The Video Vacuum (thevideovacuum) wrote,
The Video Vacuum
thevideovacuum

IN MEMORIAM: THE DIAMOND STATE DRIVE-IN THEATER

<Special Note:  I had originally intended to have this up on the night that The Diamond State Drive-In Theater closed, but what started out as a small farewell grew into a massive eulogy (nearly 3,000 words).  I hope you have as much fun reading this as I did writing it.>

 

Felton, Delaware.  Saturday, November 29th.  9:00 pm.

 

The Diamond State Drive-In Theater, Delaware’s only drive-in movie theater has closed its doors forever.

 

It’s gone to that Big Drive-In in the Sky.

 

We may never see another drive-in in the First State again.

 

But I’ve come here to praise the drive-in, not to bury it.  For over half a century, The Diamond State Drive-In Theater provided Delaware with the best movie-going experience you can have.  To me, there is no single better way to watch a movie than sitting in your own personal automobile under the stars with someone you love.  

 

The first drive-in theater opened in Camden, New Jersey on June 6, 1933.  Over the years, the number of drive-ins grew and grew, and particularly flourished during the post World War II “Baby Boom”.  It was in this period that The Diamond State Drive-In Theater opened up in Felton (on August 12, 1949 to be exact).  At the peak of drive-in’s popularity, there were close to 5,000 drive-ins in America.  In 1954 there were as many as 9 drive-in theaters in the state of Delaware alone.  Now, there are none.

 

Now you might say, “Mitch, what does it matter to you?  After all you live in MARYLAND for Pete’s sakes!”

 

I’ll tell you why it matters to me.  I have a soft spot in my heart for the drive-ins of yesteryear.  One of my earliest and most memorable movie-going experiences was at the now long gone Delmar Drive-In in Delmar, Delaware.  There I saw a double feature of Mortuary and Mausoleum.  It was that night when I saw Bobbie Bresee’s breasts grow monstrous faces and devour Marjoe Gortner that I realized that the drive-in was the only true place to see a movie.  That historic evening took place in Delaware.  As much as I love my home state, the nearest drive-in in Maryland is in Middle River, about three hours away from my house in Bishopville.  Not an easy haul.  The Diamond State Drive-In was about an hour away, a much more manageable commute even when you’re driving home from a from-dusk-till-dawn show. 

 

The DSDIT was also far more economical than the multiplexes (or as like to call them, “Roofies”).  Double Features cost a measly $8 compared to the $10 you had to fork over in order to see ONE damn movie at a Roofie.  In addition to having some of the best damn popcorn I’ve ever tasted, the DSDIT also served up some out-of-this-world cheeseburgers and inexpensive drinks.  I mean me and my wife would get two tickets, a complete dinner, a healthy ration of snacks for about $30.  You spend that much at a Roofie just on tickets and concessions, without the benefit of a hearty meal AND you only get to see ONE movie to boot.

 

Plus, you got to enjoy the movie inside the comfy confides of your own personal form of transportation and didn’t have to worry about some stupid teenager talking on his cellphone throughout the whole movie.  If on the rare occasion someone did start getting obnoxious, you could simply roll your window up and turn the volume up on the FM radio and all was right with the world.

 

Not to mention you get to see some of the best pre-show material that ever graced the silver screen.  I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of all those commercials they show at a Roofie before the film starts.  The DSDIT, while they do show one or two newer ads, always begin their night's entertainment with the immortal “Let’s All Go to the Lobby!” advertisement.  Honestly, there should be a federal mandate that says that all movie theaters in the nation have to play this before showing a motion picture.  Nothing and I mean nothing sets the mood for a film like some dancing popcorn and singing soda pop.  They also play vintage ads (my favorite is for the mosquito repellent Pic) and even Woody Woodpecker cartoons in between the features.  That’s old school. 

 

Now I’m not going to lie to you and pretend that I didn’t honestly prefer the days when drive-ins showed nothing but exploitation fare like The Big Bird Cage, I Spit on Your Grave, and Pieces (or as I like to call it “The Golden Age”) to the family-friendly oriented experience of the here and now.  As previously stated, I was weaned on stuff like Mausoleum so I may be a bit biased, but every now and then, the DSDIT would return to its Golden Age roots.  Like a few years back when, on Halloween weekend, they played an Evil Dead marathon.  I was sadly unaware that this went down until afterwards and I unfortunately missed out on the fun, but I sure as heck was there for the outstanding Texas Chainsaw Massacre Triple Feature in ‘06.  Yes no matter how many Disney movies and kid-friendly flicks the DSDIT showed, they always kept true to their drive-in heritage around All Hallow’s Eve. 

