"On August 10th in a California Drive-In it all began ..."
So begins producer-director Stu Segall's 1976 proto-slasher, DRIVE-IN MASSACRE.
Bald pimp-a-like Austin (Robert E Pearson) mumbles grumpily as he ushers in the patrons of his absent boss's drive-in theatre. Among these are bespectacled Alan (Myron Griffith) and his girlfriend (Janus Blythe), who are excited that this is their last night of making out in their car before moving into their new apartment together the following morning.
Alas, the frisky young couple's lovemaking is cut short when, as the film plays out in front of their parked-up car and Alan leans out of the window to grab something nearby, a sword comes crashing down on his neck. Discovering her lover to be decapitated, the girlfriend screams for her life - to no avail, as the sword comes into the car and is forced through her throat.
The following morning, weary detectives Leary (John Goff) and Koch (Bruce Kimball) receive instructions from their police chief, in light of the media's coverage of the double-murder: catch the killer, as soon as possible!
And so, the worn-out coppers make their way to the drive-in, where their first port of call is to interview snarly manager Austin. He explains why he's so disgruntled: his boss turned what was formerly a successful carnival into the titular theatre, allowing for degradation and promiscuity to run rife on its land throughout the last fifteen years. To add insult to injury, the boss has apparently buggered off to Hawaii and left Austin begrudgingly in charge. When asked if he'd ever seen the victims before, Austin simply shrugs and describes his teenage patrons as "all one big zit with long hair".
Austin introduces the detectives to former carnival geek Germy (Douglas Gudbye), a halfwit who's been allowed to sleep on the premises in return for performing menial maintenance tasks.
Suddenly Leary and Koch have two suspects in mind ... but no evidence with which to haul them downtown for further questioning.
Which is unfortunate for loved-up cinemagoers David (Martin Gatsby) and Lori (Sandy Carey), who attend the drive-in the following evening. He's a married man and she's his pregnant mistress. Just as they've decided to celebrate their decision to be together by having an in-car snog, the sword-wielding killer strikes again.
After taking advice from a police psychologist (Steve Vincent), Leary and Koch focus on a third suspect: peeper Orville (Norman Sheridan). When asked why he was seen outside the victims' car moments before their murder, he exclaims "I just wanted to beat my meat". Classy.
Well, the cops are baffled. The killings continue. How many more have to die before Leary and Koch find their murder? And will it be anyone off their suspects list, or someone completely different?
A low-budget schlock-fest from former pornographer Segall, DRIVE-IN MASSACRE a tautly-paced little thriller with some inventive ways of overcoming lack of resources (the late silhouetted slaying in front of the cinema screen, for example), an agreeably melodramatic score and a fine array of ugly character actors who are bizarrely interesting to watch.
A lot of the dialogue, as evidence in my review above, is risible. Entertainingly so. The performances range from the overly spirited (Sheridan) to the complacent (co-writer Goff). The best actors are arguably Pearson and Gudbye, who both rise above the hammy script and manage to be unexpectedly convincing in their respective roles.
Punctuated throughout with moments of gaudy Herschell Gordon Lewis-esque gore, DRIVE-IN MASSACRE tries hard to win the hearts of horror fans (save for a later scene where one of the cops dresses in drag in an attempt to catch the culprit, it's commendably straight-faced). It never truly did, though it stands up well as a curiosity of its era. I enjoyed revisiting it, and look forward to watching it again soon.
88 Film bring DRIVE-IN MASSACRE to blu-ray on a 50gb dual-layer disc which is encoded to region B. This release forms part of their ongoing "Slasher Classics Collection" series: the spine number is 20.
The film is presented uncut 74 minutes and 5 seconds) and in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The film looks by far the best it ever has done, with clearer, cleaner and sharper images than any previous home video releases. There is some print damage here and there, and colours do fluctuate on occasion. But this is a great presentation by-and-large, very true to the film's look, with natural grain and nice deep blacks.
English audio gets the lossless mono treatment and is overall good, despite some inherent background noise being evident in the odd scene.
The disc opens to a static main menu page which uses the still from the gory UK pre-certificate video release as its backdrop. There is no scene selection option but the film is graced with 8 remote-navigational chapters.
Extras begin with an alternate 61-minute cut of the film. This is the version that was prepared for broadcasting on American television and, while you'd imagine it would trim back on the more violent scenes, it's more storyline that's been hacked for timing issues. It looks decent here, though has a duller sheen and more print damage than the main feature.
"Making the Massacre" is a newly produced 6-minute interview with Segall. "There were no rules, we made them up as we went along" he remembers fondly, while speaking how he gravitating from distribution to filmmaking on a miniscule budget. He speaks about keeping quiet about his history of making adult films (he made the Marilyn Chambers classic INSATIABLE), when landing the job of working on television programmes such as "Hunter", and how he never looked back once he became successful toiling for the small screen.
Slasher expert Justin Kerswell turns up in the enjoyable 15-minute featurette "Murder at the Drive-In". Along with a quick appraisal of the slasher movie's history, he speaks about Segall's transition from adult filmmaking to making this low budget shocker. Kerswell is candid in speaking about what works and what doesn't so well, and places the film well historically.
"It is pure and relentless terror!" screams the original 18-second US TV spot which follows in pillar-boxed form.
We also get the usual trailer reel for other films available from the 88 Films roster. On this occasion, we get sequel-centric previews for CREEPSHOW 2, SUBSPECIES 2: BLOODSTONE, SUBSPECIES 3: BLOODLUST and TRANCERS 2.
The featurettes and trailers are all presented in HD.
Finally, there's a 4-page booklet which contains an interview with Goff (who manages to be entertaining despite not having a clear recollection about much of the film's shoot), and double-sided reversible cover art.
DRIVE-IN MASSACRE is a cheap, crude effort from the mid-1970s. It's a lot of fun and I really enjoyed revisiting it. It's great to see it make its worldwide debut in the HD arena. Kudos to 88 Films for not only making that happen, but also for furnishing the film with some very interesting bonus features too.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by 88 Films|
|see main review|