Friday, June 28, 2013


We made it. A whole week without new shots of Trailers from Hell has been endured and survived, and now only the weekend needs to be navigated before the curtains rises on Trailers from Hell version 2.0 Monday, July 1. But there's still one more day of the Trivia from Hell Contest standing in the way, and it's the toughest of the five-- which is why it has been dubbed the "Beyond the Pale" edition. (Also, after churning your brain on these posers, you'll be beyond pale... but that's another story.)

Just like the other four days, send in your responses to and be sure to include the phrase "Trailers from Hell Beyond the Pale" in your e-mail header. And since these questions are extra chewy, we'll give you through Saturday to send in your answers before we collect the week's worth of e-mails together and start figuring out who gets the win. And speaking of win, whoever does emerge victorious on this day's group of questions will take home two DVDS, the Trailers from Hell Vol. 2 collection and the splashy DVD version of The Howling, both discs signed by the estimable auteur himself, Joe Dante. Nice.

Let's get to it, shall we?


1) Gert Frobe and Ursula Andress shared a similar fate when co-starring with Sean Connery.

2) Silence is golden in this low budget horror film narrated by Jerry Lewis' former associate.

3) Julius Kelp and Walter Scharf must of been a fan of this ghost story. Why?

4) He commandeered two of the most famous ships in history and they both sank: one in the Atlantic Ocean and the other in Crete.

5) He talks through the entire picture yet when we see him, he doesn't make a sound.

***************************************** is the destination for your picks. Send 'em on in, and let's all get ready to find out what Trailers from Hell Version 2.0 has in store for us on Monday! Thanks for playing!


Thursday, June 27, 2013


Zeroing in on the unveiling of Trailers from Hell Version 2.0, we find ourselves also zeroing in on the climax of the Trivia from Hell Contest, and today is when things start to get truly hellish. If you thought things were tough before, now we're really going to see who deserves hellish honors and who will just end up in the Ninth Circle. If you can survive today's Headsplitting Edition and come up with five correct answers, you'll not only win the Volume Two Trailers from Hell DVD but also a DVD copy of Joe Dante's classic horror comedy Gremlins!

Here are your head-splitting Thursday posers:


1) He was Hitchcock's grisly gardener who turned over a new leaf and went to law school.

2) This glamorous Gale auditioned to scare Miss Gale.

3) These siblings shared the same crime-busting role and ended their careers dubbing animals for Disney.

4) This actor was equally at home in Macy's department store and anthills.

5) This Russ Meyer regular wrote the theme song for his menacing offspring's kiddie flick.


So sharpen up your pitchforks and submit your answers to as soon as possible.  And when you do, don't forget to include the phrase "Trailers from Hell Head-Splitting" in the subject header of your e-mail so Your Humble Trailers from Hell Taskmaster doesn't get confused and incinerate the answers out of pure devilish frustration.

And don't forget-- Friday brings the culmination of our trivial festivities, the ultimate in movie trivia masterpieces, the Beyond the Pale Edition! 


Tuesday, June 25, 2013


A bit more sweat expected from the Trivia from Hell Contest as we enter into Day Three. Ever so slightly more demanding than the past two days, the gauntlet is being thrown down with this latest batch of questions to further test the mettle of your movie minutiae mastery. What's at stake, besides your claim to trivial glory? Why, a copy of the Trailers from Hell Vol. 2 DVD, of course!

All you have to do is peruse the five questions that follow, do a little molar gnashing, then submit your answers to Please use the phrase "Trivia from Hell Teeth-Grinding" in the subject header of your e-mail so Your Humble Contest Wrangler (that's me) won't get confused. At the end of the week the correct answers will be tallied and today's winner, along with all the others, will be announced after the new Trailers from Hell site makes its premiere. 

So clench those jaws... let's go.


1) He certainly didn't look like a geek, but he played one.

2) He made his last appearance in his most iconic role alongside Martin Milner.

