Today, a little over three hundred drive-in movie theaters remain sprinkled throughout the United States. This means that many Americans are not lucky enough to have a drive-in movie theater close by their home. In the drive-in’s heyday, small production companies would release B-movies tailor-made for the drive-in audience. There was everything from angry extraterrestrials to hip-shaking teenage beach parties, all of which are now enjoyed for their campy special effects and corny performances. Today, many of these films are available on DVD, Blu-ray, or Netflix, and can be enjoyed from the comfort of your couch. If you’re someone without the luxury of a drive-in theater nearby, you can create your own drive-in movie night right at home. Just grab any one of these out-of-this-world flicks, pop some pop corn, cook up a few hot dogs on the grill, grab a date or the kids, throw open the living room windows, and enjoy some light-hearted entertainment from yesteryear. For those looking for some more adult-oriented entertainment, there are also a few horror flicks that made the drive-in rounds. Just make sure to put little Johnny or Susie to bed before showtime.
- The Blob (1958)
Director Irvin Yeaworth’s The Blob was released late in the summer of 1958, but this cosmic freak-out still thrilled fresh-faced moviegoers with its
shapeless monster that consumed everything in its path. Starring a young Steve McQueen, this teenage monster movie will delight adults and children alike with its catchy theme song, playful action, and exciting climax that finds the alien menace oozing out of an indoor movie theater. Maybe Yeaworth was letting audiences know that the blob wasn’t meant for indoor viewing?
- Jaws (1975)
Released in the summer of 1975, when drive-ins were embracing harder-edged entertainment, director Steven Spielberg petrified audiences with Jaws, the ultimate summer movie. (Sorry Star Wars) Ripe with quotable one-liners and perfect viewing while peepers belt out their summer songs into the night air, Jaws is an essential experience for the young and the old. This movie just screams drive-in! You can just picture a young couple gripping onto each other as Brody tells Quint, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat…”
- Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957)
Originally intended as a serious slice of sci-fi entertainment, director Edward Cahn’s cosmic comedy boasts some of the cutest extraterrestrials to ever scamper across the big screen. Released by American International Pictures (AIP) in a double bill with I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Invasion of the Saucer Men runs just over an hour, making it a light and brief ride for younger viewers with short attention spans. Don’t worry about things getting too spooky, as kids are sure to adore the pint-sized aliens with their oversized heads. It also features a beer-drinking bull intruding on a make-out session. You just have to love ‘50s science fiction!
- The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965)
Beach party movies quickly became a favorite among drive-in audiences, as they blared hip surf rock from tiny transistor speakers and featured beautiful bods doing the twist in the California sun. While many of these films focused on young lovers dashing around on sandy beaches, a few dared to venture into spookier territory. Directed by Jon Hall, The Beach Girls and the Monster tries its darndest to pass itself off as a legitimate monster movie, but it delivers more unintentional comedy and is a bit more concerned with partying than it is with telling a gripping story. A sure hit with older teens who are sure to get a kick out of the campy monster who preys on bikini clad babes.
- I Drink Your Blood/I Eat Your Skin (1970)
As the drive-in theater rusted away and audiences got seedier, the entertainment got harder and nastier. One of the most famous double bills from the drive-in’s darker days is I Drink Your Blood/I Eat Your Skin, which was released by drive-in kingpin Jerry Gross. Horror and exploitation fans are guaranteed to love I Drink Your Blood’s copious amounts of gore and bad taste as tainted meat pies turn satanic hippies into wild-eyed zombies, and there is plenty of hilarious charisma dripping off of I Eat Your Skin’s black-and-white jungle-voodoo mayhem. I Eat Your Skin isn’t nearly as disgusting as its title suggests, but one thing is for sure, make sure you put this double feature on after the kiddies hit the hay.
