American Drive-In (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Evening at the movies.

Filmed at the old Sky Drive-In in Yucca Valley, California that has long since been abandoned, the film centers around a couple, Bobbie Ann (Emily Longstreth) and Jack (Patrick Kirton). Both are fresh out of high school and Jack plans to use the occasion of going to the drive-in to watch a horror flick called Hard Rock Zombies to propose to Bobbie Ann. Bobbie Ann is smitten with Jack, but after he gives her the ring she’s not so sure she’s ready to jump into marriage. Meanwhile Sarge (Joel Bennett), the leader of a local street gang, has his sights set on Bobbie Ann and plans to get rid of Jack while they watch the film, so that he and his buddies can gang rape Bobbie Ann in the back bleachers. While this is going on there’s also Councilmen Winston (John Rice) who’s running for mayor and feels it would be a great opportunity to break-up the local drug ring in town, which he feels is occurring at the drive-in and to prove it he gets his own kids to walk around and inquire where they can get their hands on some ‘Mary Jane’ and then film it thus looking like a hero to the public for exposing the drug pushers in the area.

This was the second-to-last film directed by Krishna Shah who was one of the first directors to start his career in Bollywood before graduating to Hollywood. His initial film was the so-so Rivals, but none of his movies ever met any critical or financial success, which caused him to become quite bitter in his later years. This project was the result of his frustration of doing serious, big budget pictures like The River Niger and Shalimar, which were made with a lot of promise, but both failed at the box office, so out of desperation he decided to try-his-hand at exploitation B-pictures only to be met with the same failures.

What struck me was how similar it is to Rod Amateau’s Drive-In that came out 9 years earlier complete with the same type of farcical comedy and stereotyped characters and both dealt with a teen gang trying to steal away a girl who was dating a super clean-cut kid all while watching a cheesy disaster flick onscreen. It was almost like they had watched that one and it had ‘inspired’ them to make this. They’d probably deny it and say they had no knowledge of the other flick, but if that were the case then it makes this one seem even worse as it lacks anything original both in humor or storyline.

A lot of the comedy falls flat including a segment that makes fun of fat people and shows them eating up their food in a close-up, slurping fashion that’s quite gross and portrays them as seeming like animals that most people in our body shaming culture today will find offensive. I also thought the running joke of this prostitute who services the male customers in her RV as the movie plays was a bit overboard as she takes-on one after the other in a brief 90-minute period. Not sure what the typical nightly quota for a sex worker is, but I would think that would be too exhausting, so unless the film was trying to portray prostitution in a campy way, which in this case I don’t think it was, then there should’ve been several women in the RV doing the guys versus just one.

The only inspired thing, or at least it seemed that way initially, was the it becomes a film within a film as Krishna Shah had also directed Hard Rock ZombiesSince that has been put on many a list of worst movies ever made I thought this was the unusual case of a director showing humility and openly mocking his own work, where at one point one of the characters even says “Whoever wrote this should be shot”, but that was apparently not what happened. Instead the zombie movie scenes was only intended for a brief few minutes, but then after filming them Shah got ‘inspired’ to turn that into a feature film, which is now considered even worse than this one.

Spoiler Alert!

There is a darker tone here than in Drive-In, when Bobbi Ann threatens to kill the gang members with her gun as the other people cheer her one. Emily Longstreth, who sadly hasn’t done a movie since 1994, looks quite sexy standing on a raised platform in a skimpy outfit while waving the gun around, which in my opinion is the only memorable moment, but the movie unfortunately doesn’t go far enough. This would’ve been a perfect time to have her kill-off everybody, which would’ve made sitting through this silly inane crap worth it by having a truly shocking finale. It could’ve been Carrie with guns instead of telepathy, but this stupid movie cops-out completely.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 19, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Krishna Shah

Studio: Patel/Shah Film Company

Available: DVD-R

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