 

Folks, there is just nothing finer on God’s green Earth than sitting behind the steering wheel of your loyal automobile with the woman you love and watch Leatherface carve up teenagers into human pate not once but THREE times in a single evening.

 

My first experience with the DSDIT was back in ’03 when me and my brother fired up the dearly departed Ford Tempo and gunned it up Route 13 to see a Comic Book Double Feature of X-Men 2:  X-Men United and Daredevil.  I got to tell you it was love at first sight.  It was 1983 all over again.  While X-Men 2 is a classic piece of drive-in cinema, it was still no Mausoleum, but that was okay.  Top that off with a showing of Daredevil, one of the most criminally underrated movies of the 21st century, and you had not one, but two Four Star classics.

 

I admit I’m getting a bit teary-eyed at the fact that I will never see the sight of Ben Affleck dressed in tight red leather beating the crap out of low level hoods on an outdoor screen in Delaware ever again.

 

Personal and financial issues kept me from frequenting the DSDIT for the next couple of years but I never once forgot the magic of that evening watching Hugh Jackman slash the bejesus out of SWAT team personnel with his adamantium claws while under the stars.  It would take three years until I would see my next feature at the DSDIT, but it was well worth the wait as I took my beautiful wife to the aforementioned Texas Chainsaw Massacre Triple Feature.  You just know you’ve found that Special Someone when you can share with her the joys of seeing a redneck lunatic wielding a heavy duty power tool while wearing a mask made out of human skin. 

 

The next year saw us only visiting the drive-in once to see a double bill of Balls of Fury and the Rob Zombified Halloween.  You know I’ve long had a theory that the very nature of watching a film at a drive-in not only enhances the quality of your movie-going experience but the actual quality of the movie itself.  This theory was proven correct on that night.  By all means, Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake should’ve been a total cinematic turd but somehow seeing Zombie’s white trashy deja vu version of John Carpenter’s immortal classic at the drive-in added at least an extra star to the film.

 

Then the unthinkable happened.  In the early months of ’08 I learned that this was to be the final year of the beloved DSDIT.  I was dumbstruck.  How could this have happened?  I started beating up on myself for not visiting the drive-in as often as I would’ve liked.  I told myself that I should’ve been a more frequent patron.  That I should’ve gone more than only three times in five years.  As much as I loved the drive-in, I would only wait for “Must See” entertainment to play there before I would go.  If only I had gone more, maybe the drive-in wouldn’t be in this predicament.  I soon made a pledge to visit the drive-in as often as I could, whenever I could, to see whatever looked remotely interesting.

 

Thankfully ’08 was a GREAT year to be a drive-in moviegoer.  It seemed like wonderful drive-in fare was being cranked out on a week to week basis by Hollywood.  It was as if they sensed that the DSDIT was coming to an end so they decided to shower them with nothing but the finest drive-in flicks since Bobbie Bresee’s mammary monster faces in Mausoleum.

 

First trip we made up to the DSDIT during its final season was in April to see a double feature of Jumper and Rambo.  Usually drive-in double features work better when the films have a common theme.  Jumper and Rambo were similar in that they both had one-word titles.  Jumper was a low grade sci-fi action flick that like the Halloween remake; played ten times better while projected on the jumbo drive-in screen.  Then there was Rambo.  People, there is just nothing more American than seeing Rambo machinegun the bejabbers out of 2,500 Burmese soldiers while resting comfortably in your American made vehicle.  Sigh...  It’s moments like these that I’ll miss the drive-in most.  Sure I have this movie on DVD, but even if I watched it on Blu-Ray in High Definition quality on a 72 inch plasma screen, it still wouldn’t compare to the majesty of seeing Rambo firing 250,000 rounds of high caliber ammunition into the skulls of slimy Burmese soldiers on the drive-in movie screen.

 

The first week in May, me and the wife returned to our beloved DSDIT to check out the awesome double feature of Iron Man and The Forbidden Kingdom.  As with Rambo, Iron Man pulled at our jingoistic heartstrings when Robert Downey Jr. pulled a reverse 9/11 on some Afghani soldiers by napalming them in the face with a flamethrower.  Then Forbidden Kingdom started up and believe you me, that the drive-in was the perfect place to see the historic pairing of kung fu superstars Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

 

A few months later the drive-in was showing a Comic Book Double Feature of Hellboy 2:  The Golden Army and Wanted.  Since I had fond memories of my first trip to the drive-in where they showed a double bill of X-Men 2 and Daredevil, I figured I might as well make another pilgrimage to the DSDIT.  Hellboy 2 was no Daredevil but it did have a great scene in “The Troll Market” where there was about a thousand varieties of aliens, monsters and weirdos.  Wanted was next and it turned out to be the best brain dead action movie since Shoot ‘Em Up.  It didn’t make too much sense (a weaving loom tells assassins who they should murder or some such nonsense) but the best thing I can say about it was that Angelina Jolie’s naked frame looked damn fine projected upon the gargantuan drive-in screen.

