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Monday, January 21, 2013

Movies At Dog Farm Remembers . . . The Drive-Ins Of My Misspent Youth

Screen and marquee of the Skyline Drive-In in Waynesboro, VA - Photo by Tony at
Skyline Drive-In, Waynesboro VA - Photo by Tony at
     I'm only glad to be older than dirt when I'm a horror fan who's older than dirt.  I've been fortunate enough to experience some great horror mileposts, some "end of an era" type opportunities that some of my younger contemporaries missed out on.  I've been lucky. 

     I'm grateful that my indoctrination into the world of grown-up horror movies coincided almost perfectly with the slasher movie boom of the late 70's and early 80's.  I was afforded the opportunity to see the likes of My Bloody Valentine (1981), Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), and Halloween II (1981) all on the big screen during their original theatrical releases.  These were the salad days of the gratuitous tit shot and the practical special effect.

Bowman Body hosting Cobweb Theater
The Bowman Body - Cobweb Theater
     I'm grateful that I could look forward to seeing some hoary old black and white horror movie hosted by the Bowman Body every Saturday night, first on Shock Theater (The Big 8!) and later on Cobweb Theater broadcast from Charlottesville.  The picture to the right is a screen capture of the Bowman Body reading a fan letter on the air from a much younger and less jaded movie fan.  You can see the clip in its entirety here.  Even as a youngster I was a genre critic.

Ticket booth at the Skyline Drive-In in Waynesboro VA - Photo by Tony at
Ticket booth at the Skyline - Photo by Tony at
     Most of all, though, I'm grateful that I experienced the last hurrah of the drive-in horror movie.  Nothing beats seeing Lucio Fulci's Zombie (1979) on a gigantic outdoor screen with a cup of french fries in one hand and the badly dubbed soundtrack blaring through a speaker mounted to the window.

     My mother and I would spend each Saturday doing yard work for my Great Aunt Sydney so I could earn some drive-in money for Saturday night.  The theater in question was usually the Skyline Drive-In (Shenandoah's Showplace) in Waynesboro, VA.  There'd always be a line at the ticket booth because Saturday night was usually "carload" night - one admission price for as many people as you could fit in your car.  It  was an entertainment value that couldn't be beat, especially if it happened to be a dusk til dawn show.

     I had the good fortune to see Motel Hell (1980), Fear No Evil (1981), The Gates Of Hell (1980), and The Creeper (1977) on the Skyline's mammoth screen.  I saw The Toolbox Murders (1978), The Driller Killer (1979), and Wolfen (1981), too.  I saw them all out under the stars on humid summer nights, the way God intended.

     At some point I'd always have to visit the bathroom or the snack bar, usually after I was sufficiently spooked by the evening's entertainment to make the trek from the car to the snack bar a terrifying dash through the darkness and open air.  The bathroom, in particular, was the stuff of nightmares, lit by the jaundice glow of the yellow bug lights punctuated occasionally by the purple flash of the bug zapper.  The bathroom had a screen door and a trough to pee in - very utilitarian.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre poster (1974)
     Inside the snack bar, though, was the drive-in holy grail.  For as long as I visited the Skyline, there was always a poster for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) on the wall beneath a sign that read "Coming Soon".  It was a tease.  TCM never played the Skyline during these years.  I know.  I waited for it.  And waited, and waited . . .

     Undoubtedly, the poster had been there since TCM had played the Skyline years earlier.  I ultimately did see TCM on the big screen years later at a midnight screening - I can be grateful for that, at least - but nothing could've beaten seeing the epitome of the drive-in horror movie at the Skyline.

The Route 340 Drive-In marquee in Waynesboro, VA covered by Speedway signs - Photo from
The Route 340 Drive-In marquee, covered by speedway signs - Photo by
     I would occasionally find myself at the Route 340 Drive-In, as well - also in Waynesboro - and that was an even sketchier state of affairs.  The Route 340 shared land with Eastside Speedway, so on most Saturdays you couldn't hear the movies until after the drag racing was done for the night.  The Route 340 also generally played raunchier titles. 

