Horror at the drive-in: my drive-in theater memories inspired by Back to the Drive-In

Back to the Drive-In - Courtesy October Coast
Back to the Drive-In - Courtesy October Coast /

Watching Back to the Drive-In, April Wright’s love letter to the drive-in theater, was a very emotional experience for me. I suspect it would be for a lot of people in my age range, because those iconic outdoor movie screens were a family staple. And many of us had our first, or at least very memorable, horror movie memories at a drive-in.

Movie theaters are in my blood; my parents met as teenagers when both of them worked at a movie theater in Leesburg, Florida. That theater and a handful of others were owned by a local company called MCM, and MCM also owned the Crest Drive-In theater, which was located about ten minutes from the house I grew up in.

Because my father worked for MCM theaters, my family saw a lot of movies when I was a kid. Going to the Crest was always fun, because we had a ritual that was always followed. We kids were put into our pajamas, and the back of the station wagon would be loaded up with pillows and blankets. The car was backed up to the screen, the tailgate was opened up, and we would lay back on the pillows and watch whatever film happened to be showing. Since it was usually a double feature, my sister and I (and my brother in later years) usually fell asleep before the night was over.

I also had a young Uncle who took my sis and I to see movies during the summers, which we spent in South Florida with our grandparents. Uncle Ronnie loved horror movies, and he took us to see plenty of them, sometimes at the drive-in. And yes, many of these were films we probably shouldn’t have seen at such tender young ages (beginning when I was about ten) – but, I always had a special love for what I called “scary movies.”

I saw a lot of great horror at the drive-in theater from a young age

One of my earliest memories involves seeing Dracula Has Risen from the Grave at the Crest Drive-In. I would have been about five years old, but I can still remember how that opening scene made me feel. A young alter boy is trying to ring the church bell, but something is preventing it from pealing. A trip up to the top of the bell tower solves the mystery, as a young woman’s body falls from the inside of the bell, where it had been stuffed. That moment shocked little me, and I feel like I have spent the rest of my life chasing that same feeling of surprise and terror.

Drive-in theater
The Exorcist. Image Courtesy Shudder /

Cut to about six years later, when Uncle Ronnie took us to see a movie at the double-screen drive-in. I don’t even remember what film we were watching, because I was turned around looking at the screen behind us. Of course, we did not have the sound for the other screen, but that was my first time watching The Exorcist (which I had been obsessed with seeing). The lack of sound only made me feel more intrigued, and I somehow managed to get a copy of the book. I was always an advanced reader, but, yeah…The Exorcist is not a novel an 11-year-old should EVER read. I spent a couple of weeks tossing and turning in my bed at night, convinced I was going to become possessed.

For my most recent drive-in memory, let’s go back to the Crest again. I was 16 years old, my sister was 14, and there was no school because we were on summer break. My parents were away overnight (it was either a Friday or a Saturday), and trusted the two of us to stay home alone. The two of us, together with my best high school friend Robin, decided to go to the Crest and see a really gross horror movie that was showing. That movie was Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (AKA Zombi 2), and clearly the person manning the ticket booth wasn’t paying attention, because none of us was 18, and Zombie had a hard R rating for sure. So many gross scenes!

My sister and I then had to go home to an empty house, and I don’t think either of us slept a wink that night. That scene with the gigantic splinter to the eye STILL traumatizes me!

There are times when I would give anything to step back in time and spend an evening with my mom and dad at the Crest. Sometimes we would break out lawn chairs and sit outside of the car, with one of those Pic mosquito repellent coils lit, sending a thin line of smoke into the air around us.

When we went to the South Florida drive-in theater with Uncle Ronnie, we would always get plenty of snacks: popcorn, sodas, and the most delicious pizza in the world. I don’t think I have ever had a better tasting pizza than the ones I had at drive-in theaters.

Sadly, the closest drive-in theater to me now is about an hour and 45 minutes away, but if you are lucky enough to have one closer, do yourself a favor and go see a horror movie there. It’s an experience like no other.

Next. Skinamarink and other films coming to Shudder in February. dark

We want to know your drive-in theater memories, drop them in the comments section.