Retro Drive-In Snowstorm
Times change. People change. Priorities change.
I was one of the most enthusiastic and money-stupid movie/home video fanatics you ever met. This lasted from the early days of VHS on through the DVD revolution and the decline of interest in physical media. I watched at least a movie a night, and often it was more than that. The memories are great, and I loved every every minute of it.
I always loved the movies, and I am old enough to remember times even before cable TV. I loved all kinds of motion pictures, and I enjoyed them at home on TV, in walk-in movie houses, but especially at drive-in movie theaters. There wasn’t, isn’t, and never will be a greater place to enjoy a movie than under the stars, with the biggest screen in all of history up there against the night sky.
I tried to keep the drive-in credo alive as I watched movies for all those years. Which is: you take the good, you take the bad, and you take the in-betweens. And, more or less, you enjoyed them all. This is why I will often enjoy shitty horror movies, but am critical about a lot of fiction. I approach the mediums with entirely different mindsets.
Which is why I can say with no shame whatsoever that I enjoyed The Exorcist at a drive-in, and also Tarzan, The Ape Man (with Miles O’Keefe and Bo Derek). Not that I didn’t think The Exorcist was infinitely better than Tarzan, The Ape Man, but I had more or less as good a time at both of them.
But that’s all gone. Oh, I go to the movies, and I enjoy most of what I watch. I see most of the horror features that are released, and I liked some that many hated. I also disliked some movies that others liked very much, such as The Lords of Salem and The Purge 2: Anarchy. Mostly I like to relive the drive-in spirit with these things, and try to get pleasure out of whatever is there to see.
Now, I rarely watch movies at home. I do not currently even own a DVD player. I have no Netflix, no cable, or satellite dish. I don’t Hulu or stream movies. I simply don’t watch them any more.
It makes me a little sad, but as I said above, priorities change. I prefer to read more these days. I date. I go to the gym. I socialize. I spent so many years staring at a screen. I needed change.
And, perhaps most of all, I used to drink beer when I watched movies at home. A lot of beer. Every night. That had to stop, so now I mostly don’t watch anything. I do visit a friend upon occasion and watch a movie or two, but it certainly isn’t like the old days, like when I was the first kid on the block with a DVD player and I had such beaming pride in my budding collection. Or when I had a surround sound system, and movies would boom from my house with earth-shaking intensity.
My slowly dying computer will not even play DVDs anymore. YouTube and things like that are jumpy. So what does that leave me with? A near antique tube-model TV with a built-in VHS player.
Laugh all you wish. I like it. The clunky old tapes, with their cropped pictures, iffy tracking, and the act of rewinding them is pleasurable to me now. It kind of takes me back to a simpler time.
As you undoubtedly know, the East Coast of America suffered a barrage of snow and ice storms in late January. I didn’t get the worst of it here in Hampton, Virginia, but it was nasty enough. Not worth sgetting out and driving in. I was stuck here alone, and I can only read so much, so I dusted off the old TV/VCR and set out to have mini-vicarious drive-in simulation. A broken furnace and freezing conditions actually added to the verisimilitude. I spent many icy nights at the local drive-in theaters back in the grand old days of my misspent late youth.
My tapes are gone. The hundreds of factory copies I purchased, as well as the hundreds of homemade tapes I had amassed over the years. The DVD collection is for the most part long gone, too. Sold off in days of financial need.
My local library used to have a magnificent VHS selection, but now there are a paltry few rows of stragglers. It was from there that I selected some movies for my little extravaganza.
The nineties were a amazing decade for movies. Off the top of my head I can list a bunch of great ones, like Pulp Fiction, Ed Wood, The Shawshank Redemption, Unforgiven, Natural Born Killers, Fargo, Sling Blade, Dead Man, Dazed and Confused, Saving Private Ryan, and American History X. We all have our favorites, but one that often seems to be overlooked is The People Vs. Larry Flynt.
The People Vs. Larry Flynt is a great American story of rebellion, courage, insanity, lust, and danger. Woody Harrelson plays the Hustler creator to the hilt, and he portrays the character as a pervert who stood up, fought, and was nearly crucified for his efforts. When he says, “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, it will protect all of you,” it carries a lot of weight. It’s a strong lesson that many have forgotten. One that ensures that all of us, no matter how disgusting and tasteless, deserves the same respect in the eyes of the law as everyone else. Flynt was about as politically correct as a burning sack of shit left on the doorstep of a mental hospital, but he stayed within the law and was mercilessly persecuted.
As the title suggests, The People Vs. Larry Flynt mostly deals with Flynt’s legal struggles, but it is also a story of love. Larry Flynt loved his wife Althea, who was played with gusto and passion by Courtney Love. She should have had a career after this movie.
Relentlessly entertaining, hilarious, important, and more relevant than ever, The People Vs. Larry Flynt is, as far as I am concerned, a masterpiece.
From here we go, as Joe Bob Briggs used to say, into the toilet.
I love Clint Eastwood. Chances are, you do, too. As well we should. Clint is an icon of the cinema. He has made his arthouse pictures, his entertaining movies, and sometimes even combined the two. And who doesn’t love Dirty Harry?
The Dead Pool was the fifth and final Dirty Harry picture. The one that jumped the shark. Screwed the pooch. Killed the series and the character with as much force and finality as if it were shot with a hollow point slug from a .44 Magnum.
The first three Dirty Harry sequels are not up to par with the brilliant Don Siegel original movie, but they are a lot of fun, and I especially enjoyed Sudden Impact. Cheesy? Sure, but entertaining.
Then we got The Dead Pool. I saw it at the drive-in when it came out, and I had not seen it since. Never had much desire to do so. It’s not that I remembered it as being bad. I couldn’t remember a damned thing about it at all.
The Dead Pool takes place in the world of horror filmmaking, and I liked that much. In it, a deranged fan (aren’t we all?) identifies a little too closely with a horror director. Meanwhile there is this game going on where people are gambling about when celebrities will die. It doesn’t take The Amazing Criswell to predict that those on the list will start to be murdered.
Get this: Jim Carrey plays a would-be scary death-horror rocker! And, yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds.
I’ll admit that there are some pretty good stunt shots in The Dead Pool. Clint blows some heads up with his big gun, and there are some fairly spectacular car scenes. But ultimately this movie is a disgrace to the series. Clint looks awkward and unhappy, and his usual Harry Calahan growl is more like a mutter in The Dead Pool.
The Dirty Harry series ended with a whimper with The Dead Pool.
Cut me some slack. My choices at the library were slim. And like it or not, this was the kind of thing we saw a lot at the drive-ins.
Yeah. Rocky IV. A movie straight outta The Reagan Years.
I confess that I was never much of a Rocky fan. To me, boxing is a barbaric sport and I have never gotten much joy from watching men pound the shit out of one another. Before you ask, simulated violence is something different, and not a topic for today’s discussion. Rocky is well made, and it is surely one of the biggest crowd-pleasing movies of all time, but to me its “The Palooka Kid Comes Back” plot was lazy and cheap.
Rocky IV is stupid enough that it is actually sort of fun to watch, if you can get around the painfully embarrassing cutesy robot thrown in the Balboa household for whimsical effect.
Rocky and Apollo Creed are aging boxers. Buddies through it all, but then those darned scumbag Russians have announced the entry of a superboxer on the scene. Dolph Lundgren is actually more of a robot than the robot server in Rocky’s house, but he is big, strong, and is purported to be unbeatable. Creed, played by Carl Weathers and acting like a jive turkey, challenges Drago (Lundgren) to a fight. Once more, we do not need our trusty magical eight-ball to figure out that Drago will kill Creed in the ring. Which leaves Our Hero to step up and defeat Drago in the name of all things American.
Rocky IV is just as bad as The Dead Pool, but I liked it a little more more than the Eastwood bomb. Whereas Dirty Harry seemed more like Disillusioned Harry in The Dead Pool, Rocky is as stupidly energetic as ever. The ludicrous attempts at patriotism and music video cutting techniques made Rocky IV a bad movie that was fun to watch.
I started with the best movie on the list, but I am ending with my favorite.
Teen fare has always been a drive-in staple, and who doesn’t like a raunchy good time at the movies? It’s even tastier when those Gods of movie exploitation, Golan and Globus, are behind the scenes.
Making the Grade stars a pre-Breakfast Club Judd Nelson. John Hughes definitely took some cues from this movie.
Nelson plays a dipshit street hustla who owes money to pre-infamous Andrew Dice Clay. We then meet a scumbag (scumbag being a recurring drive-in theme) spoiled rich boy who has been thrown out of yet another college for drunken exploits. Told that he will be cut off from the family money should he not graduate, he looks for someone dumb enough to stand in for him at a preppy school and, yeah, make the grade.
The plot is very familiar, and a similar one was done much better a couple of years later in Back to School, but Making the Grade is extremely funny at times. Some gags work, others don’t, but it’s cheerfully idiotic enough to keep a smile on my face.
But, good lord, Golan and Globus were out of touch with what American audiences thought was cool in the 80s. Judd Nelson breakdancing? Well, the immediately previous Cannon movie was Breakin’. The year after that they gave us Rappin’.
It was nice having a stroll down memory lane, watching a quartet of exploitation pictures. It wasn’t like the old days, partying like we’d never grow old and literally howling at the moon at the drive-ins. Or downing endless beers with the gang while watching videotapes backin the 80’s. Those were the days, my friends. I wish they had never ended.
Unfortunately, the party has to end sometime.
Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of Terror, Sir Graves Ghastly Presents, The Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon Lover, The Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and at www.horrordrive-in.com.