Chills at the drive-in on a hot August night. PLUS 2013’s summer horror / thriller movies.

The best drive-in movie experience I ever had was in the company of my then-fiancé, Ogre. (Even back then, he was  a pretty hard-core cinephile.) It was August of 1990. I was attending classes at the local community college; Ogre was finishing up his degree at the U of M.  I was bartending; he was already working as a programmer. We’d just moved into our first apartment together, where we lived with two spherical cats, a nervous dwarf hamster, and my daughter. (Let’s call her Pooka from now on.)  Money was tight, and we had a four year old, so we spent a lot of our date-nights at home watching VHS tapes.  When we went out, it was usually to cheap, kid-friendly places like McDonald’s, Chuck E Cheese and Como Zoo. We were 23. 

One sweltering Friday afternoon, I was sitting at the kitchen table,  bull-shitting my way through a paper for Eastern Philosophy. Pooka was playing in the livingroom. In the background, Little Shop of Horrors was playing on the VCR … again.

Ogre came in, looking absolutely melted. (This was before the “business casual” option made its way to Minnesota. He was still in wool pants and dress shoes. The white shirt he wore – the one I had ironed and starched for him that morning – had gone limp and almost sheer.)

Considering the fact that he’d just come from an hour commute in a Mustang with no air conditioning, I couldn’t figure out why he looked so happy.

It turned out he’d stopped at my mother’s house on his way home, and she’d agreed to take Pooka for an overnight visit. He dropped a folded newspaper on top of my notebook and pointed to a movie listing he’d boxed off from the rest: Arachnophobia, The Exorcist III and Nightbreed were playing at the drive-in.


I’m pretty sure I squealed, and gave him a kiss before I hurried off to pack a bag for Pooka, and grab some stuff to take along to the movie.

Note: In subsequent years, we became regular drive-in go-ers, and I developed an exhaustive list of drive-in equipment. If this post inspires you to head to your local drive-in, you may want to read: 


Ogre and I had been to the drive-in before, of course. We’d both been on dates with other people, and we’d gone at least once as part of a group, before we even thought about each other that way. At first, the experience was familiar. We played catch until dusk. We hit the concession stand for some popcorn, and cracked a couple of cold bottles of Coke we’d brought from home. Even though it was still hot, we opted to settle into the backseat because, well, we were young and in love and we didn’t much care about seeing Arachnophobia.

It wasn’t until the first feature finished that we realized it wasn’t going to be a typical night at the drive-in. As soon as the credits started to roll, half the vehicles around us packed up and headed out. By the time we got back to the Mustang after a restroom break, the families with children were gone.

The tone of the night shifted. More teenagers came out of their cars and spread blankets in the newly open spaces. Someone in a van one row back from us turned on the local rock radio station. A Faith No More tune was playing. A guy walking past the front of our car thrust the beer he was holding into the air and yelled, “Crank it!” From behind and to the right, a girl’s shout echoed his. In a moment, more than a score of  radios, scattered through the lot, were blaring the last bars of Epic.

For those of you that don’t remember, Epic ends with a bit of piano – just piano. I remember, because it was when that section played I realized how different the drive-in sounded in the absence of kids playing tag and parents yelling for them to stay close.  There was still crowd noise, of course. People had started games of Frisbee that quickly expanded to include strangers from opposite ends of the lot. There was laughter and catcalls when someone missed a catch, but the whole pitch of the thing was low enough and deep enough that the radios ruled.

Without any of the usual hitting-the-post chatter, the DJ went directly from the end of Epic to the next song: Janie’s Got a Gun. Do you remember how that starts? It’s got some weird, discordant, ethereal notes at the beginning, then there’s this low, menacing chant:

dum, dum, dum
Honey, What have you done?
dum, dum, dum
It’s the sound of my gun.

Yeah. Creepy as hell.  Especially when a significant number of voices around you immediately pick up the chant.

dum, dum, dum
Honey, What have you done?
dum, dum, dum
It’s the sound.

