All right, all you hip horror hounds, it’s time for another groovy Cineray double feature. If you are picking up what I am putting down daddy-o’s, today’s recommendation is a couple of films that celebrate the hay days of 60’s drive-in horror movies with a modern twist. But first, perhaps I should offer a little backstory on how all this got started.
Movie theaters are still shut down here in Cali for the most part. Yours truly and Shawn – who is kind of the Horror Vision podcast group CEO – have recently attended a handful of drive-in presentations. For me, it’s been many years since watching a movie from the car, and these recent experiences have rekindled a lot of great old memories. So in celebration of the drive-in experience, today’s double features are Chillerama and Psycho Beach Party.
Before I get into each movie, let me get into a bit of drive-in trivia and the movies of the drive-in. For those too young to have experienced the drive-in experience or did not have one in your area, the drive-in is a pretty different experience from the theater. For one thing, you are in a car with whomever you have come with and are somewhat isolated from the other patrons. This isolation allows you to make comments or even talk during the movie without worrying about bothering other parties (But not too much, Ray! – Shhh!ing Shawn).
The Drive-in was also known as a popular make-out spot, something which both films I will talk about today showcase. And there was a particular type of cinema that thrived at the drive-in. These films were second-run, independent ones, not the big, new releases that played at the then-burgeoning multiplexes. So giant monster movies and the more schlocky or cheesy movies were the more popular fare. Therefore, I wanted to make both films I recommend today homages to that time and those types of films.
First up is Chillerama, a horror anthology featuring the directing talent of Adam Rifkin, Bear McCreary, Adam Green, Joe Lynch, and Tim Sullivan. The connection to the drive-in is both the setting, the framing device, and the subjects of the short films within the film.
The wrap-around or ‘framing’ story surrounds a group of characters at the drive-in for the last night before it is closed and demolished to watch a presentation called Chillerama, a set of short films we as an audience watch along with them, checking in between films to see their story as it unfolds.
The first story in Chillerama is a giant monster movie called Wadzilla, followed by I Was a Teenage Werebear, a monster movie called Diary of Anne Frankenstein, and the wrap-around story called Zom-b-movie. All of the shorts are filled with humor that verges on parody. Sometimes the jokes get a bit juvenile, but ultimately they are all gruesome fun with gobs of modern gore.
Similarly, our second feature, Psycho Beach Party starring Lauren Ambrose and Nicholas Branden, is also infused with a lot of humor. The film centers on Florence, a 16-year-old girl in the 1960s who enjoys going to drive-in movies with her best friend. One night a girl is murdered at the drive-in, and the police investigate. Meanwhile, Florence is invited by the popular Marvel Ann (Amy Adams) to the beach and sees Starcat (Brendan) and his friends surfing. She asks to learn, but they laugh her off. Florence goes to the surf guru the Great Kanaka and, after freaking him out by exhibiting an alternate personality, intimidates him into teaching her. While the bodies pile up, Florence earns the nickname Chicklet as her surfing improves, and she experiences more strange episodes.
These films are enjoyable without any prior knowledge of the genres referenced but even more so with said knowledge. It’s worth your time and enjoyment to watch some old horror movies for those looking for some of that knowledge. Particularly giant monster movies like Them, Tarantula, or similar giant monster movies, Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein, the early zombie movies of George Romero, I was a Teenage Werewolf and the teenage Beach movies of Annette Funicello. Knowing these films enhances your perspective of how well these movies reference the material and help with some of the more subtle jokes. The first time I watched Chillerama, I only liked it a bit; however, after viewing a lot more of the material it references, I enjoyed it a whole lot more.
Finally, if nothing else, I hope these films serve as a jumping-off point to consider more of the classic cinema that has become the road some of our beloved movies have walked down. The filmmakers who made movies like Hatchet and Mayhem that we love now grew up on these older movies and informed who they are and what they created. Also, consider finding where your nearest drive-in is and having a night at the drive-in. Besides the other great attributes I already listed, drive-ins usually feature double features and allow you to bring in your own refreshments, which is a tremendous deal over the theater experience. Both of these movies can be found on Prime video, Chillerama is free, but you will have to rent Psycho Beach Party.