The relationship between horror and the drive-in began because of one thing: television. Strange thought, eh? Here’s why. Television was to movie theaters in the ‘50’s what streaming services have been to movie rental stores over the last 15 years or so. Like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, movie theaters suddenly saw a massive drop in customers. They too scrambled to figure out a way to get those customers back! Unlike the rental stores, thankfully, they succeeded.
This is in thanks to the vision of a handful of filmmakers and venue owners. They had to find a way to make going to the theater more fun and to make the theater going experience unique again. This saw a rise in ‘exciting’ genres like westerns, action and horror. Thrilling genres weren’t enough, so in came things like smell-o-vision and vibrating seats. These were hits, but unsustainable.
The answer came by way of the drive-in. Exciting movies, unique venues, getting to sit in your car, and double features. They would play an A movie and a B movie, with one usually being a cheaper thrill ride; almost always either sci-fi or horror. This is where the B-Movie term comes from. Thus, the drive in inadvertently opened a need for content.
They looked outside the major studios for filmmakers who could make cheap movies fast started pumping out one flick after another to meet demand. These B-movie horror factories employed directors like Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, Francis Ford Coppola and many other independent minded people who were unknown and could work for pennies.
The movies had to be fun, they had to be scary, they could NOT take themselves too seriously and they had to encourage your date to scoot just a little closer. Unlike in a movie theater, the car offered privacy. If you’re gonna go to the movies, why not choose the option that lets you make out and drink? If you’re gonna do that, you’re not gonna want to watch Schindler’s List, you’re gonna want to watch a cheesy fun B-Movie spectacle.
Movies like The Tingler and The Cat People became big hits, which only encouraged the B-movie trend. In the 70’s and 80’s this trend led to the golden age of horror. Fun trash led to serious treasure. Without further ado, here are our picks for the 7 Best B-Movies!
7. Piranha (1978)
Joe Dante directed it, John Sayles wrote it and Steven Spielberg called it the best of the Jaws rip-offs. This movie is bloody, silly and a great time. It is indeed a shameless rip off of Jaws, but puts the emphasis heavily on gore, laughs and dead teenagers. It is also one of the better ‘horror comedies’ of the 70s-80’s and was actually intentionally funny, for a start. If drive-in flicks are meant to be filled with fun, nudity and gore, this is your huckleberry.
6. Galaxy of Terror (1981)
Wow, what can I say about this one? It’s from Roger Corman, perhaps the king of drive-in B-movies and the production designer and second unit director was James Cameron. It’s gory, it’s weird, and it’s utterly fantastic. Producers demanded Corman include a sex scene with the star and he did so. What he didn’t tell them until it was released was that the sex scene he filmed was with the star and a 12-foot-long worm creature. Need I tell you more? This movie is so bizarre and a lot of fun.
5. The Omega Man (1971)
In the not too distant future, a sort- of zombie apocalypse has happened and it seems only one man has survived. Thank goodness that man is 70’s Charlton Heston. If you dig on a 70’s sci-fi flick about a laser-wielding Heston fighting off actors with terrible make-up, then have I got the movie for you! My love for this movie knows no end. It is a terrible adaptation of I Am Legend and is as scary as a pail full of kittens. That said, it’s tons of fun, wonderfully (terribly) acted and full of a Blacksploitation vibe that is both wonderful and inexplicable. It’s a blast and a B-movie must.
4. Motel Hell (1980)
Nothing beats Farmer Vincent’s meat! Motel Hell is one of the better ‘horror comedies’ of the 80’s. Farmer Vincent lives with his sister on a remote farm and makes a living selling his famous sausage and jerkies. What his loyal customers don’t know is the secret ingredient is PEOPLE! He traps troublemakers on the road and uses them to make tasty treats. One of the victims is an early John Ratzenberger, so look out for that. Cannibalism, chainsaw wielding farmers, totally unnecessary nudity and some of the worst fake facial hair in film history make this movie truly a heck of a time.
3. Deathrace 2000 (1975)
Whoa buddy, this movie. It has gore, it has fast cars and more than a heaping tablespoon of gratuitous nudity. If any movie was made for the drive-in, this is it. Here’s the description from IMDB: “In a dystopian future, a cross-country automobile race requires contestants to run down innocent pedestrians to gain points that are tallied based on each kill’s brutality.” I mean, really. Toss in campy 70’s performances and some fantastic over-the-top portrayals by Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine and you got me. Carradine drives a monster car and is named Frankenstein. It’s fantastic.
2. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
This movie is a classic example of the types of movies that sprang up following the switch to more independent genre filmmaking. Here’s what I mean. Like the godfathers of independent genre movies, Roger Corman and Ed Wood, director Robert Hiltzik had far more vision than experience and a much greater love of movies than any sense of how to actually make a film. As such, the movie plays like a love ode to classic summer camp slashers that is, well, terribly executed. Dialogue is ridiculous, acting is hammy, costumes are awful, shots linger way too long. Despite all that, everyone seems to be having a blast making it and you can tell Hiltzik loves what he’s doing. The twist ending is the stuff of horror legend and I consider Sleepaway Camp the very best of all B-movie horror.
1. Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
Where do I even begin? Released in 1988, I was 9 and deeply in love with horror when I first saw this movie. It has been a favorite ever since and to this day I’ve seen nothing like it. It is bizarre, it’s hilarious, it’s gory, it has some fantastic practical effects and it is truly one of a kind. A circus big tent shaped spaceship and some nefarious aliens who look an awful lot like clowns suddenly visits a small midwestern town. They come bearing ill intent and weapons that look like popcorn, balloon animals and cotton candy machines. I mean, really, what more can I say? If there’s one thing Killer Klowns is, it’s a good time. That’s why it’s the perfect drive-in horror. It’s creepy, it’s goofy and it’s straight up fun.