Drive-In Massacre (1976)

Author: Wes R.
Submitted by: Wes R.   Date : 2008-05-14 11:00

Directed by: Stu Segall
Written by: George ‘Buck’ Flower
Starring: Newton Naushaus, Douglas Gudbye, and Bruce Kimball

Reviewed by: Wes R.

“So, a couple of horny kids got themselves chopped up by some kook. So what? It’s like, who really gives a damn?”

The drive-in era is one that is missed by all who were alive to experience it. The feeling of watching a film outdoors, with fairly poor sound, and in the privacy of your own car…no modern moviegoing experience can replicate it. It would likely be unreal to calculate the number of people who are alive on this year due to drive-in movie conceptions. So, at a drive-in, you have darkness, teenagers, and sex…what better place for someone to set a horror film? Though, movie theaters are no stranger to slasher and horror settings, I do think this was the first modern slasher to utilize the location. Would we get lucky and make it to third base (and quite possibly even home plate) on this trip to the ‘drive-in’ or would we strike out?

After a particularly bad mid-70s rock song, an unseen killer bumps off a couple of moviegoers of a popular local drive-in in a grisly fashion. Detectives are pretty much clueless as to his or her identity, as more bodies soon begin piling up. Could it be the loudmouth theater owner, or perhaps the mentally challenged former carnival worker he employs to sweep up the place each night? Or could it be a total stranger? Yep. That’s pretty much all of the plot. No backstory. No character arcs. Simply a murder mystery set at a drive-in theater. Ah, don’t you just miss the days when a plot could be mindless and…well, I’ll just say minimalistic? I sure do. Well, sometimes. Not so much when I see a film like Drive-In Massacre.

Drive-In Massacre is a technical nightmare on all levels. At its best, the musical score sounds like someone playing a video game circa 1985 atop a washing machine. Fans of bad 70s/80s horror synth may find a bit of enjoyment in it, but it’s really no surprise at all that I was unable to find any composer credit listed for the film. The scenes are blandly shot and not a single shot of the film has any resemblance of style or artistic merit. I must say, though, the death scenes aren’t all that bad, though. They're not exactly gory, but they're not quite bloodless either. I’ve certainly seen worse in the slasher sub-genre. Aside from the music, the sound itself is pretty bad, but this can be expected on such a low budget film as Drive-In Massacre seems to have been. The film doesn’t even really provide much of a cool drive-in ambience, as there aren’t that many scenes that take place at the actual drive-in. The movie even borrows (unless this came first) a plot point from the same year’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown, when in an attempt to fool the killer, two of the cops disguise themselves (one even in drag) as a couple out on a date at the drive-in.

What is really amazing, though…this film is among the select few bona-fide slashers to actually pre-date Halloween and Friday the 13th. This film wasn’t ripping anything off, on the surface (though the presence of ‘massacre’ in the title suggests Leatherface and his clan served as loose inspiration). For all these filmmakers knew, they were making a brand new type of movie, although there were other slashers that pre-dated even this. The film opens with a surprisingly impressive (though cheesy) decapitation and stabbing. Most of the deaths are committed with a curved, military-type sword. Much different than your usual butcher knife or machete, for sure. The killer is never seen or heard in the film, leaving the death scenes less intimidating than they would’ve been otherwise. The film plays out like a murder mystery throughout, although the script and direction give much better “clues” as to who the killer is not than they do for who he actually is. One after another, the red herrings fall completely flat and the viewer is basically just passing the time by trying to engage in the “story”.

One of the most interesting and unusual aspects of the film is that it was written by none other than George ‘Buck’ Flower. Yes. The guy who made a living playing homeless vagrants in such classics as Back to the Future, Escape From New York, and They Live. After a little research, I found out that he also wrote some of the most notorious entries in the 80’s sex comedies craze, including The Bikini Carwash Company, Takin’ It All Off, and Party Favors. Quite an interesting career for the late Mr. Flower. On the whole, though they are badly written, the characters in the film come off much more memorably than others in similar slashers. For one, I enjoyed Newton Naushaus’ portrayal of the theater owner, Mr. Johnson. A memorably campy turn is given by Douglas Gudbye as the former sword swallower, Germy. George ‘Buck’ Flower ends up having a small but interesting role toward the end of the film. The end of the film is pretty random, but kind of cool in a way. It probably worked best at actual drive-ins, but I can’t imagine much of anyone being scared by the film at all.

The film hasn’t had a legit DVD release yet, and the version I watched was released by Cheezy Flicks, a company notorious for releasing unauthorized copies of films on DVD. Now, I’m not saying Drive-In Massacre deserves the Criterion treatment, but I think this film…any film, really…deserves better than a company that can’t even spell “presentation” right. Even the film’s title in my computer’s DVD player had the film’s title misspelled, “Drive-In Massacare”. The DVD’s quality also leaves a lot to be desired. The video is much worse than a lot of VHS transfers that I’ve seen, and the audio was so low and muffled that I had to turn my computer’s speakers all the way to the maximum volume in order to hear the dialogue. Every film at least deserves a halfway decent presentation for a fair assessment of its merits or lack thereof.

Aside from a great opening double death sequence, there really isn’t enough happening in the film to recommend it. It’s an oddity, but one not worth much more than a single curious glance. In the right mood and with the right group of friends, it might prove to be a bit of fun, but in all seriousness, there are much better cheese flicks out there to give this one a whole hour and a half of your time. I went into it thinking it’d be awful, and found it to be strangely watchable, if not at all that enjoyable. If you’re a slasher aficionado and would like to see something unique and formulaic pre-Halloween, it’s worth a watch. Otherwise, this ‘drive-in’ date left me pretty limp, so I say Trash it!

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