Before he made Marilyn Chambers INSATIABLE and tackled late night TV, director Stu Segall made his debut with the slasher prototype DRIVE-IN MASSACRE, on Blu-ray from Severin Films.
When a young couple is brutally murdered by a sword-wielding assailant at the Simi Drive-in, detectives Mike Leary (John Goff, NURSE SHERRI) and John Koch (Bruce Kimball, LOVE CAMP 7) find some more peculiar than the usual suspects. Owner Van Houzen – who used to run the venue as a carnival – has ostensibly been living overseas (along with his collection of swords), manager and failed sword swallower Austin (Robert E. Pearson, BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA-VIXENS) is "the perfect asshole" who believes that all teenagers are "one big zit with long hair" and does not care if the killer strikes again so long as the customers keep paying, half-witted janitor Germy (Douglas Gudbye, ILSA: HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHEIKS) was also a sword swallower before his "accident", and regular customer and peeping tom Ingleson (Norman Sheridan, JOHNNY FIRECLOUD) may be doing something more than beating his meat as he prowls the drive-in in search of necking couples. As the murders continue under their very noses, Leary and Koch find what few leads they have slipping away as the blood splashes the screen.
DRIVE-IN MASSACRE is poor example of the pre-slasher body count film with much padding in between gory murders even at the short running time of seventy-four minutes, the film would probably make a good double-bill with Leonard Kirtman's CARNIVAL OF BLOOD (indeed, highlights from the two films made it onto Wizard Video's Elvira-hosted clipshow FILMGORE) or MARDI GRAS MASSACRE for that very reason. Jacqueline Giroux (TRICK OR TREAT) ends up being the only thing close to the film's final girl, emerging in the last four minutes after an appearance during the opening credits, while the open ending's cleverness comes only from its effort to take into account hardtop theater play. DRIVE-IN MASSACRE is more interesting for the California exploitation royalty of its cast and crew. Director Stu Segall (DEAD ON) moved between low budget softcore and hardcore features throughout the rest of the 1970s and early 1980s before he was recruited by Stephen J. Cannell (BERETTA) for his budget thriftiness (in his "legit" filmography) as producer and director for the series HUNTER followed by RENEGADE and SILK STALKINGS along with other episodic television. Actor Goff penned the film along with writing partner/character actor George "Buck" Flower (TEEN LUST) – who pops up as a red herring alongside daughter Verkina (MAG WHEELS) in a scene when Segall was informed by his script supervisor three days into a four day shoot that the film would run under feature-length – while John Alderman (LITTLE MISS INNOCENCE), Sandy Carey (FLESH GORDON), and Janus Blythe (THE HILLS HAVE EYES) are among the potential victims. Like Segall, cinematographer Ken Gibb (ALIEN ZONE) and gaffer Ernest Paul Roebuck (PSYCHIC KILLER) would work in porn, mainstream films, and episodic television (including DP assignments on HUNTER and RENEGADE), and Harry Novak regular John Tull (SOUTHERN COMFORTS) served as the film's assistant director.
Released theatrically in 1977 by Gail Films and on home video by Charles Band's Cult Video in 1982 (followed by reissues from Magnum Entertainment and Paragon later in the decade), DRIVE-IN MASSACRE's DVD life has been in the form of extremely soft and murky bootlegs from the likes of Cheezy Flicks and Mill Creek. The film's legitimate digital debut occurred last year in the U.K. from 88 Films in a Blu-ray edition featuring an interview with Segall, a featurette with U.K. slasher historian Justin Kerswell, and the addition of the film's TV cut (a composite of the theatrical version's HD master and video inserts of alternate takes). Severin's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-ray from the original negative looks virtually unblemished apart from a couple emulsion scratches, a faint water stain for a couple minutes, and a bit of damage preceding the final freeze frame. The 1970s color scheme of the sets, locations, and costumes is pretty muted but bloody reds pop and a few vibrant blue stand out nicely. The night exteriors at the drive-in look fine enough when on takes into account the lighting and rushed schedule but the blue tinting of a day-for-night exterior shot of the police station looks a bit strong. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track boasts clear dialogue and a bit of presence to the scoring (acoustic guitar and early synthesizer) and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish dub is also included. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided which transcribe shitheel as "shit hole" throughout.
Exclusive to this release is an audio commentary by director Segall who recalls working as a private eye and getting the opportunity to visit a Russ Meyer set when he was introduced to a make-up artist. He worked behind the scenes in a handful of softcore films before stepping behind the camera as director under the pseudonyms Godfrey Daniels (SADDLE TRAMP WOMEN) and Arthur Byrd (THE SUCKERS). DRIVE-IN MASSACRE one of four films directed back-to-back including C.B. HUSTLERS (a trailer of which is included on the disc as an Easter Egg). He notes how the necessity of shooting enough footage for a feature on location in four days lead to a lot of endless dialogue sequences that he now would have cut back as a more experienced director and recalls that he did not know that producing partner Martin Gatsby (who plays the first victim) was literally colorblind until he saw his color scheme for the poster, and that the film's trailer misspelled "massacre" and had to be fixed after prints had been struck. An unidentified moderator who chimes in about a half-hour into the film to ask about Segall's adult work, and he speaks briefly about Marilyn Chambers as well as his side work turning hardcore films into softcore versions (including INSATIABLE, BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR, and DEEP THROAT) before moving onto his television work.
Also new is an interview with actor/writer Goff (16:18) who discusses how he started out as an actor and worked on the side as a writer for The Hollywood Reporter (along with penning intros for the couples of THE NEWLYWED GAME) before meeting writing partner Flower. While Flower and Segall started production on DRIVE-IN MASSACRE, he was writing C.B. HUSTLERS with Alderman. He also recalls working on Matt Cimber's THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA where as a trustworthy friend of Flower he was cast to play opposite Verkina as the protagonist's father in incestuous flashbacks and that he and Flower were called back to do reshoots on John Carpenter's THE FOG for their death scenes (which were originally offscreen as scripted). In "Norm Sheridan Recalls Drive-in Massacre" (11:45), the actor discusses his friendship and dinner theater work with Alderman preceding the film, how Segall got him into character, the filming of the foot chase, and his death scene. He mentions that he left acting for the black jack tournament circuit while working for the city of Los Angeles. Carried over from the 88 Films disc is the "Making the Massacre" interview with Segall (6:32) in which he recalls that the idea for the film came from the possibility of what could happen when a drive-in goer leaves the safety of the interior of the car to reach for the tinny drive-in speaker but was otherwise disinterested in the horror genre. He also recalls how he put together the make-up effects by hand with cow guts, stage blood, and potato gourds when the make-up artist's original concept failed. The film's theatrical trailer (2:49) is also included and the disc's cover is reversible (the inner side featuring the artwork from the Magnum VHS). (Eric Cotenas)
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