This last Saturday, we were at the Midway Drive-In in Dixon, IL, for their annual From Dusk to Dawn Horrorfest, set up out in front of the concessions, like we usually are. Now usually in September when these are held, the only part of the weather we usually have to worry about is if it might rain or not. Thankfully, there was not even a chance of rain in the forecast. Instead, it was a bit warmer than normal. In fact, record breaking temps hitting 91 degrees. And it felt like it too. Would it be too hot for anyone to want to come out and celebrate the great films they were showcasing? Would they come out early enough to shop with us vendors and hang out? Or if they were planning to come out, would they just get there right as dusk in time for the films? We would soon have the answer to that.
We arrived there at 3pm to start setting up. It was already 90 degrees out and it felt like it. As soon as I opened the door to the van, the wave of sweltering heat hit you like a ton of bricks. But none the less, we started to unpack and get our table set up. It didn’t take but a few minutes before the sweat was just rolling off of both myself and my wife Dawn, but we continued. Our good friends Jill and Gregg from Lixonline were setting up next to us, as usual. They are one part of the reason we love doing this. Just having the chance to hang out and talk movies with them is so much fun.
Of course, the only reason that this whole thing is even possible is because of Mike and Mia Kerz who run the Midway. I have to give them so much credit for not only putting on these kind of all night horror events, but just the fact that they are working so hard to keep the spirit of the drive-in alive and well. In a time of multiplexes, IMAX theaters, 3D screenings, and such, it is so damn cool for them to do this, helping people either re-live these experiences from their youth, or for the younger generations to still be able to create these lasting memories. For that, I am forever grateful to them.
By the time we got set up, it was getting close 5pm, which is when the gates were going to open. My fears of getting a low turnout was quickly dispersed when as soon as the opened, the cars started to pour in. Not just one or two, but a constant stream of vehicles, filled with die-hard horror fans, were flooding into the drive-in. Now, the first movie didn’t start for about 3 hours, but even in this ungodly heat, the fans were there right from the beginning. Makes an old horror fan like me damn proud.
It’s kind of funny when you tell people in the “normal” world that you’re going to an all-night horror movie marathon at a drive-in, and you get comments like “And people go to that?” Not only did people come to it, there was a LOT of people that came out. Making the night even more eventful, before the features started, they had different famous horror film scores, intermixed with classic horror radio trailers coming from the speakers, which made the evening even more fun.
The first feature scheduled to play was Aliens (1986). I think the last time I seen this on the big screen was when it first came out, some 30+ years ago. It is incredible how this film still holds up. With no CGI, it is amazing how freaking good this looks too, compared to those $200 million cartoons we get these days. This was the Midway’s tribute to the late Bill Paxton and it was well received.
Next up was Halloween II (1981), which takes up right after John Carpenter’s original. This opened when I still was working at the theater so I got to see a lot of this film during that initial release. That maybe be the reason that I am still really fond of it. In fact, besides the original, it really is the only one of the Michael Myers sequels that I find entertaining. Always fun to see Donald Pleasance just chewing up the scenery.
The third feature was Day of the Dead (1985), their tribute to another fallen horror icon, George Romero. I have seen this one more than a few times as well, but really wanted to make sure I was awake for the last feature, so I took a little nap in the van. After that, we started to pack up shop.
Last but not least, Bill Lustig’s 1980 film Maniac was the final feature. I had thought this was the first time getting to see it on the big screen, but actually I think I did catch a midnight screening at the Music Box a year or two ago. None the less, this film is just amazing. Yes, the gore is so over the top and always pays off, but it is so much more than just some gore picture. Spinell’s performance as a tormented soul, tortured by years of abuse from his mother, should be one that is studied by film scholars. Of course, we all know that will never happen because they never look past the obvious, which is a damn shame, because Spinell really gives an Oscar winning performance here.
I’m glad I took that little nap because I was able to stay awake for this last movie and it was so well worth it. Granted, now we had an hour drive home that I knew it was going to be a tough one, which it was. There is something about I-88 that just wants to put me to sleep. After one quick stop for some breakfast, we made it home about 5:30am, just as the sun was starting to pop its head above the horizon.
From being drenched from sweat during the first part of the day, to fighting like hell to stay awake on the drive home, one would question why would we even bother doing something this. Easy answer…because. Because horror fans like to support the genre, and those like the Midway that put on these kind of events for us horror fans. If we didn’t show our support, then these kind of events would start to disappear. Plus the fact that they are just much damn fun!
So thank you. Thank you to the fans that came out and help make this so much fun. Thank you to my wife Dawn, and to Jill and Gregg from Lixonline for the hours of entertainment and conversation that we always have here. And of course, thanks to Mike, Mia, and the whole Kerz and Midway family for keeping the drive-in alive and (hopefully) thriving in this day and age. I can’t tell you how much us horror fans appreciate it. See you at the next one!