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Indie Film: At the drive-in, see a scary triple feature without fearing for your life

Prides Corner Drive-In in Westbrook is showing a gory triple features this weekend. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

It takes a lot to lure me back into a movie theater these days. That’s a sentence I never once imagined writing – or even thinking – for most of my film freak life. But then came a global pandemic that revealed just how many Americans value their narrow concept of “freedom” over the actual lives of their fellow human beings. And so forth.

I have been inside a movie theater exactly once in the last two and a half years. And that was in order to write an Indie Film column a year ago about what it was like to tentatively re-enter the world of big screens and enclosed spaces, imagining that the COVID pandemic was on its way out. (I saw “A Quiet Place 2” at a sparsely attended weekday matinee while wearing a mask the whole time. It was fine.)

Well, here we are, well into COVID: Year 3, and while I’m as vaccinated as it’s humanly possible to be, and resolutely wear my N95 mask inside every indoor space, I’m still wary. Yes, even about going back to the movies.

Thankfully, there are options for those of us who still take a virus that’s killed over a million US citizens just a bit seriously. Streaming and a lifetime’s curated supply of DVDs have their very necessary place, of course. But for the nights when sitting on the sofa and flicking, bleary-eyed, through the same algorithmic menus just isn’t cutting it, summertime in Maine provides some more adventurous, outdoor movie destinations.

Last week, I told you all about the three-weekend cinematic wonderland that is the currently underway Maine Outdoor Film Festival. Taking place in three fresh-air, outdoor Portland locations, MOFF presents dozens of eclectic, visually stunning and thought-provoking nature-themed short films, all enjoyed under the cool Maine stars. Lovely.

And then there are Maine’s drive-ins. Once ubiquitous around the country, the good old drive-in movie theater has largely gone the way of the video store, and we’re all the worse for it. Still, there are a few hardy Maine souls keeping the huge screens glowing, and that’s a great thing for everybody from nostalgia buffs to those of us still keeping our inside time to a minimum. (Honestly, if anything gets me back into the theaters this year, it’s going to be Jordan Peele’s just-released “Nope.” I’m not made of stone, people.)

Scanning the few surviving drive-ins’ schedules reveals a canny mix of old favorites and alluring new blockbuster spectacles, designed to see Mainers pile into their cars for a throwback night of big-screen thrills. Maine’s Points North Institute opened Rockport’s Shotwell Drive-In in direct response to COVID closing down the state’s movie theaters, because Points North (founders of the excellent Camden International Film Festival) are good and wise and know that communal movie experiences make life worth living. And while the Shotwell routinely programs ambitious arthouse fare on its big screen in the Maine woods (Aug. 11 sees the debut of acclaimed Russian drama “One Man Dies a Million Times”), this week they’re catering to the kid in all of us with a Saturday screening of “The Goonies.” A car packed with popcorn-munching munchkins (and former munchkins) is pretty much the ideal way to rewatch that rambunctiously chaotic 1985 adventure flick.

But it’s Westbrook’s Prides Corner Drive-In that’s got me looking for my car keys this week. That’s because, in a move seemingly designed to take my money and lift my spirits, Prides Corner, on Friday and Saturday, is presenting a triple feature of “The Evil Dead,” “Evil Dead 2” and “Army of Darkness,” projected in all their disreputable, gory glory onto a screen big enough to freak out the surrounding countryside.

For those not in the know, 1981’s “The Evil Dead” saw then 20-year-old filmmaker Sam Raimi (the first three Spider-Man films, “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness”) bring a rag-tag crew of similarly intrepid friends from their Detroit homes to a decrepit, abandoned cabin in the Tennessee woods to make a scruffy little horror movie. When they emerged – battered, broke and (in star Bruce Campbell’s case) literally wounded – they had produced a horror classic. Maine’s own Stephen King was instrumental in Raimi’s underdog success story, calling the film, “the most ferociously original horror film of the year.” Steve wasn’t wrong.

The story of that film’s creation is the stuff of indie filmmaker legend, seeing the young and brilliant Raimi scrounging for funds, inventing gear he couldn’t afford and cajoling his inexperienced cast and crew into testing their limits, all in pursuit of his singular, loony and terrifying vision. The story’s as basic as it gets, with the unwary college friends reading from the wrong book and summoning some truly disgusting and resilient demons. But Raimi’s style of him is a freight train of inventiveness and malicious glee, with childhood pal Campbell (as seemingly indestructible series protagonist Ash) put through every conceivable wringer in his quest to survive both the demons and Raimi’s fiendish imaginings of him.

It’s ideal drive-in fare, born in the time when the young me could still catch a fleeting but unmistakable glimpse of something forbidden (and therefore irresistible) glimmering in the middle of nowhere while my parents’ car drove on to somewhere far less interesting. Well, I have my own car now (take that, Mom and Dad), and I can’t think of anything more exhilarating and cathartic than pulling in for five-and-a-half straight hours of blood-dripping, Bruce Campbell- quipping, rip-roaring fun at the movies.

“Evil Dead 2” is, if anything, even more bananas than the grimy original, while “Army of Darkness” somehow hurls Ash back into medieval times (complete with his trusty chainsaw), only to find those pesky demons infesting the past, too . They’re nonstop fun – if you’re me, or someone like me.

The whole Prides Corner experience is exceptionally reasonable, too. A car with two people is $20, you can pack in up to five people for only $25, and if you’re really crammed in there, it’s only an extra five bucks for each person over the fifth. The sound comes in nice and clear over your car radio, open windows let in the fresh air and the shrieks of delighted revulsion from neighboring vehicles, and one admission is good for all three movies, if you can stick it out. After an unthinkably long time away from the big screen, you’d better believe I’ll be there till the very end.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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