 

A couple weeks passed and I heard that the DSDIT was playing The Dark Knight and The X-Files 2.  Although The Dark Knight is overrated like all get out, it will be forever remembered for Heath Ledger’s take-no-prisoners performance as The Joker; one of the best in the history of the drive-in.  When X-Files started up, it stunk up the joint but good.  Still, seeing a cinematic turd at a drive-in is a lot preferable to seeing a cinematic turd in a Roofie, that’s for damn certain.

 

Then on Labor Day Weekend, the DSDIT showed a From-Dusk-Till-Dawn Sci-Fi Quintuple Feature of Space Chimps, Meet Dave, Babylon A.D., Journey to the Center of the Earth, and The Happening.  While neither of the films turned out to be classics, most of them carried a wonderful aroma of drive-in goodness.  Space Chimps was typical of the kiddie fare that the drive-in now catered to, but it wasn’t terrible or anything.  Meet Dave was horribly marketed and the previews were awful, but it turned out to be surprisingly decent and had a handful of good laughs.  Babylon A.D. was Babylon O.K. and featured a great drive-in performance by Vin Diesel and some above average futuristic kung fu.  Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D was next, and even though it wasn’t shown in 3-D (I’m beginning to think this new 3-D craze is a complete crock because none of the movies that have been advertised as being in 3-D have actually been showed in 3-D at my local theaters), it had enough eye candy to keep me awake at 3:00 AM.  Finally, The Happening started up and it was probably the best dang M. Night Shyamamadingdong flick ever made.  I’m not saying that it was any good, but it did have that great scene in which Marky Mark begged a plastic plant not to kill him.  

 

What was even greater than seeing FIVE movies that evening (for the low, low cost of $10) was the fact that it gave us five intermissions to see all of those wonderful drive-in ads, some of which we saw for the first time.  There was the immortal “Let’s All Go to the Lobby”, a classic Woody Woodpecker cartoon, a wonderfully cheesy (no pun intended) nacho commercial from the 70’s, an ad featuring a juggling box of popcorn, as well as the good old “Countdown to Showtime” clock.

 

In the waning days of the DSDIT, they reverted back to playing nothing but kiddie friendly fare like Beverly Hills Chihuahua and High School Musical 3, so we didn’t really see a need to go back.  When the announcement came that on the final night of the drive-in, there would be only be showing ONE feature, my heart sank.  Although I desperately wanted to have one last visit to my favorite theater, the whole point of going to the drive-in was to get the double feature experience.  Add to the fact that the film in question was Bolt, yet another kid’s movie (and another one of those 3-D movies that’s NOT shown in 3-D) I knew I just couldn’t muster up the strength to go one last time.

 

I’m glad that the From-Dusk-Till-Dawn show was the final night that I went to the drive-in because that’s exactly how I wanted it to live on in my mind.  Showing great drive-in entertainment from sundown to sunrise, seeing such spectacular sights as Eddie Murphy sharpening his nose with a pencil, Vin Diesel kung fuing people with his futuristic metal hand, Brendan Fraser fighting off prehistoric piranhas, and scenes of people feeding themselves to lions, that’s how I wanted to remember the DSDIT.  I didn’t want to remember the drive-in as the place that showed badly animated CGI movies starring Scientologists. 

 

It’s kinda like remembering a deceased relative.  You don’t want your last memory of them to be of the senile version of their former self that wasted away dying a slow death in a nursing home.  No, you want to remember them as they were in their prime, when they were filled with life and love. 

 

Now all this time I didn’t sit idly by and let the drive-in go down without a fight.  I did all I could to help it prevail in its fight.  I wrote a plea to the great drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs who was especially bereaved to hear of the DSDIT’s imminent passing.  I wrote long letters to the Historical Society of Felton, urging them to consider it a historical landmark.  I got a pleasant reply from Sarah Ferguson who let me know that my voice did not go unheard, but at the end of the day, it did little from stopping the inevitable.  No matter how many voices were heard, the drive-in’s lights came to a close on November 29, 2008.

 

There is a silver lining though.  There are plans to move the drive-in to Wattsville, Virginia where it will hopefully reopen in ’09 or ’10.  By then, who knows what kind of spectacular drive-in entertainment will be in store for us.  One thing is for sure though; wherever the drive-in goes, I most certainly will follow.

 

Until we meet again under a starlit night, this is Mitch Lovell reminding you that the drive-in will live on...

Tags: .tales from the video vacuum, drive-in reviews
Subscribe
  • Post a new comment

    Error

    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

  • 0 comments