Drive-In Double Feature: TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE & THE GIANT GILA MONSTER!

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Mr. D of Horror and Sons does not seem to discriminate when it comes to horror flicks. I’ve read his reviews, and they cover the spectrum: that modern junk, the 80s classics, the b-movie stuff, the so-bad-it’s-good-no-actually-it’s-plain-terrible, lost sci-fi stuff, all of it. But the one thing I appreciate that he covers (that I don’t see a lot of other popular and current horror sites covering) are the oldies. I’m talkin’ about the black and white goodies (and baddies) from the days of yore that seem to get overlooked — from Atomic Age cheese to the Karloff Klassics. The man has a wide taste, and it’s evident in his choices for this Drive-In Double Feature! And what a storyteller!
Your floor is yours, Mr. D.

“Saturday Night at the Starlite”

The sun is slowly sinking beneath the horizon. Cheap metal tiki torches are placed around the yard, the flames slowly flickering. They are as much for “atmosphere” as they are for warding off mosquitoes, neither “intention” very effective. The orange glow from the flames is washed out by the orange glow of Halloween string lights still wrapped around the house from the previous year.

The screen was once used for overhead projectors in an elementary school somewhere. It’s now secured to my wooden fence with only the finest of Velcro strips. Fighting for scraps of sunlight, I try to connect the speaker wires of a 20-year-old desktop stereo that will serve as my “drive-in” speakers. A bottom-line projector is shining its light out onto the screen as I obsesses over a “perfect image” that I’ll never achieve.

In our kitchen, my wife is setting out plates and cups. Some kind of tater tot casserole and a buffalo chicken dip are simmering in crock pots, still hot and ready for the evening. On the patio, a cooler sits filled with sodas on ice. A space has been saved for whatever our guests may bring for themselves. I fully expect then to have a few “adult beverages”, but I’ll probably not be joining them. I know the headache of taking all this stuff down later. I don’t drink much anyway.

The sky darkens & the stars have come out to shine. At least, I think they have. It’s hard to tell through the city lights. Headlights cut across the side of my lawn, fading minimally in the orange haze from the backyard. My friends get out of their cars, popping their trunk to produce 2 canvas backed folding chairs. Hey, I can’t provide everything.

My son is ecstatic to see them. Really, he’s happy to see anyone. Poor socially deprived kid. He hugs them, sporadically jumping up and down. They make their way to the kitchen. Everyone makes a plate to take with them outside. I eat last, having already made my way outside to turn everything on.

Everyone takes their seats. I unplug the Halloween lights, trying to simulate the dimming lights of the theater. This too is also amusingly ineffective. The evening in swing, everyone fills their guts preparing for a couple of hours of cinematic bliss under the stars.

Instead, I give them Teenagers From Outer Space. A dump bin version at that, playing on a Blu-ray player that’s jacked into an antiquated sound system and emanating from a projector incapable of HD. Welcome to “Starlite Theater”. Don’t make it something it ain’t.

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A man who looks like Satan says something. No one is listening, except me. I always listen to Satan. I’m also adjusting the volume, constantly walking away to judge just how loud is “too loud’. I finally get it “just right”, but it doesn’t really matter. No one ever complains. And the stereo doesn’t get that loud anyway.

Barney the dog is reduced to mere bones by a blast from a ray gun.  We are reduced to laughter louder than the volume that I’d spent all that time adjusting. Honestly, it’s an incredibly mean-spirited scene, but we still laugh. We’re awful people and we’re corrupting the children. The deaths of the 2 men vaporized at the gas station also seems pretty grim, but not to the same degree as Barney’s death. People love dogs. No one gives a shit about other people.

Enter Earthlings “Gramps” (Harvey B Dunn – Night of the Ghouls, Bride of the Monster) and his granddaughter, Betty. They invite Derek into their home before he even says a word. They even go so far as to offer him a room free of rent until he’s able to find a job. Who the hell are these people? Derek could be a serial killer, but they let him eat their food and wear Betty’s brother’s clothes. Pretty soon he’ll be wearing Betty, also free of charge. Betty actually seems down for that.  And Gramps is pimping that ass out to him on the daily. What was I talking about?

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Gramps, is the most dangerously, overly generous man in the world. When Thor, the film’s “bad guy”, arrives at his house looking for Derek, Gramps sees his uniform and assumes that he and Derek must be BFF’s. He tells Thor where Derek went, who he went with, the name of the resident, and even what the kids are going there to do. He stops just short of giving Thor a map. Nope, wait… he does that too, giving Thor detailed directions to the house.

The movie ends with its infamous confrontation with the “gorgon”, in actuality a lobster that has been super imposed over the film. By this time, it’s started to cool off outside. People are making their way back inside, refilling drinks and plates. My wife leaves to put our son to bed. I start the next movie.

