Monday, October 31, 2016

Springmill Drive-In: '70s Horror Film Festival

Cody went to a drive-in for a quadruple feature of 1970s horror movies.

This past weekend was the last in the Springmill Drive-In's three weekend horror film festival event, and having enjoyed the '60s Horror Film Festival the weekend before and the '50s Horror Film Festival two weekends earlier I was looking forward to finishing out the marathon and attending the '70s Horror Film Festival. However, I did go into this one with less enthusiasm than I did the others. Part of this was because it was going to be a lonely night - my girlfriend couldn't go and neither could my dog Zeppelin, who had accompanied me to the '50s and '60s movies. My enthusiasm was also dampened by the fact that I thought the '70s line-up was the weakest of the three.

While I drove solo over to the drive-in, listening to the oldies station on the radio, as I do, the music kept me in the Halloween spirit as the station played holiday-appropriate '80s music, including the full version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller". I arrived at the drive-in and parked in my chosen spot just in time to hear the drive-in's owner broadcast his introduction to the festival. During this intro, he reiterated that these festivals are something they would like to continue doing in future years. It would be very cool if these festivals turn out to be an annual event.

After getting a drink from the concession stand, I was ready to watch some movies.

7:20pm - DEEP RED (1975)

A lot of horror fans would probably be excited to have the chance to watch a Dario Argento giallo at a drive-in, but as I have said when covering other Argento movies here on the blog (Suspiria, Tenebrae, Opera, Phenomena), I am not a big fan of Argento's work. When I hear that one of his movies is going to be part of an event, I anticipate that sitting through it is going to be a slog. Still, as the movie began I decided to put aside my preconceived notions, forget that I have seen Deep Red before and wasn't blown away by it, and try to take this viewing as a fresh experience.

The story begins when a psychic senses during a conference that someone in the audience is a killer. When she goes home, that killer follows and hacks her up with a cleaver. The murder is witnessed by one of the psychic's neighbors, pianist Marcus Daly (David Hemmings), although he doesn't get a good look at the killer. He does, however, catch a glimpse of something he thinks might have been an important clue to the killer's identity, and as he digs into this mystery and his memories, the killer comes after him as well.

When the killer breaks into his place and threatens him from the other side of a locked door, Marcus doesn't give up, go into police custody, or leave the country (he's a Brit living in Italy), this just makes him more determined to solve the case. This guy will go anywhere, break into places, knock down walls, whatever it takes to follow the clues.

Deep Red has everything I expect to see in an Argento movie - a certain level of cheesiness, ridiculous dialogue, leaps in logic - but it does have an intriguing mystery at its core that plays out in an interesting manner. I enjoyed the movie more than I expected to, more than I had during previous viewings, although there were times when my attention would start to wander because it's too long (Argento's cut was 126 minutes, the American cut is 105 minutes and could still be shorter) and drags at times.

Another thing Deep Red has that you can usually expect in an Argento film: an awesome score, which sounded very cool coming through my car's speakers.

9:35pm - DRIVE-IN MASSACRE (1976)

Note: Mozzarella sticks may be delicious, but they are never the best value item on any menu.

Released in the heyday of drive-ins, director Stu Segall's Drive-In Massacre has a brilliant concept that is given away right in the title. This is a movie about a sword-wielding slasher stalking a drive-in and knocking off necking couples. Most of the people who would be watching this movie during its initial release would be seeing it at a drive-in, so it's smart to play directly to your audience.

Unfortunately, Drive-In Massacre isn't a very good movie. It's dirt cheap, packed with filler, and poorly written. Even repetitiously written - the first two couples to be killed are both talking about pregnancy during the build-up to their murders. In one case, the woman has chosen the drive-in as the place to reveal that she's pregnant, and in the other case the couple are intent on conceiving right there in the car.

The main problem is the fact that the time between kills is spent showing the investigation, as two detectives have endless conversations with possible suspects, their interrogations covering such topics as carnival geek shows, sword swallowing, and truck driving.

After an hour has been filled, a random character seems to present himself as being the drive-in killer before the cops have even solved the case... And that out-of-nowhere ending might have made more sense than some things about the actual ending.

In the final seconds of Drive-In Massacre, the voice of a theatre manager is heard saying that a killer is loose in the venue and the police are on their way. As soon as that ended (and the movie with it), the voice of the drive-in's owner came over the radio, promising that the movies to follow would be better than Drive-In Massacre. I went to the '70s festival on its second night, Saturday, and apparently the next two movies had been the highest rated by people who had gone to the show on Friday night.

