As the unseasonably frigid weather finally seems to have moved into the realm of recollection, and youthfully balmy temperatures loom just over the horizon, I've got one season centric movie going experience on my mind. The Drive-In, that beating heart of Americana, is more than simply an extension of our car centric culture aligning with our love of the cinema. It's sitting on a trusty blanket over soft grass under the beautiful expanse of starry sky, while the majestic heroines and heroes of the silver screen enrapture us. It's multiple trips to the snack bar, which afford amazing chances to people watch and get a glance into how other folks choose to engage in the movie watching experience. It's teenage trysts in the back row, where the flicks being double featured are inconsequential.
The open space, the personal freedom, the memories of watching movies in pajamas as a child, the evening as an event bigger than just seeing a film, all number among the many reasons that drive-ins have been enjoying a resurgence over the past decade. With summer fast approaching, my mind is already calculating out which weekends would make for perfect drive-in trips (I live a little over an hour from the world's oldest remaining Drive-In, Shankweiler's). In the spirit of that wonderment and excitement, here is part one in a series of Shock-o-Rama articles detailing killer drive-in double features, all themed for a certain genre or era in the history of that great American experiment.
Giant Monster Movies
Monster movies were a go to staple of Drive-Ins, with movies that feature such theaters often showcasing that in their choice of on screen action. Paired here are two flicks which find themselves worlds apart thematically while still completely agreeing in their warning message (both are warnings about the dangerous of continued atomic testing).
This 1954 cautionary tale digs into the effects early atomic bomb testing could have on some of the smallest of creatures. In this case the titular "them" refers to ants which are mutated into sedan sized monsters, capable of wiping out unsuspecting towns and, if left unchecked, overwhelming the world of man! The climactic scenes take place in among LA's sewer/aqueduct system, and while the ants seems cheesily dated now, they were terrifying at the time (perhaps still so for children seeing it for the first time). Keep an eye open for Leonard Nimoy in a small role as an air force sergeant. Fans of the video game Fallout 3 take note: the side mission entitled "Those!" parodies this movie.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
You've got to hand it to the Japanese, they really know how to keep the the visuals of monsters destroying stuff interesting. This 1974 film marks the fourteenth entry in the series and, along with featuring an alien controlled mechanical Godzilla, also introduced the more cuddly Kaiju, King Caesar. Combining parts of a lion, a dog, and qualities of lizards, King Caesar is an ancient ancestral guardian who is awoken by singing the activation song (yup). Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla had a significantly increased budget, which comes through in the monster battle scenes as well as in the human b-story (it's one of the better human stories in a 'Zilla flick).
Teen Sex Comedies
Here marks the very definition of a commodity being aimed precisely at its target market with the kind of precision that even Deadshot would be envious of. The 70's and 80's were a time of declining family attendance overall for drive-ins, who were lured in by the geographically more convenient cineplexes popping up all over the country. In an effort to stay in the black, drive-ins hooked a market of bored teens; possessed of disposable income and seven free nights a week in the summer (prime drive-in season), they were lured in by movies filled with attractive young people getting into all manner of cheeky shenanigans, showcasing copious nudity, and bereft of serious consequences.
1983's Joysticks is director Greydon Clark's fusion of arcades, nudity, valley girls, punks, sexcapdes, and Joe Don Baker (the director/actor pair also gave us Final Justice and Wacko). Notice there's a comma between Baker and sexcapades. Here Joe Don (Mitchell!) plays a local businessman who positively loathes those darned lazy teenagers and their degenerate video games. He enlists the aid of outcast punk writ bombastic, King Vidiot, in an attempt to run the arcade out of business. The usual shenanigans apply, including site gags aplenty like airborne hotdogs landing amongst ample cleavage. This one's even more fun as we look back with our knowledge of how far video games have come. The naughtiness takes a backseat to the comedy. Think of it like Porky's with video games.
It might be impossible to describe this movie any more succinctly than the trailer's tagline: "Everything you ever wanted to know about CHEERLEADERS but were afraid to ask is now exposed on the big screen" (emphasis theirs, of course). The titular squad is an amorous bunch who help their school's football team win by wearing out opponents via excessive loving, and distract them by bringing their full assets to bear. Love making scenes are strung together by genuinely funny, albeit raunchy, comedy. It's not Mel Brooks, but damn if it isn't a gas. Like many of these movies, The Cheerleaders is equipped with its own custom theme song, full of enjoyable double entendre and clever word play (Joysticks' theme is more entertaining though). If you plan to seek this one out, Arrow released an amazing PAL region DVD about two years ago, which includes the 1976 sequel Revenge of the Cheerleaders (featuring a very young David Hasselhoff as "Boner").
Drive-Ins were so instrumental in the midcentury development of American cinema, that it's impossible to contain it all in one installment of Shock-O-Rama. That's why I'll be tackling it over the next several weeks. Come back next Wednesday for part two and find out exactly what genres made summers at the drive-in an unforgettable experience. In the meantime I would be delighted to know what films my fellow maniacs dig the from among this week's genres. Let me know in the comments!
See you next Wednesday.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's 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.