Drive-In Massacre (1976)
WRITERS: Screenplay by John Goff and Buck Flowers
from an original story by Godfrey Daniels
DIRECTOR: Stu Segall
STARRING: Jake Barnes as Police Detective Mike Leary
Douglas Gudbye as Germy
Newton Naushaus as Austin Johnson
Norman Sherlock as Orville Ingleson
Michael Alden as Police Detective John Koch
QUICK CUT: Man, getting to a local drive-in can be murder...
Detectives Leary and Kock - Possibly two of the best detectives in horror movies. They know their shit, they do their jobs, and they're on the case. No bumbling buffoons here...save for the occasional dressing up.
Austin Johnson - The manager of the drive-in where the nightly murders begin happening. He's a massive jerk, and the worst boss to have. He berates his employees, he goes on about how his job is horrible, and he mocks and harasses people who are going out of their way to drive to his business and pay him money to watch a movie. Nice. Classy.
Germy - One of Austin's employees, a former sword handler at a carnival that used to be at the same location as the drive-in. He's not very bright, and just the nicest soul who only wants to help; be that helping people coming for the show, his horrible boss, or the cops.
Orville - The cops' chief suspect, a perv with a long history and rap sheet of being a low level sex offender. You could see his peeping coming a mile away.
THE GUTS: Welcome back, Triskelions! Summer is slowly starting to limp towards its ending, and what better way to celebrate the impending end of summer than with a trip to the drive-in? And what better way to go to the drive-in than in true Trisk style, with a little Drive-In Massacre?
The movie opens up with, quite naturally, people pulling up to the drive-in, and being harassed by the manager. Yeah, that's a way to ensure repeat customers. And let me tell you, the nostalgia factor here is strong, because I grew up in the waning days of the drive-in era, and have such fond memories of going as a kid. They had faded almost completely by the time I was a teen, and I would have loved to go there with dates and friends. I still would, to be honest.
But enough of my past, let's get back to the actual movie. We watch as a couple chats and makes out in their car, as couples were wont to do back in the day. They're really not terribly notable, nor is their lives, because trust me, they don't last long enough.
The guy is as interested in the movie as he is in his girl, and he wants to grab the speaker, so he can actually hear the movie. So he struggles to grab it off the holder, leaning way out of the car, and dude? Next time park closer, because it would have saved you a world of hurt. Because that's when our killer makes his first strike and slices the guy's head off.
Alan's girlfriend finally notices he lost his head, and starts screaming. The killer shuts her up by stabbing her right in the neck, and disappearing into the night. The most notable thing for me here is, this may well be the first time a katana was used in a Western movie.
But once we've got some murders, we jump to a pair of detectives looking into the case. And it is so refreshing to see this sort of movie focusing on genuine police work. If this movie was made or remade today, it would be all about the kids at the drive in, focusing on them, and cops would be just a nuisance/distraction.
Naturally, their first stop is the drive-in itself to interview the manager, Austin Johnson. And the movie does the work for me by already describing him as a perfect asshole. He goes into the backstory of the location, that it used to be a carnival, and the owner converted it to the drive-in years ago. And saddled Austin with the job of taking care of the place.
We also meet Germy, who just like Austin, used to work at the carnival. As, gasp, a sword swallower. But these days, he just does his best to keep the place clean. He's not that bright, clearly hasn't had a great life, but he's doing his best. Which is hard with Austin constantly berating him.
The other things of note is that the unseen owner of the former carnival and current drive in, has a sword collection, and that he trained Germy. Germy also mentions a guy who creeps around the drive-in looking for girls and couples to peep on.
Also, there is some great bow chicka chicka music. I love the 70s for that reason alone.
But the cops head out, and ask Germy to get the license for them the next time he sees the creeper return, so they can see if he's worth their time to investigate.
However, that is more than enough investigatoring for now, we need to get in some more kills! In fact, they quickly establish this movie's pattern; someone gets killed at the drive in at night, then spend the next day running around asking questions. It's pretty standard, and the movie comfortably goes along with it, and does it very well.
We meet another couple, who we don't really have any interest in, despite the movie actually spending some time with them.
She's a little worried about the murders the previous night, but the guy assures his mistress that nothing's gonna happen! So cue something happening...
