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Shock-O-Rama: The Drive-In Bucket List
See it under the stars
By Chuck Francisco
April 16, 2014
Couched by the truth that Tuesday's local forecast included that unendurable four letter word, SNOW, there's no denying that spring has sprung, and that summer is a maniacal machete man hiding in the woods, preparing for his chance to pounce. This mythical slasher season of summer ducked out of his lush wooded coverage to kill a camp counselor or two over the past weekend, teasing the winter weary audience with a prelude of the warm temperatures to come. Overcome with a lust for warmer weather activities, I packed up my car Zoe, and hit the road with my pal Nick (who is the Balki Bartokomous to my Cousin Larry, or the Cousin Larry to my Balki Bartokomous- I'm really not sure how that works on the island of Mypos).
Our destination? Becky's Drive-In of Berlinsville, Pennsylvania (which is not very far from the Allentown of Billy Joel song fame). With the sun warm on our faces, we set out to kick off drive-in season with a double bill of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Taken on a Plane (Non-Stop). As I put Zoe through her paces, roaring down rural Pennsylvania back roads (where even numbered interstates threaten with the sound of banjos), I considered Non-Stop as the B film of the pairing. Structurally, it is a perfectly fun popcorn munching diversion. From a budgetary standpoint, it fits the B Picture puzzle. It even constrains itself to one solitary setting, the hallmark of many a classic of second bill cinema.
As we detoured around a county fair, and blazed past pickup truck rednecks reeking of desperate overcompensation, my mind lit aglow with by the idea of seeing perfect B pictures on the big drive-in screen. Could there be such a thing as the perfect B movie? I'm certain that there can be, but I suspect that the criteria would be highly subjective. So instead of scientific hypothesis, I decided to take a more personal track, listing out for you my "Drive-In Bucklist Films". Plenty of people in the horror and cult film community have a 35mm bucket list, instead I offer you the top three movies which I absolutely have to see at a drive-in before I die.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Optionally double billed with: Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla
Absolutely a superb movie by any functionally sane yardstick, Guillermo del Toro's love letter to Kaiju is equal parts cinematic sonnet and visual soliloquy. At its core the thrust is about giant robots punching giant monsters, but the subtext is greater than a boiled down synopsis could ever do justice.
Why see it at a Drive-In?
Pacific Rim could teach a film class in visual story telling, and still have content left over for a second semester of lessons (color theory is particularly an important context through which to watch the film). Nearly all of the battles take place under the weighty shroud of nighttime, against which the bioluminescent monsters and neon Hong Kong cityscape can act as the starkest contrast. I can not imagine a better stage on which to set this play than under the pin prick stars of a cloudless evening, kissably close to the gentle, yet determined glow of the snack bar.
From Dusk till Dawn (1996)
Optionally double billed with: Near Dark
Robert Rodriguez's f-bomb and bullet fueled vampire circus is the sort of adolescence defining game changer that guarantees a lifelong genre fan. In a brilliant stroke, it's also two separate films seamlessly blended together. Beginning as an action crime drama, From Dusk Till Dawn flips the conventions of the real world up on its ass to become a gore drenched opus from the moment shit goes down at the Titty Twister. Rodriguez's film is positively filled to the brim with badass.
Why See It At a Drive-In?
The name appeal alone, From Dusk Till Dawn, sets the stage for an epic, all night cinematic adventure under the stars. It's a promise very seldom upheld at modern drive-in theaters (understandable given the razor thing margins upon which they operate), but even that hint of a promise shoots a dose of illicit street nostalgia right into my blood stream.
Vanishing Point (1971)
Optionally Doubled Billed with: Bullitt
Barry Newman is Kowalski, a car transporter tasked with driving a white 1970 Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco, who takes a bet that he can make the trip in under fifteen hours (according to Google Maps it should take around 19 hours today). Pursued and harassed by the highway patrol, Kowalski is aided by blind DJ Super Soul (Cleavon Little), who helps him remain a few squealing tires ahead of the fuzz.
Why See It at a Drive-In?
Is there a more brazenly masculine car than the Dodge Challenger (classic or recent revision)? Only the 60's, 70's, and 10's Mustangs even approach this level of awesome (which is one of the best reasons to double feature it with Bullett). Vanishing Point is practically a feature length car chase, which makes it perfectly suited to see at a drive-in; the perfect expression of America's infatuation with the automobile.
As I've done countless times in the past via Shock-O-Rama, I highly recommend that seek out the closest drive-in movie theater this summer. Go with a big group of friends, arrive early, and enjoy an evening out under the stars, basking in the dual glow of the screen and snack bar. Build your Drive-In bucket list, and enjoy this raw American institution in all of its glory. I'd love to hear about your local drive-in below in the comments.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.