JAIMIE VERNON – INVASION OF THE POPCORN SNATCHERS

Promo Shot_Twilight Zone_thumbAside from my life-long obsession with pop music I am also a bleary-eyed, closet Cinephile. I’m a sucker for a historical drama, or an action film or cleverly scripted comedy especially on a lazy Sunday afternoon when Robertsonthe best that television can offer is mindless tripe like ‘Flip Your Spouse’, ‘Lose Weight or Die’ or the sermon of some ratbag preacher who is pick-pocketing the elderly through the very television itself. But I digress…

My movie genres of choice have always been Horror and Sci-Fi. I have my parents to thank/blame for this. As an impressionable child I lived in Drive-in2an area of Toronto that put us 500 feet from the late-lamented Cedarbrae Cinemas in Scarborough and within 20 minutes driving distance from no less than five Drive-In movie theatres [Note to Millennials reading this: a “drive-in” was a giant parking lot with a six-storey movie screen where you’d park your car and watch first-run movies with 200 other hapless motorists and their family/friends]. That was a whole lot of silver screens before the invention of the SuperHappyMegaGoogleplexiums.

It was a rare occasion that we went to Cedarbrae Cinema because they tended to show more adult fare at the two theatres inside but I do recall one occasion when I was 8 1/2 where myself and a close friend were dropped off there by my mother with box-office money and cash for candy to see Disney’s re-launch of ‘Pinocchio’ (“See it one last time before it’s locked in Disney’s vaults again FOREVER!” Well played Mr. Disney. Well played.). But after we’d bought our tickets I lasciviously Le-Mans-1971convinced my good friend that we should go see the brand new Steve McQueen race car movie ‘Le Mansthat was playing on the other screen in the same building. So we snuck in with the adult crowd and got to see what, I thought, was a better film than the one where some wooden kid with an erectile dysfunctional proboscis turns into a donkey. Problem was, the running time of ‘Pinocchio’ was 88 minutes while ‘Le Mans’ was 106 minutes. So, when my friend and I didn’t show up at the front of the venue at a designate time for our parents to pick us up, they came in looking for us. We were hauled out of the movie and had our asses kicked all the way home. I believe I was grounded until I was 13. Only last year did I see the ending to ‘Le Mans’. I’ve refused to watch ‘Pinocchio’ on principle ever since.

DriveIn-Movie1The more common movie experience for my family was the Drive-In. It was a welcome respite for my Mom & Dad because they’d stick us in pajamas in hopes we’d fall asleep during the second of a double feature. The four of us would pile into Dad’s aquamarine ‘67 Plymouth Valiant and off we’d go to one of the five area Drive-Ins depending on what was playing where: The Scarboro (at Kennedy & Lawrence), The Parkway (at Sheppard & The Don Valley Parkway), The North-East (at Esna Park north of Steeles), The Teepee (on Liverpool Road in Pickering) or The Bay-Ridges (directly across the street from what is now The Pickering Town Centre and located where Pickering City Hall/Library now stands). My Dad was emphatic about going early so we could get a good spot in front of the screen. You didn’t want to have to park behind the concession stand. It was poor visibility for viewing the film and too much visibility for observing teenage sex in the back of someone’s family sedan.

The memories are vivid. Dad hit the snack bar early – 50 oz. bladder buster drinks. Check. 40 lb. tub of popcorn. Check. French Fries. Hot Dogs. Red licorice. Check. Check. And check.

My sister and I would hit the playground in our pajamas. I’d be tormented and ridiculed for same. I didn’t care. It meant making temporary acquaintances for 10 or 15 minutes while we discussed what the movies were going to be about and hope amongst all hope we’d see some kid puke up his dinner after twenty spins on the Tilt-a-Whirl. That was worth the price of my Dad paying the $5.00 Family Value admission alone. And as the sun set behind the corrugated fencing of the parking lot (alas the Teepee had the disadvantage of facing INTO the setting sun) we’d hunker down for twilight time. Inevitably, my sister and I spent the night fighting for blankets and trying to see past Mom & Dad’s heads from the backseat until she passed out or we had to interrupt the proceedings by going back to the concession house to go pee.
These adventures are indelibly stamped in my brain. They are some of my earliest memories of childhood. I know this because the films I Roddy McDremember seeing at the Drive-In begin when I was around 5 or 6 years old (just after my sister was born): “Planet of the Apes”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid”, etc. I seem to recall some older movies doing a second run as filler features as well like 1962’s ‘Day of the Triffids’. As we got older, Mom & Dad’s frequency to the movies increased and allowed us to catch the continuing saga of the Planet of the Apes, ‘Westworld’, ‘Logan’s Run’, the Irwin Allen disaster flicks like ‘Poseidon Adventure’ (with that insipid Maureen McGovern song “Morning After” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msgxhVgUc6I), ‘Towering Inferno’, ‘Earthquake’ and ‘Rollercoaster’ (!!!).  Yes, film makers were blowing up the planet long before Roland Emmerich made his first school film.

Of course, my father’s impatience waiting in long lines for Drive-In films was cause for me to miss two of the greatest blockbuster movies of my generation: ‘Jaws’ and ‘Star Wars’. I wouldn’t see either film until years later when they appeared, edited, on television.

Vincent PriceI also recall a myriad of terrifying – for a child – horror movies which were a particular favourite of my Mom’s: ‘Theatre of Blood’, ‘Let’s Scare Jessica To Death’, ‘Tales From the Crypt’, ‘Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things’, and ‘Now the Screaming Startshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PeMfbI-484 as my introduction to the genre. I was also lucky to have seen many UK imported screenings of Hammer Horror flicks with my cousin in a gymnasium-sized theatre at Canadian Forces Base Borden in Angus, Ontario where she lived. Our folks would drop us there around noon and we’d sit, or rather food fight, through double, triple and occasionally quadruple bills of some of Christopher Lee’s and Peter Cushing’s cheesiest period of ghouls and ghosts epics like ‘Night Creatures (aka Captain Clegg)’, ‘The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyllhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqWxCpOBCHM  and ‘Terror of the Tongs’ among others.

My tastes have remained pretty steady ever since and evolved as the genres have. Space has gotten spacier and the horror has gotten scarier. I remain ever cynical as the new films attempt to impress me as much as the old. I still search for the mind-expanding Sci-Fi flicks (‘Sunshinehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8BSlqHAhuY, ‘Moon’, ‘Prometheus’) and the truly frightening horror movies (‘The Ring’, ‘The ringGrudge’, ‘Saw’). Like music, I’ll occasionally find one or two per year that maintain that level of magic and intrigue. And this is what has attracted me to movies all my life. Your own mileage may vary.

=JV=

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 17 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com or http://www.bullseyecanada.com

One Response to “JAIMIE VERNON – INVASION OF THE POPCORN SNATCHERS”

  1. Yer a kid! My father interrupted his string of westerns to take us to see real horror and science fiction (which made those many westerns go down a lot easier): “The Blob”, “Creature From the Black Lagoon”, “The Fly”. In return, us kids were not allowed to complain when along came another John Wayne bomb or Glenn Ford movie in which he, again, was a sheepherder among cattle barons. There was a period when the drive-in outside of my home town started showing R-rated films and we would meet at a buddies’ house to watch from the windows of his bedroom upstairs between rounds of penny-ante poker. Those were the days. I could use a 40-lb. tub of popcorn right now…..

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