Sunday, September 14, 2014

Drive-Invasion 2014!!

It's a kinder, gentler Drive-Invasion, with new ownership, a new attitude and an all new venue. But with so many changes, is the revered summer ritual still something to look forward to?


Labor Day weekend is arguably the busiest weekend in Atlanta: you've got SEC football at the Georgia Dome, NASCAR racing down south, a couple of book festivals and of course, that mecca for all things nerd (and for a time at least, a funding mechanism for a convicted pedophile), Dragon*Con.

The big overlooked ritual, of course, is Drive-Invasion, an Atlanta ritual now in its 15th year. Originally started in 1999 at the iconic Starlight Six Drive-In, the celebration of all things white trash (mostly, B-movies, muscle cars, psychedelic hillbilly music, cheap beer and cheaper women) has been one of my favorite autumnal rites since I started attending a few years back -- for a recap of what you missed lately, here's the IIIA rundown of the 2012 and 2013 hootenannies.

Alas, some mighty big changes have gone down recently. For one thing, the ownership group of the Starlight Six recently changed hands, and since they opted to go all digital projection, it was immediately apparent that 35mm prints of old films could no longer be shown there. Also, they implemented some downright Stalin-eqsue policy reforms (no more tofu dogs, a prohibition on cooking out, keeping the gates closed until damn near before the films start playing, etc.) and may or may not have purged the operation of every single minority employee. Very early on in 2014, the viability of Drive-Invasion looked incredibly faint.

Enter James Bickert, an independent Atlanta filmmaker who makes the kind of movies that are usually offered for free on YouTube. Ever the entrepreneur, he decided to turn the Drive-Invasion operation into a genuine LLC. His first move? Taking the annual event out of Starlight and moving it to a rather unexpected venue...

The Home of the Braves ... for a few more years, at least.

...the Atlanta Braves parking lot. The green lot, to be a bit more precise -- it's basically the skeletal remains of what was Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, and its big claim to fame is that it has a big tribute marker smackdab in the middle of it celebrating Hank Aaron's historic #715 homer. It's an unorthodox selection for a site, to be sure, but it kinda' makes sense ... after all, I strongly prefer watching movies outside, with the sneaking suspicion that Wayne Williams is lurking in the bushes adjacent to my car.

Back when the only performance enhancers baseball players needed were nicotine, cocaine and Clermont Lounge employees. 

With the venue change, a couple of other alterations followed. For one, the traditional date of the celebration -- Labor Day weekend -- was bumped up a week, presumably to give Atlanta-area hipsters an opportunity to traipse around the Marriott dressed up like cartoon characters AND enjoy some good-old fashioned shitty movies within the same seven-day period. And believe it or not, the masterminds behind the newfangled Drive-Invasion appeared to have tried to turn it into a family-friendly event, complete with an all-new kids' zone, appearances by the Falcons and Braves' mascots and totally age-inappropriate coloring book offerings.

If you drew on some aerolas, they gave you extra candy!

A lot of stuff was promised on the official Drive-Invasion 2014 brochure, but I didn't see much of the stuff that was advertised. Granted, I did get there a little late, but I must say I was disappointed plenty by both food truck alley (there was one there, and a table handing out coffee when it was 80 degrees out) or the musical tents -- which, basically, were just yard sale tents the bands could barely fit underneath. And with such star-studded acts as Roky Ericsson, Black Lips and Man or Astro-Man? over the last few years, I was REALLY down in the dumps about this year's big musical guest -- some local band called the Biters, who I must say more than lived up to their namesake.

Nothing attracts the ladies quite like saying you make sardonic Ric Flair wood art for a living. 

Equally disappointing were the arts vendors, who even by Drive-Invasion standards, looked plum pitiful. And where the hell where all of the tofu dog grillers and black bean burger stands? Keep in mind, there was no concession lobby around like in years past -- which means in addition to not being able to grab extra popcorn or Mr. Pibb whenever you wanted, you HAD to make use of a port-a-potty. And as Music Midtown 2013 so clearly demonstrated ... such is not a place you EVER want to be inside the perimeter.

The estimated attendance for the event? About 200 or so people, and from the smell of it, just one of whom elected to sport underarm deodorant.

There was some stuff going on next to Turner Field that evening, but us Drive-Invasion people weren't allowed to investigate.  As for as the special kids zone, I never saw anything of the like, and that much publicized Fangoria Magazine table? It must've been invisible.

Look at all that activity, ya'll!

