Horror Drive-In: Scaaaa-REEM!

banner reading Horror Drive-In and Mark Sieber and Cemetery Dance

I am the perfect age to be a slasher fan. Halloween was released when I was seventeen years old — roughly the same age as the victims in John Carpenter’s masterpiece. I saw it in a walk-in theater and the experience was truly transformational. I was on the verge of adulthood and this movie, which was based on an oft-told urban legend, felt like the beginning of something entirely new.

Halloween was a runaway success and along with the inevitable sequel, imitator movies were quickly made and released. The biggest of them is, of course, Friday the 13th. I was eighteen years old.

Ghostface from ScreamAge eighteen was legal drinking age in Virginia at that time. At least for beer. You still had to be twenty-one for liquor and wine. I was a hard partier back then, and we drank with abandon as we saw Friday the 13th again and again.

I wasn’t the only one. Lines went around the corners. These movies struck a deep chord in my generation. it seemed like everyone was going to see the movies, but they were not universally accepted. Critics, Moms, and most of the old establishment despised these movies. They denigrated the films, usually without seeing them, and they questioned the sanity and moral decency of those of us who loved them.

Think I cared? That was part of the attraction. Being a fan of Halloween, Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, Prom Night, and all the rest, was a form of rebellion. Were they good movies? For the most part, not really. Again, we didn’t care. We wallowed in the joy of these mostly independent, roughshod little movies. We drank, got high, raised hell and watched as many of them as we could.

I’ve seen them countless times. In walk-in theaters, at drive-ins, cut for television, on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, and in some cases 4K.  I saw Halloween again in a  double outdoor bill when The Fog was released. In the height of the slasher era, out of the blue Halloween and Friday the 13th showed up at a drive-in.  It was like a gift from the Gods in those pre-home video days. The new installments would appear, and sometimes the previous feature would accompany the current one.

What a thrill it was to see Friday the 13th again at a drive-in, after all those years, on a genuine calendar date of a Friday on the thirteenth day of the month, under a full moon, in 2019.

Yes, I watched them at home, and of course I enjoyed it, but nothing, nothing beats seeing these movies in a real theater. I’ve paid to see every Friday, every Elm Street, every Halloween, every installment of every franchise in a theater.

Most of the crowds of young people I enjoyed Halloween and Friday the 13th in theaters with have grown up. Became dead inside. Devoted themselves to mundane pursuits like sports, video games, TV shows. Not me. I’m there, seeing these damned movies, when they play in theaters.

The quality has decreased over the years. Oddly, as budgets have grown larger, the impact of the sequels and remakes has lessened. But then maybe I’m just getting old and yearning for things to be the way they were when I was young.

Maybe, and maybe not. The young people seem, for the most part, to revere the old classics.

poster for ScreamSlasher movies died down as the eighties dissolved. Horror wasn’t at its healthiest state in the nineties, until a new phenomenon occurred. Horror stalwart Wes Craven directed a new slasher movie in 1996. Craven was never really a slasher guy before that, despite having Last House on the Left and The Hill Have Eyes on his resume. But here he was with a new movie, called Scream. Early word was deafeningly positive.

Did I go see Scream? You bet your chainsaw I did.

And I freaking loved it. The nineties were a decade of deconstruction, and Scream deconstructed the slasher movie. It did so with style, wit, and some genuinely gruesome set-pieces. The movie also introduced a new generation to horror viewers. These kids were seething with irony, desensitized, and bursting with self-importance. I mostly liked them.

The real heart of Scream was the use of likable characters. Unlike many slasher movies, they are well-developed and they elicited strong feelings from audiences everywhere.

The entirety of Scream is stylish. Craven was at the peak of his cinematic powers with this picture. The movie pulled viewers in and kept them coming back.

It reminded of the old days. The kids were eating Scream up, and I was thrilled to see new blood pumped into the horror genre. Scream was a raging success, and of course, in grand slasher tradition, a sequel was put on the fast track.

I liked Scream 2, even if it felt like a rehash. All slasher sequels are tired rehashes, so in that sense Scream 2 was critic-proof.

Scream 3 is pretty weak, and pretty much everyone considers it to be the weakest in the entire run. Wunderkind screenwriter Kevin Williamson, who wrote the first two, was sorely missed.

Williamson returned for Scream 4, which I think is probably the second best movie in the series.

Now here it is, 2022. The world is in a mess, people are scared. What better time to exhume a slasher franchise?

A new generation is featured in this new Scream. Gen Z is displayed in all their glory. Based on the young people I see at the day job, it’s a pretty accurate depiction. There are a lot of F-bombs flying around. Programmed modern pop accompanies the visuals. Most of these kids grew up with conveniences undreamed of by generations past. They’re cocky, rebellious, headstrong. And now they are targets.

poster for Scream (2022)I didn’t hate the characters in Scream 5 (the onscreen title is merely Scream, but I use the numeral to avoid confusion). Williamson is not on board, and again I feel like something is missing. I always felt more compassion for the casts in Williamson stories. The thing about it is, they simply are not my age group, and the generation gap is back and stronger than ever. It’s the job of every generation to piss off the ones that came before. Just as I did with the original slasher movie run.

The best thing about Scream 5 is the return of Sydney Prescott, Gale Weathers, and Deputy Dewey. Those of us who have followed the series, and mostly like the movies, have a great deal of affection for these characters.

There’s a big, tragic loss in Scream 5. I won’t reveal it here, but fans will get hit right in the feels. As the kids today might say.

The scariest thing about the movie is the plastic surgery of Courtney Cox. Her face has been pulled taut so many times she looks like a monster. I’d much rather see anyone age gracefully.

There’s humor, endless nods to horror movies, some pretty inventive gore sequences, and a reasonable amount of suspense. I didn’t love Scream 5 and I didn’t hate it.

I’m mostly glad to see it doing so well. People are coming out to see it, which is a big deal in this age of COVID-19. It’s good to see Scream, like Halloween, has successfully traversed from generation to generation.

So what it is about these movies that inspires so much passion from me? Do I get off on watching simulated death? I could give the old rigamorole about facing my fears, learning to cope with the concept of mortality, of exorcising my violent tendencies vicariously by watching movies.

Am I, and people like me, mentally ill? People I respect, Roger Ebert and Harlan Ellison, to name a couple, made the claim. It’s not exactly a normal pursuit, is it?

Now slasher films are accepted. Horror has become mainstream. It’s a mixed blessing to me, but I am mostly happy about it. Despite that, I still get a naughty thrill watching this stuff.

The fact is, slasher movies, are a big part of what keeps my mind young. It’s a good time, and I hope I never, ever outgrow it. Even the really lousy ones, like The Mutilator and Madman, are like entering the fountain of youth. And the best of them, such as Halloween and Scream, touch my heart and soul in profound ways.

Photo of Mark Sieber with a cat on his shoulder
Mark Sieber and friend

Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of TerrorSir Graves Ghastly PresentsThe Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon LoverThe 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. Cemetery Dance recently released his collection He Who Types Between the Rows: A Decade of Horror Drive-In. He can be reached at [email protected], and at www.horrordrive-in.com.

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