Why The Drive-In or They Still Have Those?

I posted on the voluntary NSA data farm that is Facebook earlier that there were two movies that I wanted to see playing together at the local drive-in (more on that in a second, don’t worry). Then I said, “So guess where I’ll be tonight?” A friend replied “Church?”

Well, kinda.

The first drive-in movie theater opened in Camden, NJ (after the owner/inventor Richard M. Hollingshead experimented with the idea in his drive way) in 1932. Think about that for a second. The automobile had only been around for about fifty years
1. Henry Ford and the other Detroit companies didn’t really start churning them out until the nineteen teens.2

Sorry, I’m from Detroit. That’s how we measure progress.

So in the span of about two decades people were already so comfortable with the idea of being inside their cars that someone else figured out how to make a buck out of showing them movies while they remained in their cars.

For the record
3, the marriage of movies and motor cars would hit the Motor City pretty early. The Detroit Drive-In opened in 1938. The Troy Drive-In was one of the largest drive-ins (measured by car capacity) throughout the 1950s.

OK, great, but what does all of this have to do with the “church” comment? Hold tight, I’m getting there.

Ask people to start free associating about Drive-Ins and they will inevitably come up with the same things:

  • The speaker boxes
  • The intermission cartoons telling you to go buy snacks
  • Cramming a bunch of people in one car
  • Beach movies
  • B - movies
  • Slasher movies

All right, you can stop there. Look at those last few and you can probably figure out why the drive-in holds a special place in my heart. I love crappy horror movies. I grew up on ridiculous slasher movies filled with stupid teenagers who do stupid, ridiculous things like hang out in abandoned campsites, abandoned houses, etc., take of their clothes, and get slashed to ribbons. Unstoppable villian in a mask? Check.

There is an apocryphal story that my parents took me to the drive-in when I was very young expecting me to sleep through
Apocalypse Now. This may or may not be where I get my unreasonable dislike of helicopters. I remember going to the drive-in as a teenager with a group of people, parking at either end of a row, and occupying the empty spots with lawn chairs, folding chairs, and the bench seat from a van.4/5

So that is part of the answer. Every time I go to the drive-in I feel like I am reconnecting with my roots on two levels. I am reaching back to commune with the wonderful horror movie attending masses as well as going back to enjoy something that I loved from childhood. Naturally, it doesn’t stop there.

We (The Mrs and I) are horrible skin flints. Serious cheapskates. We rarely go out to the movies unless we are meeting people, are going to a special showing (like attending a film at
The Redford Theatre or a midnight showing of a horror classic), or have passes or gift cards. Whenever we see a commercial for a film we want to see6 one of us will say something like “That would be worth seeing at the show.”

Then two and a half years later we watch it when it comes to basic cable.

How does this play in to my whole being cheap thing? Because the drive-in always shows two movies for the price of one, that’s why! We can go see a first run movie (as opposed to going to the dollar show and seeing something that is already on Nextflix
7) and then another first run movie.


The drive-in is also the perfect place for someone with my, shall we say, reservations regarding social interaction. Seeing a movie on the big screen is cool, but you are crammed into the theater with all of those other people. Invariably there is someone talking on their phone, or talking to their friends, or being rude in some other fashion. Going to the drive-in allows you to have a perceived night out among other people, but you get to do it from the isolation of your car!

Perhaps the real reason that I love going to the drive-in is one of the reasons I love going to the classic movie houses in the area. By attending, I am not only doing that reaching back and connecting to history thing I mentioned, I am also helping support it. The drive-in movie theater is in danger of going the way of the dinosaur. Every time I attend (which I sometimes do in winter because I’m insane), I push back that threat a little bit.

Footnote Answer (don’t read if you haven’t been skipping back and forth to read the footnotes):

Ferris and Back to School feature a scene where the main character sings “Shake it Up, Baby.”

1 Depending upon how you define the automobile. Sure, there was a model for a steam powered auto invented in the 1670s but it couldn’t carry a driver so forget that crap.

2 Is that even a phrase? It is now.

3 By the way, I’m pulling this type of information from the
Drive-In Theater website. I love this page. If you are even remotely interested in drive-ins you owe it to yourself to check it out.

4 I knew some people who were super handy with the whole DIY thing, even back then.

5 The double feature that particular night was
Ferris Beuler’s Day Off and Back to School. That’s right, I saw Ferris at the drive-in when it was first released. Yep, I’m that old. Super bonus points if you can tell me what else those movies had in common.

6 It is rare that we see commercials since we almost always record our television programs and watch them later, fast forwarding through the advertising.

7 Which we don’t even have anymore because we’re too cheap.