6 Ways to Celebrate Halloween From Behind the Wheel

Drive-in horror film screenings and fright-night experiences are popping up around the country for a pandemic-safe holiday.

By Erik Piepenburg

From “Christine” to “Crash!,” the killer car movie is a hallowed horror subgenre. Pick your vehicle — bulldozer, hearse, big rig — and there’s a scary movie about it.

But this Halloween, cars are here to save, not destroy. Coronavirus restrictions like masks and social distancing have forced attractions to reimagine in-person frights. The demons and ghouls who usually stalk narrow corridors of a spooky mansion will lurk at outdoor drive-through experiences, delivering gotcha scares at windshields and in rearview mirrors. At drive-in movie theaters, which are experiencing a golden age this year, people can scream from the safety of their own vehicles, with little worry about virus exposure from other viewers. And car-based activities are good news for people with disabilities, who are often shut out from traditional haunted houses.

Here are six places around the country to get your Halloween scares from behind the wheel.

FILM SCREENINGS

Mahoning Drive-In

Lehighton, Pa.

(Ongoing)

Open since 1949, this single-screen drive-in theater outside Allentown, Pa. — lovingly profiled in the 2019 documentary “At the Drive-In” — is for students and fans of old-school moviemaking. The venue uses 1940s-era Simplex E-7 twin projectors, manned by an actual projectionist, to show movies on a massive screen. According to Virgil Cardamone, who curates the films, the Mahoning is the country’s only remaining exclusively 35 mm drive-in movie theater, where scratchy prints are prized.

This year, highlights of the packed October schedule include a double feature of “The Thing From Another World” (1951) and “The Thing” (1982) and a screening of “Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master” with cast members making an appearance, including Lisa Wilcox, who played the final girl and the Freddy Krueger opponent Alice Johnson. The lot is limited to 500 cars, down from its normal capacity of about 1,000 to accommodate social distancing. Don’t worry about being too tired to drive home — overnight passes are available for guests who want to extend their stay on the grounds.

Music Box of Horrors at the Drive-In

Chicago

(Through Oct. 31)

Running for 31 straight nights, this drive-in movie series has real cinema bona fides: It’s presented by the horror-streaming platform Shudder and the Music Box Theater, a grand Depression-era movie palace that normally hosts a horror-movie marathon. Horror geeks will enjoy theme nights like Grindhouse Fridays (“Evilspeak” and “Black Christmas”) and Sequel Sundays (“Psycho 3,” “Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2”). A notable special guest is Karyn Kusama, who will appear in a pretaped Q. and A. on Oct. 19 after a showing of her darkly comic feminist cult film, “Jennifer’s Body.”

The films are shown at the Chi-Town Movies Drive-In, a former parking lot that’s been transformed into a now-permanent and intimate drive-in theater. It’s located in Pilsen, a historically Mexican neighborhood on the city’s west side; besides popcorn and hot dogs, concessions include tacos, frozen mango and Jarritos sodas delivered to your car.

OUTDOOR EXPERIENCES

Haunted Drive

Splendora, Texas

(Through Nov. 1)

For families watching their wallets, this drive-through is a bargain: It charges a modest $20 per car no matter how many people squeeze inside. Located in a rural town northeast of Houston, the Haunted Drive has increased its path from two to three acres this year. Taking it slow at two to three miles an hour, cars will encounter costumed actors and vivid animatronics at 10 installations, including a haunted carnival and a killer gas station.

“Make sure the bravest person in the car is driving,” joked Gary Rymer, a co-owner.

Urban Legends Haunt

Costa Mesa, Calif.

(Through Nov. 1)

“People here have high expectations when it comes to Halloween,” said Mark Entner, the chief executive of Stardust Entertainment Group, the owner and producer of a new high-tech immersive drive-through at the OC Fair & Event Center.

On the drive, cars take paths to four outdoor spaces featuring elaborately designed, creepy set pieces where stories based on Southern California urban legends come to life. Expect to see supernatural cave dwellers inspired by the nearby Blackstar Canyon and a “warehouse rave disco queen” update of the Bloody Mary myth, as the creative director Josh Randall put it. V.I.P. tickets include a designated traffic lane with extra immersive experiences.

“Californians are dealing with Covid and fires and the election, and we want people to escape for 45 minutes,” Mr. Randall said.

The Bite L.A.

Los Angeles

(Through Nov. 1)

Killer food is also on the menu at this new experience from Justin and Melissa Meyer, husband-and-wife event producers. This open-air drive winds along Legg Lake, a popular loop trail located in the Whittier Narrows recreation area. The first leg features a “creature safari,” where visitors use flashlights from their cars to spot costumed monsters among the trees. That’s followed by stops at eight haunted tableaus, where masked characters deliver pre-packed bites, including cinnamon-sugar doughnut churros, and fall-inspired drinks like hot apple cider. (Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options are available.)

The trip finishes with a virtual campfire consisting of 3-D projections of flickering flames and “ghost stories that come to life,” Mr. Meyer said.

Deadly Drive-In

Roseville, Minn.

(Through Oct. 31)

There’s something very queer about this new theatrical experience. It’s created by Chad Kampe and his husband, Matthew Felt, the organizers of a drag-tastic “Golden Girls” fan cruise. There’s a mostly queer cast and crew. And it’s as camp as it is creepy.

The show takes place at a parking lot at the Rosedale Center mall outside Minneapolis. Attendees check in and use their phones to watch a short film about a crazed mall murderer on the loose. Then they pull into a tent and hand over their car keys (to be returned later) in exchange for a (sanitized) radio and — let’s just say drivers will appreciate the spray bottles on hand to clean off the blood and guts (i.e., laundry soap and food coloring) that coat each car at the end of the mayhem.

The show’s macabre tagline? “No one can hear you scream from inside your car.”

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