But there was some good. For one, the sole food truck on the premises was pretty freaking great, additionally providing my new all-time favorite name for ANY kind of business -- "The Blaxican."

Imagine: a world where instead of shooting each other, the Trayvon Martins and George Zimmermans of the world instead swapped recipes

In case you couldn't have surmised as much by the namesake, the food truck specializes in fusion Tex-Mex/soul food. As much as I wanted to try the collard green quesadillas, I ended up opting for the blackened fish burrito, which as fate would have it, was mighty goddamn delicious.

Es muy bueno, Holmes!

With grilled tilipia, coleslaw and a nice wasabe sauce, this wasn't just an outstanding dinner, it was basically the best thing about the entire evening.

A nice almost-autumnal breeze picked up around 7:30 p.m. With films beginning at about 9 p.m., me and my other of significance decided to trek back to my car to nom and discuss how horrible my date ideas are.

Which brings us to the second biggest problem of the event -- the screen.

The best seat in the house, for sure!

Odds are, you've seen one of those inflatable jumbo screens before. Well, that's the kind of projection that was used at Drive-Invasion this year, which for what its worth, isn't too bad. That is, unless your car is parked more than 300 feet away from it, at which point it becomes downright unviewable.

And that, I am afraid, brings us to the absolute back-breaker for the entire evening -- the parking lot itself.

You see, drive-ins work because the lots are raised, allowing cars to park in front of each other WITHOUT obstructing the view. The Turner Field green lot, not surprisingly, wasn't elevated for the affair, so if you were any further away from the third goddamn line of cars, you couldn't see anything. Me and my gal had to drive around the stupid lot for twenty minutes before the first movie, just trying to find some spot out on the periphery where the entire screen was visible. Of course, we could've have parked the car and taken our lawn chairs to a special viewing section in front of the screen, but it's called DRIVE-Invasion for a reason -- and also, I didn't want my auto getting broken into by some fat kid with a beard and an ironic Foreigner tee-shirt.

Of course, the big draw of Drive-Invasion are the movies, and this year ... well, let's just say they could have done a LOT better with their selections.

MOVIE NUMBER ONE:
"The Horror of Party Beach" (1964)

"I agree with the detective. We should all continue just fucking standing here and shit being white for awhile." 

Forced to move my car because a fucking ambulance parked right in front of us, it quickly became apparent that, despite all of that bellyaching and moaning about the Starlight's digital projection booths, the films shown tonight WEREN'T being projected in 35 mm. To me, that was the final disappointment atop a mound of disappointments -- you mean to tell me some schmuck at the drive-in COULDN'T have connected a Macbook to one of those damn things and done the entire shindig there instead? 

Oh, the movie. Almost forgot. At first, I had no idea what the film was, and about five minutes in, I recalled it from an old MST3K episode. Despite the clambake theme, the atomic monsters and the black and white visuals, "The Horror of Party Beach" is a film that actually came out around the same time Vietnam was flaring up. It's also a remarkable piece of shit, and a horrible Drive-Invasion selection, even as an "ironic" gag. 

Before we get into the film's inherent badness, let's talk about logic. On a projection screen that's poorly backlit, do you think it's really the wisest thing in the world to pick a black and white movie for a screening? The maze of automobiles made watching the flick difficult enough, and now these motherfuckers wanted us to squint our way through an entire motion picture. 

Needless to say, this thing was very forgettable. Radioactive waste seeps into the ocean, and it mutates a bunch of skeletons into crappy "Creature from the Black Lagoon" monsters who feed on the super-stupid residents of a beach community. Pretty much every pre-"Night of the Living Dead" sucky horror movie trope you can think of is contained herein; you've got long stretches of exposition that are basically just guys in suits smoking and talking for five minute interstitials, completely gratuitous musical numbers (complete with one of the most out-of-place closing tunes in film history) and lots of casual racism to go around, as one of the characters, a house maid, might as well have been plucked out of "Gone with the Wind." 

Spinning newspaper montages? Check. 

Idiots who keep encroaching upon the monster-occupied community, for no discernible reason whatsoever? Check.

A really, really stupid way to kill the monsters? You're going to need a mighty big check mark fella' because after hitting the indestructible gill people with tanks, mortars and ten billion rounds of ammunition, it's ultimately revealed that they're deathly allergic to ... salt. 

Even as a larf, this one was rather unpleasant to sit through, and a much needed reminder that as fun as watching good b-movies are, having to watch awful b-movies is every bit the torture eggheads like Leonard Maltin say it is. 

