FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jan 26, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: DRIVE-IN MASSACRE (1976)

I know what you're thinking! "Am I living in a cuckoo clock? Why is this post titled Chilling Classics Cthursday when today is clearly Cfriday? What kind of nonsense is this? Who does she think she's fooling? Or is it only Cthursday and I have somehow gained a day? Or lost a day? I don't even know what's happening anymore. Am I really me? Are any of us really any of us? Am I dead? If so, wow, I can't believe I'm reading Final Girl in heaven. It really seems more like a hell thing."

Well, I am sorry for triggering an existential time crisis. You are still alive (I assume), as am I (I'm pretty sure). It is indeed Cfriday. But reader, I was unable to post on Cthursday because the GD hamster wheel that powers my internet exploded a few days ago, stranding me in a ditch alongside the Information Superhighway for far too long. Not only did this cause me to fall behind on my stories (aka Real Housewives), it also meant that the world had to wait for my positively scintillating thoughts on Drive-In Massacre (1976).

But as of today I'm jacked back into the system, baby! So here we are, another week, another massacre. But did I dig this week's massacre-flavored flick as much as I did Memorial Valley Massacre? Read on to find out!

No, I didn't.

Mind, that is not to say that the cinematography in the film's opening moments weren't breathtaking to behold. 

While my earliest thoughts were "oh dear, this is truly going to be a slog," things (sort of) quickly heated up with the shockingly graphic murders of a young couple at the drive-in. The dude gets his head cut right off with a sword, and then the gal gets poked through the neck. The effects, while unsurprisingly amateurish, were likely made better-looking by the dogshit picture quality. Regardless, it was bloody and explicit and unexpected and I gasped, clutching my pearls as if I'd just seen someone's bare ankle.

I sat up straighter, feeling chastened that perhaps I'd underestimated Drive-In Massacre. But sadly, it wasn't long before I was slumped again as the movie shifted from grindhouse-y slasher to something that wanted to be more of a police procedural but was ultimately an exercise in tedium. 

Two cops show up at the scene of the crime and start interviewing people in great detail. In fact, interview scenes take up so much of the film's scant 73-minute runtime that 1) 73 minutes feels like 73 hours, and 2) it should maybe have been called Drive-In Interviews. First we meet the misanthropic manager, who hates his co-workers, his life, his paying customers, and probably you and me as well. "A couple-a horny kids got themselves chopped up by some kook. So what?" he says. I'll say this much for the bastard, his ice-cold black heart lurks beneath some baller looks. His impeccable fashion sense even came through on this Mill Creek transfer.

His outfits bowled me over even more when I got a load of the screencaps from the Severin Blu-ray. You know, when I could actually see stuff. 

I can't believe this is on Blu-ray! I don't know who out there is buying Drive-In Massacre at boutique Blu-ray prices, but more power to 'em I guess. Of course, I do wonder how much of a disservice it is (to the movies, to myself) to watch the awful CHILLLING CLASSICS versions...? But isn't that the whole point of this exercise? Hmm I'd better get on with things, I feel another existential crisis coming on.

The cops also talk to the drive-in's resident "half-wit" employee who knows most of the comings and the goings of the place and fills us in on some history: The drive-in was built on the former site of an Indian burial ground a carnival. The half-wit was a sword-swallower at said carnival. The owner of the carnival, who now owns the drive-in, is not in the movie but we're told he has an extensive sword collection. And the nattily-dressed manager? He used to be a knife-thrower at the carnival. So you see, anyone could be the sword-wielding killer.

Despite the double homicide by a maniac who is still on the loose, business at the drive-in continues apace. Sure enough, the next night another couple is killed as they make out. They're impaled together on a sword. That's right, dually-impaled lovers: A Bay of Blood, Friday the 13th Part 2, and Drive-In Massacre. Three of a kind!

The half-wit tells the cops that he saw the drive-in's resident peeping tom lurking about the couple's car before they were shish kebabbed. They manage to track him down and I love that this man has truly made "peeping tom" his lifestyle, what with his nudie mag decor. "I just wanted to beat my meat," he says, denying he was at the scene with murder on his mind.

The public is still not deterred by all of the killing, and yes, there is another killing, but this time it's off-screen. I have to say, there are seriously diminishing returns after that first dazzling head chop. Any steam this thing had--which wasn't much to being with--has long since dissipated by this point. We're treated to a scene of the recently-fired half-wit wandering around another carnival as we hear earlier lines repeated.

Then there's a long non-sequitur sequence in a warehouse, involving some random dude with a machete who's holding a young girl hostage. It all just kept getting messier and more convoluted, to the point that I doubt anyone in the movie had any idea what was going on. 

When the cops learn that the machete-wielding man isn't the killer, they assume it's actually the nattily-dressed manager for some reason. So they head to the drive-in to nab him, but the half-wit got there first and killed the manager in anger over his firing. At least that's what I think happened. The picture quality was so cruddy, I couldn't make out whatever it is they were shocked to find in the projection booth.

They open a door and find the half-wit's body (I think?), and then there's a text wrap-up.

But as Drive-In Massacre began with a shock, so it ends as the fourth wall shatters in our faces: There's the sound of the film flapping as the end of the reel hits, and a voiceover tells us that there is a killer in the theater...

It was actually kind of a cool (or fun at least) way to end the movie, one that was likely kind of neat if you actually saw this dreck at the drive-in. There's other stuff, too, lurking under the film's dullness that could have made it a weirdo...well, not a classic, certainly, but perhaps something approaching the Great Value found in massacres à la Nail Gun or Class Reunion. Lines of dialogue are flubbed and started over. One of the detectives goes undercover in full drag as the other detective's "wife" as they hope to catch the killer during a movie. I'm all about the aesthetics of the theater concession stand and carnival settings. And again, the drive-in manager's wardrobe, which exclusively comprises blazers over turtlenecks, is *chefs kiss* perfection.

An additional curio about Drive-In Massacre: it was co-written by George "Buck" Flower, who also appears uncredited as the warehouse machete dude. Flower, of course, was in seemingly every single movie and TV show ever made, including the John Carpenter films Escape from New York and They Live. Some of his notable characters include Bum, Vagrant, Tramp, Beggar, Drunk, and Gambler Drunk.

It's all those elements and undeniable charms that I will undoubtedly remember fondly a few years from now, prompting the desire to give Drive-In Massacre another go. Let's hope that the desire triggers yet another time crisis, wherein I skip it altogether.

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