Had your average drive-in movie theater screen been constructed with a curtain, then Stu Segall’s Drive-In Massacre would have definitely called for the pulling of such. That is not to say Drive-In Massacre is a “bad” film: truth be told, it’s actually quite awful ‒ though, in this particular instance, its sheer incompetence is actually the film’s saving grace! Rather, the jaw-droppingly unbelievable 1976 independent no-budget wonder from Southern California was made on little more than a whim and a prayer once it became all too clear the once-popular form of outdoor motion picture entertainment was coming to an unceremonious conclusion.
Keeping in line with Peter Bogdanovich’s unsettling 1968 masterpiece Targets, Drive-In Massacre centers on an unseen assailant stalking the grounds of a local theater. Since drive-ins were notoriously known in the mid ’70s as a great hangout for horny couples who were unable to afford a hotel room and the voyeuristic creeps who enjoyed watching same, a darkened parking lot where everyone is engrossed with trying to understand what’s coming out of their tinny-sounding, usually malfunctioning window-mounted speaker is the perfect place to go on a killing spree. And it doesn’t take very long at all for our unknown madman to strike.
We begin with two of the clumsiest executions ever captured on film. Thankfully, thanks to their unique form of gracelessness, they automatically escalate from being hilariously awful to utterly brilliant. This prompts a pair of doughy doppelgänger detectives ‒ both of whom look like they could be Joe Don Baker’s stand-ins from Mitchell‒ to look into the mess, only to meander about fruitlessly as they fail to catch so much as a clue. Both characters are represented by John F. Goff and Bruce Kimball, neither of whom use their real name in this cheapo exploitation flick. But then, hardly anyone does in this non-union masterpiece: in fact, nearly every name in the credits is an alias.
The aforementioned Goff does, however, use his own name in the writing department, wherein he shares credit with his close friend, character actor George “Buck” Flower. The late Mr. Flower himself ‒ a stalwart fixture in low-budget movies ranging from horror (he and Goff played a pair of doomed sailors in John Carpenter’s The Fog) to exploitation to family friendly fare (see: the Wilderness Family series), wherein he usually played a drifter ‒ also makes an (uncredited) appearance in this 74-minute messterpiece as a machete-wielding suspect in a warehouse; a lengthy, completely unrelated scene which co-stars Flower’s daughter Verkina.
Goff and the Flowers ‒ as well as many of Drive-In Massacre‘s crew ‒ also worked on another 1976 exploitation flick, Matt Cimber’s unsettling The Witch Who Came from the Sea, which recently saw a Blu-ray release as part of Arrow Video’s magnificent American Horror Project, Vol. 1. But whereas Cimber’s disturbing drama is nothing to laugh at, Stu Segall’s Drive-In Massacre is the type of flick you can genuinely kick back and enjoy hearty chuckles aplenty to after a few beers (or whatever your particular poison may be) as its intentionally listless attempt at a story pans out. (And just wait until you get to that hilarious gimmick ending!)
Following its limited engagements on outdoor screens, Drive-In Massacre became a less-than-prominently featured attraction on another circuit: the incredible world of analog videocassette rental outlets of the early ’80s. Anyone who regularly perused the dusty shelves of their local (and now, defunct) mom and pop video store probably remembers seeing its classic oversized box and artwork ‒ which was quite often a victim of another kind of massacring itself, as many stores began trimming down the big boxes in order to make more space. Yet, despite its second half-life on VHS, Stu Segall’s cult classic has been and always will be a feature made for drive-ins.
In fact, we owe the drive-in an even greater debt than you may realize, as the beautiful negative used for this must-have Blu-ray release from Severin Films was found in the sacred ruins of a former drive-in in Oxnard, California! Presented complete with reversible cover art (you VHS lovers know what to expect), Severin’s loving ode to this proto-slasher features an audio commentary with Mr. Stu Segall himself, who also pops up in an interview filmed for a Region B UK Blu-ray. New interviews with John F. Goff and actor Norm Sheridan are also included, as is an illiterate trailer and Easter Egg preview for C.B. Hustlers, another Goff/Segall collaboration featuring the busty talents of Uschi Digard.
Sporting a transfer that blows the UK release clear out of the pond, Severin Film’s beautiful presentation of this very minor B movie from the golden era of outdoor movie theater is, in my delusional opinion, a title of important significance, historically speaking. Not only is it the closest many viewers will probably ever get to an actual drive-in theater experience, but it is also a pretty darn good example of the truly bizarre lengths some people went to in order to make a buck during the drive-in craze. Everyone who walked in to work on Drive-In Massacre did so just to have a good time, and that is ‒ without a doubt ‒ the best mindset to approach this cult classick with.
Open the windows, turn down the lights, reroute your entire sound setup into the left speaker, sit back (maybe tear a hole in the bottom of your popcorn bag just for old time’s sake, I dunno), and take in this delightfully dumb work of anti-art as it was meant to be taken in: not at all in the least bit serious whatsoever.