Drive-In Massacre (1977)

As a kid, I spent a lot of time with my first cousins. They farted in my face, trashed my Millennium Falcon, and let their friends fart in my face. But my second cousins, the ones I rarely got to see, took me to R-rated movies, let me play their Vectrex, and gave me comic books. To keep.

Drive-In Massacre will never fart in your face. Yet, the benefits of its company are somewhat remote. This is (mostly) not a bad thing.

Essentially a late-70s H.G. Lewis heir in both procedure and content, Drive-In pinches a few particulars from The Zodiac Killer (true! crime!) and Carnival Of Blood (ugly people arguing) to forge its reflexive turf. In other words, no one involved with this project was fully aware of what they were working on. So, in addition to the expected slasherings, we get lengthy interviews with uncharismatic characters. Cars driving slowly across parking lots. An angry man flaunting loud suits while tossing insults at everyone. Fatso cops who play around with the killer’s samurai sword immediately following a “massacre”. Such baffling misappropriations typically lead to bliss. But Drive-In makes us work. Just a bit.

In a plotless set-up, a California drive-in is plagued by a series of mid-screening murders. The angry drive-in manager, Newton Naushaus, is an iconic cinematic dickhead. Insults, complaints, hilarious psychological judgments — no one is safe from The Double-N’s wrath. Thanks to the killings, the drive-in experiences a boom in business (!). Newton refuses to close shop while the four-man police force investigates. It’s like a John Waters wet dream. And how about that investigation? Is the killer “Germy,” the ex-carny performer/”nitwit” janitor? Or maybe it’s Orville, the neighborhood sex-addict? Just when you start to feel leveled out, the film goes schizo and spends twenty minutes developing a strange red herring that goes nowhere. And everywhere.

Drive-In Massacre isn’t really a film. It’s a tone-poem, one that banks on “experience”, rather than format. For that reason, you almost have to alter your mindset, acquiesce with the crudeness, to fully enjoy it. Considering what we have to work with, that’s not so difficult. Discordant notes tinkle on primitive synths, which may be on loan from H. Kingsley Thurber and Don’t Go In The Woods. Achingly static photography clashes with calm moments of handheld charm, mostly during the carnival padding. Lines are flubbed, caught, and then begun again. Amateurish-yet-alarming gore is enhanced by the ragged, green-hued print. People appear to be constantly bumping into the boom mic, while lines such as “Well, she’s in pretty bad shape — she was murdered with a sword!” beam with quaint hilarity. Given the taut, 75 minute runtime and fourth-wall-breaking climax, is there any doubt that you won’t fall in love with such total weirdness?

Maybe. But only during the boring parts.

My idealization of Drive-In Massacre is more intriguing than what the film actually offers. Its been that way since my first viewing. In a sense, that’s what makes it so endearing. The movie doesn’t fully deliver. But there’s always a chance that it could. So, every few years, I start thinking about it. My thoughts concern big smears of green emulsion, rubber appendages, and people insulting each other, all beneath the midnight glow of a ratty drive-in movie screen. I want to go to that place. So I watch Drive-In Massacre. And I’m there.

From the Archives