Tuesday, June 5, 2012
A neat little piece (complete with a photo gallery and embedded YouTube videos) by Sean McLachlin, entitled "Vanishing America: The Drive-In Theater," was posted this past week on AOL. McLachlan reports on the modern state of the drive-in industry, and reminisces about his own experiences in outdoor theaters. The drive-in, with its typical small town/heartland location, certainly bears an aura of American Gothic, and especially in the case of those bygone theaters that have settled into a state of weathered, weed-choked ruin. As McLachlan writes of such
"spooky abandoned lots": "Visiting a dead drive-in theater is a bit like visiting a ghost town. It leaves you wondering about the people who used to spend time there."
I'm old enough (I hesitate to admit) to remember the pre-multiplex epoch; in fact, one of my earliest moviegoing memories is of attending a screening of The Omen with my mom and dad at a drive-in in the Jersey Meadowlands. I couldn't have been more than five, and probably spent most of the film's run time playing with my toys in the backseat of my family's sage-green Duster, but to this day I can recall being fascinated--and frightened--by the death scenes projected on the giant white screen ("Look at me, Damien. It's all for you."). Formative influences, anyone?
The drive-in will be forever linked with the popular sci-fi/horror films of the mid-20th century, but the viewing scene itself has since been incorporated into other genre fare. Take, for instance, the Peter Bogdanovich-Boris Karloff thriller Targets, with its harrowing, bullet-filled climax at a L.A. drive-in. In "Seeing Past the Corners" (a biographical essay that prefaces his story collection The Man with the Barbed-Wire Fists), Norman Partridge details how his youthful experiences at a cemetery-flanked California drive-in (a setting prominent in his fabulous first novel Slippin' Into Darkness) shaped him as a writer. The apotheosis of this special category of dark fiction, though, has to be the series of Joe R. Lansdale novels collected in The Complete Drive-In.
As McLachlin's online article recounts, the drive-in still exists today, albeit in an endangered state. If you don't happen to live nearby one of these theaters scattered throughout our Macabre Republic, then you can always make do with your cherished memories and the classic works listed above.