- Them! (1954)
Released in the summer of 1954, this giant bug movie was released by Warner Bros. and packs some respectable tension. Telling the tale of a group of military personnel and scientists racing to stop a colony of giant ants, Them! is a hypnotic chiller from the Atomic Age that is more suitable for teenage viewers who will be surprised to discover just how eerie giant ants can be. Made with more money than some drive-in fare, Them!’s ants hold up incredibly well and the performances—specifically from James Arness and Edmund Gwenn—are A-list quality. A masterpiece genre film that ranks as a must-see classic.
- Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)
Just hearing the title Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is enough to sell anyone on this drive-in romp. Barely clocking in at an hour and designed for those more interested in making out, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is a Frankenstein monster of a film. It’s part giant monster movie and part alien B-movie. It’s also brimming with hilarious special effects, massive papier mache hands, and some of wildest performances you might ever see in a B-movie. View it as a comedy, pair it up with The Beach Girls and the Monster, and you are sure to have a great time with it.
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956)
In 1954, Japan’s Toho Films released the pitch-black Gojira, a bleak reflection on the horrors of the atomic bombs that ended WWII. Gojira was a massive hit, and America took notice of the enthusiasm this monster movie received. Picked up by an American distributor who added actor Raymond Burr to the chaos, Godzilla was projected under the stars for American teens more interested in city smashing than underlying meaning. While Gojira may be too dark for children, Godzilla: King of the Monsters will have younger viewers glued to the screen with its non-stop action.
- Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)
Absolutely nothing says “drive-in” like American International Pictures and Beach Blanket Bingo. One that is sure to please your mother, director William Asher’s toe-tapping Technicolor musical is brimming with surfing, skydiving, and summer romance. Colorful and accessible, Beach Blanket Bingo is a sunny little number that will offer a welcome escape from the long list of monster movies that dominated drive-in double bills. As if it needs any more drive-in credibility, the film can be glimpsed showing during the drive-in scene in 1981’s The Outsiders.
- Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Film fans may remember Roger Corman as the king of the B-movie, but nobody did schlock better than Edward D. Wood, Jr. Remembered more by cult movie fans than by mainstream filmgoers, Ed Wood is celebrated for making what many consider to be the worst film ever made—Plan 9 from Outer Space. Part gothic horror movie, part alien invasion thriller, Plan 9 from Outer Space is so bad, it’s hilariously awesome for those who love camp. Made on the cheap and chock full of goofs, Wood’s enthusiasm is contagious and his mistake are easily forgiven, even while one actor reads from a script hidden in his lap! Featuring a final performance from Bela Lugosi, who died shortly before production officially began, Plan 9 from Outer Space is one the whole family can laugh at.
What are some of your favorite drive-in movies? Sound off in the comments section!
by Steve Habrat
In 1963, American International Pictures ignited the beach party movie craze with the release of Beach Party, a surprise hit that inspired countless knockoffs from other studios. The beach party genre hit its peak in 1965 and found the genre daring to depart from the typical teenage fun in the sun. Filmmakers started blending the surf and sun with the musical genre, science fiction, and yes, even the horror genre. One of the most well-known beach party horror movies is director Jon Hall’s corny B-movie The Beach Girls and the Monster. Heavy with soap opera melodrama and light on legitimate scares, The Beach Girls and the Monster is basically The Creature from the Black Lagoon in Santa Monica with only a forth of the budget. More of a whodunit than a straight up monster movie, The Beach Girls and the Monster runs only about an hour long, but that is an hour too long. The film features one of the most glaringly fake monsters to ever terrorize the silver screen and it fills itself out with long stretches of surf stock footage, kids laughing, joking, and singing around a campfire, and plenty of hip shaking from bikini-clad babes from a local Hollywood night club. It is perhaps the weirdest summer cocktail of a movie you may ever sit through. Seriously.