3) This long-running horror duo made one of their earliest appearances alongside Toulouse Lautrec.

4) He was Natasha's nefarious boyfriend and The Eloi's chief librarian.

5) In the words of Dennis Hopper, this actor made green hair "suave" long before the Joker.


Okay, time to sweep up the dental dust from all that grinding and submit your answers to  Good luck!



Day Two of the Trivia from Hell Contest already, which means we're one day closer to the unveiling on July 1 of the spiffy new-and-improved version 2.0 Trailers from Hell Web site. To make the time pass even more quickly and get geared up for that unveiling, here are five more questions in the contest, the slightly more head-scratching Medium Cool Edition. Of course you can look for contest updates and more information on Twitter and Facebook throughout the week. And remember, the person who emerges triumphant from today's round will take home a copy of the Trailers from Hell Vol. 2 DVD!

All you have to do now is take a look at the five questions below, invoke the influence of your muse and then submit your answers to  Please use the phrase "Trivia from Hell Medium Cool" in the subject header of your e-mail so Your Humble Contest Wrangler (that's me) won't get confused. At the end of the week the correct answers will be tallied and today's winner, along with all the others, will be announced after the new Trailers from Hell site makes its premiere. 

Without any further fidgeting, here be today's Medium Cool queries:


1) This chandelier swinger was at his best when he was in the pink.
2) He designed Vincent Price's favorite house on Haunted Hill.
3) His most controversial part was in a movie-mad psycho-drama far more terrifying than his Grimm future role.
4) Shakespeare could have sued the makers of this fifties space opera.
5) Bette Davis' bloody victim and patriarch of the first acting family to be simultaneously honored on Hollywood Blvd.
There you have 'em. Time to submit the answers to and find out what spare body parts you're made of. Good luck!

Monday, June 24, 2013


UPDATED! 6/24/13  2:22 p.m.

While construction is being finalized on the new 2.0 version of Trailers from Hell, it's time to get the Trivia from Hell contest, presented exclusively by Yours Truly here at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, well and truly under way.
We'll start off with five easy (over easy) questions brought to you by the TFH vaultmeisters, all designed to tickle your recall and whet your appetite for what's in store when the new Trailers from Hell site arrives on Monday, July 1. Look for contest updates and more information on Twitter and Facebook throughout the week.

All you have to do now is take a look at the five questions below, scratch your head a bit and then submit your answers to  Please use the phrase "Trivia from Hell Over Easy" in the subject header of your e-mail. At the end of the week the correct answers will be tallied and the winner will be announced after the new Trailers from Hell site makes its premiere. 

And prizes for each day's contest winner have just been announced!

Those who emerge triumphant on each of the first three days of the contest (Over Easy, Medium Cool and Teeth-Grinding Editions) will win a copy of the Trailers from Hell Vol. 2 DVD!

She or he who conquers Thursday's extra-difficult Headsplitting Edition will be rewarded not only with the Trailers from Hell Vol. 2 DVD but also a DVD copy of Gremlins!

And the person who goes Beyond the Pale on Friday and masters the most challenging level of Trivia from Hell will nab the Trailers from Hell Vol. 2  DVD and a DVD copy of The Howling, both signed by Joe Dante himself!

So let's dilly-dally no longer. Here are today's over-easy questions:

1) This grisly shocker about synthetic flesh was filmed in two separate versions, one in black and white and one in color. There was nothing synthetic about the flesh of its leading lady.

2) The common cold defeated the aliens in these two films, both based on the work of H.G. Wells.

3) This slow-walking islander scared off both Bob Hope and Fay Wray.

4) After tearing up half the town, this misbehaving monster was escorted back home by his mother.

5) The smell of seaweed means a pajama party is about to come to an abrupt end in what low-budget drive-in fin-fest?


Okay, let's have those answers at And be sure to come back tomorrow for part two, the Medium Cool edition of the Trailers from Hell Trivia from Hell contest! Good luck!

