Shitizen KaneA hundred years ago (give or take), my local video store had this great deal where you could rent ten videos (new releases not included) for, I think, eight bucks. My parents would rent two or three and I’d get the rest. Within a year I’d rented every single VHS in the horror section at least once. It was a pretty paltry selection, but there were a few ratty oddities lurking about the usual suspects with lurid artwork that had me grinding my teeth in anticipation. Some of these became favourites – most importantly Christmas classic, Silent Night, Deadly Night – but most were pushed to my brain’s back burner. Drive-In Massacre belongs with the latter. Recently, I stumbled across the video cover on the internet and it all came back to me. The gratuitous cover featured a blood-splattered body hanging out of a car – an image that piqued my interest back in the video store. I also remembered the feeling I had watching it as a teenager: complete and utter bewilderment.


USA, 1977, Stu Segall

“On August 10th in a California Drive-In it all began…” reads the opening text of Drive-In Massacre as the camera pans across a bleakly desolate drive-in cinema, howling wind in tow. Then it kicks into a montage of the drive-in filling up with patrons. The bald-headed and sleazy manager, Austin (Robert E. Pearson, credited as Newton Naushaus – cool name, bro), furiously takes money from the cinema goers and hands it to the counter girl in a confusing system, which is explained later (the girl he hired is bad at maths). Austin fucking hates the drive-in.

The film moves its focus to a single couple cooped up in their car and talking in muffled tones (everyone talks in muffled tones in this film) while the film plays. “God, it’s going to be so nice to snuggle under the covers with you,” Alan (Myron Griffith), the male part of the couple, says. (They’re about to move in together.) His girlfriend (Janus Blythe) decides she wants to “have a baby” right there at the drive-in. They prepare for some cramped motor vehicle coitus, but Alan is distracted by the opening of the movie, which he really wants to see. Against his partner’s demands to continue feeling her up, he leans over to get the speakers. In a scene that was seared into my teenaged braincells all those years ago, Alan is decapitated by an unseen sword-wielding maniac.

It’s a pretty fucking amazing way to start a film, and despite the fact that I hadn’t thought of Drive-In Massacre for a good decade, as soon as I saw Alan and his gal pal sworded to death, it all came back to me. The film then introduces us to its heroes: two shit cops. There is little to distinguish Detective Mike (John F. Goff, also co-writer of the film) and Detective John (Bruce Kimball) from each other. They’re both of a similarly round shape, they have borderline matching haircuts, they both sport a cruddy shirts and ties, and they’re both devoid of personality. They even sadly flip a coin to decide who gets to be the bad cop.

So our shit cop heroes begin their mission to uncover the drive-in killer. At the dreary drive-in, they meet Germy (Douglas Gudbye), an ex-carnival geek (you know, the ones that bite the heads of chickens) and sword swallower who now works at the cinema. He unveils to them, in order to create a silly red herring, that Austin, the irritable manager of the drive-in was also a sword swallower for the carnival. Fuck!

The detectives also meet a peeping tom pervert (Norman Sheridan) who gets caught up in the investigation just because he wanted to “beat his meat” while watching couples screw in their cars. Sheridan delivers lines in an Adam Sandler-esque drawl, as the shit cops grill him in his creepy house. Sheridan’s interrogation kind of reminded me of that scene in Psycho where Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh are surrounded by stuffed birds. Except in this case Sheridan is surrounded by pictures of naked girls. And also, Psycho is a really great movie, and this is not.

In-between investigation scenes, we see a few more sword kills and a police psychologist (Steve Vincent) delivers a bunch of useless facts about maniacs to the bored faces of the shit cops. Someone also yells something about coffee at one point. In an entertaining detour, the cops think they’ve found their man when a lunatic is reported to be holding a young girl captive in a warehouse.

In this tangent, George ‘Buck’ Flower – who genre fans will recognise from his insanely prolific filmography and many appearances in John Carpenter’s work – plays the lunatic. The great ‘Buck’ Flower is also partly responsible for the film’s script where he is credited as “Buck Flowers”. (I can’t believe three people wrote the script.) For some reason, Flower is uncredited for his performance but his bearded face is unmistakable. He injects a big dollop of fun Drive-In Massacre, even though the scene is wholly superfluous.

Other than the sprinkling of gruesome murders and the hysterically inadequate heroes, the main thing I remember about watching Drive-In Massacre as a young’un was its pathetic ending. It sets itself up as a whodunit, yet Drive-In Massacre decides to end with the ominous text: “… The senseless bloodbath that gripped a California Drive-In has spread to other theaters throughout the country. Authorities say there are no clues to the killers [sic] identity and no end to the horror in sight. The killer could strike again. Anywhere–Anytime…” Who will be next—? I’m not sure why the last question isn’t in quotations.

Drive-In Massacre is absolute rubbish and should be unwatchable (and probably is to most proper people), but it’s somehow entertaining. Incredibly entertaining. The dull and plodding journey of the two shit cops is oddly compelling, and the film’s few murder scenes are cheap but rather grim and bloody. While I found it entertaining, it must be pointed out, at no point is there a “massacre” in Drive-In Massacre.

As a teenager, my tolerance for garbage was far lower, yet I managed to make it through the film. Perhaps this was because I was completely puzzled by the whole thing. I had so many questions. Most important of which, How and why does this film exist? These days when I ask myself that question, I know I’ve just watched something truly special.

Here’s a video of someone getting really annoyed that Drive-In Massacre is not a horror film:


Drive-In Massacre is available on DVD from Cheezy Flicks.