The second refrain ends with the word ‘sound’ delivered in a kind of a hiss. It was a little thing, but I’ll always remember the chill I got when that hiss was multiplied by dozens of voices coming out of the dark, from all directions.

When Stephen Tyler’s vocals really kick in, however, the song transforms from a moan into an anthem. By the first chorus, it seemed to me that everyone in the lot was singing along. It may have been the first time I witnessed a crowd join forces in such a spontaneous way. It was thrilling, at least to me.

Before the song could end, the big screen came to life again, everyone switched off the music, and The Exorcist III began.

(The Exorcist III is well worth a rental. It entirely ignores the second film in the franchise, and picks up 15 years after The Exorcist ends. George C. Scott – who was also wonderful in The Changeling – is fantastic.)

Though Ogre and I got caught up in the plot, we couldn’t help but notice many folks, who had started the movie in the open air, retreating to the safety of their cars as the film became increasingly unsettling.

When it was over, the mood had shifted again. There was some laughter, and some shouting – because there always is between features –  but mostly we heard only the haunting sacred music that played over the credits.

(Google Come Falda di Neve, if you want to hear it.)

Some cars left; a small pack of bikers rumbled into the lot as quietly as possible. A message appeared on the screen, warning that it was last call for concessions. Nightbreed started.

(Nightbreed was a revelation to me that night. It was chock-full of beautiful monsters and horrific people. If you know me, you know why that resonated. [ The post, Checking out of the Paranormal Hotel, touches on that theme.] In truth, I’d forgotten about the film until I started this post. I’ll be re-watching it soon and I’ll let you know how it holds up.)

Within the half-hour, the concession stand went dark. Through the next hour, another handful of cars gave up and crept away. The night got cooler. After we rolled up the windows they wanted to fog over, which obscured our view of the increasingly abandoned-looking lot. After a figure startled us by walking very close to the driver’s door on its way to the restroom, Ogre leaned across me and locked my door.

It was awesome.

I was not so deliciously creeped-out again until – years later – we walked home from a midnight showing of The Blair Witch Project. (But that’s another story.)


So finally I come to the point of this particular blog post: In the hope that I can recapture even a tiny bit of the wonderful eeriness I enjoyed on that August night, I’ve gathered a list of horror and thriller movies that might, just might, play at the drive-in this summer. Click any image to be whisked to its trailer. Be aware there is often a delay between a film’s release date and its showing at a drive-in.

By the way, I’m not a slasher nor grindhouse fan. When I previewed each movie trailer for this list, if I thought, “No way, too ________.” I didn’t include it. A couple of the ones that are here teeter on the edge for me, but I’ll wait until some of your reviews come in before I rule them out.

2013’s summer horror / thriller movies:

Opened earlier this summer –

(If a theater decides to do a horror triple feature, it may go back to films released earlier in the year to round out the ticket. Nightbreed, for example, was actually released in February of 1990, but we saw it in August.)

movie poster Stoker

March 1st, 2013

STOKER – Unlikely that this will come to a drive-in, but I’m kicking myself for missing it when it was in the regular theaters. Apparently it’s full of “the new gothic” fashion. Also, I love Nicole Kidman in horror / thrillers.

movie poster black rock






BLACK ROCK – Looks a little too much like Deliverance with women for my taste, but I like the premise, and the environment of the movie is certainly summery. It might be fun for a girls’ night out.

movie poster after earth






AFTER EARTH – Not strictly a horror film but scifi does the trick for me too. And lately Ogre and I have been thinking about re-watching some of the other M. Night Shyamalan movies that we dismissed, now that we know he’s deliberately doing homages.

movie poster the purge

June 7th, 2013

THE PURGE – Gotta admit, I’m not very interested in this one – I haven’t liked any of the home-invasion-by-psycho-people movies I’ve seen. If it shows up at the drive-in, I might go. Friday, June 14, 2013

June 14th, 2013

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIOS – Now this one I’m excited about. Sounds like it’s more of an homage to horror movies than one itself, but the visual aesthetics in the trailer appeal to me.