Sunday, June 23, 2013


Another indication that World War Z was headed in the right direction (at least as far as I'm concerned) can be found in the faces of its actors. First of all (it's in the billing), Brad Pitt ages well into his role, one which superficially sets him up to be a sort of Tom Cruise man against all odds, only to allow Pitt to reveal shades of fear and doubt in his portrayal of a sympathetic father figure who has no choice but to do his part to help save the world. He may hold previous Sexiest Man Alive status, but Pitt also knows how to make us believe, while he’s running from and staring down zombies, that what he’s really thinking of is how to get out and back to his wife and kids, and to also somehow not resent him for the good fortune he’s trying so desperately to preserve.

The rest of the cast may not have as many shades, but in brief roles that somehow avoid contributing to the aggregate appearance of a Jennings Lang all-star roster their arresting faces help them stand out against a swarming horde of the undead and the devastation left in their path. Among those standing out in all-too-brief appearances are Mireille Enos in the relatively thankless role of Pitt’s stoic wife; Daniella Kertesz as the unfortunate Israeli soldier who accompanies Pitt out of Jerusalem; James Badge Dale (Iron Man 3) and Bill Forsyth regular John Gordon Sinclair as Navy SEALs; Ludi Boeken as the Israeli agent who explains to Pitt how he was able to anticipate the zombie invasion of Jerusalem; Fana Mokoena as the UN secretary who is left with, among other weighty responsibilities,  the care and fate of Pitt’s family; David Morse as a jailed C.I.A. agent who explains, with words and a toothless grimace, the horrific North Korean approach to proactive zombie defense; and Peter Capaldi (another Forsyth alum almost but not quite reunited with Sinclair; they both appeared in Local Hero) and Pierfrancesco Favino  as World Health Organization doctors none too eager to welcome Pitt into the newly haunted halls of their research facility. (Only Matthew Fox, recognizable under a beard as a navy pilot, fails to make much of an impression.)

Add also to the ranks of Drs. W.H.O. the stunning Ruth Negga, well-known to U.K. audiences for several TV appearances and a recent award-winning turn as Shirley Bassey in a television biopic. Negga, an actress of Irish and Ethiopian descent, is blessed with sleepily seductive eyes and an inescapably gorgeous countenance which I’m sure could, if given half a chance, inspire even zombies to renounces the pleasures of the flesh. I’m grateful to World War Z for the chills it generated down my spine on a hot summer night, surrounded by a multiplex full of moviegoers who I’m convinced could have turned on me undead-style at a moment’s notice. But I think I’m even more grateful for having been introduced to this talented and beautiful young actress, who impresses here in a brief scene reacting to horrors witnessed on a surveillance monitor but who surely will have many more signature moments in roles better suited to her possibilities than the ones afforded her here.



In the absence of much in the way of political complexity or deep-dish social commentary, the relative intimacy at the heart of World War Z, amid the global devastation of an unexplained viral zombie attack, is perhaps the summer’s biggest movie surprise so far. (The complexities and social observations that characterize Dawn of the Dead and subsequent movies in the George A. Romero canon were never that deep-dish to begin with, if you ask me.) WWZ, directed with heartening fluency and a facility for coherent, intelligently applied tension by Marc Forster (Monsters Ball, Quantum of Solace), quickly establishes quiet unease with reports of mysterious disturbances in nature and in civilized society.  Then all irrational hell breaks loose, starting with the way our awareness of the onset of the horror runs parallel to those of the characters, expanding from the ease and protection afforded ex-UN peacekeeper Brad Pitt and family (in their home and then from inside their car) as the illusion of their safety is slowly eroded away from the outside. 

