July 31, 2006

Drive-in movies make a comeback in the US

By Holly McKenna

AVERILL PARK, New York (Reuters) - It's a smokers' and
drinkers' paradise where pajama-clad children and crying babies
are welcome and bug spray is essential: The drive-in movie
theater is making a muted comeback in the United States.

While its not quite a return to the heyday of the 1950s,
when there were more than 4,000 outdoor theaters across the
country, 20 new drive-in cinemas have opened up during the past
year, taking the national total to 420.

Jessica and John Catlin began watching outdoor movies when
they were children and they now drive their red pick-up truck
to the 54-year-old Hollywood Drive-In Theater in Averill Park,
30 miles from New York state capital Albany, most weekends.

They bring their 2-month-old daughter Jadyn and 9-year-old
son Jacob and like the way the drive-in can cater to all ages
-- they were able to change Jadyn's diaper in the car, as Jacob
sat glued to "Pirates of the Caribbean 2."

"We like being able to be in our own vehicle so we don't
disturb others," said John Catlin, adding that he enjoys being
out under the stars during summer.

The family-friendly atmosphere is a stark contrast to the
dark days of the drive-in between the 1960s and 1990s when many
were closed and others began showing X-rated movies in a
last-ditch bid to attract customers. There are no longer any
pornographic drive-ins.

"The drive-ins are coming back due to the value they have
to offer," said Walt Effinger, president of the Baltimore-based
United Drive-In Theater Owners Association (UDITOA).

"You get two movies for one low price," he said, referring
to the practice of drive-ins screening two movies a night for
one admission charge.

The "double bill" can be a children's movie with an adult
movie, two children's features or two adult films.


Effinger, who owns a drive-in, believes the future of the
outdoor theaters is promising because of the experience they

Movie-goers can take their own food and drink -- they don't
have to sneak it in, like many do at indoor theaters -- and can
also take home comforts like pillows and blankets.

At the Averill Park Hollywood Drive-In people play baseball
and football as they wait for the movie to start, teen-agers
are able to congregate away from their families and lawn chairs
dot the parking lot.

Fifty-year-old commercials for the concession stand and an
old-fashioned mosquito killer appear on the screen before the
movies. Bug sprays or citronella candles are needed to combat
the battalion of bugs because many theaters are in heavily
wooded country areas.

One of the downsides at the drive-in is the long line at
the bathroom during intermission. There are often too few
stalls and at older theaters many are dirty and haven't been
updated since the drive-ins opened decades ago.

Patrons used to listen to movies from speaker boxes that
attached to the car window, but now they tune into a special
radio frequency, and instead of being charged per car
movie-goers now pay per person an average of $7.

"Our business is all weather-dependent," said Frank Fisher,
owner of the 400-vehicle Hollywood Drive-In and a board member
for the UDITOA. "The summer has to be good for us to have a
decent season."

Karen Dapper and her family drove 45 minutes to the
Hollywood Drive-In from their home in Pittsfield,

"You get two movies for the price of one and you can talk
in your car," Dapper said. "I like to be outside for the