Opened June 21st –

June 21st, 2012

WORLD WAR Z – I loved this book and I’m looking forward to the film. Probably the one I’m most likely to see at the drive-in.

movie poster Maniac

MANIAC – A remake, or at least a tribute to, Maniac (1980). I never saw it, and would probably skip this one too except it features Elijah Wood. I am intrigued.

movie poster the haunting of helena






THE HAUNTING OF HELENA – Oh, I don’t think so. Not with my recent dental trauma. Also, the reviews for this are terrible.

movie poster monster university

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY – Well, here’s a nice little palate cleanser before we move on. Check out this link too:

Opening TBA, probably a short run in June or July – 

movie poster apt 1303






APARTMENT 1303 – A remake of a Japanese film, 1303-gôshitsu / Apartment 1303, starring Rebecca De Mornay as the mother involved in a love/hate relationship with her daughter. Then there’s a ghost.

Opening July 5th –

movie poster absense

ABSENCE – A found-footage style film about a pregnant woman who wakes up one day no longer pregnant. I’m assuming there are aliens involved, but I could be wrong. I’m sort of taken with Erin Way‘s performance in the trailer.

Opening July 12th –

movie poster pacific rim






PACIFIC RIM – A science fiction, monster movie directed by Guillermo del Toro.

movie poster VHS 2






VHS 2 – I should probably see VHS before I decide, but it’s not looking good.

Opening July 19th –

movie poster the conjuring

THE CONJURING – (Click menu, then trailer.) I don’t care for Ed & Lorraine Warren, but I’m willing to give them a chance. This movie looks like a great tribute to the 70s, and I love Lili Taylor, so it’s a must see for me.

movie poster under the bed

UNDER THE BED – I’ve already seen too much of the monster in the trailer. I’ll wait for some reviews to come in.

movie poster RIPD

R.I.P.D. – Rest In Peace Department – OMG, this looks awful, but will it be awful ENOUGH?  I’m betting it WILL be at the drive-in at some point this summer.

movie poster evidence 2013

EVIDENCE – Detectives attempt to use found-footage from various devices left at the scene of a brutal mass murder to solve the crime. I can’t tell if it is some kind of sequal to another movie of the same name that was released last year. That ‘Evidence,’ below, looks far more interesting to me. (Some of you cryptid fans might want to give it a rent – I know I’m going to.)

movie poster evidence bigfoot

released 2012

This is linked to IMdB. Click the watch trailer button.

Opening July 26th –

movie poster stranded

STRANDED – What can I say? I’m a child of the 80s; I still love Christian Slater. I am also intrigued by the “Are they just going crazy?” angle.

movie poster breaking the girls

BREAKING THE GIRLS – Looks like softcore “lesbian” porn. Which I don’t hate. (Except on an ethical level.) Also, a (probably terrible) combination of Strangers on a Train and Single White Female/The Roommate.

movie poster the wolverine

THE WOLVERINE – I know it’s not horror, but I don’t want to miss it.

Opening TBA August – 

movie poster here comes the devil

HERE COMES THE DEVIL – No movie posters or trailers available as of this writing. Link takes you to official site.

Opening August 2nd – 

movie poster europa report

EUROPA REPORT – I have been fascinated with Europa since I first found out about it. Horror or not, I can’t miss this.

Opening August 23rd –

movie poster the colony

THE COLONY – 2013 seems to be a big year for scifi. Of course this one appears to have zombies, or at least people who might as well be zombies.

Opening August 30th (maybe) –

movie poster random

???? – This movie has no real name as far as I can tell. Random? Kristy? There are no official trailers or posters yet, but I’ve clicked around a lot and I’m very curious about where this is going. Right now I know it’s filmed (filming?) in New Orleans. I’ve linked to the IMDb.

Opening September 13th –

movie poster insideous 2

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 – This one might come too late for the drive-in, but I’m totally willing to bundle up a bit and enjoy it. I mostly really liked Insidious.


