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Return of the Drive-In

The return of the drive-in is an unexpected twist in 2020. The number one film for the last four weeks is The Wretched, a wonderful throwback monster movie playing the modern drive-in circuit. I have always had a fondness for seeing films on a big screen outdoors. There is something magical about being under the stars in my car, or a lawn chair beside it, and watching a movie with sound from the car stereo. Unfortunately, the drive-in has been in decline since its height of thousands of screens during the late 50s and early 60s down to hundreds, around the world, today. Most indoor movie theaters are closed due to the pandemic and drive-ins are now considered a safer alternative and have made a minor comeback.

In the late 80s and early 90s, me and a varying group of friends would frequent the I-45 Drive-In in Houston to bring an ice chest and watch a variety of b-movies presented as double features. We saw films like Friday the 13th Part 7 - The New Blood (nothing like hearing ki ki ki, ma ma ma coming from a hundred different cars while walking to the concession stand) paired with The Nest or Hellbound - Hellraiser II paired with The Terror Within. Random screenings of older films like Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie and Up in Smoke and an occasional surprise print of Demons 2 or Braindead added to the fun. They did not play true drive-in movies on all six screens, but when they did it was cool. The I-45 was going downhill at the time from being in a bad area of cheap motels near Intercontinental Airport. On occasion, some odd occurrences happened on the lot like a couple that would put their trunk up to hide the back window of their isolated car. We imagined streetwalkers and laughed. Management seemed non-existent and security was laid back. Even the middle-aged lady ticket taker always had an air of vodka about her and I had to turn my head when buying tickets. Regardless of the seediness, that drive-in was a worthwhile entertainment venture, whether rain or shine, until it closed in 1992.

My first memory of a drive-in was The Gulf-Way and the first movie I remember seeing there was Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981. Ten years old and watching melting people and exploding heads blew my mind. The moment probably helped lead me down the path to a love of horror even when it was only accompanied with the tinny sound of a wired speaker hung on a partly rolled down window. The whole time in the car, I remember my mom telling me not to look out the back window at the other screen. Of course I had to look and saw all kinds of nudity from what may have been Private Lessons, a teen sex comedy. It was a different world back then. The Gulf-Way was destroyed by Hurricane Alicia in August of 1983 and never rebuilt. As a kid, without regards to consequences, it was exhilarating to go outside and see the sky clear as the eye of the hurricane went overhead and for the storm to come around again twice as hard. Houston was severely flooded and there was a ton of shattered glass downtown from the broken windows of skyscrapers. My mom drove us by the Gulf-Way sometime after and the only undamaged part was a sign out by the road for coming attractions. Someone had spray painted, “Gone With The Wind!” The sentiment was funny yet sad. The loss of the drive-in theaters near home never hit me till I got older.

Films especially ones with a punk sensibility have always influenced my writing and the recent return of the drive-in gives hope for the future of true b-movie horror and exploitation. The trend, which is good to see, may not last, but what does in these dystopian times?


Drive-In Theater

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