After seeing the trailers, I fully expected World War Z to be one relentless big-budget zombie-kill sequence after another (or, as David Edelstein termed it, just another goddamn zombie movie). But this epic moves in some satisfyingly mysterious ways, specifically in reverse, from grandiose to the more microcosmic. The terrifying sequence of the family’s desperate flight from chaos and search for shelter establishes the movie’s focus, but its chills are nearly matched later on in a scene which couldn’t feel more different. In one of the movie’s more quietly devastating moments, Pitt’s wife (Mireille Enos) and daughters, who have been floating safely at sea on an aircraft carrier with naval and UN officials and other VIPs, are relocated to a ground-based quarantine camp to make room for others after Pitt is mistakenly assumed dead, and the look in the mother’s eyes says everything she suspects, but dare not verbalize, about their newly reshuffled chances for survival on land.

After Philadelphia falls, we follow Pitt, recruited with a twist of emotional blackmail by the government to search out the origins of the outbreak, into a walled-in Jerusalem which is soon overtaken by shrieking Zekes, Army-speak for that other “Z” word. (The Jerusalem section is, despite the frightening, apparently already iconic sight of the undead swarming over that protective wall, also the movie’s most formulaic-- Romero by way of Black Hawk Down.)

From there, the focus is further reduced to the jet airbus on which Pitt and a horribly wounded Israeli soldier escape certain doom on the ground, only to be faced with the inescapable worst once airborne. Finally, the fight to save humanity is brought into the eerily hushed halls of a Welsh W.H.O. compound where Pitt and a group of surviving researchers must navigate around 30 or so ex-colleagues-turned-flesh-eaters that are wandering the halls, literally standing and shuffling (and eventually sprinting) in the way of a possible vaccine.

The movie ends not with a bang or a whimper or, de rigueur for the genre, a cynical scream, but instead on a note of hope that seems right, given the trajectory of the movie from the grandest canvas down to the most unexpectedly quiet, even if it feels like a bit of a fizzle in the context of a summer movie spectacular. I completely understand those who complain that the relatively subtle political awareness of Max Brooks’ novel has gone unserved (ignored, really) by the spectacle-by-committee that is World War Z. But given the many ways that fidelity to Brooks’ oral history strategy could have turned a more faithful translation into just another disaster movie sporting a blue-ribbon international cast, the movie we actually have before us this summer stands to be appreciated for what it is rather than dismissed for what it is not. It’s a movie that, for all of its concessions to demographic research and the contours of the international market, still feels unexpected, one which could have regurgitated the tiresome Roland Emmerich-approved template of escalating geographical destruction, but instead boils down to the sacrifice of a single man looking the most fearsome horror right in its milky, dead eyes.



From its first transmission back in May 2007, Trailers From Hell was a Web site with an idea so marvelous, so fertile with possibilities it seemed incredible and ridiculous no one had thought to do it before. But like all great enterprises, the idea had to wait for exactly the right coming together of creative minds and passionate purpose. The brainchild of film director Joe Dante, producer Elizabeth Stanley, graphic artist Charlie Largent and new media entrepreneur Jonas Hudson, TFH set its hooks into the percolating pop-culture saturated brainpans of a cinephile culture which seemed ready and waiting for a new and addictive perspective on the overflowing vaults of film history.

Built around the specifically hyperbolic phenomenon of the movie trailer—always and forever the movie industry equivalent of a carnival barker beckoning to the masses with promises of THRILLS! ACTION! MYSTERY! ROMANCE! ADVENTURE!--  the site provided two to four-minute film classes headed by an esteemed and ever-increasing staff of “gurus” including Dante and other directors and writers like John Landis, Allison Anders, Larry Karaszewski, Josh Olson and Larry Cohen, to name but a few. These garrulous storytellers brought their unique perspectives to what amounted to brief histories of the movies under consideration, all within the time and space of the original trailers used to promote them. The result—an intelligent, often humorous distillation of a movie’s context, history, influence and occasional absurdities into a presentation that, in accordance with the fast and furious pace of the Internet age, lasted only as long as the trailer itself.

