Joe R. Lansdale
The Complete Drive-In
Back in the eighties I kept having this dream.
Every night, as soon as I drifted off I found myself at a giant drive-in theater. I could tell, even though I was dreaming, that I was putting together all the drive-ins I had ever attended and was combining true experiences with dream experiences.
The dream got weirder. It was like a movie serial. Every night I was excited because I got to see what happened next. What happened in the dream was I was with some friends, and we got trapped in the drive-in by a big black acidic blob that surrounded it and we couldn’t get out. Contained in the drive-in without food and rules, people turned to murder and cannibalism and not washing their hands after peeing.
Anyway, the dream stayed with me, night after night, even though it got to a point where it was no longer advancing; it started repeating itself. I was on a weird drive-in loop.
Then I got a call from T. E. D. Klein at Twilight Zone. He asked if I would write a non-fiction piece for the magazine. They had run other articles by other writers, and they wondered if I had something. I don’t know why I was chosen. Maybe it was because I had sold them a few stories and Ted-as he was known to most, not T. E. D., even though that was his writer tag-got along with me pretty well, and we had had a number of conversations. On the other hand, maybe I was the last pick in the bag. I don’t know.
But I decided to write an article about drive-ins. It contained some drive-in history, and my feelings about drive-ins, and Joe Bob Briggs let me quote him at the front of the article. I then added my dream to it and turned it in.
It really went over well, not only with the editor, but the readers, and one of those readers was my editor at Doubleday, Pat LoBrutto. Pat is one of those unsung heroes of the field. He published dozens of writers on their way up, and dozens on their way down. Good writers who were starting out, or who no longer had a solid home in the publishing industry and should have.
Anyway, he asked if I’d write a book based on the dream.
I said okay, and started writing away. I wrote The Drive-in in a little over two months, if memory serves me, and as soon as I finished, I started writing Cold in July, as I had a contract for that one at Bantam at about the same time.
I hated The Drive-in. I found it hard to write. I wanted it to read simply, and fun, but I had a dark sort of message inside of it, and it weighed on me. I don’t say this with any great feeling of philosophical superiority. I just feel a book is at its best when it has subtext. I felt I had perhaps missed the boat on both humor and philosophical underpinning.
I tried to write what I thought was a kind of loving satire of horror films and the stupidity of man. The desire to believe almost anything if it made them feel better. Religion. Astrology. Numerology. You name it. I thought the book was quite serious, and I hoped funny in a kind of biting, satirical way.
The book came out with a cover that didn’t fit it at all. It was more of the kind of cover reserved for Ron Goulart’s humorous S.F. I liked Goulart’s work, by the way, but this was a totally different kind of animal. It wasn’t actually S.F., though it used some S.F. tropes. It wasn’t exactly horror, though it certainly used elements of that. And it wasn’t exactly a mainstream novel because it was too weird. Perhaps it was weird fantasy? I don’t know. I didn’t care. It was mine.
Anyway, the book came out. It acquired a readership and a kind of underground following. A lot of writers have told me that it was a big influence on their decision to become a writer or that it influenced the way they wrote, or the things they wrote about. That’s pretty high praise.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I often do.
Anyway, backtracking, I hated writing the book and thought it was awful, but when they sent me the galleys, and I read them, I was surprised and pleased. I felt I had done what I started out to do. The problem was the book was written quickly, but intensely, and the things I was writing about, humor or not, underneath were dark and unsettling. At least to me. So, the writing had been tedious and painful, but the reading of the book was not. I am one of those writers who loves writing, not having written. I believe the act itself is what matters most. But for this book, I didn’t really enjoy the act at the time or finishing it either. I thought I had written a loser. I wrote much of it sort of free associating, and just going where it wanted to go, no matter how wild it seemed. I let my subconscious lead the way.
It wasn’t, as I said, until I held the galleys in my hot little hands that I realized I had done something unique. To this day a lot of people tell me how much they love the novel. Many say they love it because it is light and fun. Well, yeah, if you look at it from one angle, that’s true. Some say they think it’s the darkest thing I ever wrote. Yep, so do I. The humor is nothing more than a clown suit on a corpse. The important thing is, for whatever reason, it endures, and so does its influence.
Simply put, I’m proud of it. The book has been back in print before, but not as much as I would like. Not considering it is to my way of thinking one of my more unique and important novels. That, of course, is ultimately for the readers to decide.
I’m excited and pleased that it, and its companions, are being brought out in this form and fashion. I hope this volume brings new readers of the novel into the Drive-in fold. I’m glad to see it have a new life and for it to be presented in this respectful and attractive manner.
– Joe R. Lansdale, 2009
I’m writing now about the time before things got weird and there was high school to kiss off, college to plan, girls, parties and the All-Night Horror Show come Friday night at the Orbit Drive-in off I-45, the largest drive-in in Texas. The world, for that matter, though I doubt there are that many of them in, say, Yugoslavia.
Think about it for a moment. Set your mind clear and see if you can imagine a drive-in so big it can hold four thousand automobiles. I mean, really think about it.
On the way to the Orbit we often passed through little towns with fewer people listed on the population sign than that.
And consider that each of those cars generally contained at least two people, often more-not counting the ones hiding in the trunks-and you’re talking a lot of cars and people.
And once inside, can you imagine six monstrous drive-in screens, six stories high, with six different movies running simultaneously?
Even if you can imagine all that, there’s no way, unless you’ve been there, that you can imagine what goes on inside come Friday night and the tickets are two bucks each and the cars file in for The All-Night Horror Show to witness six screens leaking buckets of blood and decibels of screams from dusk to dawn.
Picture this, brethren: