Monday, June 25, 2012

When Mario Bava Stalked 12 Melbourne Drive-ins

When I crept out at 5:30 am on that fateful Thursday morning to retrieve the newspaper on my favorite day of the week, the day the movies changed, I was transfixed by this ad mat, and snipped it right away so I could possess it. I still do, obviously.

I was ten, so I didn't know who Mario Bava was, but to see him described as "Mr. Horror" in the black insert beside the title was enough excitement for me. My mission for that Thursday night was to convince my mother to take me to see Baron Blood (surely the best name for a horror film ever!) at Village's Clayton 1 drive-in. My biggest challenge would come from my knowing that my mother hated horror films, and had no stomach for blood, gore, or monsters, so I'd need to tell a few white lies and stretch the truth all the way to the nearest full moon in order to achieve my goal.

"It looks like something bloody," was mum's first assessment of the ad mat. "What terrible thing is it about?"

I started spinning my lies immediately. "It's about a guy looking for a castle. See, there's no blood, it's just that his name's Baron Blood."

Mum was unconvinced, and read the paragraph about Bava being 'Mr. Horror'. "No, I don't think so. It's a horror film. It even says it was banned."

I looked aghast.

She continued: "You don't need to be seeing banned films. Isn't there something else on?"

I tapped the paragraph. "It says his other films were banned. This is a nice one."

"It doesn't look nice. It looks terrible."

Each lie I launched was immediately shot down. "No, it's not terrible. Lots of kids are going to see it."

Mum placed her hands on her hips and dumped the cloth she was using to dry the dishes. Our conversation was taking place in the kitchen and I'd offered to wash the dishes in order to soften her up. She said with a scowl: "What OTHER kids are going to see this? I want their names and phone numbers. I'm going to call their parents."

I became sheepish. "Just kids. Other kids. They're allowed to see it."

"Are they ten years old, too?"


"Do they have parents?"


"I don't think so. Like you, they have school to think about... unless their parents are letting them run wild."

Shit! Mum was very big on disparaging parents who let their kids "run wild". It was her way of telling me that parents who let kids see bloody horror movies had lost control of them.  She didn't want to be in that category.

"Can't we see it? I'll wash dishes for the next month."

"You should be doing that, anyway, you're the oldest."

"I'll mow the lawns twice a week."

"They don't need mowing that often. Pick another movie."

I was going down in flames. "There aren't any others."

"There are lots of other movies! Better sorts of movies."

"But they're no good."

Mum looked at the ad mat again. "What's this rot rated?" I hated when she referred to my loves as "rot".

"It's rated 'M'."

Yes, 'M' for mature, and you're not that."

"I'm allowed to see it. If I ride my bike there, I can still get in."

My mum looked mortified. "You won't be riding your bike there! And we didn't buy you that bike so you'd take it to gory movies."

"It's my bike. It doesn't mind where it goes."

"Well, I do. And it's not taking you to see rubbish like this." 

"Then fine! I'm never cutting the lawn again, or doing dishes, or setting the table, or taking a bath."

"Then you'd better get yourself a job and a house and move out."

"I will!" I announced with unsecured  confidence. "And I'll see any scary movie I want."

A week later, my father picked up the newspaper and noticed that a film called Duel (with Dennis Weaver, one of his favorite actors) was playing at the local drive-in, the Clayton 1, with some other "rubbish", as he referred to it, called Baron Blood. He asked me, which wasn't common, if I wanted to see Duel with him. Stuttering like a horny jackhammer, I said "Yes."

"Why don't you call information and find out what film's playing first," he said.

I called information and was told Baron Blood would screen first.

Now, it was time to launch my last white lie like a sleek cruise missile.

"Duel is playing first," I told him.

"Good," he said, looking over the newspaper. "I don't want a late night."

The impossible happens now and then. The planet's line up. And some missiles are not shot down.

It was not easy for my father to contain his rage when he was greeted with Baron Blood. He said he'd have a word to the drive-in manager, but that never happened -- not then, anyway. He did get my mum to complain to Village Theatres on Monday for dispensing erroneous program information. I don't think they had anything to say. They hadn't done anything wrong.

As for me, I loved the heck out of the first film I ever saw from 'Mr. Horror', and I drooled at the grotesquerie on display. I wasn't quite sure what made this Italian horror film different, but I knew that my horizons had been broadened.

Dad thoroughly enjoyed watching Dennis outwitting the truck, and we both cheered when the demonic rig disappeared over the cliff and burst into flames.

As we drove home together, Dad lit a Marlboro, cracked open the window, and found for himself a reason to smile. "I don't think your mum would've been too happy sitting through the first film."

I nodded. I waited. Then I said: "Did you like it much?"

