It’s summer (or close enough) and for those of us who are old enough to remember, Saturday night in summer meant one thing: drive-in movies. Stuff the car with friends, food and even a few folding chairs, and settle in for a triple feature under the stars. With the onslaught of Imax theaters, air-conditioned stadium seating, and surround sound, most of the drive-in theaters have been relegated to the realm of fond memories and the reality of strip malls. No more sultry summer nights before a big outdoor screen; forgotten is the scratchy sound from the little black boxes that hung on the car windows, or the camaraderie of sharing the contents of an ice-filled cooler, oversized grinders and semi-stale popcorn with the friends parked next to you on “$5.00 a carload” nights.
The movies that we watched live on, though, some offered for rental, some order-able on online, and others now living in “public domain” and available for free downloads. Over the course of the summer, I’ll be taking a look at some of them. Might not be a bad idea to have your friends “drive” to your home on a Saturday night, pop up some fresh popcorn, order a pizza, and kick back for the best of the “B” (and a few “C’ and “D”) movies.
Horror and Science Fiction were standard fare at the drive-ins. The original mutant Jello flick was The Blob with a handsome Steve McQueen as the disbelieved teenager battling an alien glowing, growing glob of a creature (Jello will never be the same) in this black and white film circa 1958. I had nightmares for weeks of living alien gelatin oozing out of the projection booth in my little hometown theater…
And if The Blob (the old version, not the modern remake) makes you munch the popcorn faster, try these classic alien/horror flicks as well:
The Day The Earth Stood Still: Classic sci-fi circa 1951 (B/W), with the famous phrase: “Klaatu Barada Nicto.” An alien flying saucer lands in cold-war era Washington. The resident Alien, Klaatu, and his robot, Gort, arrive with a message that threatens dire consequences if the citizens of Earth cannot halt warfare and violence that jeopardize the safety of the universe. Funny how the Earth’s believers and peacemakers in this film are women, children and very old scientists…
The Thing From Another World: James Arness (before he was Marshall Dillon) as the mummy-like plant based alien who terrorizes an expedition in the frozen polar regions. The remake with Kurt Russell was in color with amazing (at the time) special effects, but nothing – I repeat : nothing – is more fun than this original in all its innocent horror. 1951 (B/W)
Them!: Mutant ants devour the countryside while a little girl, a survivor at her most innocent, screams only the word “Them!” James Whitmore and James Arness co star in this film rooted in what nuclear radiation might to the creatures of our planets, and what they might do, subsequently, to us. 1954 (B/W)
It Came From Outer Space: A fireball crashes to earth, but our hero and heroine suspect the flaming object is an alien spacecraft. Of course, no one believes them. People disappear and return, under obvious manipulation by some outside force. But deep inside a mine, stranded aliens, beings of peace, struggle to repair their ship and leave this planet earth. with our understanding heroes trying to help them make a clean getaway. 1953 (B/W)
War of the Worlds: H.G. Wells offers a world about to be consumed by Aliens bent on, of course, destruction of the human race. Like any invader, though, these hostile creatures are susceptible to Earth’s indigenous lifeforms equally bent on destruction. War of the Worlds was also the terrifying 1939 Orson Wells radio broadcast that sent waves of panic and belief in alien invasion across the country. This film, though, is the classic war story, coming out at a cold war high when American already feared invasion by Russia — these Aliens were just as terrifying. 1953 (Color). There’s a recent Tom Cruise remake, but despite its special effect and bigger, better technology, that newer version just wasn’t the same …
The Time Machine: Another Wells classic, and one of my all time favorites (I was 10 and I remember having a terrible crush on Rod Taylor). What happens when one man builds a time traveling machine, only to find the world of the future one of master and slave, of gentle surface-dwelling Eloi in their Garden of Eden and vicious Morlocks living desolate lives underground, of innocence and cruelty, with original thought obsolete. It asks one striking question of its hero: if you were to return to such a future, “what three books would you take?” (1960) Again, many versions of the tale have been made for large screen and small, but nothing beats this version.
As for other titles you might want to browse on your journey to yesterday, try these:
The Beast from the Haunted Cave (There’s always a beast, and caves are a staple in the “B” movie line-up)
The Creature from the Black Lagoon (Lizard-like creature obsessed with beautiful girl)
Forbidden Planet (rampaging alien monsters kill of scientists in space)
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (Don’t ask – so bad it’s good!) And the name says it all!
The Incredible Shrinking Man (Self-explanatory)
Tarantula (Mutant irradiated spiders this time)
The Mole People (Three guesses…)
Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (You can guess where they are going and what they will find)
When Worlds Collide (Yes, the Earth is threatened by a rogue comet about to strike)
These films may seem tame to those who grew up on this side of Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but they are campy, fun, and a bit of nostalgia for those of us who remember, who are sci-fi junkies, or simply “old movie” buffs.
Amazon.com has several collections of the best and worst of old sci-fi and horror — as many as fifty films in one package for under $21. Nightmare Worlds 50 Movie Pack Collection is $20.99; Chilling Classics 50 Movie Pack Collection is $16.47; Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection is $20.99; and SciFi Classics Collection 50 Movie Pack Collection (1953) is $14.99. Plus the cost of popcorn. Or the pizza you order in.
Drive-In Saturday Night will be posted weekly on Fridays through Labor Day. May the Gods be kind to those who celebrate a little bit of yesterday in films now showing in your living room.