Sunday, September 28, 2014


I missed last year's debut DEAD TIL DAWN DRIVE IN festival, so I made a point to attend at least one of the two nights this year. I arrived with my wife around 6:15PM on Friday the 26th, and after a nearly 150 mile drive up from NYC, was greeted by this beautiful marquee:

The Hi-Way Drive In sits on a huge lot featuring 4 big screens. Each one had a triple feature of current films, but the "Classic Horror Fest" we came to see featured 5 films, all in glorious 35mm prints. 6 films were featured Saturday night (including Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND), but I was not able to attend both days.

After parking in the front row near the right hand side of the screen, my wife and I visited the snack bar, which has a variety of classic theater snacks and drinks, and even sells mini 35mm reels for a benefit cause. Other viewers already had tents set up on the large grass area under the screen in section 1, and the weather was absolutely perfect as we set up our lawn chairs and took the cooler out of the trunk. ANY theater that lets you bring your own beverages is OK in my book!

Shortly after the first film began, a couple of my friends from the area arrived and we dove right into one of my all time favorite slasher films, Romano Scavolini's NIGHTMARE (1981), which was better known on video as NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN. I've written much about this film over the years (in my regular film column over at Cinema Knife Fight as well as in the epic slasher film book Butcher Knives & Body Counts). This was the second time I've seen the film on the big screen (the first being in 1982 on a double bill with the equally as notorious MOTHER'S DAY) and it hasn't lost it's ability to shock and disturb viewers. Of course, at a Drive In the sound is so-so, but the film print was wonderfully scratchy and added to the overall grimness of the feature.

(George Tatum (Baird Stafford) about to be released from the nuthouse)

(NIGHTMARE's finale: possibly the craziest ever to grace a slasher film)

Next up was a film I had not seen but have been hearing a lot about lately for some reason:

THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976) is a Spanish production featuring the great Paul Naschy as one of a handful of survivors of a nuclear holocaust. It seems the rest of the population was blinded by the blast, and have become homicidal. It's an interesting blend of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE OMEGA MAN, and was a satisfying second feature. I'd definitely like to see this one again.

Next up was a 1977 giallo thriller from Italy titled WHAT HAVE THE DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS?, although the print screened tonight had the title of THE COED MURDERS. After a girl hangs herself, cops uncover a teenage prostitution ring being run out of a local high school. While I couldn't follow much more than that (hey, between a few beers and the low sound on my hand held radio, I was lucky to take that much from it). If anyone can tell me who the killer was I'd appreciate it! When he was unmasked, I didn't even recognize him from the rest of the film! This was also another feature I saw for the first time at this fun festival.


The fourth feature was one I had seen in the 80s during the VHS horror boom. THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976, but it looks older to me) features an incredible poster ad campaign, but that's about it. Molly gets off murdering pro football stars and TV actors (and how she is able to get to them is one of the countless head-scratching things about this flick) and we discover she's insane after years of abuse from her father. WITCH does contain a very disturbing sequence of Molly being raped by her dad when she was about 10 years old. The film tries too hard to be psychological but comes off as plain goofy, due in large part to the atrocious acting and dialogue. As much as I hate this film, it was a blast listening to a packed drive in audience crack up laughing over the silliness. 

(Fantastic poster, but sadly, it's the best part of the film)

(Two pro football players about to meet their fates at the hands of Molly ... the title "witch" of the 4th feature)

It was around 2:20AM by the time the final feature, 1973's WONDER WOMEN, hit the big screen.

Starring Sid Haig and an army of beautiful women bent on taking over the world, this was apparently influenced by 1967's IN LIKE FLINT. Shot in the Philippines, it was great to see 70s exploitation film star Vic Diaz in action, and Ross Hagen does a fine job battling the crazed females as Sid Haig looks on, looking as dapper as ever, as seen below on the Hi-Way Drive In's mammoth screen:

The whole shindig ended around 4:00AM, and while my wife and I hit a local hotel, plenty of viewers camped out in tents and in their cars and are probably getting ready for the second night of celluloid mayhem as I write this article.

With a friendly staff and plenty of cool film fans walking around (one guy introduced me to his long haired dachshund!), this is a great place for a film festival and I highly recommend making the pilgrimage next year.

-Nick Cato

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