He said without hesitation. "It was a bit different."

And he was right. On that one thing and not many other things, we agreed.

Dad died last year. RIP, Dad, I miss those precious moments when mutual agreement brought us closer.

Note: the above ad mat was for Baron Blood's first week, when it didn't play with 
Duel; in the second week, it played with Duel.


  1. 1972 really was like the bloody dark ages. By the way, "The Baby-Maker" (1970) was a surprisingly good film, the sort of film you`d expect to be garbage but it turned out to be an astonishingly heart-rending and tear-jerking experience.

  2. Phantom, here are my 5 favorite horror movie
    titles of all-time (though not neccessarily
    my favorite films).

    1. Squirm (1976).
    2. The Hills Have Eyes (1977).
    3. Night of the Living Dead (1968).
    4. The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre (1973).
    5. The Living Dead at the
    Girl-chester Morgue (1974).

  3. Anonymous/Hamster -- my eye went to THE BABYMAKER on the ad mat, too, as I recently bought the Warner Archive copy. As you say, surprisingly good film.

    Very solid choices, and I admire all these films myself. No matter what anybody says, I still think the original HILLS is a pioneering horror film that introduced a new sub-genre. The family structure was very clever.

  4. jervaise brooke hamsterJune 27, 2012 at 2:00 PM

    Actually Phantom, i hear what you`re saying about "The Hills Have Eyes" (genuinely interesting by the way) but if i`m being honest the only reason i remember "Night of the Living Dead" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is because of Judith O`Dea and Marilyn Burns, those two chicks were such hot babes in `67 and `73 aged 22 and 23 respectively at the times of principal photography.

  5. I have a question. This Mario Bava post reminds me a book written by Tim Lucas, who wrote that huge book on Bava. It is a work of fiction called "Throat Sprockets." Have you read it? I just read it for the second time. It's about cinematic obsessions and the underlying mental and emotional states that drive a cinephile's urge to fetishize unrequited desires with movies. Recommended if you like J.G. Ballard and Cronenberg movies.

  6. As good as the material consistently is on this blog, these autobiographical entries remain my favorites. Any regular to this blog can sympathize with the young Phantom's plight and the battles between Mom and Young Phantom always make for gripping reading. I'm hoping you do a book of this stuff one day - I WAS A TEENAGE PULP MANIAC or something like that.

  7. Jesse W. -- I certainly know of 'Throat Sprockets', but I don't recall reading it. I like Lucas's writing, so perhaps I should.


    Schlockmaniac -- thank you! I'm considering collection these and others into a book. A few have suggested it. That guarantees three or four sales, at least :-)

  8. Great memories! I was doing first year at Monash Uni when Clayton Drive-In played Baron Blood. I knew about the film through Famous Monsters Of Filmland which was imported and sold at Space Age Books in Swanston St. (Famous Monsters was taken off the banned list of imports in 1972.
    We waited until the Wednesday night which was Baron Blood's final screening. It poured rain all night and made the drive-in an impossibility. I ended up missing it and not seeing it until Roadshow released it on VHS.Never again did I wait until the final night to see a Drive-in movie.
    I saw my first cinema screeing of a horror film at 14 years of age in 1969 when The Albany screened Dracula Has Risen From The Grave for the September school holidays. I managed to see every horror film screened commercially from then until the late 70's........EXCEPT for Baron Blood!
    Awful Movies With Deadly Earnest offered some goodies before I was old enough to get to the movies without parent approval. I remembered Carnival Of Souls, in particular,scarred the hell out of me late one night during the Summer of '67. Two of my favourites from Deadly Earnest was Sting Of Death and Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Died And Became Crazed Mixed-up Zombies.......but I digress! Love this site. AMAZING!

  9. Anonymous -- wow, what nostalgia! You're a little ahead of me age-wise, but only by seven years.

    I've discussed 'Space Age' several times on this blog. Hard to believe how backward Australia was in the 60's and early 70's. Banning FM? Insane. It was a movie mag for kids essentially. Big and small.

    I used to go to the Albany, too, when I was in my teens. I remember seeing Frogs there with Chrome and Hot Leather.

    Ah, Deadly Ernest! Did you see him last year at the Astor? The real Deadly, the original, made an appearance. I've got photos! I never saw CARNIVAL on Deadly's show, but I did see Buchanan's IT'S ALIVE and IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE. He showed THE BLOB quite often, too. I loved STING OF DEATH.

    Did you ever go to the Sandringham Drive-in on Tulip Street? That was a Melbourne classic.

    I mostly went to Clayton Twin as a kid and Hoyts' Burwood. I remember when Burwood had a carousel/merry-go-round.

    Please feel free to digress on any subject any time.