Trailers from Hell was a bit of a connoisseur’s paradise at first glance, but word of mouth soon turned it into a genuine phenomenon, a one-stop little shop of horrors and other delights which has over the course of the past six years become a genuinely essential click (each week brings three new trailers) and a unique archive of film commentary amidst the routine glut of movie Web sites. But despite appearances, TFH has never been the exclusive province of horror or genre geeks—a quick glance at the site archive reveals trailers from movies as disparate and unusual as Foreign Correspondent, Rashomon, Get to Know Your Rabbit, Skidoo, Go Tell the Spartans, Sorry, Wrong Number and Lisztomania right alongside those for juicy titles like Gigantis, the Fire Monster, The Pit and the Pendulum and Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

However, if you check in this coming week you won’t see much activity on the Trailers from Hell campus, and that’s because there are some changes afoot for this great institution of reverently irreverent erudition. The TFH brain trust is readying a whole new look that will premiere next Monday, July 1, a top-to-bottom redesign that goes well beyond a simple face-lift. What you’ll see Monday after next will be a much more fluid, social-media-oriented site than has existed in the past.

But just because Trailers from Hell is dark this week doesn’t mean you can’t still get your fix of movie madness. Every day over the next five days this humble blog you’re reading right now will proudly host a little bit of TFH fun to whet your appetite for the exciting changes that will be unveiled on July 1. Starting Monday, you’ll be able to test your mental mettle against the gurus themselves, who have concocted a trivia quiz of escalating intensity that will begin with five “Over Easy” questions relating to the minutiae of movie history and move ever forward toward Friday’s brain-frying beyond-the-pale trivia challenge designed to separate the true Trailers from Hellcats from the pesky, pitchfork-wielding pretenders. You’ll submit your answers to my e-mail address here at SLIFR— where at the end of the week they’ll be tabulated and the winners announced on the brand-new Trailers from Hell Web site.

It’s a real honor to join with the good and gracious folks at TFH to help bridge the changeover between the world of Trailers from Hell we all know and love and the exciting new frontier of film commentary and movie love laying in wait within the redesigned vaults of this one-of-a-kind site. So come back here tomorrow-- Monday, June 24--  for the first of five installments as Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule presents the Trailers from Hell TRIVIA FROM HELL Contest!

Supernatural? Perhaps. Baloney? Perhaps. A bucket of bloody fun? Most definitely!


Friday, June 14, 2013


One of the best movies I saw last year is being dribbled into L.A. theaters this weekend with absolutely no fanfare, not even so much as a tiny ad in the Friday Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times (a movie section I once rushed to with great anticipation which takes me about five minutes to consume and disregard these days). It's Peter Strickland's giallo-infused Berberian Sound Studio, and if after having read the review below (originally written last October for the 2012 AFI Fest) or the many others available online you have a notion to go out and see it (which I heartily recommend that you do), there will be a list of the two theaters in town that are showing it, with accompanying showtimes.Readers in others parts of the country are advised to keep your ears close to the ground for hints as to if and when and where you might get a chance to see it theatrically. (For those with all-region capability, it's available on blu-ray through

“I just need to scream, that’s all.” So says a beleaguered actress looping her lines in a low-rent Italian studio where the soundtrack of a sexually violent giallo film, Il Vortice Equestre (The Equestrian Vortex), is being finalized under the guidance of the film’s abrasive producer and its pretentious, deceptively avuncular director. Also working behind the soundproof glass is Gilderoy (the marvelous Toby Jones), a sound engineer imported from Britain whose résumé is more closely associated with inoffensive nature documentaries than with the sort of ghoulish undertaking on which he now finds himself at work. 

Gilderoy, a naturally recessive man ideally fitted to the anonymity of postproduction, is at first perplexed at having even been chosen to work on a film bearing a title he soon discovers has nothing to do with horses gamboling in pastoral settings. But that puzzlement soon gives way to an escalating tension between Gilderoy’s passionless, professional, purely mechanical need to just get on with the job and his increasingly apparent psychological defenselessness against the exploitative evidence of the horrors depicted in the film.

