The Drive-In: A Double-Feature Omnibus

Joe R. Lansdale, The Drive-In: A B-Movie with Blood and Popcorn, Made in Texas (Bantam, 1988; Carroll and Graf, 1997)
Joe R. Lansdale, The Drive-In 2: Not Just One of Them Sequels (Bantam, 1989; Carroll and Graf, 1997)

Jack, Bob, Randy, and Willard, a group of teenagers from Texas, settle in one weekend night at The Orbit for an all-night showing of five drive-in "classics": I Dismember Mama, The Evil Dead, Night of the Living Dead, The Toolbox Murders, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What lies ahead of them is much different than the typical night of junk food, beer, and "higher partying and sex education."

Halfway through The Toolbox Murders, a huge red comet hurtles toward the drive-in and, at the last moment, up and away again, leaving the crowd of four thousand cars surrounded by total blackness. One family drives into the darkness with no sound, but when a local cowboy reaches his arm into it, he comes back without it and is quickly dissolved into a pile of goo, denim, and leather.

It is then that everyone realizes that they are trapped in a glorified parking lot with only popcorn, candy, and soda for sustenance, and in a land of no sun where time is immeasurable. It won't be long before they turn to each other for their food source. And when the Popcorn King takes over, the worst is just beginning.

Author Joe R. Lansdale uses his life's experience growing up at several drive-in theaters throughout Texas (and the bad movies that he watched there), to create what is essentially a "drive-in novel" filled with sex, violence, very little plot, and a hell of a lot of fun. The Drive-In is a horror novel for the Roger Corman crowd, a Troma film for the literate, that was nevertheless nominated for both the Bram Stoker and World Fantasy Awards.

It makes little linear sense but carries you along with the sheer momentum of its joy of existence; a series of events with no other purpose than to entertain on the most basic level. And Lansdale doesn't hold back on the gruesome descriptions, making the goings-on as easily visualized as if they were flickering on one of The Orbit's six tremendous screens.

Like any moderately successful Z-grade movie, The Drive-In surely would rate a sequel, especially one with the unmistakable title The Drive-In 2. 2 takes up where its predecessor left off. Those who escaped the terrors of The Orbit find their world dramatically changed. It looks the same but the Tyrannosaurus Rex tips them off early on. That, and the marvelous gas mileage they're getting from their beat-up truck. They go through four driver changes and only use up 1/4 tank.

Driving along, they meet up with Grace, a martial artist who accompanies them on their travels and provides plenty of fodder for their sexual fantasies while she bathes nude (with loving description) in the local bodies of water. But it's not all blue skies and breasts for our heroes, as they soon discover that the world they've been left with is not for all takers.

Lansdale mixes his usual dark humor with some moments of thoughtfulness as he examines all sides of an apocalyptic afterworld. The Drive-In 2 is more serious in tone than its predecessor but still makes for a relatively light read. I mean, where else are you going to find references to Sleepy LaBeef and a locale affectionately known as Shit Town?

Reading these two back-to-back is easy going, as the latter follows right off the former, making them feel as if they were really one book with two parts. It was an excellent idea to place them both in a "double-feature omnibus" because, although it costs less to get them together than apart, until this release they were both out-of-print anyway, and where can you get two books in one anymore — especially for less than a normal paperback? Save the price of a video rental and get this instead.

[Craig Clarke]

Find out what's playing at The Orbit on Joe R. Lansdale's Web site, including the latest news and a free short story each week.