Severin Films: Drive-In Massacre (1976) - Reviewed

The drive-in movie theater scene was well established in the American filmgoer’s landscape long before finding a new home within the horror genre.  Often playing lower budgeted, trashier exploitation fare rather than the typical big expensive movie houses would, they carried with them a flavor including but not limited to the audiences they attracted throughout the ‘50s and eventual ‘70s.  The term ‘grindhouse’ more or less is synonymous with the drive-in circuit and the whole arena produced many films that couldn’t have existed without it, bringing us to the 1976 exploitation trash/paean to the drive-in theater Drive-In Massacre. 

An early entry in the annals of then-budding slasher movies, Drive-In Massacre served as a progenitor to the likes of more mainstream slasher fare ala Friday the 13th or Halloween.  As a slasher it isn’t the most interesting storyline consisting of two cops trying to catch a killer preying on horny teenagers at a local California drive-in movie theater which used to be the site of a carnival.  No, rather the film functions as a time capsule bringing modern moviegoers closer to the idea of a dingy dirty seedy drive-in theater in a physical sense than ever.  

Simple and direct in aim and approach, Drive-In Massacre makes no bones about itself being an out and out piece of exploitation trash which only adds to the nostalgic charm of the thing.  Loaded with sleazy characters including a peeping-tom, a boorish theater manager and two dumb cops who can’t smell the killer right under their noses, this is the kind of film you’re inclined to take a long hot shower in after it wraps up.  With drive-in theaters on the rise again due to theater closures amid an ongoing pandemic, Drive-In Massacre enters a weird headspace for modern viewers displaying a side of the movie business at once bygone and suddenly alive again. 

Visually and from an editing standpoint, Drive-In Massacre is meat and potatoes filmmaking and not just because of the use of vegetables during some of the relatively gory for-their-time onscreen sword slayings.  Heads get lopped off frequently with some gruesome neck shots and to the film’s benefit you’re never really sure who the killer is despite some lurid suspects appearing along the way.  In the nighttime drive-in theater scene, it could be anybody.  The cheap synth soundtrack by Lon John Productions isn’t particularly good but oddly fits perfectly with this disheveled looking and sounding production.

No Drive-In Massacre isn’t a particularly good proto-slasher drive-in trash flick, but it does take you back to a time and place you’ve only heard or read about but never thought you’d actually see.  A far better use of the drive-in arena for my money is the Ozploitation flick Dead End Drive-In though that more or less fused The Road Warrior with the drive-in scene.  The Severin blu-ray transfers the rough and ragged material to disc with plenty of scratches and blemishes but again that only cements the film’s status as a filthy slice of exploitation made at the height of the subgenre’s most prolific period.  Not recommended but definitely a curiosity and snapshot of the seedy ‘70s drive-in experience and for some help separate the myth and reality of what it was really like to be in.

--Andrew Kotwicki