Rumble at the Drive-In

Mid-century drive-in theaters were infamous for showing a certain type of low-budget movie. The movie titles advertised on roadside marquees inevitably promised a riot of space invaders, giant insects, mutants, teenage monsters, biker gangs, grifters, hot rods, greasy kid stuff, tight angora sweaters and rock’n’roll.

With nostalgia to guide them, editors Norman Partridge and Martin H. Greenberg have assembled an anthology that perfectly represents (mostly) the golden age of B-movies—“The Thing from Lovers’ Lane,” “The Blood on Satan’s Harley,” “59 Frankenstein” and “The Slobbering Tongue that Ate the Frightfully Huge Woman” are just a few of the wild and campy stories included in this collection.

Perhaps the two stories that best encapsulate the drive-in experience are “Plan 10 from Inner Space” by Karl Edward Wagner and “Jungle J.D.” by Steve Rasnic Tem. Both efforts, in their own way, present all the elements of teenage cinema from the 50s in one kinetic jumble. The Wagner story is pretty straightforward, while “Jungle J.D.” is a crazy word salad of nonsense. Both are terrific.

As teenagers, my friends and I would go to our friendly neighborhood outdoor theater and gorge on action flicks from Hong Kong. For us, Bruce Lee, Sammo Hung, Angelo Mao and Cheng Pei Pei were the kings and queens of the drive-in. Unfortunately there isn’t much kung fu action in these 18 stories. A young Bruce Lee (with peroxide hair!) shows up briefly near the end of the book, but otherwise the contributions of Asian films on the American id goes undocumented.

Without a doubt, my favorite story of the bunch is by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. “I Was a Teenage Boycrazy Blob” is about a lovesick monster’s sensual awakening during her journey to the local Fosters Freeze to rendezvous with the boy of her dreams. “I could almost taste his whole substance even though he hadn’t touched me yet,” says Silly Putty Patty LeFevre. “Brylcream and zit medicine and shaving lotion, skin and bone and blood, ketchup on his breath, sex on his mind, soap on his skin.” A total nirvana of a snack! she gurgles.

One final note: More than one author name checks a particular iconic tune by Link Wray and His Ray Men. With its relentless distortion and ominous power chords, “Rumble” easily sets the mood for this socko collection of stories featuring monsters, teenagers and rock’n’roll.

[It Came from the Drive-In / Edited by Norman Partridge and Martin H. Greenberg / First Printing: February 1996 / ISBN: 9780886776800]