My smile widens as the scratchy, black & white image of a giant, scaly claw slams down on the film’s first victims. Don Sullivan’s name is displayed on the screen. My smile widens more. My poor friends have no clue of my obsession with this movie, due mostly to Don’s upcoming musical numbers. “My baby, she rocks….. and rolls!!” You’re damn right, she does.

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We find our film’s teen populous dancing to the latest tunes at the local soda stand, having a swell ol’ time. Our hero, Chase, and his French girlfriend, Lisa, make the scene.  Chase is  “top dog” among the local teens. He’s a good kid, supporting his mother and sister since his father kicked the bucket. He’s immediately concerned about his missing friends. Meanwhile, I’m more concerned about whether or not there are more Frito’s Scoops for my dip.

Mr. Wheeler, father of the missing boy, has summoned the local Sheriff, Jeff, to his house. The sheriff thinks the kids may have run off to get hitched. Wheeler blames Chase for influencing the other kids to get in trouble. Sheriff Jeff is quite fond of Chase (and I’m quite fond of buffalo chicken) & defends the lad against Wheeler’s implications. Wheeler is an oil tycoon with some political pull. Using that, he threatens to take Sheriff Jeff’s badge if he can’t find his son.

I’ve always been a “monster kid” of sorts, even if that monster is just a normal animal running through a model of a town. Night of the Lepus was always a must watch back when TBS showed it every other weekend. (I believe it was TBS. I could be wrong. I don’t believe in research.) So, if you put a lizard, in this case actually a Mexican Bearded Lizard (again, no research), in a town full of Hot Wheels cars, I’m gonna watch every minute of it. I don’t think my friends really feel the same, but my wife loves this flick too, and she’s finally returning from inside.

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Now on the screen…..  A drunk crashes his ride into a fence post after seeing the Gila crossing the road. Presumably, to get to the other side. Chase The Omnipresent just happens to be passing by in the garage’s wrecker. The car is in no condition to drive, but the driver is willing to try. Gotta love that 1950’s determination. Chase tows the car to the garage,  the driver still behind the wheel. The man sleeps it off at the garage while Chase works on his fender damage, singing a song while he works. The man is revealed to be popular local disk jockey, “Steamroller Smith”. He digs Chase’s song & gives him his card. He also give him $40 for fixing his car. That’s 1950’s money, which by today’s currency is about $13,000. I could be wrong on that.

Sheriff Jeff’s skid mark photos are out of focus. He’s now in a corner. He’s also a pretty shitty photographer. It’s skid marks. It’s not like they are moving. You just walk up, click, and you’re done. Who can’t do that? Besides me.

We finally get to my favorite scene of the film. Chase finally goes home. I’m pretty sure he hasn’t been there the whole movie. To his surprise, Lisa has purchased leg braces for his little sister, Missy. She attempts to walk to her brother, but collapses after a few steps. She tries again, but her poor, weak, little legs just aren’t strong enough to support her.

I KNOW!!! That’s some sad shit, right? It’s pretty obvious that Chase loves his sister. You would think that he’d either cheer her on, or pick her up, or hug her, or something like that. PSSSH! Dat bitch breaks into a musical number. He sings “The Mushroom Song” Yeah, it’s a catchy little ditty with a positive Christian based message, but who the Hell just breaks into song like that? By this point, I realize that people are looking at me. I’ve started singing it too. “And the Lord said laugh, children, laugh.”

Ol’ Man Harris, the obligatory lovable town drunk…. well, the OTHER lovable town drunk is practicing his DUI skills, trying to race a train. Gila smashes a bridge, derailing the train, and killing all on-board. The screams of women are dubbed in as the train crashes, oddly louder than the crash itself.

Chase The Ubiquitous has organized a big dance for all the kids of the area. He has brought in Steamroller to DJ the event. Steamroller is a fantastic DJ. The type that will stop one song midway through and start another. He stops spinning records completely to let Chase sing “The Mushroom Song” (again) for the audience. No one hears me singing this time as I’ve already started extinguishing the torches and picking up any trash.

The Gila has been destroyed. The screen has been taken down and rolled up. The projector and stereo have been turned off. I’m disconnecting all the wires and carrying all the pieces back into my storage room. Our friends have said their goodbyes and have headed home. My wife is in the house getting ready for bed.

The show is over. The curtain has fallen. The stars are finally starting to peek through the dimming glow of a city going to sleep. I turn off the last of the lights, go inside, and lock the door. It’s been just another night at the movies.

More of Mr. D’s writing and movie reviews can be found on the Horror and Sons website, as well as the Horror and Sons Facebook page!

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