In its surface form, the strange, hypnotizing Berberian Sound Studio has a hushed formality that insinuates itself underneath your skin in search of a frisson of psychological fear, a method far removed from the violent visual cacophony of the typical giallo. Yet it is absolutely suffused with fetishistic  close-ups— of 1976-vintage sound and film equipment—and hallucinatory aural landscapes, innocent sounds created from mundane Foley sessions which cannot be separated from associations with the grisly imagery they are meant to enhance, that are the hallmark of vintage Italian horror. 

Writer-director Peter Strickland seals Gilderoy (and us) inside the studio, surrounded by sounds we cannot reconcile with sights that are denied us-- the clever faux opening title sequence for Il Vortice Equestre  is the only footage we ever actually see-- and the free-floating dread and disorientation Gilderoy begins to experience eventually becomes our own. Even the letters Gilderoy receives from his mother back in England, filled with benign accounts of bird-watching and the unmistakable longing for her son—Gilderoy’s only lifeline to a world he recognizes— begin to take on awful shadings as the engineer’s grasp on reality becomes ever more tenuous. 

Viewers will be reminded of Argento, certainly (those close-ups of tape machines scream Deep Red), but through the constant layering of ghastly shrieks and perverse sound effects  the spirit of Brian De Palma’s Blow Out and the search for the perfect scream are imaginatively invoked here as well. Strickland constructs a convincing case for sound as a dominant, almost subliminal force in our experience of the movies, all while entertainingly deconstructing the very process by which that sound is assembled, dissolving the audience’s complicity into magnetic particles of horror which begin tightening around and threatening to absorb Gilderoy. But unlike in Blow Out, that perfect scream which somehow synthesizes frivolous art with inescapable humanity proves elusive. Within the walls of the Berberian Sound Studio there are only fading echoes, the blinding light of the projector bulb washing out everything in its throw, reels of tape spinning out of focus, and the final click of a switch signaling escape into the dark.


Berberian Sound Studio is playing this week (and likely not much longer than that) at the Arena Cinema on North Las Palmas in Hollywood and also at the Downtown Independent on Main Street in Downtown Los Angeles.


Monday, June 03, 2013


The future shines bright from the Mission Tiki Drive-in's brand-new digital projection system (Photo courtesy of Emilio Flores)

Way back in 2005 I was lucky enough to be part of a gathering of drive-in movie aficionados who ended up becoming the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society, a group which managed to transcend our natural tendency toward nostalgia and ended up playing a part, however small, in promoting the mini-resurgence of drive-in awareness and popularity here in the greater Los Angeles area. The formation of SoCalDIMS, as it came to be known, coincided with the emergence of a super-bright illumination system called Technalight, with which many of the drive-ins we frequented, as well as many others around the country, were eventually retrofitted. Technalight was the next step in improving the drive-in experience for the throngs who had come to miss them as their popularity diminished in the 1990s, as well as for promoting drive-ins as an inexpensive family-oriented alternative to the multiplex crush.

Speaking as one who grew up with drive-ins (one in particular) that weren’t exactly bastions of technological accomplishment—none of them were back then, really—the step up from really old-school 35mm carbon-arc and platter projection systems to what Technalight has had to offer Southern California drive-in fanatics since 2005 really can’t be exaggerated. But in the old pre-Technalight days, brightness and clarity of the image wasn’t always dictated simply by the limitations of the machinery in the projection room.

The owner of the drive-in in my hometown was never a very enthusiastic participant in his chosen profession of movie exhibition, but never less so than in the summer months, when the persistence of the sun in the sky meant that he had to start the show around the time he’d really rather be slipping on his smoking jacket and slippers and preparing to retire for the evening.  And on the monthly movie calendars he used to promote the theater’s schedule, he always made sure to note that the “show starts at dusk,” with an approximate start time always printed below the feature information on the calendar. Folks who went to the drive-in regularly knew that those start times were almanac-inspired and quite specific—if the calendar said “Show Starts at 8:45,” by God, that’s when it would start. 

