‘Time Warp Drive-In' returns for second season of all-night cult classics

John Beifuss
9:00 AM, Mar 25, 2015
beifuss on movies

“Let’s do the Time Warp again.”

As if in response to that signature invitation from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the “Time Warp Drive-In” series returns Saturday to Memphis’ last remaining outdoor movie venue, the Summer Quartet Drive-In, for a second season of dusk-to-dawn throwback cult cinema.

The “Rocky Horror” reference is more than a writerly convenience. The 2015 Time Warp schedule is bookended by homages to the sci-fi rock-and-roll musical.

The series begins Saturday with a quartet of genre classics — “King Kong,” “It Came from Outer Space,” “When Worlds Collide” and “The Invisible Man” — that are name-checked in “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” the opening song in “Rocky Horror.” Seven months later, on Oct. 24, the season ends with a program named for a line in that same song, “Late Night Science Fiction Picture Show”; the finale will include 1975’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” among its lineup of four Frankenstein-themed features.

In between are another seven all-night extravaganzas devoted to Spaghetti Westerns, rock and roll, Quentin Tarantino, animation, the “swinging sixties,” “future shock,” and Cheech and Chong’s favorite herbal diversion.

“Last year we proved it could be done; this year we’re going for some unusual selections,” said Memphis filmmaker Mike McCarthy, programmer and founder of the Time Warp initiative, along with Matt Martin of Black Lodge Video, 831 S. Cooper.

“Some of the programming this year is ambitious, and I’m curious to see if people like it,” said Martin, citing such movies as director Mario Bava’s far-out 1968 comic-strip adventure, “Danger: Diabolik.”

“We could tell last year that people we’re starting to trust we wouldn’t lead them wrong,” Martin said. “I think the Memphis filmgoing public is a mature group, and they’re ready to explore territory maybe some of them haven’t experienced before.”

The Time Warp series was considered something of a financial risk for Malco when the movie theater chain agreed last year to allow McCarthy and Martin to host a monthly series of old-school action, comedy and exploitation films of the type the Summer might have screened back when drive-in programming offered an alternative to the movies found in “hardtop” theaters.

But to the surprise of everyone involved (except McCarthy and Martin), old-school movies like “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Superfly” attracted more or as many customers as the new releases. The Time Warp screenings became “events,” with live music before the show, old-school concession-stand commercials and new short films between movies, and Time Warp T-shirts and other souvenirs on sale alongside the popcorn and Pronto Pups. This makes the drive-in something of a social experience — what McCarthy calls “free-range cinema.”

When Malco built the Summer Drive-In in 1966, many outdoor theaters were independently owned, with owners unable to afford the conversion to digital technology that is necessary for a movie theater to remain in business. That’s one reason drive-ins have been vanishing like the buffalo. According to the Maryland-based United Drive-In Theater Owners Association, about 393 drive-ins remain in operation in the U.S., down from 4,063 during the industry’s heyday in 1958.

All the more reason why McCarthy — a dedicated pop-culture preservationist who also is leading the fight to save the Mid-South Coliseum — is a fan of watching movies at the drive-in, which he calls “a unique American experience.”

It’s also a family-friendly experience, on some nights at least. All the movies to be screened Saturday are “Sivad-approved,” McCarthy says: In other words, they screened at least one time each on “Fantastic Features,” the classic-horror movie program that was a Memphis staple from 1966 to 1976, with host Watson Davis — a Malco employee — as “Sivad, your monster of ceremonies.”

“For this first week, we wanted to show something fun and also of genuine high quality, like ‘King Kong,’” he said. “It was a driving force for all the monster movies that came after it.”

'Time Warp Drive-In' 2015 schedule

Summer Quartet Drive-In, 5310 Summer Ave.

Admission: $10 per person. Children under 10 admitted for free.
Shows start at dusk. All dates are Saturdays unless otherwise noted.

Visit malco.com or facebook.com/timewarpdrivein.

March 28 - IT CAME FROM THE DRIVE-IN! Movies That Inspired Rocky Horror: “King Kong” (1933); “It Came from Outer Space” (1953); “When Worlds Collide” (1951); “The Invisible Man” (1933). (Doors open at 6 p.m., live music with The Subtractions begins at 6:15, movies start at 7:20.)

April 18 - QUINTESSENTIAL QUENTIN! “Pulp Fiction” (1994); “True Romance” (1993); “Reservoir Dogs” (1992); “Death Proof” (2007).

May 16 - SWINGING SIXTIES SUPER SHOW!“Barbarella” (1968); “Danger: Diabolik” (1968); “The Trip” (1967); “Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine” (1965).

June 20 - SATURDAY NIGHT BURN! “Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke” (1978); “Dazed and Confused” (1993); “Friday!” (1995); “Reefer Madness” (1936).

July 18 - FUTURE SHOCK FEST! “Escape from New York” (1981); “The Road Warrior” (1981); “Repo Man” (1984); “The Warriors” (1979).

Aug. 15 - DUSK TO DAWN SPAGHETTI WESTERN BUFFET! “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966); “Charro!” (1969); “Death Rides a Horse” (1967); “Duck You Sucker!” (1971).

Sept. 7 - CAR-TUNE-O-RAMA RETRO-ANIMATION! “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988); “The Iron Giant” (1999); “Heavy Metal” (1981); “Fritz the Cat” (1972).

Sept. 23 (Wednesday) - ROCK & ROLL DRIVE-IN!”Don’t Knock the Rock” (1956); “Rock ’N’ Roll High School” (1979); “This Is Spinal Tap” (1984); Mike McCarthy’s “The Sore Losers” (1997).

Oct. 24 - LATE NIGHT SCIENCE FICTION PICTURE SHOW! “Frankenstein” (1931); “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935); “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975); “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948).

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