Good Lord, Folks – that was a lot of work. I hope something I’ve presented here is valuable to you, but I gotta walk away now – all this blogging means I haven’t been revising, and that needs to change.

Maybe I’ll see you at the drive-in.


June WriMoProg 27 + 45 = 72/98
[X + Y = Z / total-hours goal, where X = writing/editing time, Y= other writerly tasks.]


The ultimate drive-in movie checklist: why to go, what to bring, how to maximize the fun.

Recently, my husband took me on a spur-of-the moment date to the drive-in. It was the first time in a few years that we made time to go. We had a blast … albeit a nostalgia-tinged one. As soon as we pulled up to the box-office, memories rushed at us from all sides. Through all the stages of our life together – from just-friends through 20+ years of marriage to almost-empty-nesters – we’ve enjoyed this quintessentially summer-time activity. In all those years, we learned some great tips and tricks to maximize the joy of the experience. I’ve written this stand-alone piece to accompany a couple of other blog posts our date inspired:

If you’re a drive-in fan, you might want to check them out. Right now, allow me to share the wisdom we accumulated over the years.

big screen edit 2.jpeg

Why going to the drive-in rocks:

  • Drive-ins are cheaper than regular movies – often you will pay the same price for a triple feature that you would for a regular movie ticket. Also, children are usually admitted at a reduced price, or even free.
  • Going to the drive-in can take as little time as the length of one movie, or it can fill an entire evening – from dinner time to 3-4 o’clock in the morning.
  • Going to the drive-in with family or friends is far more social than going to a regular theater. You can move around, converse, play games, share a meal … you can even make a big ol’ puppy-pile on a stack of blankets.
  • Going to the drive-in on a date allows more cuddling and conversation time than a regular movie. (But it’s not as easy as you think to get down to serious business. There’s a lot of ambient light and people walk past you car all the time.)
  • Children have room to move around and don’t need to be silent.
  • Young children can be tucked into the back seat at bedtime, and the night can go on for everyone else. (Though it’s best to patient when teaching this – the drive-in is exciting!)
  • Bringing your own food and beverages is allowed. (Yet there is a concession stand that can accommodate your needs.)
  • Grilling is allowed.
  • Drinking alcohol is allowed.
  • Smoking is allowed.
  • Dogs are allowed.

Find a drive-in:

1) Start here to find a drive-in near you – just enter your zip code:



2) Even if you already know of a nearby theater, take the time to go to its website if possible.

At the website you should find  a list of what’s showing, approximate show times, and a description of amenities. Theater rules and regulations differ – it’s a good idea to review any and all posted policies. That said, going to the drive-in is a time-honored tradition, generally the information in this post reflects a typical drive-in experience.

Tips for reducing stress and maximizing fun:

  • GO EARLY unless you’re just hoping to sneak in for the 2nd or 3rd feature (which is allowed, but you’ll pay the same price as everyone else.)
  • Be there at least 30 minutes before the box office opens, and plan to wait in a line of cars. (Especially on the weekends.)
  • Know how you’re planning to hear the movie – some theaters have speakers, most (also) send the soundtrack through your car radio. Theaters are aging – bring a battery-powered, portable radio so you can hear no matter what.
  • I’ve never been to a drive-in where the restrooms weren’t pretty icky by time the second show started. Not much you can do about it, but be aware.
  • Don’t worry too much about getting a great spot. The drive-in isn’t going to provide the best possible movie-viewing experience anyway.
  • If you have children, on the first couple of excursions, expect to spend the majority of your time training your kids how to do a drive-in – it doesn’t come naturally to the small ones, and you don’t want to give them bad memories. Be patient when they are young, and reap the benefits for years to come.
  • Kids of a certain age (and me) really get a kick out of sitting on the roof or hood of the car. Decide on your policy ahead of time and prepare as needed.
  • When we went to the drive-in recently, we saw A LOT of people playing on phones, tablets and other hand-held devices. Decide on your policy ahead of time and make sure everything is charged as necessary.
  • If you’re going to grill, do it early and with the least amount of coals possible so they cool by the time you leave. Most theaters provide metal cans for disposal.
  • PLAN on filling the time between arrival and dusk. This can be as long as three hours. A read-through of the following list should help you be prepared.

