You’ll pay to get in…and pray to get out!
The history of horror is full of movies and memorable scenes set inside movie theaters, from the opening of Scream 2 to the entirety of Lamberto Bava’s Demons to best sequence in the underrated Messiah of Evil. Far more rare are horror movies set at the drive-in, partially because the drive-in has all but gone extinct in the last 20 years and partially, I’m speculating, because it doesn’t offer the same sense of claustrophobia and isolation. One bit of low-budget exploitation fare to embrace the drive-in as the setting for a sort-of slasher film is Stu Segall’s appropriately-titled Drive-In Massacre, which now receives the high def special edition treatment thanks to a new Blu-ray from Severin Films.
The story, such as it is, concerns a series of murders that take place a California drive-in theater and the subsequent investigation by a pair of police officers (played by Bruce Kimball and John Goff, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside famous character actor George “Buck” Flower). There are a handful of suspects, including a homeless vagrant named Germy who hangs around the theater doing various odd jobs (played by Douglas Gudbye), a peeping tom who goes to the drive-in to spy on couples getting it on in their cars (Norman Sheridan) and the drive-ins jerk of an owner, who hates his job and all of the customers (Robert E. Pearson). No points are awarded for guessing the killer’s identity, mostly because it’s totally impossible.
Despite a trim runtime of only 74 minutes, Drive-In Massacre feels very long. This is because the film follows in the grand exploitation of padding out 20 minutes of “good stuff” with long scenes of dialogue and exposition, presented here in the guise of the police investigation that makes up the bulk of the film. There are just a few murder scenes spread here and there — the “massacre” in the title might be overstating things a bit — and they’re not all that imaginatively staged. The first, and most graphic, is probably the best: a character reaches out the window of his car to adjust the speaker and loses his head at the blade of a sword (the killer’s random weapon of choice). Other deaths are usually stumbled upon after the fact. That leaves most of the scenes to be handed over to the two cops played by Kimball and Goff, who, to their credit, really make for convincing detectives. We don’t know much about them as characters at all, and in the movie’s worst scene they go “undercover” as a couple of lovers at the drive-in, requiring one of them to dress in drag and giving way to a number of gay panic jokes. It’s a scene that’s broadly comedic in a movie that otherwise doesn’t have much of a sense of humor.
Severin’s Blu-ray of Drive-In Massacre is quite something. The movie has been restored from its original negative for a 1080p HD transfer in its original 1.78:1 widescreen format. Though there are some scratches, pops, and debris, the transfer boasts sharp color reproduction and looks very good on the whole, the occasional flaw (to be expected) notwithstanding. The only audio option is a lossless mono track that sounds thin and on the tinny side, but dialogue is clear and the limited effects still come through. A number of extras have been included, beginning with a commentary from director Stu Segall, a filmmaker who worked primarily as a producer and director in adult films before moving on to episodic TV later in his career. He also appears on camera for a brief interview about the movie and his career, as do star and co-writer John Goff and co-star Norm Sheridan, who plays the peeping tom. The theatrical trailer is also included, as is a trailer for Segall’s movie C.B. Hustlers via an easter egg on the special features menu.
Drive-In Massacre is not one of the best of the ‘70s exploitation horror films, but I have to admit that I had an ok time with it thanks to a couple of compelling character performances and the drive-in setting, for which I have a great deal of affection (probably because I didn’t really grow up with one and therefore romanticize). The closest film I could probably compare it to is The Town That Dreaded Sundown because of the procedural elements, but this one is gorier and less idiosyncratic. Severin continues to do great work with titles that might otherwise be lost, so if you have any interest in this one as a curiosity, you won’t be disappointed by the treatment they’ve given it. Just don’t expect to have your questions answered by movie’s end.
Better stick to the multiplex.