It has been a long two year wait since Elite Entertainment delivered one of their entertaining Drive-In Discs volumes onto DVD. The previous installment was released on August 7th, 2001 and was my first experience with the collection. Drive-In Discs: Volume Two featured the horrendous, yet fun Giant Gila Monster and Wasp Woman. I place Giant Gila Monster alongside Plan 9 From Outer Space in the annals of cinematic garbage. A pet iguana and some matchbox cars create the incredible effects seen in that film. I missed Drive-In Discs: Volume One and that disc contained The Screaming Skull and The Giant Leeches. I really must purchase that DVD one day for just the titles alone. The latest, Drive-In Discs: Volume Three, comes to bat with two murder-mystery films with I Bury the Living and The Hand. The previous two collections were mostly horror pictures, where this third collection moves slightly away from those genres.
The real attraction to the Drive-In Discs titles is not the films presented, but the manner in which they are presented. Elite Entertainment proudly boasts their "Low-Fidelity" DISTORO Sound as a major selling point for these DVDs and I must agree, it is an interesting twist that brings back some fond memories of years past. Distorto sound mimics the speaker box quality of drive in movies and throws in tons of ambience and voice acting to place you in the front seat of a Drive-In theater. You have to deal with car engines, noisy patrons and crickets chirping. It can be quite annoying and distracting at times and it perfectly nails the sounds usually found in an old time Drive-In.
Elite doesn't just stop with the Distorto sound, they package all of the commercials, shorts and public service announcements that typically accompanied these films at the Drive-In. Everything from the catchy jingle "Let's all go to the Lobby! Let's all go to the Lobby!" to coming attractions and the countdown clocks add value to the discs. If I remember correctly, Drive-In Discs: Volume Two featured coming attractions for the titles on Drive-In Discs: Volume Three, so maybe we know what is coming for Drive-In Discs: Volume Four. Additionally, familiar faces are to be found in the "Featured Shorts." Popeye the Sailor Man and friends brought a smile to my face before Giant Gila Monster and Wasp Woman. This time around, another old friend makes his presence known. Gumby and Pokey are featured before the two films on this DVD. Some may consider the two Gumby and Pokey shorts worth the price of admission.
The films themselves are your run-of-the-mill Drive-In features. I Bury The Living was a murder-mystery that teased some supernatural elements. It was essentially about a man who came to own a cemetery and found that changing pins on the burial plot map would bring about death to those that had bought a plot, but had yet to inhabit it. The film trotted along and was left to figure out what was with the strange and deadly map. There wasn't much shock to the film, but it was dark and brooding in tone and the ending was both unexpected and non-climactic. The film did enough to keep my interest, but for the most part I was trying to figure out the direction the film was taking and not caring much about whose pin was switched to black next. It was a better selection to Wasp Woman, but it could hardly hold a candle to the greatness known as Giant Gila Monster.
The second feature started out in a prisoner camp in Burma. Three British military men are captured and tortured. The enlisted men are shown being interrogated and having their right hands lopped off. The fact the actual gore and dismemberment was done off screen hinted that The Hand was not exactly a horror film. In short order, the film fast-forwards to many years later and an old drunk is found with his hand removed and 500 quid in his pocket. Shortly after that he is murdered and a rather unusual series of events lead the police after a man named "Roberts" and trying to comprehend what is going on around them. The Hand is not a horror film. It is a thriller of sorts and relies on offering up numerous one-handed suspects that are patsies for a plot twist. The ending leaves much unresolved, but throws the basic relationship between the victims and their killer to the audience. Those wanting to know why the drunk lost his hand will never know, but the short running time of one hour doesn't leave much time to explain everything and the film isn't a complete waste of one hour.
Drive-In Discs: Volume Two takes a slightly different direction than the first two titles in the series. The films included are not horror films, but murder mysteries and very unusual circumstances regarding the murders in the films. Neither film does a very good job of stating motives when everything is resolved, but the two films each only run for just over one hour in length. The purpose of this series of DVDs is not to bring to you the absolute best films ever to grace the Drive-Ins, but to allow some to relive the experience or for others to get an idea of what these cinemas of old were all about. At many times you went to these little movies for purposes other than actually watching the film, and the movies created for a Drive-In atmosphere were never intended to be award winners. They were meant to be cheap and fast, but fun. The Drive-In Discs collection does a great job of offering a taste of what these movies were like and the ambience surrounding them. All that is missing is the smell of gas and popcorn.