     My most vivid memory of the Route 340 was the night my mother and I stumbled upon I Spit On Your Grave (1978) playing there.  Spitting on graves - it's a horror movie, right? 

     My mother was mortified that she'd taken her nine year old son to see a movie with a protracted and graphic rape scene that comprised nearly a third of the movie's run time.  She couldn't really make me leave the room, either.  I ended up standing by the snack bar for most of the rape, thereby at least sparing my mother the uncomfortable silence and unfathomable shame.  I still can't bring myself to watch I Spit On Your Grave in mixed company.

     There's one final drive-in that deserves an honorable mention here - Roth's Drive-In in Harrisonburg, VA.  We visited the Roth less frequently because it was farther away, but it distinguishes itself as being the venue in which I first saw both Halloween (1978) and Friday The 13th (1980).  A fellow in the bathroom assured me when I saw Friday The 13th that the version he'd seen the preceding week was gorier.  I'm not even going to conjecture as to why he felt the need to share that info with a ten year old standing at the pee trough. 

     This post came about because of an exchange with Jonny Dead at Blood Sucking Geek.  Jonny, who's younger than me (who isn't?), was envious of the fact that I'd seen The Driller Killer at a drive-in.  For those who didn't, I highly recommend  Jonny Dead's Trash Box Volume 1, wherein Jonny pairs The Driller Killer with Naked Massacre (1976) in a lovingly rendered ode to the drive-in / grindhouse experience.  All of the drive-ins mentioned here are long gone, but the drive-in aesthetic lives on.

Posted By Brandon Early


Unknown said...

Spectacular article. I laughed...I cried...and my jealousy increased exponentially. Zombie, Motel Hell, The Toolbox Murders, and I Spit On Your Grave! Oh and the jackass who swears he saw a different version of the film (I'm picturing Buzz from Home Alone, don't ask why).

Well, at least I had Saturday morning Mystery Science Theater 3000... and 99¢ Vincent Price VHS rentals from King Soopers. *sigh*

Unknown said...

Well if this double posts it's because my first attempt at commenting on this just disappeared. So it went something like this:

Spectacular article! I laughed...I cried...and my jealousy increased exponentially. Zombie, Motel Hell, The Toolbox Murders, and I Spit On Your Grave!! Oh and the classic jackass that swears he saw a 'more hardcore' version of the film. least I had Saturday morning Mystery Science Theater 3000 and 99¢ Vincent Price VHS rentals from King Soopers. *sigh*

Jeremy [Retro] said...

Motel Hell, wow... that is one of those I still remember the rope and the necks. that was genius. I miss the drive-in experience, there is one by my home... never been, yet!

Sorry for the dupe on the ladies, you can never have enough grabbers. Can I recommend Cal's Cave of COOL?

His site is sometimes my inspiration...

Have a great day!

Unknown said...

I'm leaving you my envy, I wish I was old enough to have seen all those at a drive-in.

I've never been to one (outdoor screenings and such yes but not a drive-in) The pure thought of it gives me a wave of nostalgia to when i was a child watching horror flicks with my mum.

Thank you for sharing your memories dude :)

Brandon Early said...

So many kind words - thanks everyone! Sometimes it's not so bad to be the oldest guy in the room.

Jeremy, my dad actually got me a couple of old Motel Hell lobby cards for Christmas. Perfect. Dad did good this year.

The first Movies At Dog Farm Event was outdoors in the woods with a full surround sound arranged in the trees around the projection area. Suspiria was great, easily my most memorable viewing of it.

If and when we do it again, I'll be sure to put up some coverage here.

Brandon Early said...

BTW, Jeremy, Calvin's site was great. Loved the series of portraits down the sideboard.

The Old Man said...

I envy you for having seen Halloween at a drive-in theater. What a great experience!

Unknown said...

Jesus, I nearly forgot about Eastside entirely...