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Summer's "Must See" at the Drive-In Picks

I was lucky enough to be born in the mid 1970s, which turned out to be the transitional generation. I watched the multiplex movie theater chains creep into our culture but I also got to live through what seemed to be the final, thriving days of the drive-in.

Some of my earliest memories are of my parents loading my sister and I into the car—dressed in pajamas, of course—for drive-in nights at the old I-290 Drive-In.

I can claim to have caught first-run screenings of Star Wars, Grease, and The Muppet Movie from the back seat of an old Buick sedan. These are badges of honor.

Star Trek
Drag Me to Hell
Land of the Lost
Inglourious Basterds
Black Dynamite

Like so many of those giant-screen parking lots, the I-290 is long gone, dismantled in 1984 to make space for strip malls. It was becoming a common story. After a four-decade run, it was clear that an American institution was in trouble.

Escalating real estate values, the aforementioned proliferation of multiplex theaters, and 1980s advents like the widespread availability of cable television and the boom in home video rentals conspired to bury the drive-in forever.

The decline nationwide has been steady, and the last two years have been bad ones for local fans of the outdoor movie theater. Both of Erie County’s remaining outdoor theaters are now simply a part of the lore. The Queen City’s own Buffalo Drive-In shut down after the 2007 season, another drive-in lost to development interests. Just over two months ago, following a grassroots fight by local enthusiasts to try and save it, the old Grandview in Angola met the wrecking ball. Its mammoth screen had been a proud landmark on Route 5 for 60 years.

However, it would be premature to sound the death knell for the drive-in.

Against the odds, the drive-in has survived and in some cases even thrived thanks to those eager for a healthy dose of nostalgia and a completely different cinema experience.

We are lucky enough to boast a small handful of drive-ins in our proximity.

It takes only an hour and change to make the trip from downtown Buffalo to the Sunset Drive-In in Middleport (9950 Rochester Road / The Sunset has three big screens, a full restaurant, and an unmistakably old-time feel.

Just up the road in Jamestown is the two-screen Park 60 (1529 Foote Avenue Ext. /, a great drive-in opened, believe it or not, in this millennium (2001) and nestled away in the pastoral woods of Chautauqua County.

Cattaraugus County’s charming country one-screener, the Delevan Drive-In (Route 16 /, is well worth the trip on Thursdays and Sundays for Family Carload Nites, where 20 bucks gets as many as you can jam into the old family truckster in for the show.

Finally, 25 minutes or less from almost anywhere in the greater Buffalo area is the closest and my personal favorite: Lockport’s Transit Drive-In (6655 S. Transit Road /

In a 2008 interview with WGRZ radio, owner Rick Cohen said, “Someone could offer me $10 million for the drive-in theater; it’s not for sale.”

It’s one of only two four-screens (a.k.a. “quads”) in New York State, but there’s a lot more that sets the Transit apart. A fourth generation Western New York drive-in owner, Cohen’s passion is apparent. He has continually made additions and improvements to Transit. With a well-stocked snack bar, a 19-hole mini golf course, a playground straight out of the drive-in scene in Grease, easy-going rules, and a friendly staff ,the Transit is a slice of warm-weather heaven. New in 2009, the Transit now offers free wi-fi, ideal for checking biographical stats, filmographies, and trivia on sites like IMDB and Wikipedia on your mobile or laptop.

When it comes time to make plans to see one of this season’s buzzed-about flicks, don’t forget the cardinal rule: No summer should go in the books without a trip to the drive-in.

Star Trek—Okay, this was really more of a late spring release, but JJ Abrams’ deft reset of the Star Trek franchise caught plenty by surprise and proved to be smart, funny, sophisticated sci-fi with nonstop, edge-of-your-seat, popcorn-pounding fun. Bound to stick around as “second bill” on plenty of drive-in double features, this is one to see on the big, big screen. [ Trailer / Review ]

Drag Me to Hell—While the box-office-record-shattering Spiderman franchise gave Sam Raimi the “bankable blockbuster director” tag, he learned the directorial ropes in his string of psychotronic classics in the Evil Dead series, which also made him a hero to cult film fanatics. This return to horror looks like a great balancing act along the line between the two. The only way to better this one might be to pair it with a screening of Raimi-collaborator Bruce Campbell’s recent meta actioner They Call Me Bruce. [ Trailer / Review ]

Land of the Lost—Giant dinosaurs attack! Will Ferrell and Danny McBride buddy up with Cha-ka! Sleestaks, sleestaks, and more sleestaks! Sid and Marty Kroft’s campy 1970s Saturday morning gem gets revived as a modern motion picture. No word on whether the big-budget effects will help or hurt those who remember the lovably cheesy style of the original show. [ Trailer ]

Brüno—Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles follow up 2006’s Borat with the flamboyant East German fashionista—a character who will be familiar to fan’s of Cohen’s Da Ali G. Show—for what is destined to be another unforgettable, sensationally hilarious pastiche with sharply aimed social and cultural criticism not too far beneath the surface. [ Trailer ]

Inglourious Basterds—Quentin Tarantino’s blood-soaked World War II picture. If there is one big-name director currently making movies who actively wants people to see his stuff at the drive-in, this is the guy. [ Trailer ]

Black Dynamite—Harking back to prime drive-in material, Black Dynamite spins the traditional blaxploitation action movie, at once parodying it and playing it relatively straight. The film’s writer and star, the underrated Michael Jai White, has played everyone from Spawn to Mike Tyson but this time crosses Richard Roundtree’s John Shaft with afro-sporting, chop-sockey maestro Jim Kelly. If the trailer is any guide, this one will great. More still: Could Black Dynamite mark the beginning of a new Arsenio Hall renaissance?

donny kutzbach

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