Saturday, October 31, 2015

Rules of the Road

A Brief History and the Rules of the Road

I thought at this point it might be a good idea to establish the rules of my movie blog, if nothing else to keep me honest.  But before that I'd like to establish a brief history of the drive-in movie theater.

The first drive-in theater appeared in New Jersey in 1933, the inspiration of a guy named Richard Hollingshead.  He worked out the details in his front yard, then used the information to open the first one.  More opened over the next few years, but it really didn't take off as a phenomenon, until after the development of car speakers in 1941.  (Imagine the noise regulations broken by having to broadcast the sound from one central point before that!!!)

The 1950's saw the drive-in movie taking off like gangbusters.  According to wikipedia there were around 4000 of them across the US by the early 60's.  It was a family friendly type place.  As I said in an earlier post, my parents could take my sister and I to one without a worry about crying babies or noisy kids.

Several factors led to the decline of the drive-in.  The oil crises of the 70's led to more people just staying home.  The advent of VCRs and Betamaxes made watching movies in your home a more viable option than gassing up to go sit outside to watch one.  But the real culprit, in the end, I believe, was the value of the land  being used for the theaters.  As with the two in my home area, most of the ones closed down to be bulldozed and used as other higher-profit ventures.

By the 1990's, there were very few drive-ins left.  They had "gone the way of the dodo" so to speak.  But I have seen a revived interest and some new ones being opened in recent years.  It may just be a fad for the nostalgia driven and older retirees wanting to relive the bygone days.  But at least there is hope.

Rules of the Road

To establish this blog I need to set some rules.

1.  With the only exception of entering a blog-a-thon that requires it, I will refrain from reviewing silent movies.  In the early days there may have been drive-ins that ran silents on occasion, but those are better seen in indoor theaters in my opinion and thus not fodder for the drive-in.

2.  Movies I review will almost always be in double feature format, because that is my experience.  When I grew up and into my twenties and thirties, going to the drive-in ALWAYS meant two movies.  If I review and extremely long movie, however, (over 3 hours) I will only review one movie.  Sticking to the true essence of the drive-ins, none of them would still be running movies into the wee hours of the morning.

3.  I will TRY to set the upper limit of the date of the movies to 1990, thus keeping it real.  I only want to review movies I could have conceivably been able to see in drive-ins at the time they came out.

4.  It's a family friendly site.  There were theaters with a screen that showed adult movies, but I will not review those.  Sorry about that...:-D


Friday, October 30, 2015

Children of the Night

This is my entry in the Universal Pictures Blogathon, hosted by Silver Scenes.


It is probably not hyperbole that more movies have been made with Dracula or his progeny as the subject than any other monster.  What with the original Universal flick of 1931 (which wasn't technically the first, since Nosferatu predated it by some 9 years), the sequels put out by Universal over the years, the Hammer films from England, and numerous remakes of the Dracula original, the vampire theme has permeated the cinema for decades.  This doesn't even include those non-Dracula vampire films that have popped up over the years, including the recent romantically  themed Twilight.

Universal was the first to really make Dracula a franchise, though.  And did it ever.

Dracula's Daughter (1936)

The fact that the Universal moguls waited 5 years before putting out a sequel to it's original is a mystery to me.  In these days, a sequel is already in pre-production before the newest one is even in the theaters is the norm, but it is a different era.

Dracula's Daughter begins, more or less, at the end of Dracula.  Two policeman (E.E. Clive and Billy Bevan), investigating the area come across a dead body, which they determine has been murdered.  Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) tells them the body was murdered by the person in the other room whom he, Van Helsing, had just driven a stake though the heart.  Van Helsing is arrested for murder.

The policemen, who are essentially the comedy relief of the picture (think Laurel and Hardy) are guarding the bodies waiting for the authorities from Scotland Yard.  The sergeant goes to meet the authorities on the train, leaving his subordinate to guard the bodies.  A mysterious woman (Gloria Holden) shows up, hypnotizes the poor souls and spirits away Dracula's body.

The mysterious woman, it turns out, is the daughter of Dracula, posing as Contessa Marya Zeleska.  She wanted the body to perform a ritual sacrifice which, she hopes, will rid her of the curse of Dracula.  Of course, it doesn't, or we would have an awfully short movie.  The rest of the movie deals with the daughter trying to find another way to cure herself.  Why not psychiatry?  Don't bother with the fact that most psychiatrists would have the girl committed for thinking she was a vampire...  The psychiatrist (Otto Kruger) tries to help her, but she is very cryptic about what she really wants.

There is an interesting scene in the middle of this movie where the Contessa wants to see if the bloodlust has been removed.  She has her faithful manservant Sandor (Irving Pichel) find a woman to bring her in, ostensibly for a painting session.  There is some erotic tension there, which was obviously subdued by the censors of the time, but it seems to me that the daughter liked women, if you get my drift.

