It’s an idea so obvious, you gotta wonder why it didn’t happen before: a Terror in the Aisles at a drive-in theater. Dubbed the Drive-In Massacre, Rusty and the folks at Movieside brought their signature multiple-feature madness to the McHenry Outdoor Theater in (predictably) McHenry, Illinois for two days on Friday, August 31 and Saturday, September 1, 2013; the program both days was The Monster Squad, Zombie (aka Zombi 2 and Zombie Flesh Eaters), Sleepaway Camp, and Lisa and the Devil (in its American recut version, House of Exorcism). Special guest was Fred Dekker, director of Squad (and also Night of the Creeps). I went on Friday and caught the first two features.

* * *

First, a public service announcement.

Having been born on the line dividing the early ’70s from the middle ones, I’m just old enough to remember when drive-in theaters were a standard entertainment option as opposed to a quaint relic of a distant time. The very first film I ever remember seeing was at a drive-in: The Buddy Holly Story, at the Ski-Hi on Route 53 in Addison–that would have been in 1978. (So yes, I’m also old enough to remember when Gary Busey was an actor people took seriously.) So I’ve got a certain amount of fondness for the drive-in experience.

The McHenry Outdoor is one of the drive-in theaters threatened by the movie industry’s transition from celluloid to digital projection. Honda’s response is Project Drive-In, a fund to help drive-ins make the switch, which includes donating five digital projectors to drive-ins across the nation. At the Project Drive-In website, you can vote for a theater to receive one of the projectors, and the McHenry Outdoor is on the list of eligible theaters. (Chicagoland’s other surviving drive-in, the Cascade in West Chicago, made the switch to digital earlier this year.)

If you’re interested in Project Drive-In, please check out the website, take a look at their programs, and cast a vote. And, if you’ve got time this fall, why not pay a visit to your local drive-in?

Anyway, end of plug. Thanks for your indulgence.

Project Drive-In

* * *

The D-I Massacre kicked off with a quick word from Fred Dekker (who was otherwise stationed at the concession building, chatting with fans and signing wares) and some vintage trailers–Smokey and the Bandit II, Dead Heat, Teen Wolf, nothing I don’t think I hadn’t seen before at previous Moviesides.

A scene from THE MONSTER SQUAD.

I had never seen the first feature, The Monster Squad, before, although I guess it’s become something of a cult classic since its 1987 release. The best way I can think of to describe it is The Goonies Meet Dracula (and Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy, the Wolf-Man, and the Gill-Man): basically, a high-energy teenage adventure-comedy featuring the Universal Monsters. The Goonies influence is obvious–one of the younger actors was highly reminiscent of Corey Feldman.

These sorts of films usually aren’t my cup of tea, for reasons I’ve mentioned I don’t know how many times before, but I still really dug this one. Like a lot of ’80s teen-adventure flicks, it’s a lot more clever and sophisticated than the subgenre gets credit for. (I particularly liked Phoebe having to read the ritual, because Patrick’s sister turned out not to be a virgin after all. Although Steve doesn’t count!) The insanely quotable dialogue (“What do I look in the index for? ‘Big scary mansion?'”) and the somewhat-faithful renditions of the monsters (of course Frankenstein’s monster is going to make friends with the little girl) help a great deal. But I think what really sold this for me were the characterizations and performances of the supporting characters: Jon “Ben Linus’s Dad” Gries running around a police station, screaming, “I’m a werewolf! You gotta lock me up!” nearly had me on the floor of my car.

Yeah…good times.

A scene from ZOMBIE.

As for Zombie…well…it may be time to admit that while I like Italian horror films made between 1963 and 1985 as an overall idea, my opinions of the actual films themselves are ambivalent at best. So far, I’ve found myself unable to give anything directed by Bava, Argento or Fulci more than three stars. Even post-modern attempts at giallo such as Amer and Berberian Sound Studio have left me feeling somewhat lukewarm.

A lot of it is my tendency to prefer violence and gore as means to an end rather as the ends in themselves, which is why I almost always walk away from a Fulci film scratching my head, wondering what the fuss is about. Zombie is no exception. The gore is great, natch; Ian McCulloch is always fun to watch; I’m not going to argue with the sight of Auretta Gay scuba-diving while wearing nothing but a G-string and a bathing cap.

But honestly, other than the eye candy, Zombie simply doesn’t do it for me. It doesn’t freak me the way Dawn of the Dead still does (yeah, I went there), and the impact of the grossness is blunted somewhat by the somewhat dimmer drive-in picture quality. And then, of course, there are the problems I have with every Fulci film, such as “characterization” and “storytelling.”

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, because I did. But whatever makes this film a classic…I dunno, I just don’t get it.

* * *

I’ll try to get to House of Exorcism (or maybe Lisa and the Devil, which I understand is better) in the next few weeks. Other than that, I’ve got several events coming up this fall, including the Chicago Horror Film Festival, the Massacre (this year at the Patio, because the Portage is still closed damnit), and, maybe (if I can swing my work schedule) the Music Box of Horrors.

Seeya later!

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