Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Curse of the Drive-in B-Movies!

How many of you remember drive-in movie theaters, those places where we’d go in high school to catch a flick and hopefully make out? Did anyone sneak in a bag of burgers from the local hangout along with a six-pack of Little Kings? I hope I wasn’t the only one.

I found a DVD compilation with an intriguing theme – “Drive-in Cult Classics.” These were exploitation movies made in the 1970’s with B-list actors working on a D-movie budget. Confusing plots, unintentionally funny dialogue and wooden acting abounded in such forgotten classics as “The Stepmother,” “The Sister-in-Law,” “Pick-up,” “The Teacher,” “Malibu High” and “Abbott and Costello Meet the Pope.” I made up that last one, but you get the idea.

The advertising slogans were just as cheesy, promising something lurid to get your attention and the price of a ticket.

“She worked her way through the faculty lounge one teacher at a time.”

“She corrupted the youthful morality of an entire school!”

“They kept it all in the family.”

“She forced her husband’s son to commit the ultimate sin!”

Most of these were usually the third feature at the drive-in. The operators probably figured that if anyone was still there at two a.m., they weren’t watching the action on the screen anyway. I hope I wasn’t the only one.

These productions definitely skimped on writing and directing talent. One of them attempted to be a Hitchcock-like suspense thriller about a compulsive killer. It was never explained why this guy killed people but midway through, one of the actresses strolled across the screen topless for no reason. It might not have propelled the plot, but it was the most entertaining part of the movie. It made me think of some of the erotic books I’ve read – when you’re out of ideas, show the characters having sex. Who’ll know the difference?

One of the cable movie channels has been running the 1950’s camp classics of legendary producer/director Roger Corman. Corman boasted that he made those black-and-white cheapies for a few thousand bucks and a free lunch for the cast and crew. Looking at them today you can appreciate his style, where he made something out of nothing in several days. These drive-in flicks don’t have the same bragging rights.

They didn’t contain graphic violence but nudity and sex were everywhere. Unfortunately, some of them were so bad that even the sex scenes were boring. One encounter showed the woman in the buff but the guy never took off his pants or shoes. Realistic, huh? And the looks of rapture on the actor’s faces! I’ve seen mannequins that expressed more emotion.

Films like these actually serve as a time capsule of the free love generation. Fluffy hair styles, drug use, outlandish clothes that we’re embarrassed to admit that we wore, and gratuitous sex reflected the culture of the time. It also pointed out the change in the entertainment industry, when movies had lost the strict confines of the rating system and anything went. Sadly for these films, that included good storytelling.

As a footnote, “The Teacher” tried to boost its street cred with this advertising line – “Featuring Jay North, TV’s ‘Dennis the Menace’ all grown up!”

“Golly, Mr. Wilson, I’m sorry!”

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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author whose books range from romantic mystery/thrillers to contemporary erotic romance. His website is www.timsmithauthor.com.


Tina Donahue said...

Great post, Tim, as always - loved the taglines. LOL

Yes, I've read romances where the characters have sex to spice up the plot and it always falls flat.

As we all know, arousal begins in the brain, not the groin. :)

Fiona McGier said...

Hey Tim, there's still an open drive-in close to our house and it's crowded most nights, including weeknights during the summer! They encourage you to bring in food, like pizzas, so you'll stay longer (just don't bring in food from the hot-dog stand nearby, with whom they've been feuding for years since they asked them to turn down their lights during movies and they refused!)

And your description of the B movies (many of which my husband and sons have collections of, since they especially love the sci-fi based ones with the corny monsters) made me think of the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarentino collaboration that was called "Grindhouse". Did you see those movies? I loved the Rodriguez one, which led to him making "Machete" and "Machete Kills", (we own both of them) just because fans wanted those movies made after the fake "previews".

He said in an interview that people need to understand that for him, violence is like what's in the old Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons, where you laugh as the Acme anvil hits the coyote because you know he'll jump up and chase the road runner again. We went to see "Machete Kills" at the theater, and we were the only ones laughing through the entire movie. Maybe it's an acquired taste? B-movies can be so entertaining!