b-movies-from-the-silver-screen-to-the-video-game-screen

A local movie theater recently hosted an “Indoor Drive-in” series to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the original drive-in theaters. First opened by Richard Hollingshead in 1933, drive-ins became family destinations. People paid a minimal fee to enter a gated parking lot with a huge movie screen located at one end of the grounds. Hollingshead intended for guests to watch the movie from the comfort of their own automobiles. When technology permitted, guests rolled the window part-way down and attached a tethered speaker to the car. Theater owners seeking to expand business often established petting zoos, scheduled musical performances prior to screenings, offered free pony rides, or set-up miniature trains. Teenagers brought dates to the drive-in and theaters soon became known as “passion pits.” With all of the distractions provided by the drive-in experience, many attendants paid little attention to the big screen. The gaudy movies, now commonly referred to as B-movies, featured outlandish plots, unrealistic special effects, and corny dialogue. The video game industry has also provided us with a playful format to explore the thrills of drive-in B-movies.

Science fiction B-movies from the 1950s often featured strange and fantastic creatures that embody America’s fear of the unknown. Creature from the Black Lagoon, a 1954, 3-D, monster horror film, introduced Gill-man, now one of the most infamous creatures in Hollywood history. The amphibious Gill-man came “up from the depths of the unknown water” and abducted the only female partaking in a geological expedition of the Amazon. The movie followed the remaining crew members as they attempted to rescue the damsel in distress.  Nearly 40 years later, Midway sought to create a video game with a drive-in movie theater theme. John Trudeau, the game’s lead designer, explained “after I had settled on a theme (drive-in) and a “toy” or “gimmick” I wanted to use (the hologram), the Creature wasn’t far behind. I am a sci-fi fan….it was a natural marriage of themes.” In 1992, the company released the pinball machine Creature from the Black Lagoon. The game features 1950s music, 16 modes of play, and multi-ball play. The green holographic Creature in the middle of the playfield proves the highlight of the game play experience.

In 2006, Capcom’s survival horror game Dead Rising included living dead synonymous with B-movies screened at early drive-ins.  During game play, the player assumes the role of photojournalist Frank West who is trapped in a mall with zombies. West had to defeat zombies (his weapons include more than 250 objects such as cash registers, toy light swords, umbrellas, and traffic cones), rescue patrons, and complete case files. West may neglect the case files and instead, wander the mall, try on outfits, frequent the food court for snacks, and kill zombies. Does this plot sound familiar? Some argue that the game ripped off George A. Romero’s 1978 horror film Dawn of the Dead, which Roger Ebert described as “brilliantly crafted, funny, droll, and savagely merciless in its satiric view of American consumer society.”  In 2008, the producer of Dawn of the Dead filed suit against Capcom, claiming that the company copied the classic film. Avid film fans might argue that any opportunity to revisit the movie in a new format proves a fun pastime— it’s rumored that Dawn of the Dead enthusiasts dress in zombie attire every year and roam Pennsylvania’s Monroeville Mall where Romero shot the film.

B-movies from decades past, such as The Giant Claw, Lobster Man from Mars, Queen from Outer Space, and The Blob, maintain cult-like followings today. These films provide an escape and make our fears feel irrational. Creature from the Black Lagoon and Dead Rising enhance this B-movie experience by creating an interactive format. If you’re interested in exploring additional video game titles representative of the drive-in, check-out Night of the Living Dead, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, or Rampage.