This couple has the added twist of the woman being pregnant, and using it to pressure the guy into leaving his wife and marry her. Fortunately, the killer shows up and kills the three of them, so he dodged a bullet there! Couldn't dodge a sword, though...
Also, the creeper was watching, so the odds are good he saw the killer. But the next day dawns, and the cops are no closer to finding the killer or the creeper, and have two more bodies. But they also get the sword that was stabbed through the two, so that's something.
Germy comes in for questioning, and talks about the sword. It's not from the Van Husen collection, he knows that set intimately, what with having a few of them down his throat. He also says that Austin was the man who replaced him as the sword swallower. So that's three people, all sword handlers, involved in this drive-in. Even the cops find that suspicious.
He also gives them the license plate of the creeper, so they track him down with ease and pay him a visit to ask their questions.
While the Joe Don Baker wannabe questions Orville, his partner checks the place out for any signs of swords. He doesn't find anything, so I guess the guy is as clean as someone like him can be.
Before they go, they ask to check out Orville's car, and they find some blood stained rags. What follows is a pair of out of shape people running around a neighbourhood, as a third follows them in a car.
I actually like the chase, since there is a bit of reality to it. No one is running their best, they feel ragged, and that's because it probably was filmed that way. Anyways, they catch Orville, and his story is that he hit a dog on the way home, and took it to the vet's, and that's why he has the blood stained rags. And his story checks out, so they let him go.
But after a day of investigatoring, it must be time to head back to the drive-in and another random couple to be killed. And despite his promises to not go back to the drive-in, Orville is seen pulling up to continue his peepy ways.
The cops are there as well, on a stakeout, to see if they can catch the killer in the act. And they pull the same gag from another movie where one of the cops dresses in drag so they look like a couple.
Anyways, back to tonight's featured victims... I love that the woman is the one more interested in seeing the movies and enjoying the show. That's my type of woman.
This ends up frustrating the guy, and he storms off. He eventually returns after he's cooled off, and starts to drive away, until her head rolls off into her lap. The cops pop up and rush over to see what Orville is up to, and find him with his throat slashed. So much for that red herring.
So they bring in all the drive-in employees and let them go, leaving only Austin, and they question him about his life as a sword handler. Which also goes nowhere fast.
They insist he close down the drive-in, but he refuses, since they've never done so much business. And what about the beach festival this labour day weekend?? Next you're gonna tell me to watch out for sharks!
Once night falls again, the plot sadly hits a brick wall. We're in the third act, and everything kinda falls apart at this point. I suspect it's largely because they wanted to pad out the run time to make it a feature length production, and it shows.
First of all, we get an extended montage of Germy wandering around some carnival grounds, as he hears sounds from earlier in the movie playing through his memories. It's a nice scene that's full of melancholy, but it's too long, and too slow, and doesn't really add anything other than Germy staring off into space.
Second of all, it does not fit the mold of "and at night, someone dies" so it breaks the formula, which could have been good. But with the last few minutes lurking, we really need to ramp things up and strengthen the formula.
But the movie finally has something happen, when the cops get called about a guy who just hacked up two people with machetes, and is now lurking around a warehouse.
This scene suffers from much of the same problems as the carnival magic, but has a few different pros and cons. On the upside, we at least get some tension here. On the other hand, it's really long and drawn out as the actual writer (And Trisk favourite, Buck Flower!) chases his real life daughter around the warehouse with a knife.
But the biggest problem is, this is COMPLETELY unrelated to the plot. This guy is NOT the killer. I would've loved it if the movie's writer stepped in to play his own plot's murderer, but it is not to be.
Instead, this was just some completely random guy who had a psychotic break, and accidentally killed his wife and sister in law, and was now trying to do the same to his daughter. He's not in his right mind, he needs genuine help, and is not a bad person, he's just in a bad place, and unintentionally done some horrible things.
Which makes it all the more tragic when the police kill him, since he just needed help, and has NOTHING to do with the drive-in massacres. It's sad, and random, and just pads that time out more as he wanders around the warehouse for far too long.
I do LIKE the randomness, because stuff like this does genuinely happen, and crimes overlap, but the last ten, fifteen minutes after they let Austin go, just feels like they had no idea what to do with the movie at this point. You could literally remove a 13 minute sequence and not affect the plot at all. AT ALL.
