Director: Fred Olen Ray
Retromedia Entertainment

Long before Miramax’s GRINDHOUSE, Fred Olen Ray and his American Independent Pictures company schooled fans in the art of drive-in ballyhoo with the AMC “Up All Night” T&A perennial BIKINI DRIVE-IN (out on DVD from Retromedia in its uncut, uncensored form).

Just as Kim Taylor (Ashlie Rhey, WITCHCRAFT 7: JUDGEMENT HOUR) and Carrie (Sarah Bellomo, BEACH BABES FROM BEYOND) are deciding that they don’t want to spend all summer tanning on the beach while their boyfriends toss around the football, Kim learns that she has inherited the El Monte Drive-in Theater from her grandfather. A film buff – as all hot girls secretly are in exploitation films – Kim has fond memories about the old drive-in, but she learns from the bank that she’ll lose the drive-in if she doesn't pay $25,000 in late lease payments by Monday (and it’s Friday). Carrie entices her boyfriend Bobby (Rob Vogl) into helping them with a romp in the hot tub, but Kim’s boyfriend Darryl (George Cost) refuses to help and they break up. What Kim doesn’t realize is that unscrupulous businessman – is there any other kind in these films? – Winston (David Friedman, the producer of H.G. Lewis’ “Blood Trilogy”) had been trying without success to buy the theater from her uncle since it is the only thing standing in the way of his big land development for a supermall. Winston enlists heavies Harry (Ross Hagen, WONDER WOMEN) and Carl (Peter Spellos, BOUND) to deal with Kim, with some help from his college-educated son Brian (Richard Gabai, NIGHTMARE SISTERS). Brian quickly defects to the other side after meeting Kim, who beds him not so long after. Brian puts his business school know-how towards revamping the theater from its usual family fare line-up back to the more classic notion of the drive-in. Fortunately, Oscar the projectionist (Conrad Brooks, BEAST OF THE YUCCA FLATS) has saved film prints of a number of grindhouse flicks, and Brian decides to raise money with a quadruple feature of four of scream queen Dyanne Lynne’s (Michelle Bauer, THE TOMB) classics – SORORITY SISTER SLAUGHTERHOUSE, I WAS A TEENAGE TREE, THE APE MAN COMETH and HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS (the only real title). With the help of lingerie-clad college friends Mandy (Tane McClure, CRAWLSPACE) and Candy (Becky LeBeau, JOYSTICKS), Brian gets local DJ Randy Rocket (director Fred Olen Ray) to give the show a prominent mention, and then he cons Dyanne Lynne into believing that the retrospective will be attended by the press and the President of the United States. Learning of Brian’s plans, Harry sends Carl to scare off the customers while he goes to make sure that Miss Lynne never makes it to the show. Winston also sends the conservative local Sheriff (Steve Barkett, THE AFTERMATH) along to break up the depravity (“I hear they might be communists”).

Fairly unspectacular DTV/late night cable fare, BIKINI DRIVE-IN is chock full of cardboard characters, fair acting, both enhanced and naturally plush busts, and stock situations (the whole “let’s put on a show to save our [insert location here] from the [bank or real estate developer]” which Ray traces back to 1970s fare like GAS PUMP GIRLS and Gabai traces back farther to LITTLE RASCALS on the commentary track). It is, however, livened up by the filmmakers’ genuine affection for the drive-in, and cameos from Famous Monsters’ Forest J. Ackerman and yesteryear drive-in directors David Hewitt (GALLERY OF HORRORS), and Anthony Cardoza (BEAST OF THE YUCCA FLATS), as well as more contemporary exploitationers like Rolfe Kanefsy (THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE), Donald Glut (DINOSAUR VALLEY GIRLS), Dan Golden (NAKED OBSESSION), Jim Wynorski (976-EVIL II) as drive-in customers. Hagen’s wife Claire Polan (ANGELS’ WILD WOMEN) and MY THREE SONS’ Stanley Livingston also make cameo appearances, and Hoke Howell (KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS) appears as an attorney. John Carradine “appears” as Kim’s dead grandfather (in a photograph on his desk). There’s also a lack of underlying cynicism that is evident in some of the more cookie-cutter examples of softcore erotica, and the sex scenes somehow manage to not feel quite so formulaic despite adhering to the usual DTV positions, camera angles, dissolves and musical accompaniment. Trailers include real ones for Steve Latshaw’s GATOR BABES and DARK UNIVERSE, as well as a fake one for the supposedly Italian-made peplum-throwback GOLIATH AND THE CHEERLEADERS (“Bloodthirsty vixens in a ray gun rampage”) featuring Gordon Mitchell, DINOSAUR ISLAND’s Robin Chaney (who also plays the snack bar go-go dancer), and production assistant Cara Curtain. Clips from the four “Dyanne Lynne” features are actually comprised of footage from EVIL SPAWN (including the much-recycled shot of Melissa Anne Moore’s top being ripped open), DARK UNIVERSE and footage from Ray’s test-shoot with Michelle Bauer for ATTACK OF THE 60 FOOT CENTERFOLD, as well as new footage with Dan Golden and Steve Barkett shot on the set of DINOSAUR ISLAND.

