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What the Drive-In Means to Me

The drive-in has always held a special place for me in regards to horror. It was an awesome place to hang out and watch a double feature with friends. I would go no matter the weather; being in the car with an outside screen and FM radio frequency was cool as hell. And as fall came into effect, as much as Houston, Texas would let it, it was a definitive Halloween season destination, especially around the full moon.


My early experiences with the drive-in were as a child at The Gulf-Way. When my grandmother wouldn’t babysit me, my mom would take me on her dates. She was divorced and single at the time. She would set me down and explain to me that I had to pretend to be her little brother on the date, which is funny now. I was usually good at keeping my mouth shut. However, one time I was tired and cranky and called her mom, to her shock and her date’s amusement. I remember sitting in the back seat, watching in awe as faces melted in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and other times, seeing glimpses of nudity and horror when I was looking out the back window of the ’68 LeMans or when I was sent to the concession stand by myself.

As a teenager, the drive-in took on a new vibe, this time at the I-45 Drive-In. It was a secret party place to sneak off to with my friends. We would pile into one car (the price was by the carload) with some of us in the trunk, and we would bring a small BBQ pit, smoke, and beverages. I was a punk kid and a little wild back then. But more importantly, being a monster kid too, I was pushing us to always go to the drive-in and see horror films when possible.


Under the stars, I saw everything horror-related at the time, including films like Hellbound: Hellraiser II, The Fly 2, Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Phantasm II (there were lots of sequels with numbers in the titles back then), Leviathan, Pumpkinhead, Child’s Play, and even a Cheech & Chong double feature (because it was the 80s), to name a few.


Sometimes the pairing would be off, like in the weird double features of Marked for Death/Graveyard Shift, Bad Dreams/Above the Law, and Poltergeist III/Funny Farm. Those were odd, but we would still go for the atmosphere. Other times the drive-in double features were freakin’ perfect with inspired choices like The Terror Within/Deepstar Six, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III/Brain Dead (the trippy Roger Corman one), and Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood/The Nest. Those ones were some of my favorites.


Not every horror film released would play there, but when one did, it was a blast. Some weeks nothing would come out and we would go see a movie a second time, or in the case of Friday the 13th Part VII, it was like five times. I loved the ki ki ki, ma ma ma sound coming from all of the car speakers, which was creepy as hell.

One of the best double features during the Halloween season of 1989 was The Stepfather II/Demons 2. Demons 2 had been out on VHS, and it was a surprise to see a regional drive-in release. I also hoped it would be uncut, as the VHS was rated R and had come out a week or two earlier. Only a few of us went that night, and it was a little chilly. The horror soundtrack and demonic roars came through the speakers, competing with the wind and threat of rain, and I loved it. I wasn’t sure if Demons 2 was uncut or not, but in the moment, it did not matter. A few drops of rain fell, and I caught myself wondering about the people in the other cars and if they were watching me as I tried to watch them. I used to get a kick out of freaking myself out. The tingle of fear on the back of my neck and the thrill of the scare are what Halloween is all about. It is a mood, one that the drive-in gave me more than other film venues.


The Gulf-Way Drive-In was destroyed by Hurricane Alicia in 1983, and the I-45 Drive-In closed its gates forever in 1992. I was left without the experience for years until I rediscovered the televised version of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs. I had watched the original show, Drive-In Theater, on TMC (The Movie Channel) in the 80s, and I barely caught the second incarnation, Monstervision, on TNT since the films were edited. I truly rediscovered the drive-in on Shudder, especially during the dark times of the pandemic. The Halloween specials are truly great, and there is one this year. My haunts have always been related to horror films. Every spooky place reminds me of something I’ve seen on film, and the drive-in, whether real or virtual, is one of my favorite haunts.


Horror films got me into reading horror authors. Carrie in the theater when I was 8 led me to eventually pick up Salem’s Lot in paperback when I was 12, and I collected all of Stephen King’s works as a teenager. When he recommended Clive Barker, I read The Books of Blood, and when I saw Re-Animator, I read H.P. Lovecraft. And I discovered Dean Koontz, Anne Rice, and even adaptations of films (like the bizarro Friend that became Deadly Friend) in the same way. Anyway, my point is that it all leads back to film for me; that was my gateway into reading horror fiction, and my most memorable film experiences were at the drive-in.


The drive-in will never die!

DS


This was my entry for Halloween Haunts 2023 for the HWA (Horror Writer’s Association).



Images found at Cinema Treasures. https://cinematreasures.org/theaters/30637/photos



I-4f Drive-In 1991


I-45 Drive-In 1983

Gulfway Drive-n 1962 from a Dobie High School Yearbook

Gulfway Drive-In after Hurricane Alicia 1983

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