The ultimate guide to what to bring to the drive-in, for all ages:
(Just skip the stuff that doesn’t apply.)

cooler stuff –
(AFTER everything is packed, fill cooler with ice from the gas station.)

  • soda pop (glass bottles aren’t the safest option, but they do make anything inside them taste even better and stay colder longer)
  • beer  or wine coolers (just a couple for the driver)
  • juice boxes
  • Hershey chocolate bars, securely water-proofed with a plastic bag
  • hot dogs, unless you want to be more creative on the grill (Fully cooked hot dogs were our no-stress option.)
  • catsup, mustard & other desired condiments (Sometimes we saved up extra fast food packets, especially relish.)
  • chopped up fruit in Tupperware
  • OR chill a watermelon ahead of time, and put it in the trunk right before you leave

Hell, bring cold lobster salad if you want – as long as you can transport it safely, there are no rules about food-stuffs. The rest of this list will reflect what I used to pack for my family – feel free to be inspired in a way that better suits your family.

bag-of-other-food-stuff –

  • graham crackers
  • marshmallows
  • hot dog buns
  • chips and/or crackers
  • selection of movie candies – DOTS, Junior Mints, Whoppers, M&Ms (If it’s very hot, some of these should be stored in the cooler, next to the Hershey bars.)
  • pre-popped corn (We saw people do this, but always splurged at the concession stand.)

cooking / eating / clean up stuff –

  • Hibachi grill & quick-light charcoal (lighter fluid, if you need it)
  • tongs
  • roasting stick for each person (there will not be a handy tree to cut from)
  • bottle opener
  • big knife (for watermelon)
  • wet wipes (lots of wet wipes)
  • napkins (we used bandanas)
  • plastic placemats (1 for each kid, plus at least  1 for cutting melon / preparing food)
  • paper or reusable plastic plates (ours were orange, yellow and green)
  • paper or plastic bowls for dividing large popcorn from concession stand

seating / sleeping stuff –

  • lawn chairs, appropriately sized for each family member / guest
  • picnic blanket (if there are kids, this will likely not be good for cuddling later)
  • cuddle blankets / throws / sleeping bags for everyone
  • a sheet or light throw to hang in the car to create a screen-shield for sleep-time
  • pins or clips to hang said screen (you’ll have to experiment to see what works)
  • sleeping buddies (ONE stuffed toy/cuddle item for each kid)

entertainment stuff –

  • a portable radio for each cluster of movie watchers (See ‘tips for reducing stress …’ above.)
  • ball and gloves for everyone  – there’s room to play under the screen & along the sides of the lot (If baseball isn’t your family sport, substitute appropriate active-time equipment: frisbees, soccer balls, etc.)
  • travel versions of your favorite games (Ours were Yahtzee and Chess/Checkers.)
  • each child’s to-go bucket of toys (Pooka had an ice cream pail full of cars & little guys. Ten years later, The Boy inherited it.)
  • at least one penlight / flashlight (But consider more for flashlight tag between movies.)
  • glow in the dark bracelets or necklaces (Many of the stands sell them, other people will have them, someone in your party will want one too, and they are cheaper to buy ahead of time at a discount store.)
  • phones, tablets, hand-held games, if that’s okay with you (Make sure they are fully charged.)

practical stuff –

  • if there are babies in the party, I’m assuming they have fully packed diaper bags with all the necessities
  • a  big dad-shirt or two – in case someone gets filthy or wet, and needs an emergency change of clothes
  • sunscreen for the early evening
  • bug spray
  • bug bite relief
  • hand sanitizer (remember the bathrooms aren’t great)
  • a first aid kit (customized to your famiy’s needs – this is a long outing)
  • flash light (see above)
  • portable radio (see above)
  • camera / cell phone (Sadly, I never remembered to bring one when our kids were young.)