The problem was that those times were never coincidental with the actual darkness required to project film. The earlier the start, the earlier the finish, so those schedules were usually timed not with the night sky but to the approximate moment the sun disappeared over the western horizon, and since the drive-in lot was positioned so that cars were pointed west facing the screen, there was always plenty of residual sunlight warming the sky in precisely the direction of the projector’s throw. As a result, the first 30 minutes or so of every movie I ever saw at the Circle JM Drive-in in Lakeview, Oregon, looked the same, mostly a murky collection of shadowy movement on the screen that gradually gained enough brightness to actually be discernible at about the time a third of the movie was already over. Though not every drive-in I went to as a young man was this silly about determining the right time to start a movie, most were lacking the substantive clarity that would make them a viable alternative for someone who really wanted to “see” the movie, which was why Technalight registered as such a stark improvement.

Fast-forward to 2011, a point in the history of movie exhibition when it became clearer and clearer that studios were moving toward phasing out traditional 35mm distribution in favor of the more freshly  minted DCP, or Digital Cinema Package. And they weren’t making a choice of the matter—plans to halt all 35mm distribution to theaters will, by the end of this year, 2013, be the reality, not just an ominous rumor, and theaters that haven’t adapted, or haven’t been able to afford to convert to digital projection systems (like the one seen on the left, newly installed at the Holiday Drive-in in Fort Collins, Colorado), are preparing to close their doors for good—they’ll have no more films to thread through their seriously obsolete 35mm film projectors.

That dire prognosis was one faced by drive-ins too-- for some of them the bottom line was just too hard, and they have had to shut down. But for those that were able to survive and make the switch, being forced kicking and screaming into the digital realm may turn out to be a huge blessing in disguise. All-night 35mm monster movie bliss-outs like the ones held at the Riverside Drive-in in North Vandergrift, Pennsylvania,  do seem to be currently threatened (though it’s hard to imagine studios not making car-club faves like Grease  and American Graffiti readily available). However, most 21st-century drive-ins are family-friendly outlets which thrive not on the schlocky B-movies closely associated with the teen-fueled “ozoner” phenomenon of the 1950s and 1960sbut instead on mainstream fare that can be expected to fill up the giant lots even on weeknights. And if the double feature I took in last weekend at the Mission Tiki Drive-in in Montclair, California, is any indication, digital projection might turn out to be an even better thing to happen to drive-ins and the brightness of their future than Technalight, or maybe even better than the “refreshment center” countdown to show time. 

It seems to me that it’s always a good idea to resist the initial hype on quality of improvements and innovation until one can see the end result with one’s own eyes. So I eagerly gathered up the three girls and we headed out to the Mission Tiki this past Saturday night to check out the newly installed DCP, which the theater had been promoting and trumpeting on its Web site since well before its premiere the previous weekend, with just such an eyewitness account in mind. When my family and I go to the drive-in, we usually like to park in the front row, the better to back our van up toward the screen, pop the hatchback and create a pillow-and-blanket-lined viewing environment  for the kids that spills out the back, where camp chairs, tables, coolers can take over for a real drive-in tailgating feel. It makes for a great atmosphere, but from a vantage point so close to the screen even a Technalight-powered image runs the risk of looking fuzzy at times, especially if the projectionist is not particularly good at monitoring the focus. All the way in through the gate and up until show time, I had trouble getting my head to believe that, given the huge distance from the projection booth to the #3 screen where we were parked Saturday night, digital projection at a drive-in could be that noticeable an upgrade.

How nice it is, sometimes, to be wrong.