10:55pm - THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)

For the most part, the '50s and '60s festivals had been rather family friendly. The only possibly objectionable thing on display in any of those eight films would have been the zombie feast sequence in Night of the Living Dead. The family friend aspect went away in the '70s fest, as things got bloodier and sleazier for this night. I had seen plenty of kids around during the previous weekends, but hoped there wouldn't be any parents bringing their kids back for more of the same this weekend. If any kids were brought, I hoped they would be out of there by the time The Last House on the Left was shown. Monsters and slashers are one thing, but the realistic sexual violence in this film is another. It's not a movie for kids. I should know, I watched it for the first time when I was 11 years old, and I found it very troubling. And I think I could handle things in movies better than the average kid.

There was at least one kid there for the '70s festival, a kid probably around the age I was when I first saw Last House. I hoped the vehicle containing that kid would be gone by the time Last House started. It wasn't. That kid saw Last House. I hope it didn't mess with him too much. At the same time, I hope he's not too jaded to be affected.

Troubling though it is, The Last House on the Left is a movie I have a lot of appreciation for (in fact, I wrote a Film Appreciation article about it years ago), so I was excited to see it on a theatre screen for the first time ever. I could take or leave every other movie in the '70s line-up. The Last House on the Left alone was worth the price of admission (which was a very reasonable $7 anyway).

I got a basket of fries from the concession stand and basked in the glory of Wes Craven's classic feature debut. The effective horror. The goofball comedy. That soundtrack. I loved getting to watch this movie at the drive-in.


One thing horror fans have to deal with, seemingly to an increasing degree every year, is Christmas intruding on Halloween in stores. Christmas is fun, but it's a real bummer to see Christmas decorations in places before October has even ended. With Halloween and Christmas competing for attention, it seems quite fitting that this horror film festival held two nights before Halloween ended with a Christmas horror movie.

I like Silent Night, Deadly Night, but Silent Night, Bloody Night is a movie I have never really been able to get into. And I have given it several chances; it's public domain, so a horror fan is likely to cross paths with this movie with some frequency. The prints also tend to be beat to hell, which is part of what has turned me away from it when I've tried to watch it. It looks terrible... and yet, on a drive-in screen that damage did enhance its charms. Another issue is that it moves at a glacial pace. Maybe it'd be more tolerable at 2x speed, but just sitting down and trying to watch it as it is can be an endurance challenge.

Starring B-movie royalty Mary Woronov and John Carradine, this film revolves around a mansion and former mental institution in East Willard, Massachusetts. When the owner sends his lawyer to the town to sell the house for much less than it's worth, someone breaks out of a different mental institution and heads to East Willard to knock off everyone involved with the sale.

There is an interesting story buried somewhere within Silent Night, Bloody Night, if you can look past its slow pace. The killer has some good moments and makes sinister phone calls that had me thinking of another Christmas horror movie, Black Christmas. But that pace... For example, the first kills are the middle-aged lawyer and his young German assistant, with whom he's having an affair. We spend more than 20 minutes with these two before they're killed, 20 minutes where we have to watch them talk and awkwardly flirt and have dinner that she gets for him. It goes on and on.

I enjoyed Silent Night, Bloody Night more this time than I ever have before, but I was still wishing I was watching it at a quicker speed.

With the end of Silent Night, Bloody Night came also the end of the festival and the end of the season for the drive-in. Those of us who left at the close of that film were the last audience members to leave the drive-in this year. It will be opening again next year, sometime in the spring, and here's hoping that there will be another horror festival there next October.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Deep Red is amazing but I have to agree with it's length and pacing. As for the Drive-In Massacre...I will hand you a loaded handgun and ask that you shoot it at my foot. Why? Coz that shot has more thrilling experience than sitting through this movie.

    The Last House on The Left was, unfortunately, a big let down for me probably because I saw the remake version first before the original. As you can tell from this statement, I am a big fan of the remake and I saw the cheesiness of Craven's classic as more of a hindrance for me to be fully scared or tensed up by this flick.

    Silent Night, Bloody Night is also an okay film. It was certainly better than what I imagined though I couldn't consider myself a fan of it either.

    Overall, I do wish I get to experience a drive-in during my childhood in my country. The closest thing we have are cheap cinema houses that costs a buck per movie...

    1. Drive-ins are great. We used to have a dollar theatre around here as well, but unfortunately it closed a few years ago because those one dollar tickets didn't add up to enough at the time when the switch to digital projectors became necessary.

      - Cody