The concept of the drive-in looms large in the daydreams of the schlock fiend. Once a staple of American towns big and small, they are now rarities that remain operational in a handful of places. Even when you can find them, they’re playing the expected multiplex junk instead of the amped-up exploitation fare for than b-movie fans associate with the drive-in concept. That fantasy of seeing trashy movie classics under the stars, much like the fantasy of seeing grungy flicks at a grindhouse, remains just that — a fantasy — for most people who are interested in these kinds of movies.
Thus, when the opportunity to see the right kind of movies at a real-live drive-in presents itself, self-respecting schlockophiles owe it to themselves to jump at the opportunity — and that’s what your Humble Reviewer did when he found out about the Drive Invasion. This annual event has been going on for over a decade now at Atlanta’s Starlight Six Drive-in and it offers up an all-purpose celebration of schlock-culture, Southern-style: there is a vintage car show, a slew of bands playing all afternoon and vintage drive-in movies all night long.
This was Your Humble Reviewer’s second visit to this storied event so he knew what he was in for when he arrived this time. He arrived at the Drive-In around 10:30 — gates open around 10 for the event and it’s advisable to get there early if you want a plum spot for the evening’s cinematic festivities.
You immediately get that delightful vintage feeling as you roll onto the lot — this drive-in has been in business since 1949 and it makes no gestures towards trying to be hip or modern. When you step into the snack bar, it retains its old-school layout and look. Even the murals added to its inner walls maintain a charming retro sensibility.
Bands played throughout the afternoon: there were stages set up near the snack bar and the projection building, with acts trading off at each location into the evening hours. Drive Invasion’s approach to music mixes rockabilly, punk, surf and alt-country sounds into the event’s own signature sonic brew. Bands this year included the Fleshtones, the Cynics and Jason & The Scorchers (who played a nearly two-hour set to close the musical portion of the festivities).
To be honest, the music part of the event wasn’t a big interest for Your Humble Reviewer so he only gave it passing attention. That said, he was delighted to hear one band play something that sounded like the Ventures doing a surf-rock instrumental with Tijuana Brass-style horns sprinkled on top. It would be nice to see a little more in the way of soul or funk represented on the lineup since those styles are just as much a part of the Southern music experience but what was there obviously pleased most of the crowd.
There were also tent-style stands to peruse, mainly local businesses and some groups setting up tables to promote Atlanta-area events. Art, clothing and a variety of kitschy knick-knacks could be purchased at these stands. Your Humble Reviewer’s favorite was an enterprising individual who made magnets using art from vintage film posters and rock music-related imagery.
There was a surprising minimum of food vendors — basically, there was one stand serving barbecue and another stand serving corn dogs and funnel cakes in addition to the snack bar (note: the funnel cakes were great but they lower your center of gravity close to the asphalt for the next three or four hours after you eat one). Unless additional food vendors get added to future shows, your best bet is to pack a lunch and/or snacks.
Even better was a vintage car show. It was open to cars from 1972 or earlier and the resulting lineup included rat, rod, custom and stock cars. The highlight was a convincing replica of Stuntman Mike’s car from Death Proof, complete with a chrome duck hood ornament (which was a reference to the hood ornament of Kris Kristofferson’s rig in Convoy, a film that was screened during the evening part of the event).
Your Humble Reviewer also enjoyed getting to meet author/schlock-historian Paul Talbot, who wrote the modern-classic film tomes Mondo Mandingo and Bronson’s Loose. He’s a great guy and a font of fascinating info about exploitation films (topics of discussion with Mr. Talbot included Cannon Films, the Exterminator series, the ins and outs of Tom “Billy Jack” Laughlin’s career, etc.).
Come back on Thursday for the second part of this report, including a rundown of the movies shown and thoughts on the event itself.