Sometimes it is heartbreaking to give a low score. The Drive-In Discs DVDs fit into that category when it comes time to divvy out the technical scores. The source materials used for these old films are not always pristine, and they are always of lower quality than the 35mm cameras used today. No matter how much restoration and enhancement work can be done, these old movies are not something to show off a system. "Video Quality" is to be a score based upon the mastering of the DVD title, the quality of the source print and how wonderful the picture is. It is really objective and the mastering of these titles is quite good. I Bury the Living even had decent source materials, where The Hand definitely showed signs of deterioration. Neither film was wonderful to look at. Still, you really have to appreciate these old black and white films being restored to the point they are and the fact they will survive for decades to come.
I am a person who loves these old movies, regardless of how terrible they really are. A lot of work went into bringing these titles to DVD, and they look about as good as they can be, but when compared to the restorations of better-preserved titles such as Citizen Kane or The Wizard of Oz, it is quite apparent how little these films were thought of after their initial runs at the Drive-Ins. The Gumby features and the ads range from good to poor. The animated segments look wonderful, but the coming attractions spots are hard to sit through. Time can really be cruel to these old films and unfortunately, the two films of Drive-In Discs: Volume Two are victims. The Hand is not nearly as clear as I Bury the Living and shows more faults in the original source used. I Bury the Living is pretty good for its age and at times, the picture was quite detailed and clear. The source materials were also remarkably good.
The films are also presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Audio is presented in two flavors for the Drive-In Discs series. The default audio is the DISTORO sound! Distorto sound is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that uses the front left channel for the films original mono soundtrack and the rest of the speakers for good ole Drive-In ambience. The sound of the film itself is intentionally as low-fidelity as possible. It is low in volume, scratchy and really does capture the true sound of the little door mounted speakerbox. I have to give some good props to the DISTORTO sound option. The film sounds bad, but the sound effects are incredible. If you had the money to spend, this DVD would almost make it worthwhile to hook up a sound system and a projector in your garage. Then, you could watch the film as it was meant or do whatever you normally would at a Drive-In.
The second soundtrack is a Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack that has been nicely restored and is available for those that want to watch the films on their own merit and do not wish to listen to crickets and passerbys. The two films sound very good under this audio selection. Dialog is crisp and clear and the canned soundtracks are surprisingly good on range for a monaural track. There are a few minor dropouts or instances of clipping, but the sound portion of I Bury the Living and The Hand has stood the test of time far better than the visual elements. You are not going to ooh and ahh anybody with these soundtracks, but you are not going to be distracted negatively by them either, unless you have DISTORTO sound selected. Then, there are all types of annoyances bound to pop up and entertain.
The Drive-In Discs series allows the two feature films to be viewed separately, or as an entire ‘experience.' If you choose to watch the DVD as a complete Drive-In experience, the supplemental materials are rolled into the main presentation. There are two short films featuring everybody's favorite stop-motion Play-Do character, Gumby and a good number of ads, shorts and other nostalgic pieces from the Drive-In. The DISTORTO soundtrack is the default track if you choose to watch the films as part of the whole, but it too could be considered supplemental. All-in-all, Elite goes above and beyond releasing just the films that painted the Drive-In canvas and provides the closest experience you can find to the days when Drive-Ins and quad-wheeled roller skates were cool.
A few weeks ago, I attended the Haars Drive-In (www.haars.com) to witness my second viewing of the wonderful Pirates of the Caribbean and the final moments of Spy Kids 3-D. The experience was nothing like those I remember from my childhood. People took portable boom-boxes and sat on lawn chairs. The entire parking lot was mostly composed of oversized SUVs and vans. It quite simply wasn't the same. The Drive-In Discs series is closer to what I remember when my much older sister took my nephew and I to the Drive-Ins. Sure, Haars still had speaker boxes and the same ads, but it just isn't the same anymore. Elite Entertainment has an unusual curiosity in its Drive-In Discs series of discs and I for one am hoping it spans for an entire 15 volumes as its web site states. If you like old B-Movie nostalgia, this is a must have.