In the end, the Contessa accepts her fate, but decides she wants the psychiatrist to join her in eternity, and contrives a way to get him to join her.  But fate intervenes in the person of her jealous manservant who apparently wanted to be the beau in her life.  What a shame!  We always seem to miss the real love right next to us, while out seeking perfection in the world.

Son of Dracula (1943)

Once again, another 7 years went by before the second sequel was released.  Universal had its money maker, but apparently didn't realize it.  This time they got Lon Chaney, Jr to assume the role of Dracula.  (Despite the title, there are ample indications throughout the movie that this is the real thing, not the "son")

Chaney was on his way to becoming a fixture in the Universal horror oeuvre.    He had recently portrayed the Wolf Man, the role for which he would be forever associated.  He also later played the Mummy and on one occasion the Frankenstein monster, making him the versatile horror icon he was and the only one to play four different Universal monsters.

The movie begins with the imminent arrival of a train bringing Count Alucard (Chaney) to a New Orleans plantation.  The Count, of course, does not get off the train, it still being daylight.  But his baggage is on the train, imprinted with his crest.  It is here that the first indication comes that ALUCARD  is DRACULA spelled backwards.  (Good, that saves the suspense of wondering who he really is...)

The movie then transitions to the plantation where there is a gala event awaiting the arrival of the Count.  But he is delayed still.  Meanwhile, Katherine (Louise Allbritton) has gone to visit an old Hungarian gypsy living on the plantation who warns her of imminent danger, but is killed prematurely by a bat.  (any guesses?)

The Count arrives secretly and kills the old colonel who owns the plantation, which was needed to initiate the reading of his will.

You will notice from the picture that the count become mist.  Which brings up a question...When he enters the old colonel's bedroom, why does he need to open the door?  Just wondering...

Anyway, Katherine("Kay") and her sister Claire (Evelyn Ankers) find out from the will that Claire gets all the cash and goodies while Kay gets the plantation.  Soon the reason for this is discovered as Kay secretly weds the Count.  He makes her a vampire just as he is.

Kay's former beau Frank (Robert Paige) confronts the count, and tries to shoot him, but the bullets pass through him and apparently kills Kay.  Thinking he has committed murder, he ends up going to jail where the now undead Kay reveals her true plan.  She married the Count in order to become undead, and now she wants Frank to kill the Count and then become her undead husband in his place.

Son of Dracula is a treat, if nothing else, for the appearance of Lon Chaney Jr.  The rest of the cast, as was usual in the Universal horror movies, were secondary to the villain.  Anybody could have filled the role, and most of them you couldn't pick out of a lineup.  But in this case, I really liked Allbritton in the primary female role.

Well that's it from the backseat of the old Plymouth Fury, kiddies.  Be sure to buckle up and drive safe on your way home.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Age of Innocence (and the End of It)

When I was a kid, back in the 70's, my father would occasionally take my mother, my sister and me to the drive-in.  We would load up the old Dodge Rambler station wagon with some snacks (my father was very frugal, there was NO WAY he was paying concession stand prices for stuff), some blankets and a couple of pillows for us kids in case we dozed off (which we usually did).

I can only remember a few of those movies.  One was a Sinbad movie (one of the old Ray Harryhausen special effects laden ones).  I can vividly remember a giant statue of a six-armed god coming to life with a sword in each hand, fighting Sinbad and his mates.  I have since watched it as an adult.  (It was The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, BTW).  I found that I remembered a few more things from that movie that I had forgotten.

One that I have absolutely no recollection of seeing in the drive-in was "Patton".  It was rated PG, and the PG was as much for the language as the violence.  My father was very straight-laced and did not cotton to having his young children hear such language.  I guess he never thought we might hear it as easily among our friends as on the big screen....

Anyway, flash forward a few years.  We, my sister and I, are still under the age of accountability when Star Wars came out.  I desperately wanted to see this movie, but it was PG, and my father was adamant that we were not going to be exposed to the language a PG movie might have.  But, yet, they had allowed me to obtain the movie  tie-in book.  I pointed out that I was reading the book and there wasn't a bad word in it.  It took some begging, but I finally got my folks to relent and let us see it.  Not at the drive-in, unfortunately, but a few years later, after I turned 18, the sequel came out, and they paired it with Star Wars, so I got to see both in a drive-in after all.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ed Wood Haunts My Dreams

What better way to inaugurate the new Midnite Drive-In with a dedication to one of the quirkiest film directors of all time?  Ed Wood may have not had the talent to step into the shoes of John Ford, or Billy Wilder, or Otto Preminger, or even Roger Corman for that matter, all of whom released memorably classic movies in 1959 (Rio Bravo, Some Like It Hot, Anatomy of a Murder and A Bucket of Blood, respectively.). But  that same year also saw the release of not one, but two Ed Wood gems;  Plan 9 from Outer Space  and Night of the Ghouls.  Wood may not have had talent but, God bless him, he had heart.  And that's what endears him to me.

