|THE DRIVE-IN FROM HELL by Carlton Herzog|
Jason Scott and Ricky Clemons were a pair of quirky film fanatics who had a dream: they wanted to revive the Old Trenton Drive-In Movie Theatre on Olden Avenue. But they couldn’t come up with the cash to purchase a digital projector. So, they opted to bring the Theatre back to life by screening vintage 35mm film prints and working entirely for free.
The two of them knew nothing of Trenton, let alone the history of the Drive-in. Because it sat adjacent to several hellish dimensions, people in the know referred to Trenton variously as the Jaws of Hell, the Crack of Doom, and the Devil’s Throat. It is rumoured that Durer’s woodcuts and many of Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings—along with those of a certain AJ Pickman—were inspired by dramatic visions of the real Trenton.
Not surprisingly, Trenton had been the home of several satanic churches that were later razed by the citizenry. Even before those formal institutions of evil had arisen, covens of witches had called Trenton home. They too were purged by burnings and beheadings, but not before they inflicted many plagues upon the locals.
To be sure, the good people of Trenton had done their best to rid the land of Satan’s scourge. Trenton’s diabolical leanings did not disappear entirely. Rather, they went underground or were channelled into more respectable enterprises. Sid Samhain, for example, ran an antique shop on Broad Street. As Sid’s surname suggests, he had more than a passing knowledge of occult matters. So, while much of his inventory was of the quotidian variety suitable for traditional collectors, he also reserved a section of the shop for his special customers—an assortment of witches, warlock, sorcerers and the occasional incarnated demon.
He carried an extensive collection of 35mm film prints. Some were garden variety old movies going back as far as the silent ones from the early twentieth century. Others were accursed, having received hell’s imprimatur to wreak as much havoc in the world as possible. The films did this in one of two ways: either the movie patron was sucked into the screen and became an unwilling part of the story, or the characters in the film came to life, walked off the screen and worked their mischief in the theatre and its environs.
Although Jason and Ricky had found Sid to be affable as well as eccentric, they were oblivious to his dark side and that of his inventory. Hence, Sid was the logical source for any and all 35mm film needs from the outset. Moreover, his shop was close to the theatre and his prices surprisingly reasonable, almost as if he wanted to give the films away without seeming to do so.
Jason and Ricky wanted to open the Drive-In in dramatic fashion. They intended to offer a double feature of an obscure horror film from the 30’s: WHAT FIENDS MAY COME. They advertised the event on local radio and television shows, put up makeshift billboards, told family and friends, and at one point even rode around town with a P.A. system announcing the event.
When the fateful night came, Ricky worked the ticket booth, while Jason manned the projector. So great was the turnout that cars were lined up for a quarter mile waiting to get in. There was a large sign outside the drive-in that said that there were not enough people to operate the concession stand, echoing what had already ben promulgated by various means of public announcement. Patrons could, however, bring along their own food and drink, but alcohol, in theory, was banned.
The film opened to Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. That was followed by a brief crackling prologue playing out on grainy celluloid:
How do you do. Before we begin, the producers believe it fair to offer a word of warning about the story that is about to unfold. It’s about that greatest of mysteries the human psyche and the monsters that lurk deep within it. It may thrill you; it may shock you; it will most certainly horrify you. So, if you have a weak constitution and are likely to be disturbed by such things, we urge you leave now. You have been warned.
The crowd tingled with excitement. Not simply because of the Drive-In’s resurrection. But also, because no one in the audience, including Jason and Ricky, had ever heard of, let alone seen the film before.
Jason continued running the projector. Ricky, for his part, sat on the hood of his car mesmerized by the film. He smoked cigarette after cigarette as the action unfolded.
The story involved a doctor by the name of Arthur Machen who wanted to perform surgery that would open his patients’ minds to supernatural vistas where they would see the Great God Pan. The medical community regarded his experiments as quackery. Unable to find a willing volunteer, Doctor Machen, with the help of his trusted footman, William, ply a local drunk, Tom Bottom, with laudanum and liquor. They bring him back to the doctor’s laboratory and perform the surgery on the now unconscious man.
When the man wakes up, he can remember nothing of the night before, nor even who he is. He does relate that he sees through the world around him—beyond the veil of this reality—into others. He says that he can see Nodens, god of the deep abyss.
Doctor Machen keeps the man under observation so he can study the effects of the surgery. He goes out to dinner with some colleagues. On his return he finds that his footman William has been gruesomely murdered, and Tom Bottom is nowhere to be found.
As the days pass, there are a series of unexplained murders in London. Doctor Machen suspects his erstwhile patient is responsible but is afraid to tell the police. So, he arms himself and goes in search of the murderer.
William, who is something of a classicist, tells Doctor Machen that “there may be more than one. As I recall from the Nonnus’ Dionysiaca—the story of Dionysius in India—Pan could be multiplied into a swarm of Pans. In that epic, Pan had 12 sons. His influence therefore is like a virus that can spread. The goat of a thousand young.”
At this point in the movie Jason sees a superimposed satyr on the screen. It’s not part of the movie. It seems to be talking to him directly, but Jason can’t understand what he is saying. He gets off his car and walks up to the screen. He touches it and feels a slight tingling. He can feel himself changing. His body starts sprouting hair everywhere. Large horns grow from his head, and he now has the hindquarters and legs of a goat.