At 8:30 p.m., under cover of plenty of night, the first image, a logo for the company that created and installed the digital cinema package in use at the Mission Tiki, snapped onto the screen. From that logo, to the brilliant green cards announcing the latest trailers, to the commencement of the movie itself, there could be little doubt that digital projection and drive-ins might well be a match made in Hollywood heaven. As hard as it is to believe, and I wouldn’t have believed such a claim before seeing it myself, the digital image of Fast & Furious 6 and Iron Man 3 (a great double feature by the way, and a hell of a bargain at a total admission of $22 for the four of us—thanks, Mission Tiki!) was every bit as crisp, clean and clear as ones I’ve seen projected at indoor multiplexes all across Southern California. 

As for the audio, we depended on our car stereo, all sound directed to the rear speakers, to get us through, augmented by the sound pumping out of surrounding cars (we were lucky enough to be parked near a pickup truck that was rockin’ one of these bad boys— an industrial strength Bosch Power Box that, at around $200, would be an excellent Father’s Day gift (clears throat) and a superb addition to the serious drive-in enthusiast’s toy box.

But even with concessions to the varying quality of sound dictated by the FM stereo system and playback system you have available on any given night, I had to admit that with the advent of digital projection, and at the markedly less expensive admission prices, the drive-in suddenly looks like it could develop into a place where a customer might possibly appreciate the way a movie looks as much as indulging in a cool breeze while watching it. The comparatively stress-free fun of kicking back for a movie under the stars has always been a happy alternative to chugging through the multiplex maze, but up till now probably only the most ardent drive-in enthusiast would opt out of the high-tech indoor screen environment for big summer blockbusters. However, and quite improbably, the marvel of digital projection at the drive-in is that as far as the image is concerned DCPs seem to have brought the technological experience of seeing an outdoor movie to within shouting distance of a slick multiplex screening for the first time since Richard Hollingshead kicked off the whole drive-in movie history in 1933-- and at approximately half the price of an outing to your nearest AMC or other big theater chain. 

And from the front row of the lot, just 100 feet or less from the giant screen, there was no dissipation or loss of image sharpness—Vin Diesel and Paul Walker-- or more importantly, Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano, and all those gleaming muscle cars—had a crispness of focus that translated superbly to the great outdoors and was maintained all the way to the end of Iron Man 3.

I have lived my life as a drive-in movie fan fully cognizant of the format’s inherent technical inferiority to indoor theaters, all the while loving and embracing drive-ins for the uniqueness of what they had to offer. At the same time, many of my friends consistently turned their noses up at the experience—for them the trade-off of pristine control versus the relative wildness of a night at the drive-in amounted to too much of a loss. I can’t imagine that veteran drive-in lovers will find much to complain about in regard to what DCPs seem to have added to the appeal of this 75-year-old American institution. But now maybe even those who have so far resisted the siren call of Hollingshead’s car culture-inspired asphalt movie palaces will finally be seduced. Drive-ins began with the isolation of individual automobiles and, after looking all but extinct only a decade ago, have survived long enough to evolve into an expansive, movie-centric outdoor party atmosphere. It may just be that now they can and will continue on into a future so bright it could only be digital.


Some further drive-in reading for the season:

Rod Amateau’s Drive-in (1976) isn’t so much a good movie as it is a delightful bit of pop culture anthropology, a perfect time capsule look at what going to a small-town drive-in was really like. Here’s my review...

and a look at some of the drive-ins that didn’t survive, most particularly the one from my hometown.

Many of the drive-ins in Southern California are now DCP-equipped or will be soon, the latest addition being the Vineland Drive-in, the last remaining drive-in in Los Angeles County, which will be opening up to show off its digital conversion on June 10. If you’re elsewhere around the country, you can find the drive-in nearest you at

And if you’re in the Los Angeles area and would like to see digital drive-in projection for yourself in the company of like-minded seekers, you are cordially invited to join the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society as we convoy to the Mission Tiki for the first big summer drive-in party of the year, Saturday, June 22nd. Get all the details on our Facebook event page. We hope to see you there!