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At the drive-in
By Bert Ehrmann
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Fort Wayne Reader
I was watching the film Grindhouse the other week, which is a celebration of low-rent movies that used to play in low-rent theaters. That movie is made up of two films; Planet Terror and Death Proof, shown back-to-back with faux trailers before and in-between. Since I’m of a generation who came of age after grindhouse cinema had already started to disappear I thought to myself that I’d never actually seen a true double feature at the movies like Grindhouse is a love letter to. Then I caught myself — actually I have seen a double feature, two in fact.
When I was a teen there was a drive-in movie theater near the town I lived in. Before I had my driver’s license I’d hang around with some neighbor friends and would end up doing whatever it was they were doing. And a few times they’d be going to the drive-in to catch a feature so I’d end up tagging along.
That drive-in was located just east of town, off a highway in an open stretch of country. You could see the movie screen from the road and would pull off and onto a short gravel track where you’d drive up to the ticket booth. I’m not sure but I think tickets were for the carload, but I could be wrong. Regardless, after you paid you’d drive out into a field with all these posts sticking out of the ground situated in front of a large white metal movie screen. At the center of the field was a building that housed the concession stand as well as the projection booth.
We’d find a nice spot, park, get out and setup lawn chairs — I only ever remember watching from inside the car once when it rained. You could hear what was playing by a speaker attached to the pole with a long wire or via an FM station on you car’s radio. Since there were literally hundreds of posts and speakers planeted throughout the field it was a weird sort of stereo sound since the movie was playing all around you at once.
The drive-in was a social event more than anything and most teens would roam around car to car meeting up with friends. My guess is that if kids in my town weren’t out “cruising” city streets summer evenings they were at the drive-in back then.
The movies I remember seeing there were the spider-horror Arachnophobia, the druid-horror The Guardian, the thriller The Hunt for Red October and horror-anthology Tales from the Darkside the Movie all from 1990. Now I’m not sure as to what movies played when, but they played as double bills.
Why did we chose to go see those movies? Easy answer — we didn’t. We saw them ‘cause that’s what was playing!
I remember sitting out in that field as the night would come on and everything would start becoming damp because of the humidity and dew. The time it rained meant that we’d scattered from our seats to the dryness of inside the car for a while until the shower passed and we went back out to finish the movie. I remember families sitting in the backs of station wagons watching the first film and leaving before the second, and that I fell asleep sometime during The Hunt for Red October and woke up just as the Soviets were attacking their own sub.
And I remember heading home in the wee hours of the morning after we’d stay until the closing credits of the last movie started.
That drive-in had been open for decades before I ever went to it, but the year after I first went it closed not because of lack of business, but because a bypass was set to change the landscape around it.
Nowadays, the place that used to be the drive-in is owned by a church, and a screen that once showed all the terrors b-grade movies could muster for decades now, on occasion, plays religious themed movies a few times each summer.
I only ever went to the drive-in twice but every time I cruise past it on the bypass and see the movie screen still sitting out in the field all alone I think of that summer and those movies I saw at there.