Night of the Ghouls (1958)

Night of the Ghouls is, like most of Ed Wood's movies, unintentionally hilarious.  The premise is that an old abandoned house, the site of some previous nefarious deeds (more or less, this was supposed to be a sequel to Bride of the Monster, an early Wood flick), is now the site of more strange events.  The movie begins with a coffin in which Criswell, a somewhat famous magician of the time, is apparently dead.  He rises from the coffin and delivers a a speech in his inimitable stentorian voice, warning the people in the audience of "Monsters to be pitied! Monsters to be despised!"

The movie really gets going with a few sequences of the mysterious; a young couple encounter a weird woman/ghost on the road, and an elderly couple encounter another while taking a short cut.   The police call in a lieutenant to investigate and send a uniformed officer to help.  The bumbling police officer is a familiar one to Wood aficionados, having played the same in several Wood's flicks.

During the investigation, the lieutenant finds that a fake psychic, Dr. Acula (Dracula, get it?) has set up shop in the old abandoned house on Willows Lake.  He has Lobo, a former inhabitant of the house for muscle and a very attractive blonde girlfriend to act as a "ghost" to scare away snoopers (this being the apparition the old couple saw earlier).  But there is also another woman/ghost who appears and is really scaring people, including the bumbling police officer.

The fake psychic meanwhile is trying to bilk an old woman out of her money through a "seance" with her dead husband.  This combined with the investigations by the lieutenant, and attempts to keep the whole thing under wraps makes for the rest of the story.  Confused?  Watching the movie won't alleviate that very much.  It is a story apparently written on some pretty decent drugs.  But it is funny in it's own way.  There's a ghost in a sheet which dances across the screen (with the pants legs of the person barely concealed at the bottom of the screen), and a gabbling head which appear during the seance which will have you rolling on the floor laughing.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

This is it.  The one that nearly everyone agrees is the WORST MOVIE OF ALL TIME!

It's definitely not Academy award material.  But it is amazing that some of these people went on to have careers after this.  What makes this movie fun is the way everyone in the movie is so serious about their parts.  The script itself was ludicrous.  The actors barely able to hold their own.  And some special effects errors that are legendary.

The movie begins with the death of a poor old man who, after the death of his wife, cannot go on living.  (Ed Wood used some footage of Bela Lugosi he had shot just before Lugosi died, but for the majority of the movie it's not Lugosi in the cape but a guy who Ed conned into being him, with a cape across his face to help convince people it was Lugosi...but even that doesn't help.)

The police are called to the cemetery to investigate a mysterious flying saucer that supposedly landed there.  Inspector Clay, played by another Wood regular Tor Johnson, is killed by a zombie woman, played by Vampira (Maila Nouri).  He too becomes a zombie.

We are then taken aboard the flying saucer where two aliens have been working to animate corpses.  This is the "Plan 9" of the movie.  To animate the dead and have them help take over the Earth.  Why?  Because all people of the earth are idiots, ya see?  Especially the ones who invested money in Ed Wood's' harebrained ideas for movies.  All $2 worth of it.

Bu as I said before, the really fun part of Plan 9 is catching all of the unintentional flubs and special effects disasters:  From the cardboard gravestones that shimmy and shake and tip over as you walk by them, to the shadow of the boom mike on the wall of the cockpit behind the airline pilots (and the shower curtain that is a door to said cockpit), to the infamous strings you can see suspending the flying hubcaps ( I mean saucers...).  Plan 9 from Outer Space ranks as the worst movie of all time, but to me it is the absolute greatest "worst", meaning it is one I enjoy reveling in it's exquisite badness.

That's it from the backseat of the Plymouth Fury this time.  Have a safe trip home, kiddies.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Return of The Midnite Drive-In

Remember the days when you could pile the wife and 2.3 kids into the station wagon, with the back end stuffed with blankets and pillows and head off to the drive-in for a double feature movie night?  Or maybe just you and the girlfriend (with the same blankets and pillows in the car, albeit not for the same reasons)?  Or just you and a bunch of the guys (with a couple of cases of beer in lieu of the blankets and pillows...)?

Maybe not if you are under the age of 30.  But when I was growing up and even into my late 20's, there were drive-ins all over the place.  Nowadays most of them have been torn down and replaced with convenience stores, shopping malls, or in the case of one back home where I grew up, God help us, condominiums.

I have decided to resurrect this blog, and, in the interest of being a more family friendly site, have deleted the old entries and am starting anew.  The goal will still be the same, reviewing movies on a related theme, two at a time, as if we were really going to one of those old double feature drive ins.  Occasionally I will interject some reminiscences of my own, and on occasion I will be playing along with certain "blogathons" that catch my eye on one of my favorite Movie websites.  Enjoy.