Bikini Drive-In

The Mighty Monarch

I got the new “uncut” version after first watching what was obviously a pirated release. Unlike my old DVD, the new issue has the Retromedia brand and Fred Olen Ray recorded a commentary track for this release. I liked it more than I expected; unfortunately I had bought one of the pirated and cut versions off a used-DVD store and was expecting only to see the same movie plus some nikked boobs. The movie is better than that.

First, Bikini Drive-In predates the collapse of the Skinemax genre around 2005 by about 10 years. As such, it is a glimpse into what the genre and the drive-in subculture used to be. In its era, the concept of the adult movie had a different meaning than today. A movie used to be a long-form storytelling device, and an adult comedy was a comedy that was spiced with some nudity. Some other examples are TunnelVision, The Groove Tube, and Fred’s Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. Check those early movies out and you will see a vast difference.

After the 2005 crash, an adult movie became a device for generating a group of nude scenes (AKA, simulated hardcore, or “love”) in one long shoot. Instead of being a part of the story, the simulated sex scenes interrupt the story. More recently the love scenes are separated by some filler dialog that viewers are expected to fast-forward through.

As a viewer, I have the feeling that the equivalent of the NBA’s shot-clock came into effect: The format has become so rigid that it seems like the director has to get the next nude shot off before the buzzer or else he gets penalized for Delay of Game. The Shot Clock guarantees that the next “love” scene will start according to the clock, but it has gotten so predictable and flat that any chance of spontaneity is lost.

Thankfully, there’s none of that in this film; instead, there must be a few dozen topless/nude scenes that are sprinkled in like fine spices and integrated into the storyline of the movie as a whole. The movie is much stronger for it. It helps define what the B-movie/drive-in subculture used to be.

This is a genuine adult comedy, not a fake hardcore. There are no phony love scenes. Thankfully, no one is required to pretend that she is in love with anyone. All of the nudity is gloriously gratuitous, presented without apology.

Second, it is a bitter reminder of how cheap the Skinemax genre has become. After they lost sight of the goal of long-form storytelling, it became easier to redefine a Skinemax shoot as just enough to get the required simulated sex scenes in. Sure, less effort is needed if that’s all you want to do. It take more effort to establish characters, tell a story, and sell it.

In other ways, the movie is a homage to the lost drive-in/B-movie subculture. Conrad Brooks, an Ed Wood groupie from the earliest days (Glen or Glenda, Plan 9) is cast as a drive-in assistant/man-Friday, just making a living in B-movies after his Ed Wood days have ended. The Mighty Monarch, who ruled over softcore in the era prior to Fred, is cast as the evil real estate developer who wants to bulldoze the drive-in and build a mega-MacGuffin. As always, he brings a comic touch to the role, establishing his character as the lovable heavy who actually wouldn’t harm a fly. Check out his performance as the mobster in The Pick-up, available from Something Weird.

Back in the day, this type of movie was thought of as low budget, but by today’s standards, it was extravagant. Fred has commented that he now has two days to shoot a full-length Bikini movie for on HD video and 5-6 days to shoot the season. Bikini Drive-In was shot on 35mm film by Orson Welles’s cinematographer and Fred said that he spent four days shooting around the (expensive) drive-in location and another two days and a long night there. That’s enough time and more than enough money to shoot a whole year’s worth of today’s Bikini movies. Personally I’d rather see him take the 6 days to shoot only one movie that, like this one, will earn a 20-year anniversary re-release.

One aspect of the uncut version that impressed me was how much thought and effort was put into shooting the “big finish” at the drive-in. Nowadays, it would have been enough to round up a bunch of nameless, faceless extras to fill out the frame in order to establish that a lot of people came to the drive-in. Not so here.

There’s tons of B-movie girls who are retired but not forgotten. Nikki Fritz is cast as the ugly nerd who transforms herself into “Miss Silicone 1994” by slipping into a phone booth and changing into her super-identity. Any mediocre director wouldn’t have even bothered with the nerd-disguise and just stuck boobs in our faces. Speaking of Boobs-in-the-Face, Becky LeBeau is in many scenes, including lap-dancing Fred Olen Ray, who was smart enough to cast himself as the lucky man (Hitchcock never thought of that move). Tane McClure appears as one of the many topless dancers and the great Michelle Bauer is cast as a B-movie star who is scheduled to put in a personal appearance on the Big Night.

The drive-in crowd puts on their own show. That’s my point. Nowadays, a “good” movie audience is quiet and attentive, while a “bad” (noisy) audience plays with their cell phones or talks loudly. The B-movie drive-in audience was neither. it was participatory, perhaps like a midnight movie audience, but outdoors. The commotion they make doesn’t disturb anyone because the audience is part of the show.

Besides all the top-heavy chicks, we see a guy who is dressed up in a Creature suit and we follow his little subplot. In another car, we find Forrest J Ackerman, who spent his lifetime contributing to the B-movie culture. He is involved in another little subplot. The B-directors Rolfe Kanefsky (Jacqueline Hyde & Erotic Misadventures of the Invisible man) and Donald F. Glut (of the dinosaur and mummy series) were also attracted to the big night. It goes without saying that Jim Wynorski was there to take in the view.

All in all, the missing nude scenes are all back, but they also help paint a portrait of a part of the moviegoing culture that is long gone from the American scene.