The Lost Drive-In: Demented Double Features
Welcome to the inaugural installment of The Lost Drive-In. I was fortunate enough to grow up about two miles from a drive-in movie theater so my family spent a lot of time of there over the years. My home town of Ocala, Florida had two drive-in theaters throughout most of my youth. The first was rather appropriately name the Ocala Drive-In, this was the one I lived close to, and the second was the Skylark which was more centrally located in town. The Ocala, which was right on the edge of the city on highway 301 and still stands, albeit closed, to this day, specialized in second run mainstream films while the Skylark always seemed to get the low budget horror and exploitation flicks. I was thoroughly convinced that as soon as I was old enough to drive I would have my mail forwarded to the Skylark and live on the lot! Unfortunately, it was closed down a few months before my sixteenth birthday to make way for another shopping center! While hard top theaters will not be ignored in these columns, it is to the Skylark and the Ocala theaters that I dedicate The Lost Drive-In.
The double feature concept has been around almost as long as their have been motion pictures (at least as long as their have been TWO motion pictures). The idea of giving patrons more bang for their buck was a sound one, especially if one of the features was an older one they probably wouldn’t pay to see by itself anyway or had possibly already seen. While indoor theaters used this technique frequently up until the 1970’s, for drive-ins, it was practically a requirement to have at least two features on a bill. This often lead to inspired couplings like a sequel with the original film that inspired it or a pair of giant monster movies. At other times though, an appropriate companion feature either was not available or could not be acquired for a reasonable price. This lead to some of the oddball pairings we will discuss this week.
First up is this kooky little combination from 1971 of mad women and motorcycles! Who Slew Auntie Roo? is a gothic melodrama starring Shelly Winters, who puts the bat in bat shit crazy. Shelly starred in a number of films as a psycho spinster before redeeming her career in The Poseidon Adventure. Here she plays a nutty old lady who kidnaps an orphan brother and sister because the girl reminds her of her own daughter who perished mysteriously at a young age. The brother, played by Mark Lester of Oliver, has read one too many fairy tales and knows exactly how to handle a wicked old witch like Ms. Winters! On the lower half of the bill is Chrome and Hot Leather, a forgettable motorcycle movie that couldn’t be much more different from Auntie Roo. This tale of a Green Beret defending a small town from a motorcycle gang was already old hat when this film came along but it is notable for featuring Bobby “Boris” Pickett of Monster Mash fame and a young Cheryl Ladd.
Al Adamson directed some pretty weird films during his amazing career and most of them, like Horror of the Blood Monsters here, were in the horror or science fiction vein. Blood Monsters, better known as Vampire Men of the Lost Planet on television, started life as a black and white Philippino movie about tribes of cave people battling each other and some strange monsters. Al and Sam Sherman bought this film and tinted the monochrome footage various colors in a process they had the audacity to call Spectrum X! They shot some wrap around scenes with John Carradine and some of their regular acting troupe to fool audiences into thinking this was an entirely color film. The resulting film supposedly tells the story of a plague of vampirism striking Earth that is linked back to an unexplored planet and the expedition that is sent to investigate. While you might think from this advertisement that Five Bloody Graves is also some type of vampire film, it is actually nothing more than a particularly violent western! While there are no blood suckers in sight in this horse drama, we do get John Carradine again as an alcoholic preacher so at least that was a slight connection.
Speaking of Al Adamson and blood, some distributor got the bright idea to tack his Blood of Dracula’s Castle (again featuring John Carradine) on to a double feature with a film about back woods blood suckers. The wonderfully titled Invasion of the Blood Farmers is the story of a blood drinking redneck cult trying to bring their long dormant queen back to life. While it may lack production values, plot development, and acting prowess, Farmers does rate high on the goofy meter. Blood of Dracula’s Castle was already three years old when it was matched up on this double bill in 1972 but it is still the superior picture which you don’t get to brag about very often!
The Mutations, known more garishly as The Freakmaker in its home country, is one of those fun little British horror films that was made outside of the major production houses like Hammer and Amicus but still tries to copy their successful formula. Donald Pleasence stars as a wacky scientist trying to create a human plant hybrid and dumping his rejects in a circus sideshow. The tall gentleman in the poster art is none other than Tom Baker wearing a familiar looking fedora and less than a year away from his most famous role as Doctor Who! Like most English horror films of the mid 70’s, The Mutations features an appreciable level of gore and titillation and even throws in a few authentic circus freaks just to keep things interesting. Thankfully The Mutations was interesting as its companion feature, 1974’s Chosen Survivors, is one long snooze fest! Jackie Cooper, Richard Jaeckel, and Bradford Dillman are tossed into an underground bomb shelter with some other hand picked personalities when World War III breaks out up top. Disoriented and “saved” without their prior consent, the group doesn’t have much to do but complain and bicker until the horrifying menace of a flock of vampire bats shows up about half way through in an attempt to break up the boredom. It doesn’t work and audiences were left with a set bound dissertation on human relations that looks like a made for TV movie that escaped into theaters.
Our final crazy combo this week must have been a real head scratcher for anyone who sat through it back in the day (no, that isn’t a flea joke!). The Doberman Gang was the first of several successful 70’s films about trained dogs being used for bank robberies. For an action flick, it was fairly light hearted and not nearly as vicious as this ad implies. The second film here is another one of those great Filipino horror flicks directed by their answer to George Romero, Eddie Romero! Twilight People is a thinly veiled rehash of The Island of Dr. Moreau, which was headed for a big budget US remake just a few years later. Twilight People is a pretty easy way to kill ninety minutes if you can get past the mediocre but ambitious special effects and the slow moving plot. The one bright spot is casting the lovely Pam Grier as the panther woman, a role she was perfect for. Aside from the fact that they both feature animals, I am really not sure how these two films ended up on the same bill but that’s the beauty of the drive-in!
Please return all trays to the snack bar, make sure speakers are replaced on their stands and turn on your headlights before exiting this theater. The management appreciates your patronage and hopes you will visit us again soon.