Drive-In Massacre Madness!
Here’s a moldy oldie I remember from haunting video stores in my youth. The box art always appealed to me but I never picked it up, for some reason. I think maybe because I always thought it looked dumb and I probably confused it with the movie Dead End Drive-In (a very, very different film), a movie I had already seen. In any case, I watched it just the other day and wow, was I in for a strange treat.
Set in a drive-in somewhere in California, this film is a sort-of slasher flick, featuring a killer that murders his victims with a sword at a drive-in that inexplicably never closes and never has police protection despite multiple deaths on site. The first murder is a young couple (called teenagers but they look to be in their mid-twenties) and it’s a real doozy: the guy gets decapitated and the lady gets a sword through her throat. This is a case of shooting your wad early because none of the other deaths measure up in any sort of way, coming off as bland or shown after the fact. Two detectives, the dowdiest motherfuckers to ever wear a badge and carry a gun, glumly investigate. They interview the manager of the theater, a bald guy who dresses zazzy and is the grumpiest bastard to ever live on planet earth. When he’s not busy yelling at the poor dumb fellow who cleans the lot, he’s yelling at the cops for pestering him. He’s a real grouse but damned if I didn’t love him for it. The dumb guy who cleans is the other suspect, given that he used to be a sword-swallower and geek at the carnival that used to run on the lot where the drive-in now stands. Of course, neither of them is the killer, and neither is a local perv (who, when rousted by the dour cops, exclaims that he only spies on necking couples so he can “beat his meat!”). In fact, they have no leads whatsoever. Eventually, an escaped mental patient takes a girl hostage in a warehouse (I know, this movie is all over the place) and is gunned down by our savior cops, which they carry off in the most bored manner possible. Turns out, he ain’t the killer, either! The movie ends with the manager and the dumb cleaner getting slaughtered during a showing at the drive-in (still open for business!) and the killer is never caught. A warning appears on screen, stating that more murders like this are breaking out at drive-in’s across the country, and then a voice blares that there’s a killer in the theater and the police are on their way!
Yeah. So, this was a real whopper of a movie. It’s fun in parts and watching the manager chew the scenery is worth a viewing all by itself. The initial beheading is pretty crude (think H.G. Lewis) but still fun. The cops are something else. I think they were going for “world-weary” but come across as pudgy lumps that don’t have a clue about what they’re doing. Also, their “precinct” is pretty damned dingy. I guess they were trying for a Barney Miller vibe. The former circus geek is pretty good in his role and actually, somehow, exudes an elderly sadness that creates a good deal of sympathy. I love the opening, with the hippy-dippy music and the line of cars going into the drive-in; it really sets a mood and leads you to think you’re getting a Last House on the Left clone. I wish there were more scenes set in the drive-in because it’s there where the fun really unrolls. Also: actor Buck Flowers gets a co-writing credit and stars as the escaped mental patient, so that’s some cool B-movie nostalgia. But mostly this film seems patched together, using 70’s-TV level action and 60’s-level gore effects. Still, it’s only an hour and fifteen minutes long and I was never bored.
A true artifact of its time, you’ll know by now if this is your thing. I highly enjoyed it, loved its enthusiasm and go-for-it swagger. Plus, you know, I’m a 70’s guy, so I love the fashion and the cars and the settings. Recommended, if you’re into this sort of cinema. Take a star off the rating if you’re not. For curious folks, only.
Three Stars out of Four