After almost losing his life in a car accident, Richard Lindsay (played by Arnold Lessing) has given up a promising career in favor of a life of sand and surf. He spends his days hanging out at the beach with his girlfriend, Jane (played by Elaine DuPont), and his nights sitting by a bonfire and strumming his guitar for his free spirit friends. This behavior has greatly displeased his oceanographer father, Dr. Otto Lindsay (played by the film’s director, Jon Hall), who is busy dealing with his cheating young wife Vicki (played by Sue Casey). After one of Richard’s beach bunny friends is brutally murdered on the beach by a monstrous sea creature, the local authorities begin to suspect Richard’s handicapped friend Mark (played by Walker Edmiston), a sexually frustrated artist who was with Mark during the accident. But the kids who hang out on the beach are convinced that there is a sea creature lurking on the beach and any one of them could be the beast’s next victim.
Considering that The Beach Girls and the Monster is one of the most well known beach party horror mash ups out there, you’d think that there may be a bit of suspense lurking down around the beach. Sadly, the film lacks any sort of tension or spine-tingling moment that will have you yelling at the characters on your screen to turn around and behold the terror creeping up behind them. Nope, instead the monster, which is CLEARLY a person wearing a cheap rubber Halloween costume, awkwardly lumbers into the frame with its arms outstretched like a zombie and then wraps its claws around a bikini clad chick who wriggles around like a worm. These sequences are more effective at delivering laughs than they are at making you scream. The surprising aspect about these attacks is that the victim is usually left with bloody scratch marks across their face, neck, chest, etc. Besides for some blood and torn flesh, nothing else really stands out about any of the so-called scares. Plus, maybe someone should have told the director that it is pretty tough to freak the audience out when you have surf rock guitars strumming over the soundtrack. You half expect the monster to steal a surfboard and start hitting the waves before slashing someone to ribbons.
When you’re not yawning or chuckling over the monster, you’ll be astonished at the melodramatic acting that would have been more at home in a daytime soap opera than a horror movie. Lessing is all forced rebellion and cheesy sun baked cool as he dashes around the beach after babes or thrills over a film reel of surfer dudes catching waves. He shares a number of “serious” moments with Edmiston’s crippled Mark, who tries to convince Richard to restart his once promising career. The uptight and repressed Edmiston is a bit more convincing than Lessing, but you’d never guess in a million years that he is crippled. They have to continuously remind both the audience and Edmiston that he is crippled and that he should be walking with a limp. DuPont’s Jane basically blends in with the scenery, pretty eye candy for the male viewers and a sidekick when the big chase/investigation kicks in during the final ten minutes. Casey is sexy and commanding as the unfaithful Vicki, a seductive siren that makes dates right under her scowling husband’s nose. Hall is suspicious and testy as Richard’s disapproving father, Dr. Otto Lindsay, the man called in to take a look at the strange footprints found in the sand. Hall probably gives the best performance of the entire film, but you can tell he is really digging deep to keep things from totally sinking to the bottom of the ocean.
At barely over an hour, The Beach Girls and the Monster is desperate to fill itself out any way it can. There are drawn out sequences of girls doing the twist to surf rock blaring from their transistor radios. To make sure the gals put on a good show, Hall enlisted the help of “The Watusi Dancing Girls” from the local club Whiskey a Go Go on Sunset Boulevard and they certainly put in 110% for the cameras. They almost wear the viewer out with all their shimmying and shaking. About the only thing that The Beach Girls and the Monster has going for it is the toe-tapping surf rock soundtrack that will have you dashing to your computer and searching high and low for a copy of it. The opening credits claim that Frank Sinatra Jr. provided the music, but he is only responsible for the film’s theme song. Still, it is some of the most fun beach music that you may ever have the pleasure of hearing. Overall, with plenty of skin, surf, sand, sun, rock n’ roll, sleaze, sex, monsters, and tongue in cheek violence at its core, you’d think that The Beach Girls and the Monster would be the perfect drive-in movie for a slow summer night. Instead, the party is busted by stiff dramatics, cheap production values, amateur performances, and more technical flubs than an Ed Wood movie. At least the go-go dancers showed up!
The Beach Girls and the Monster is available on DVD.