Pick Up The Blu-ray Of Drive-In Massacre from Amazon UK or 88 Films
Still A Better Deal Than The Metroplex!
I say that because this review was originally planned for back in March. Maybe even February. I had even announced on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/horrorandsons) that it was “coming soon”. Then came the 1st of multiple delays to the blu-ray’s release date. Without any notice or much explanation, the street date was pushed back to May.
May came. No release. Soon after, the date was pushed again. This time we received an explanation. The release was being pushed to allow time for completion of the disc’s special features.
In late June, 88 Films unexpectedly announced on their Facebook page that the blu-ray was FINALLY available for early release (“early”, my ass!) exclusively through their website. Needless to say, I had my order placed within minutes. The wait was FINALLY over! The film was shipped and on its way to my doorstep, 4 months after I had originally announced this review.
FUN FACT: Yes, I am fully aware of how many times I’ve used the word “finally” already in this review. However, were YOU aware of how hard I had to fight the urge to make a Cece Peniston reference?
Movie Review: Drive-In Massacre is a 1977 exploitation/horror flick produced and directed by Stu Segall, director of the Marilyn Chambers humpfest, “Insatiable“, as well as the producer of multiple successful television series, such as Renegade, Hunter, and Silk Stalkings. The film was written by “jacks-of-all-trades” John Goff (The Fog, The Alpha Incident) & Buck Flower (Back to the Future, Pumpkinhead).
A sword wielding maniac has started murdering the patrons of a California drive-in. 2 police detectives (one of them played by Goff) are brought in to investigate. The detectives must interrogate the collection of freaks that not only frequent the drive-in, but the ones that work there as well. This includes the dickhead theater manager (dressed in an amazing purple paisley suit that almost glows in HD) who happens to hate his job and everyone associated with it, the slow-witted former circus geek that cleans the place up, and a pervert that hangs out on a nightly basis, hoping to “beat his meat” to couples screwing in their cars. “Beat his meat” are his words, not mine.
The production, for the most, is quite haphazardly thrown together, which I feel adds to some of its charm. However, there are a few moments when the film seems to achieve something resembling “polish”, most notably during the foot chase scene near the middle of the film. That said, the editing is something of a mess, with the film cutting away to quick non-consequential snippets while characters are still mid-conversation in the previous scene, only to return seconds later and further along in the dialog.
The film’s key players deliver respectable enough performances, but the acting from the bit players (most of whom are cast as victims) tends to be on the clumsy side. This includes a turn from Janus Blythe, who would appear in Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes the same year. There are some flubbed lines and awkward deliveries, but they are left in, serving to not only expose the restraints of the limited budget and shoot time, but also displaying something of a “fuck it!” attitude. While these miscues can not be fully excused away, the film is smartly played as a “dark” comedy for most of its run time, which helps make some of these performances a little more palatable. The scene featuring the interrogation of the drive-in’s neighborhood wanker is quite hilarious, as I do believe it was intended to be.
The film does somewhat derail during a late scene featuring Buck Flower as a madman who has taken a young girl hostage. The young actress is actually his daughter, Verkina. Verkina would have another brush with the genre years later when she served as a set dresser on Silent Night, Deadly Night, Frightmare (1983), and Summer Camp Nightmare. The scene drastically changes the tone of the film for few minutes, but ultimately comes across as nothing more than filler.
The film’s title may be misleading to unfamiliar viewers expecting a gory, proto-slasher as there are only a handful of murders and most of these are fairly tame, even by the standards of that time. The film’s most graphic scene happens early in the film, but seems subdued compared to some of the grittier, bloodier films of the era. This too is most likely a reflection of the film’s low-budget, but may serve as a disappointment to viewers expecting something along the lines of The Toolbox Murders or Driller Killer.
Simply put, Drive-In Massacre has never looked all that spectacular on home video. What was usually released, at least in the more modern DVD era, were cheap copies that were probably sourced from a low-quality VHS tape. These are the releases that you’ll find as part of one of those multi-movie sets commonly seen in department store dump bins. The print was very dirty and featured noticeable damage, while tinting issues were rampant as well.