While Friedman is a delight as the evil developer, and Bauer’s comic timing has improved over her debut in director Fred Olen Ray’s THE TOMB, Rhey and Gabai are passable leads (although the thin script gives them little to work with). Rhey had become a DTV erotic thriller regular in the early 1990s before first working with Ray in INNER SANCTUM II, and has since become a stand-up comedienne. Gabai had previously appeared in Ray associate David DeCoteau’s NIGHTMARE SISTERS and directed and starred in ASSAULT OF THE PARTY NERDS and its sequel. He would also appear in the underrated DTV flick DEMON WIND, but would take smaller acting roles in a number of Ray horror films and erotic thrillers while also serving as a producer on several of those films (their most recent collaboration was 2011’s SUPER SHARK). In the 1990s, he directed a string of erotic thrillers like VIRTUAL GIRL and VICE GIRLS before moving onto more family friendly fare like MIRACLE DOGS TOO, THE BIKE SQUAD and a 3D version of CALL OF THE WILD. Hardcore actress Bellomo obviously gets into her simulated sex scenes, but is also okay in the dialogue scenes (in between XXX assignments, she would appear in a handful of softcore DTV and cable entries like David DeCoteau’s BEACH BABES FROM BEYOND and its sequel). Nikki Fritz (SPRING BREAK) – who plays the mousey snack bar girl who you know will look hot once she takes off her glasses, lets her hair down, and changes from a 1950s skirt-and-sweater ensemble into a thong bikini – was also a regular of both Ray and Jim Wynorski. The original score was provided by Jeffrey Walton – whose song “Danger Boy” was prominently featured in Ray’s THE TOMB – while the rock songs were provided by actors Gabai and LeBeau (as well as two songs originally used in Jim Wynorski’s NOT OF THIS EARTH that were penned by Bob Sheridan, a Ray bit-actor who wrote SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE II and DINOSAUR ISLAND). Al Adamson regular Gary Graver photographed the film and roughly forty others for Ray as producer or director (during this period, Graver also augmented his directorial CV of hardcore porn with a string of softcore entries usually with the involvement of Ray or Wynorski in some capacity).

The back cover of Retromedia’s “Official Edition” states that the uncut version is finally available “after years of suffering through heavily censored bootleg versions lifted from late night TV prints”. The film’s two previous US DVD releases through Miracle Pictures (one bizarrely double-billed with TOPPER RETURNS) were the 82 minute TV edit, but the 2001 Canadian DVD from Seville was the uncut version (as was Malofilm’s 1995 VHS release), and the 85 minute 36 second running time of the DVD runs a few seconds longer than the Canadian tape and the – likely NTSC-PAL conversion – 1999 UK Metrodome tape and that company’s later DVD on their budget Prism Leisure line (which is probably explained by the addition of the vintage “Our Feature Presentation” card at the top). The single layer disc’s full-screen framing reflects the film’s direct-to-video origins, and the source – which the cover states is “mastered from original materials” – looks like the 1” master struck for the original VHS releases. The film was shot in 16mm and finished on video, so a new telecine of the film materials and an HD reconstruction for a DTVfilm. The image zooms in to 16:9 well, eliminating dead space without cropping any nudity; however, the magnification makes the shortcomings of the digitized analog source more apparent. The Ultra Stereo track is mainly active during the numerous musical montage sequences (including sex scenes).

Ray and star Gabai provide a new commentary track that is shot-through with production trivia and anecdotes that will be quite informative for DTV exploitation fans. Ray mentions that the film was shot using a CP-16 (Cinema Products) 16mm camera sold to him by fellow exploitation director David DeCoteau (who reportedly asked Ray to sell it back to him after he used it on this film). They mention that several of the cast members had also been featured in DINOSAUR ISLAND (which Ray and Jim Wynorski did for Corman’s New Horizons) which had preceded this, and that the big drive-in scenes were shot in two days and were the most expensive part of the film (Kato Kaelin was the film’s extras coordinator, and he was living in O.J. Simpson’s guest house at the time). Ray points out the footage – the sex scenes – that did not appear in the USA Network version (which garnered some hate mail) and the unauthorized discs. Ray also points out posters for the Graver-photographed BUMMER and WILD, FREE, & HUNGRY (in which Graver starred and is prominently featured on the poster art) and reveals that the drive-in car interior scenes, as well as the footage for GOLIATH AND THE CHEERLEADERS, were shot on David Carradine’s property. The creature suit supposedly worn by Shell and later Spellos is a John Carl Buechler creation left over from BIOHAZARD (for which Buechler receives a credit for “creature effects”); however it was designed to be worn by Ray’s then teenage son Ray, who donned the suit again here, the girl who kicks the monster in the crotch while the suit was supposedly worn by Spellos was the younger Ray’s school friend. Gabai also tells us that Bauer and her husband tended bar out of their motor home for the extras during the drive-in location shoot. The Northridge quake hit while McClure was doing her car dance, and that they finished the remainder of the shoot without realizing how much damage had been caused by the quake. Overall, it’s an informative and entertaining track that gives some nice context to a fluffy film.

Other extras include a collection of vintage drive-in intermission spots (1:39), as well as four “Fred Olen Ray’s NITE OWL THEATER” introductions that introduced DVDs of EVIL SPAWN (3:01), FATAL JUSTICE (3:41), ANGEL EYES (3:28) and DARK UNIVERSE (3:08). They all begin with Ray returning from the set of a fictional film to his mansion where he is served a martini by a pair of busty starlets (different ones for each intro) and plucks the feature DVD out of his wife Miss Kim’s cleavage. Also included is the first segment of “Fred Olen Ray’s Drive-In Theater” (2:07),which is built around footage from BIKINI DRIVE-IN and features more suggestive antics from Ray and Miss Kim. The segment does not introduce any film in particular, and probably could have been appended to the start of the disc’s feature. (Eric Cotenas)