Drive-in theaters will definitely make a “comeback,” if you want to call it a comeback when there were always a few that were still operating.
My birthday was Thursday and, in an attempt to go to a movie somewhere other than my living room, I searched for any operating theaters in a two-state area near me (IA/IL). None of the indoor theaters were operating, but there were a few drive-ins open and operating. One was in Delmar, Iowa. One was in Maquoketa, Iowa, and one was in Blue Grass, Iowa.
Since Blue Grass was the closest to us, we went to it on Friday night. I spoke with the Manager, who said it has been in operation since 2014. It is a 10-acre plot in a field near the small town of Blue Grass, Iowa, and the screen is a ‘cube.’ allowing them to show 3 different sets of double features.(They haven’t gotten the fourth side operational yet). We selected “The Rental” with “The Big Ugly,” which was premiering that night at the drive-in. I think “The Rental,” directed by Dave Franco, is also streaming on Hulu and it featured Allison Brie and 3 other young actors who had rented a lovely remote vacation spot that was, apparently, owned by a homicidal psychopath.
Who was in these movies? Well, “The Big Ugly” was a chance for Malcolm McDowell (“A Clockwork Orange”) to square off opposite Ron Perlman (“Sons of Anarchy”). There were also quite a few “old reliable” character actors rounding out the cast, including Bruce McGill, who was D-Day in “Animal House” and has appeared in any number of films since then, and Nicholas Braun (“Succession”) as Will, plus a promising new-comer, Brandon Sklemar, who played Perlman’s no-good son, Junior.
I took the opportunity to speak with the manager of the complex, which makes most of its money on the popcorn and pizza and other edibles they sell and requests that you not bring your own food. (Plus, no alcohol). The tickets were $10. The large pizza, 2 large (refillable) diet cokes, and a large popcorn were about $36. All together, the cost of the evening was about $50. We took lawn chairs and watched Movie Number One sitting outside and watched Movie Number Two inside the car. The film began at about 9 p.m. and the whole evening took until about 1 a.m.
The manager told us that the owner, when he retired in a few months, wanted to make the fourth side of the cube in the middle of the 10 acres into a fourth functioning screen. Right now, they show 3 different double features. (“Grease” and “Footloose” were on one and “Iron Man” and some children’s film was on a third.) The owner has a perhaps pie-in-the-sky dream of building suites (on stilts) and running year-round, which sounds “iffy” in the midst of an Iowa winter, but this night the weather was perfect, with a slight breeze, extremely friendly employees (all masked), and radios that one could rent for $5 if you didn’t want to tune your car radio into a pre-set number and run your car all night. The only drawback was hearing the soundtrack from nearby screens while watching our film(s).
Tribeca, the film powerhouse, has recently made plans to open 160 new drive-ins around the country. The “big new” thing for touring musicians is having their filmed performance showing on a drive-in screen. One that is coming up in the future is Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani, Garth Brooks, and Keith Urban have all used the drive-in system, instead of the normal in-person concerts during the pandemic. At the Blue Grass Drive-in, they have no say over the ticket prices of such shows and the manager wondered, openly, why the cost for Garth Brooks was $100 per carload, versus $115 for Blake Shelton. [He felt it would be better to have a standard price for these “concerts,” but he doesn’t make the rules.]
So, the drive-in is back. I hadn’t been to a drive-in in 40 years, but I’m sure I’ll go again if all the theaters remain closed.