Just a few more thoughts:


help to keep the drive-in experience fun for everyone.

  • One car gets ONE spot. Don’t sprawl.
  • Control your kids.
  • Don’t approach every dog you see … it’s not relaxing for the dog’s people. You’ll be able to tell which dogs are ready for a visit. If you’re in doubt, don’t.
  • Don’t drink and drive. (An early beer or two should be the max for someone who will be driving at 3 am.)
  • Don’t use your headlights, or interior lights (if you can help it) when the movies are playing.
  • Don’t toss trash, cigarette butts, or scraps of food around.
  • Dispose of hot coals safely.
  • Pick up all your trash.

And, most importantly, remember that it’s perfectly fine to just hop in the car and go.

Chances are you’ll have a fabulous time no matter how much or or how little you prepare.



A reader, R Kay, brought the following project to my attention. Time is running out. Share, Pledge to go to the drive-in. Vote to give a drive-in a digital projector. Donate.


June WriMoProg 27 + 35 = 62/98

[X + Y = Z / total-hours goal, where X = writing/editing time, Y= other writerly tasks.]

Summer’s here, and the drive-ins are open.

Summer has finally arrived in Minnesota. After suffering through too many chilly, gray, damp months I am ridiculously, insanely grateful for this forecast:

mostly sunny
mostly sunny
possible thunderstorms
possible thunderstorms
possible thunderstorms

Though we continue to have at least a little rain almost every day, the weather has been good for the last week or so. I’ve been spending every possible moment outside – driving with the windows down, writing on whatever patio or deck I can find,  playing Zombies, Run! with my dog – all in an effort to thaw my perma-frozen bones. It wasn’t until Ogre took me to the drive-in, however, that I really began to believe the never-ending winter was done.

20130614 drivein vali-hi screen

We saw Man of Steel. It’s a good thing that the whole drive-in experience is a blast in its own right, because the movie sucked. (Well, that’s a little harsh – I thought the actual plot was fairly interesting. The action scenes were just too damn action-y for my taste. In the final third of the movie – all of which was devoted to the “epic-battle” this genre requires – I found myself wishing for a fast forward button … I wanted to see the resolution, but I was bored of all the over-the-top bashing and smashing and zipping and whizzing.)

Luckily, the film wasn’t bad enough to ruin an otherwise awesome night. (I’m not sure ANY movie is bad enough to spoil the drive-in.) The inherent romance and nostalgia of the environment is irresistible. After we found our spot, we abandoned the car and strolled. It was a little like looking through a scrapbook. We saw a handful of couples that were our age – as we passed them, nods of recognition and acknowledgement were exchanged. We saw families with teenagers, school-age kids, toddlers – and each family reminded us of our children, and of a particular stage of our life together. We saw groups of adolescents that made us think about friends we haven’t seen in years. We saw young couples – who brought back memories better not detailed here.

I kept looking for a really old couple. When I finally spotted a white-haired pair – sitting in two luxurious-looking stadium chairs, all wrapped up in snuggies and holding hands – it was as if they were making me a promise.

Or, maybe, they were just the catalyst that inspired the Ogre and I to make a promise to each other – we will never again let a summer pass without at least one trip to the drive-in.

As for this summer, we have agreed to go as often as possible. Since we’ve moved to civilization, the Vali-Hi is an easy twenty minute drive from home, so we have no excuse not to. Next time, though, we’ll be better prepared. We’d forgotten how to maximize the fun (and value) of the drive-in, but it all started coming back to us as soon as we pulled up to the gate.

Later this week I’ll share our list of tips AND a round-up of this summer’s most promising upcoming horror / thriller movies.  (I’ll also tell you about the fantastic, horror, triple-bill that ignited our love affair with the drive-in.)

Wouldn’t now be a good time to google the location of the drive-in nearest you?


June WriMoProg 22 + 20 = 42/98

[X + Y = Z / total-hours goal, where X = writing/editing time, Y= other writerly tasks.]