My father once told me a story when I was watching some of my horror films. In 1972, on his 14th birthday, his parents took him to a drive-in movie theater. They didn’t know what they were going to see when getting there but were intrigued by the big posters with all the flashy advertisements. In the end, they decided to see The Last House on the Left, not knowing what exactly it was about! My father would say he and his folks were shocked (to say the least).
However, I had a different reaction. I interrupted my Dad, telling how I would kill to be in his place during that time period. I mean, in the 70s with a drive-in movie theater, and I’d be watching the infamous debut of fear master Wes Craven, who raised the level for the then-independent horror exploitation scene, while bringing new terror in ordinary neighborhoods of U.S. Suburbia. John Carpenter did something like that with Halloween.
The 70s were a time of cinematic experimentation. There was the New Hollywood movement that took over the Classic Era, which by this time had faded away amongst exaggerated set pieces, elaborate musicals with long dance numbers, and star-stubbed casts. People seemed more interested with their household television sets than local movie theaters. In the face of potential bankruptcy, the movie-making capital turned to new faces to ring in moviegoers (even if their movies had risky, if not graphic subject matter). These new faces included Steve Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick and Stanley Kubrick.
Even for the horror scene, there was change. According to WatchMojo, filmmakers of the 70s left behind the old school atmosphere and “replaced it with vivid, visceral terror.” Directors, like Brian De Palma, William Friedkin, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, and Wes Craven, pushed the limits of what could be put on screen. And from them and others, there were landmark pictures such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dawn of the Dead, Carrie, Alien, Jaws, The Omen, Halloween, The Exorcist and my all-time favorite: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre by Tobe Hooper.
In recent years, we’ve seen a new wave of horror. From the French New Extremity (High Tension, Them and Martyrs) to the Splat Pack, there have been new faces who are once again trying to push boundaries in horror. Other times, they even go as far as to redefine the genre. Some of these faces include Jordan Peele (Us), Ari Aster (Midsommar), David Robert Mitchell (It Follows) and James Wan (The Conjuring) redefining the genre. It’s almost like we’re in a new golden age of horror. And I sure hope so!
Every year, I look for new horror; stuff that is released this year and stuff released prior that I still don’t know about. As a film fanatic, I feel spoiled, especially with my Netflix account. With that, I have seen The Invitation, Terrifier, As Above So Below, Gerald’s Game, and In The Tall Grass. And it all gives me a reason to not only write about horror, or movies in general, it gives me a reason to enjoy life.
What else would I want? How about seeing these horror films at a drive-in theater? I later found out that New Jersey was home to the first patented drive-in theater in 1933 with the opening of the Camden Drive-In in Pennsauken. The ticket prices back then were even $0.25 per person, and $0.25 per car. (Great price!) I once went to see Jurassic Park at a drive-in theater when it came out in 3D, just to see what the theater experience would be like.
Unfortunately, drive-in theaters are a rarity. I heard there’s a drive-in theater all the way down south in Vineland. I suppose if I’m lucky I can get to attend it one year for a Halloween occasion. I once went all the way to Blairstown with my folks to eat a hamburger at the diner where a scene was filmed for the first Friday the 13th movie. At least I can be thankful of modern directors who take 70s grindhouse aesthetics and let it influence their movies (like Quentin Tarantino, Death Proof). And maybe one year, when my family takes another summer trip down to Wildwood, we can attend a blow-up theater on the beach. Hope it doesn’t rain then.
Yeah, it would be cool to be my father as a teenager in the 70s, watching a horror movie at a drive-in theater. But I was born too late and have to deal with it. My Netflix account still has a treasure trove of horror flicks. My local libraries always have something to offer. And every year, someone in Hollywood gives us another reason to be afraid of the dark. Or be drawn to it!
I say, bring it on! As with life itself when you don’t know when the unexpected comes, in a horror movie, you don’t know when the jump scare will happen. And if it’s one of those unconventional thrillers that doesn’t rely on jump scares, that just makes it more intriguing and terrifying to see.