Chills at the drive-in on a hot August night. PLUS 2013’s summer horror / thriller movies.Posted: June 22, 2013
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 –
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.
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.
THE HAUNTING OF HELENA – Oh, I don’t think so. Not with my recent dental trauma. Also, the reviews for this are terrible.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY – Well, here’s a nice little palate cleanser before we move on. Check out this link too: http://monstersuniversity.com/edu/
Opening TBA, probably a short run in June or July –
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 –
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 –
PACIFIC RIM – A science fiction, monster movie directed by Guillermo del Toro.
VHS 2 – I should probably see VHS before I decide, but it’s not looking good.
Opening July 19th –
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.
UNDER THE BED – I’ve already seen too much of the monster in the trailer. I’ll wait for some reviews to come in.
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.
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.)
This is linked to IMdB. Click the watch trailer button.
Opening July 26th –
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.
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.
THE WOLVERINE – I know it’s not horror, but I don’t want to miss it.
Opening TBA August –
HERE COMES THE DEVIL – No movie posters or trailers available as of this writing. Link takes you to official site.
Opening August 2nd –
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 –
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) –
???? – 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 –
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.