Friday, February 16, 2018

DRIVE-IN MASSACRE (1976) (Severin Blu-ray Review)


Label: Severin Films 

Region Code: Region-Free
Duration: 74 Minutes 
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English DTS-HD MD with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Stu Segall
Cast: John F. Goff, Steve Vincent, Douglas Gudbye, George Flower, Robert E. Pearson, Norman Sheridan, Bruce Kimball

This low-budget proto-slasher is set at a small town drive-in cinema in Southern California, a seedy joint run by an even seedier proprietor, the wonderfully bad-dressed former carnie sword-swallower (no that's not a euphemism) named Austin Johnson (Robert E. Pearson), a bad-tempered baldie who bares more a bit of a resemblance to Church of Satan founder Anton Lavey. Austin runs the movie joint with the help of a slow-witted laborer (and former carnie geek) named Germy (Douglas Gudbye). The local drive-in joints a popular place for teens and horny lovers to congregate, but a sword-wielding maniac is on the loose at the drive-in and lops the head off of a guy before stabbing his lady friend right through the neck, the decapitation is a nice bit of Herschel Gordon Lewis-esque cheapie gore to kick things off proper and then were off and running with a damn decent body count throughout. 

Local detectives Mike Leary (John Goff, The Fog) and John Koch (Bruce Kimball, Love Camp 7) arrive to investigate the initial double-homicide, they interrogate Austin and Germy looking for possible suspects, with Germy offering fingering a local pervert named Orville (Norman Sheridan) who is known to frequent the drive-in and whack-it while peeping on young couples through their car windows. The inept cops launch a befuddling sting operation posing as a couple parking at the drive-in, with one of the cops in the most unattractive drag I think I've ever seen, a ploy also used in The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) the very same year. However, even with the cops in attendance the sword wielding maniac manages to rack up a few more victims... and even after several murders happen over the course of as many nights no one thinks to closes the damn drive-in down, and now wonder, patrons don't seem to care about the maniac on the lose, business is booming, and goers are willing to risk their heads for some necking time!

While this inept drive-in cheapie will never be highly regarded as a proto-slasher or anything else it's got a decent body count and some cheap gore that will pass the time just fine, but if I'm being completely honest it's about a half-hour's worth of a movie with 43-minutes of patience-testing padding, but something keeps me coming back to it. The kills and set-ups are fun but this thing is padded with tons of z-grade filler including voice over narration, and an over abundance of red-herrings, including a from-out-of-nowhere subplot featuring co-writer George "Buck" Flower (They Live) as a deranged man stalking a young girl through a warehouse, it's strange stuff, the first watched the movie it sent my head spinning, wondering if I'd missed something earlier, but no, it's just a bizarre detour to pad the run time. 

The true joy Drive-In Massacre is not that it's some forgotten slasher  classic but that it's a bad slasher movie with a fun drive-in premise, with loads of bad police procedural bullshit, cheap action and gore and awful-ly entertaining dialogue. Some of the lines uttered here are deliciously eye-rolling, such as drive-in proprietor yelling "You really want to talk to this piece of puke?" and "You better watch it, you might be eating your father" when he catches one of the cops eating a ham sandwich, which did kind of make me laugh for real. 

Audio/Video: Drive-In Massacre (1973) arrives on Blu-ray from Severin Films in association of Dristribpix whose logo also appears on the spine of the Blu-ray. Not sure what their involvement is, but this is advertised as being restored from the original camera negative which was supposedly "found in the ruins of the Sky View Drive-In Movie Theater near Oxnard", and whether that's true or not is less important as how fucking cool it sounds! Framed in 1.78:1 widescreen the image is very pleasing, this is a movie I've seen several times on various public domain collections - all culled from fullframe VHS sources -  and all were uniformly bad. Severin's Blu-ray is the first time I've seen it in proper widescreen, and the image looks pretty great. Grain can be a bit chunky at times, and then there's some minor print damage and speckling to contend with, but this is still a pleaser with surprising amounts of 70's ugly fine detail, but it still has plenty of that grindhouse patina. 

Audio on the disc comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with optional English subtitles, the source is a bit limited and doesn't have the spiffiest fidelity but it is clean and sounds true to the source. 

Reversible Artwork 
Onto the extras we get a brand-new audio commentary from director Stu Segall, plus new interviews with Star/Co-Writer John F. Goff (who plays one of the cops), actor Nick Sheridan (the peeping-tom), and a video interview with the director as well, plus a theatrical trailer. They really give this one more than it might deserve, and that's why I love Severin Films, they're always giving these under-seen, under-loved movies spiffy new releases, such as they did with Blackenstein (1973) and Axe (1975), both of which got the deluxe Severin treatment on Blu-ray. 

The single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, the a-side featuring the the traditional artwork of the slashed victim spilling upside down from her car, the b-side featuring an illustration of a sword-wielding man in a shroud (pictured above) - the disc itself features a version of the a-side artwork.  

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary With Director Stu Segall
- Drive-In Days: Interview With Star / Co-Writer John F. Goff (16 min) HD
- Norm Sheridan Recalls Drive-In Massacre (12 min) HD 
- Making the Massacre: Interview With Director Stu Segall (7 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (3 min) HD 

Drive-In Massacre (1976) might be for the die-hard schlock junkies only, but I think it has loads of 70's z-grade cinema charms that might lure in the more casual trash horror fan, wonderfully inept though it may be. For starters it's a fun premise, who doesn't want to see a movie about a madman slicing the heads off of lovers at the drive-in? Add to that some ripe dialogue and a parade of bad cops, perverts, horny lovers, and former carnival freaks and you've got all the fixings for a fine Friday night solo-adventure on the couch. Severin Films once again dive deep to scrape the bottom of the cinema barrel, rewarding us with a tasty slice of z-grade 70's drive-in schlock, thanks guys!