But his supernatural transformation is only one of many. He looks around and sees other satyrs leaving their cars and cavorting around the grounds. He suddenly feels the urge to eat raw meat. He spots an untransformed couple in a convertible and bounds towards them. Before they can do anything, he tears into the throat of the young man behind the wheel. He alternately gulps blood and chews flesh as the woman paralyzed with fright just stares at the tableau in horror.
That scene is being repeated throughout the drive-in as a multitude of Pans emerge from otherwise normal people. There is a panic as some flee on foot and others drive away.
For his part, Ricky has been watching the movie and not paying attention to what was happening with the audience. He was focused on changing the reels over at just the right time. It was at one of those moments that he came out of his cinematic fog and realized what was happening. He tried calling Jason but got no answer.
Ricky shut down the projector, but it was too late. Hell’s hand had reached up from the abyss and grabbed his everyday world by the throat. It had no intention of letting go just yet. He didn’t know what to do other than lock the projection booth and hope that things would calm down. But judging from the screams that might take a while.
The projector hadn’t been shut down very long before it restarted itself. He pulled the plug and it ran anyway. By now the story on the screen showed that the police and Doctor Machen had cornered Tom Bottom in an alleyway. That should have been the end of the movie as the fiend got his just deserts.
But then the Pans at the drive-in began stepping into the movie as easily as you or I would walk into another room. They descended on the constables and tore them apart. Then they along with Tom Bottom, who was dragging the good Doctor with him, jumped back off the screen and began ravaging the remaining patrons in the drive-in.
Ricky smashed the projector with a chair. Although he knocked it to the booth floor, it kept playing. He smacked it again and again with the chair, all to no effect.
He tried to pick it up and smash it on the floor, but it was hot to the touch and burned his hand. He then tried jamming a screwdriver into the reel. But the reel cut through the screwdriver like a hot knife through butter and kept on spinning.
Ricky heard a soft knock at the door. It was Jason.
“Come on, man, open up. It’s not safe out here for me.”
Ricky was on the horns of a dilemma. That was the normal voice of his friend, but his friend had transformed before his eyes into a bloodthirsty fiend.
“Dude, I’m sorry. I can’t do that.”
“Please open up.”
“Man, go look at yourself in a mirror. You’re a monster who’s here to eat me.”
That last bit of dialogue was followed by a bloodcurdling, angry scream. Ricky nearly wet his pants.
Jason was pounding on the door. The sounds he made were those of a feral beast, not Ricky’s friend Jason.
Had Ricky turned his attention to the screen, he would have seen that the newly created Pans were dragging the remaining drive-in patrons back into the movie screen and then killing them as part of the movie. But his attention was on barring the door against the fiend on the other side of it.
He hit upon the idea of climbing out the projection window. That was followed by a bit of fiery inspiration when he looked down and saw the full can of paint thinner. He figured that if he could get out the window and get above whatever Jason had become, he could douse it with the thinner and then set it on fire. Toasting goat boy seemed the only viable means of escape.
So, he grabbed the thinner, made sure his lighter worked, quietly clambered out the window, and stood on top of the booth. He crawled to edge and peeked over to find what was once Jason clawing and licking the door while making mewling sounds like a goat in heat. He watched in fascination.
He slowly unscrewed the cap to the thinner and then dumped it on the satyr. It fumed and growled. The smell of the thinner both confused and infuriated it. But before it could clear its eyes to see the source of its irritation, Ricky dropped a burning rag onto it, and the beast lit up like a human torch.
Ricky could smell its hair and flesh burning together with the acrid stink of the thinner. The thing ran in insane circles, shrieking and spitting. As it did, Ricky eased himself off the booth. He ran for the exit. Before he did, he looked back to see the pan thing run to the movie screen and onto the screen still on fire.
He realized that he was the only one alive in the drive-in. Everyone else had joined the feature presentation. So, he stopped running and watched the remainder of the movie.
By now, Doctor Machen and William had found themselves surrounded by a swarm of Pans comprised largely of the transformed drive-in movie-goers. The movie ended with the swarm closing in on the two, followed by a larger scene of pandemonium at large from a multitude of Pans overrunning cities around the world. Then the screen faded to black.
Ricky felt that the gruesome affair was over. But there was still the matter of that cursed film. He headed back to the projection booth which was now on fire. The burning Pan had inadvertently set the dilapidated structure ablaze when it bumped into it during its frenzy. Ricky stood there and watched it burn down to that last glowing ember.
After the fire subsided, he picked through the ashes to see if the film had been destroyed. It had not. Although the projector was burned, blackened and melted, the film was untouched by the flames.
Ricky didn’t want to leave it there. Somebody else might find it and replay the gruesome drama in the streets of Trenton. He reached for it and found it cool to the touch.
He took it back to Sid’s.
Sid asked, “So was it everything you thought it would be?”
“You knew all along, didn’t you?”
“I had some idea but wasn’t clear on the specifics.”
“I’m out of the 35mm movie business. From now on, I’ll stick to digital shorts on You-tube.”
“Is that so? In that case, I have a digital camera you’re sure to love. It was once owned by the horror film maker Johnny Abbadon. It has an eternal life battery, so it never needs charging.”
“Oh, it is. Just you point it at yourself, and you’ll be an Internet Star.”
“For you, Superstar, it’s free.”
“I represent a consortium that wants to invest in your future. We see you have unlimited growth potential. So, take the camera for now and get started. We’ll get back to you with a contract.”
“Sound too good to be true.”