East Coast! Let’s Go Back To The Drive-In This Summer

There's an amazing lineup of exploitation flicks screening under the stars this month.

Drive-in movie theaters are special to New Jersey natives like myself. The drive-in was actually born in this state - about a mile from my house, as a matter of fact - by a businessman named Richard Hollingshead. Depending on which apocryphal story to which you subscribe, either Hollingshead’s wife or mother was too large to sit in traditional movie theater seats, and Hollingshead got the idea that the seats in his car offered a much more comfortable alternative. After monkeying around with a projector on the hood of his car and a sheet nailed between two trees at the end of his driveway, Hollingshead rallied some investors, applied for a patent, and opened the first drive-in movie theater in Camden, NJ on June 6th, 1933. (The first feature? Wives Beware.)

The drive-in wasn’t some novelty for me growing up; it’s where I saw pretty much everything. The Exorcist. Jaws. Star Wars. Escape From New York. Many of my all-time favorites were first watched from inside a car, with shitty mono sound piped in from a metal speaker hanging on the window. I'm not going to tell you it was better, but it was special. A trip to the drive-in was exciting. You got to stay up super-late, you got to wear your pajamas outside. This was amazing to a '70s child. It was part camping trip, part forbidden fruit (my parents seemed to think I would sleep through Shampoo at age 5. Or The Exorcist at age 3, I guess). The drive-ins thrived for decades, until sprawl and climbing real estate prices made them financially untenable in many parts of the country. My childhood hometown was the location of the state’s last drive-in, which closed in 1991. (Its final screening was a benefit, showing 1958's The Fly and The Girl Can’t Help It. Its final two first-run features were a perhaps more authentic drive-in double feature: Child’s Play 3 and Harley Davidson & The Marlboro Man.) It’s not IMAX and it’s not 3D, but a drive-in screening can feel organic and alive in a way no home theater setup can, very much that communal experience that makes us wax rhapsodic about filmgoing.

Fellow New Jerseyan Harry Guerro of Exhumed Films probably shares a lot of my feelings about the drive-in. Unlike me, Harry happens to own a massive collection of film prints, and he’s using it to curate a summer of drive-in screenings in nearby Pennsylvania. Teaming up with Exhumed Films, The Mahoning Drive-In will host a frankly incredible line-up of drive-in screenings this summer, and for East Coast film freaks, this pilgrimage is a must. This weekend they’re showing Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead on Saturday and Sunday, with a different film as second feature each night (Saturday: Zombie; Sunday: Pieces). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Escape From New York. Vice Squad! The Manitou?! Only Exhumed would have the vision and stones to curate an entire program of Avco Embassy releases. These are my kind of people.

Full details are below, and for added fun, I’m embedding the ten-minute doc Sean O’Leary, my best friend since 8th grade, made when our hometown drive-in closed in 1991. Maybe it will get you in the mood for some movies under the stars.