So, does the uptick in visual quality make up for the multiple delays? Oh, yeah!
Presented on a BD-50 disc, the new transfer featured on this blu-ray is a revelation. This is a significant visual upgrade over previous releases, but expectations should still be tempered. Heavy print damage creeps in often in the first few minutes, but soon gives way to a remarkably clean image featuring a level of color and clarity that was not expected by this reviewer. Due to inherent issues with the film itself, delineation of hair and facial lines is never overly sharp, but the image is detailed enough to allow the print on newspapers to be legible, not that such things matter to the plot.
There are still tinting issues throughout, but nothing as intrusive as what was found on previous releases. The boost in picture quality serves as a double-edge sword in regards to the gore effects, making them look both more gruesome and significantly more shoddy at the same time. A few scenes do appear washed in blackness, but this is seemingly due to poor lighting and not any defect in the transfer itself.
Sound quality is also noticeably improved. On previous releases, the audio was quite muted and messy. The Blu-ray release features a Mono soundtrack that won’t rattle any sub-woofers, but the dialog is clear and still retains some of the tinny crackle of drive-in speaker boxes.The film’s soundtrack also benefits from this upgrade, with music now featuring some sort of sonic depth.
BONUS 61 MINUTE CUT OF THE FILM: This is listed as a television cut of the film, but most of the more adult content, such as the centerfolds on the wall, is still intact. I guess this is the version of the film that you’d watch if you were in a rush as I’m not sure why you’d choose to watch the abbreviated version if you didn’t have to. I don’t know. Maybe your house is on fire, but you really want to watch it one last time before you lose everything.
MAKING THE MASSACRE: 6mins 32 secs : Interview with Stu Segall. Segall comes off as appreciative and eager to talk about Drive-In Massacre, as well as the rest of his career. Segall started off as a private investigator, but got into showbiz when a friend that was a make-up effects artist asked him for help on a shoot.
The film was made more as a tribute to the drive-in, a tradition that was beginning its unfortunate demise around the time production began. As Segall himself was not much of a horror film fan, the “horror” elements were simply a “cash-in”. Horror films were generally cheaper to make, but pulled in profitable returns. This is still fairly true today.
MURDER AT THE DRIVE-IN:AN INTERVIEW WITH JUSTIN KERWELL – 15min 20 sec: “Slasher Expert” talks about the film, its history, the beginnings of the slasher genre, and the drive-in scene of the 1970’s. Interesting & informative piece, but essentially fluff.
Also included are an insert featuring an interview with John Goff, as well as reversible cover art.
FINAL OPINION: Drive-In Massacre (finally) arrives on Blu-ray with an impressive transfer and a couple moderately interesting interviews as its Special Features. Highly recommended for fans of the film, but how many of those are there? If you want an enjoyable piece of 1970’s exploitation fluff that also serves as a precursor to the 1980’s slasher boom, Drive-In Massacre should fit the double-bill.
I often hear fans of low-budget and exploitation films lament when these films are mocked for their perceived “inferior” quality or lower budgets. A lot of the complaints stem from the notion that MST3K and the infinite spin-offs and copycats that followed in its wake changed the way that casual viewers looked at these films, with general audiences now seeing them as nothing more than shining examples of ineptitude, ripe for attempted comedic dissection. There’s a solid case to be made that this is what I do here on a somewhat weekly basis.
While I sympathize with the sentiment behind these arguments, I also don’t really give a shit either way. I feel that it is perfectly acceptable to laugh at the many failings of Drive-In Massacre, if only because that was occasionally the reaction from the crew themselves. This was not an attempt at “art”, a term with no consensual meaning. Drive-In Massacre is nothing more than an attempt to turn out a quick and inexpensive product, hopefully make some money back, have a little fun, and move on to the next project. This is attested to by Segall in the disc’s special features.
Few diamonds are flawless. Flaws are what make Drive-In Massacre the gem that it is. Enjoy those imperfections. Whether they make us laugh, cry, or scream, movies are made for entertainment. I think we tend to forget that.