MOVIE NUMBER TWO:
"Jaws" (1975)

Looks like we're going to need a bigger screen, am I right?

"Jaws," as far as I am concerned, was the death nail of American cinema as an art form. That's not to say the film is necessarily bad, or that Stevie Spielberg planned for the thing to take off the way it did, but I still see it as the dagger through the heart of what was Hollywood's finest era. From hereon out, movie studios were going to turn away from sensitive, adult films like "The Godfather" and "The Exorcist" and focus on rather juvenile, popcorn movies instead. Had "Jaws" not proven successful, we more than likely wouldn't have gotten "Star Wars," and from there, who knows what kind of high-brow, intellectual mainstream movies we would have gotten instead? 

Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of this movie. Some people utterly adore it, and while I don't hate it, I think it is way, WAY overrated. 

For one thing, I don't think it's a very suspenseful movie. There's like, what, two or three actual kills in the entire movie, and all of them are filmed in waters so murky, you really can't tell what the hell's going on. Furthermore, I've always thought the acting was pretty corny, especially Richard Dreyfuss's irritating bullshit. And don't even get me started on the uncredited screenplay nod to one Herman Melville...

Call me crazy, but I've always preferred the sequels to this one. At least with parts 2, 3 and even "The Revenge," the script KNOWS its fucking stupid monster movie trash, and the director treats said cinematic refuse accordingly. Yeah, I know full well all the stuff about the malfunctioning mechanical shark, but this is just a mediocre creature feature through and through. Until my dying day, I will fight to the death to defend my conviction that "Piranha" and "Alligator" are vastly superior to this movie. 

But the music was good. I'll give 'em that, at least...

MOVIE NUMBER THREE:
"The Mad Doctor of Blood Island" (1969)

Even the opening credits were filmed in Spaz-a-Vision!

I've never been a big fan of Filipino horror flicks (think, all of those "Fu Manchu" movies) and "The Mad Doctor of Blood Island" reminded me exactly why.

Screened at about midnight, the flick began with a ceremonial "oath of green blood," where you were supposed to drink a home-brewed elixir you could actually pick up at one of the vendor tables. I didn't try the vial of liquid green gunk myself, but per the mini-van filled with junior high schoolers beside me, that stuff was, and I quote, "fuckin' nasty."

As for the film itself, it's pretty stupid. There's this one guy who goes to a remote jungle, where he makes out with like fifty villagers while crappy looking plant monster people periodically pop up and the camera shakes like Michael J. Fox being electrocuted. You may think there's more to the movie, but you, my friend, would be wrong.

Rather than recap a rather uninteresting film, I'll just tell you about two things I saw in the parking lot during the screening; one was watching Professor Morte of the Atlanta Silver Scream Spookshow jump off a car with a dead battery (yes, he was in full zombie get up at the time), and the other was watching this one dude who was absolutely drunk as a skunk shambling his way across the parking lot for what seemed to be twenty uninterrupted minutes. Eventually, he just disappeared in the woodlands adjacent to the stadium. The sounds of a train whistle were heard shortly thereafter ... let us pray that Darwinism took effect from that point onward.

This is the way traditions die: not with a whimper, but with nobody in attendance being able to see the motherfucking screen

All in all? I have to say I was really, really unsatisfied with this year's event. The venue didn't have the same character as the Starlight, the films weren't in 35 mm, the crowd was pretty dispassionate, the music sucked, the food options were far too scarce, there were hardly ANY vendors of any variety onsite, the films themselves were sub-par, the screen was too small, you couldn't actually SEE the screen half the time and the the lack of a lobby really made basic necessities a hassle. And on top of that, there appeared to be a 37 percent increase in on-premise SCAD Skanks (TM) over last year's event. Trust me, there's only so many morbidly obese, tatted-up graphic design majors with neon pink hair in tight clothing you can gawk at before your eyeballs melt.

Of course, some mighty big changes COULD come about for next year's event, but they would have to be remarkably drastic. If you can't have it at the Starlight, then why not schedule next year's event at the Swan Drive-In in Blue Ridge? The small-town vibe would really make for some great atmosphere, and they have some really good goddamn ice cream nearby as well.

I really admire Mr. Bickert for at least attempting to salvage what has been one of my favorite annual Atlanta events, but if this is the best Drive-Invasion can muster going forward, we're probably better off not even having one.

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