomes "50-ft. Frustration"

and finds "REEL FUN"

with Double Digests!

Twice the Footage!... Twice the Fun!
Twice the Footage!... Twice the Fun!

2006 "Rondo" Award Winner

Bob Statzer

is back with a memoir of his misspent youth as a Super 8 movie-maker!:

BEAUTIFUL NOISE:
The Making of a
Silent Musical

Bijou Bob owns the World's Only Silent Musical!
Bijou Bob owns the World's Only Silent Musical!

Read Bob Statzer's "Remembering

Ray Harryhausen"!...

Bijou Bob's Tribute to Ray Harryhausen!
Bijou Bob's Tribute to Ray Harryhausen!
Steve Osborne's Funny Film Fotos
Click for Funny Film Fotos from The Reel Image!

Be sure to visit our good pal Phil Sheard at

Classic Home Cinema!

Classic Home Cinema at The Reel Image
Be sure to visit Classic Home Cinema

Looking for Intermissions???

BRAND NEW 16mm prints of VINTAGE Drive-In

INTERMISSION

films are HERE!

Intermissions on Brand New 16mm Prints!
Ads, Snipes, Clocks in 16mm!
dvd 7 blu-ray transfers
Visit our pals at Speakeasy Archives for all your video & film transfer needs!

Sir Roger Moore says: "Cinema Retro Magazine is a must for fans of movies from the 1960s and 1970s -- And they didn't have to pay me to say that!"

Cinema Retro magazine
Sir Roger says Cinema Retro is "a Must!"

John McElwee's

Greenbriar Picture Shows is hands down the best site for general film essays on the internet, period! 

Visit John McElwee's Greenbriar Picture Shows
Visit John McElwee's Greenbriar Picture Shows

If your heart beats faster at the mention of "Forrest J. Ackerman," "Aurora monster models" or "Shock Theater," be sure to check out artist Kerry Gamill's Classic Horror Film Board.

Our good pal "Bijou Bob 8mm" Statzer is one of the board's resident kibitzers and pontificates there much and profoundly, to our continual edification!

Visit the Classic Film Horror Board
Visit the Classic Film Horror Board

This classic Super 8 tips site has been rescued from cyberspace after enduring a Kryptonic blast from its web host!

It's a bird... it's a plane...

it's Michael Nyberg,

alias Super8Man!

Super8Man for Super S-8 Tips!
Super8Man for Super S-8 Tips!

Great minds think alike???...

Both Steve Osborne's The Reel Image (in the USA) and David Ollerearnshaw's The Reel Image (in the UK) sprung up somewhat simultaneously -- but they remain entirely unrelated to one another (except, of course, for Steve & David's

shared enthusiasm

for 8mm and Super 8!)...

  Be sure to visit David's UK site for his latest box artwork scans and film catalogs, including a terrific nostalgic look at a vintage Thunderbird Films flyer from the 1970's!...

Download a vintage Thunderbird Films catalog at The Reel Image (UK)!
Download a vintage Thunderbird Films catalog at The Reel Image (UK)!

Danajerrye Films

Buying/Selling 16mm,

Super 8 & 8mm films!

Features, Educationals, Two Reelers,  Cartoons, TV Shows & Scopitones!
Features, Educationals, Two Reelers, Cartoons, TV Shows & Scopitones!

8mm Forum Worldwide

The International Forum for

8mm, 16mm & 9.5mm film!

Dedicated To Collectors Around The World!

Visit the 8mm Forum Worldwide!
Visit the 8mm Forum Worldwide!
Visit the 8mm Forum
Visit the 8mm Forum
Steve Osborne's Reel White Screen Paint
Reel White Screen Paint
Back by Popular Demand: FILMGUARD!
Back by Popular Demand: FILMGUARD!
Steve Osborne's Monsters to Laff With
Click for Monstrous Laffs!
The Fort Knox of Reel Image Blog bullion!
The Fort Knox of Reel Image Blog bullion!