From the late ‘60s through the late ‘70s, producer and distributor Sam Sherman and his company Independent-International Pictures Corporation released a trove of movies, many of them directed by the late cult filmmaker Al Adamson, including Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Nurse Sherri, Cinderella 2000, and Satan’s Sadists. Over the course of that decade, these low-budget exploitation pictures became popular attractions at drive-in theaters, providing bizarre, campy thrills to young people across the country.
Sherman’s film career faded with the rapid closure of outdoor screening venues through the 1980s, a decade that saw the shuttering of more than 1,000 drive-in theaters nationwide. But now that the coronavirus has forced most U.S. hard-top theaters to close or operate at a limited capacity—leading some of them to convert to a ‘pop-up drive-in’ formula—a mini-revival of the drive-in theater is afoot. That has led Sherman to offer over 30 of his newly-restored films to drive-in theaters in the hopes of introducing them to a new generation of moviegoers.
To kick off what is being billed as a “road show,” Sherman will screen his most iconic title, Dracula vs. Frankenstein, at The Circle Drive-In in Dickson City, Pennsylvania on May 26. Additionally, George Reis—founder of the website DVD Drive-In and producer of the semi-annual Super Monsterama Show at The Riverside Drive-In in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania—will screen several of Sherman’s Hemisphere Horror films at the theater this fall, including entries in the popular Blood Island franchise.
In the lead-up to Dracula vs. Frankenstein’s first screening later this month, Boxoffice Pro spoke with Sherman about restoring his old films, reviving some of his classic drive-in gimmicks and what it’s like witnessing the current surge of the drive-in format.
I was reading that you had actually been restoring some of your old movies. When did you first embark on that project?
Oh, it’s been a period of time, because we know that this is a digital, high definition world, and we have to be up to date. So, we’ve gone back to our original 35mm camera negatives and restored a big chunk of our library to digital high definition.
You made your career on the drive-in theater format, which really started declining in the ’80s. Now there are only around 300 operating in the U.S. What was it like to witness that decline?
Like anything else, things have their day. Just like we have the pandemic now, indoor theaters are closed, and drive-ins are reopening. The old ones are being fixed up. And there is a big phenomenon known as pop up drive-ins, where in an empty field they put up a screen and a projector and boom, they have a drive-in.
Anybody can play anything on a screen, but most of those were designed for streaming and indoor theaters and that sort of thing. But what we have here, restored digitally to HD, is authentic drive-in movies for drive-in theaters. And I think a lot of young people who have never gone to drive-ins, or who have never seen a drive-in movie in a drive-in theater, will want to embrace the experience.
Which of your titles are you making available to drive-ins now?
We’re starting with Dracula vs. Frankenstein. So many people love it. Young people who have never seen it would want to see it where it was meant to be seen, on a big drive-in screen at night when it’s kinda spooky. When you’re in an indoor theater, you know it’s a theater, but when you go to a drive-in, it’s dark and it’s eerie and you listen to the movie and on the track you hear the howling of wolves and the fluttering of bats’ wings. Who knows? It might be bats flying around the drive-in theater. It is a real-life, multi-dimensional experience.
At the same time, our actor who played Dracula as Zandor Vorkov (a.k.a. Roger Engel) has reappeared. It’s like he disappeared into the mist, and he’s come back. He was at the Egyptian Theatre in LA, when the documentary on my late partner Al Adamson was run along with Dracula vs. Frankenstein. He couldn’t believe his popularity. He was mobbed. It was very exciting.
So, he’s decided to embrace what we’re doing. He’s done a special promotional video to run at the drive-ins ahead of Dracula vs. Frankenstein, where he’s encouraging people to go to blood banks and donate blood.
Are you making any of your other titles available to drive ins?
We’re making 30 or 40 titles available. We will have our big motorcycle hits Satan’s Sadists available. Angels’ Wild Women. Hell’s Bloody Devils. We have a lot of films like that. Plus, a lot of other horror films that are very popular, like Nurse Sherri. Of course, we have some soft sexy films. I don’t think they’d be as much for a family audience. Like The Blazing Stewardesses.
It’s a plethora of all kinds of unusual programming that would be a completely new experience. You can run any old picture at a drive-in that people have seen a million times on streaming and on cable on Blu-ray or DVD. You know, who needs to see Jaws for the thousandth time? Or anything else they’ve seen over and over again? And the studios are not releasing new films [for drive-ins]. But Dracula vs. Frankenstein they may never have seen.
I’m curious what kind of interest you’ve seen from drive-in theaters so far.
I’m working with David Sehring, a friend of mine who was one of the heads of the AMC cable network. He has a company called Drive-In-Sanity Films. And he’s been out there with this, and he’s got interest all over the country. It’s just a matter of what formats we’re delivering. We’re still working on that. Whatever it is, we’re involved with all the current digital formats.
You’re vowing to provide gags, gimmicks and souvenirs to coincide with the screenings. Can you give me some examples of what you’re offering there?
We’re working on a replica of the Dracula ring. The Dracula ring was a very popular issue [during the movie’s original run]. We used it in the film. My late cousin’s late husband designed different jewelry effects from big studio movies, and he designed the ring for Count Dracula, who in the film uses it with optical rays coming out of it. So, we’re working on a replica of the Dracula ring, little signed cards, all kinds of different gimmicks and things that we’re coming up with. Little monster characters and things like that.
They don’t get that kind of stuff in movie theaters now.
No, no. These are things we did years ago. I was involved with another company besides Independent-International called Hemisphere Pictures, and I did the oath of green blood for a film called Mad Doctor of Blood Island, which we have again. In the case of what I designed for Mad Doctor of Blood Island, there were packets of green blood given to the audience, and they had to recite this oath from the screen and drink their packet to protect them from ever becoming a green-blooded monster. So far, no matter how many times we did that, we’ve never had one case where a member of the audience did become a green-blooded monster.
As awful as the situation that we’re dealing with right now is, does the current revival of the drive-in format make you feel good in a way, given that’s how you made your career?
I’m very happy to see the people getting some comfort from being kept in too long, being able to go out, be safe, have entertainment and have the drive-in theaters that were near and dear to me for so many years, be a method of getting the public out and getting them entertained and making people feel better.
Do you think this crisis could lead to a revival of drive-ins long term? I feel like people are going to be a little wary of going back into indoor theaters even once this has subsided.
I think you’re completely right. I think this is starting a drive-in revival, and it could be very, very important. I’m expecting it.