BIZARRO B.C.: Joe R. Lansdale’s THE DRIVE-IN
By Scott Emerson
(Although bizarro fiction is a relatively new phenomenon, offbeat fiction is not. Bizarro B.C. is a look back at the weird, often unclassifiable books that have come before. Many have inspired, influenced, or instigated today’s crop of bizarro authors.)
In a sleepy Texas town, the Orbit Drive-in’s All-Night Horror Show is interrupted when a comet–not just any comet, but a red one with “a mouthful of jagged, saw-blade teeth”–flies overhead, leaving the patrons trapped in a deadly, sludge-like force field. The horrors depicted in Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre quickly fade as the surviving movie-goers descend into anarchy, madness, and (eventually) cannibalism; this bleak new world takes another twist with the arrival of the Popcorn King, an amalgam of human flesh and snack bar treats.
Originally published in 1988, Joe R. Lansdale’s The Drive-In: A “B” Movie with Blood and Popcorn, Made in Texas is a fast-paced novel brimming with bizarre imagery –here you’ll find sentient tattoos, popcorn with eyes, and concession-stand crucifixions. Lansdale blends his affection for horror films, and the drive-ins that played them, with a bitter commentary on mob mentality and religious fervor, underscored by vicious humor and lean, clever writing (the man wields similes like a whip).
A sequel, The Drive-In 2: Not Just One of Them Sequels, followed in 1989 and a third, The Drive-In: The Bus Tour, appeared in a limited edition from Subterranean Press in 2005. Both volumes continue the increasingly strange storyline to its unlikely conclusion, adding plenty of absurd wrinkles to the narrative along the way (The Bus Tour, for example, largely takes place inside a whale). In 2010 Underland Press compiled all three novels into The Complete Drive-In, which includes preliminary artwork from Don Coscarelli’s aborted film version. There’s also a graphic novel adaptation from Avatar Press.
Highly recommended for lovers of the bizarro genre.