This is quite literally Red Herrings: The Movie. We just had the longest red herring of them all. But there's also Germy who's barely a suspect, but has the means and skill if he wanted to. Plus he's angry that Austin is keeping the sword collection from him. When someone says "I'll show him!" you better watch out.
But also, the cops think Austin is a suspect, because of previous reasons. They dismissed him because he's stuck in the projectionist shack, or so they thought. They realise he stormed out of there to yell at Germy during their stakeout, so they realise he CAN leave the booth when he doesn't have to change reels.
So, there is barely more than a mere three minutes left, and this movie has a LOT of ground to cover if it wants to wrap this up. Austin's looking pretty good, as Germy storms into the projectionist chamber, and the cops are right behind him.
They arrive just in time to see the shadows of someone stabbing Austin with a sword, playing out on the screen. So, okay, maybe it's NOT Austin! It must be Germy, then!
So the cops hurry to the projectionst tomb to arrest Germy, terrified of what they'll find inside, and wary of a sword wielding madman.
There's no way out of the booth, save for the one door they came in through. The other door leads to a small storage closet, so that must be where Germy is hiding.
After they confirm Austin is dead, they go to open the only other door in the place, ready to arrest Germy, because it must be him and...
Germy is...dead, his throat slashed and pinned to the wall with a sword. So it's not Germy, and the movie ends suddenly.
No Answers: The Movie. No Suspects: The Movie.
It all ends with the following text card
Okay, the lack of answers is frustrating as all hell but...
I actually LOVE the end title card. I hate the no answers thing, but the idea of this playing in drive-ins, and putting the idea of THE KILLER IS IN YOUR CAR is *amazing* and worth it. That whole idea of watching someone kill people in drive-ins, and he is NOT caught, and could be right there next to you...Yeah, that's a great way to end the experience.
Yes, there's no answers, but that's the POINT, and it totally works here to give a lot of tension for that car ride home.
Video: For a grimy, 1970s era flick, this looks really good. There's no obvious errors or tape, and there's grain, but there should be. And the grimy grittiness adds to the atmosphere.
Audio: It sounds pretty solid for what it is.
Body Count: The deaths come in fits and starts, but there is a decent amount
1 - Guy gets beheaded just short of seven minutes into the movie
2 - Girl gets stabbed in the neck shortly afterwards.
3 - Guy gets stabbed in the back...
4 - ...and the sword keeps going to kill the girlfriend he's making out with...
5 - ...and the baby she's just announced she's pregnant with.
6 - Girl gets beheaded off camera
7 - Orville gets his throat slashed off camera as well.
8 - Random warehouse stalker gets shot
9 - Johnson gets killed
10 - Germy is found dead.
Best Corpse: I gotta go for that three in one kill for quantity, and quality goes to any of the beheadings. Almost all the deaths here are great.
Blood Type - B+: There's lots of blood, every time someone gets beheaded, or stabbed, and it's nice and thick and red. Good, good stuff. And the beheadings look great too. I almost don't see the obvious fake heads.
Sex Appeal: The poor girl more interested in the movie than sex gets her top and bra pawed off.
Drink Up! every time someone dies. Easy one this week!
Video Nasties: Enjoy a bit of running.
Movie Review: The plot is simple. Guy kills people at a drive-in, cops investigate, wash rinse repeat. If you look at it objectively as a story, yes, it's probably terrible. There's no ending, no answers...I would argue the ending works because the ending should affect the audience, but I also understand why it fails as a story. The pacing is really good...up until the last act, which you could remove almost entirely, as I said. It's just such a failing. It's fun, and as scenes, they're fine, they're just in the wrong movie, or too long, or need more to support them. Three out of five katanas.
Entertainment Value: I am thoroughly entertained by this movie. The characters pop off the screen, and are largely likable. The victims are forgettable, but not deplorable, and while they are solely there as canon fodder, they're interesting. The acting is sufficient, the kills are pretty great, and there's some random silliness when there needs to be. If not for that last act, this would be a solid five, but I still give it four out of five, for two thirds of a solid watching experience, and an ending that is a real mindscrew, even if it can also be unsatisfying for some.