Drive-in theaters: a great way to go view movies at a distance


Drive-in theaters, a dying business, make viewing movies at a distance possible.

Parket Otto, Reporter

In a time where viewing films in a multiplex theater is not an option, a fad of the 1950s has come back in a big way. The drive-in theater, popularized during a time when the leg shaking of Elvis was scandalous and Americans lived in fear of communism, is an iconic piece of Americana that still has some locations across the country. Among these locations is the Midway Drive-In, located 50 minutes from DeKalb.

The Midway Drive-In, 91 Palmyra Road, Sterling, is owned by Mia Kerc and Mike Kerc and, while many major film releases have been delayed, continues to show classic films after reopening on May 22. With one screen, Midway shows a double feature with an intermission between them every day of the week. 

The Box Office opens at 7 p.m. with the films beginning at dusk. Recent selections have included “The Goonies,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Footloose” (1984), according to the Midway Drive-In Facebook page. 

During the worldwide pandemic, special precautions have been made to prevent the spread of COVID-19 including having the drive-in open at half capacity meaning that instead of 500 cars, the maximum amount Midway can have, only 250 cars will be allowed in per night, Mike Kerc said. 

Other precautions include face masks which must be worn by all patrons when they get their tickets at the box office, whenever patrons are outside their car and when patrons are using the restrooms. The concessions stand is also closed during this time, but attendees can bring in food in their cars if they purchase a $10 food permit, according to the Midway Drive-In’s official website. All tickets must be bought in advance online and the box office is there only for ticket scanning.

With its inaugural season in 1950, Midway is Illinois’ oldest drive-in with this year marking its seventieth anniversary of business, Mike Kerc said. Despite being 70 years old, the establishment still lives in the past with all of the classic trimmings the drive-in had during the 1950’s, including a “spaceship-themed ticket booth,” full concessions stand and classic intermission ads which play in between films, according to the Midway Drive-In’s official website.

However, the theater has made changes since its inception including having sound come from FM radio transmissions instead of the individual speakers patrons would hang in their car, Mike Kerc said. Radio transmissions, along with better sound equipment in vehicles, have improved the use of sound at a drive-in. Digital projectors have also replaced 35MM projectors. 

Drive-in screens are some of the largest film screens in the country with Midway’s screen being 90 feet wide, according to the Midway Drive-In’s official website. 

“With this new technology, the drive in experience has never been better,” Mike Kerc said. 

Digital projection has allowed the image to be both brighter and sharper due to the stronger amount of light a digital projector uses, Mike Kerc said. The amount of heat generated from a digital projector would destroy tangible film, a substance that  is flammable if placed under too much heat.

While digital films have their advantages, the Kercs are great supporters of 35MM films and are currently working on a project to install a 35MM projector, which would allow the drive-in to show both digital films and 35MM prints, by 2021, Mike Kerc said.

“There’s such a beauty to movies that were shot on film,” Mike Kerc said. 

While currently playing classics, Midway plans on showing new releases on the big screen later in the summer, Mike Kerc said. Upcoming releases for Midway include Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan,” “A Quiet Place: Part II”and “Bill and Ted Face the Music.” 

Besides showing double features, Midway Drive-In hosts special events. Upcoming events for the 2020 season include a double feature July 3 and 4 of classic films related to cars, “American Graffiti” and “Smokey and The Bandit,” Mike Kerc said. People with classic cars are encouraged to attend these screenings.

“American Graffiti,” directed by George Lucas and released in 1973, stars Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Paul Le Mat and Charles Martin Smith as four teenagers on the last night of summer vacation in 1962 as they try to get women, race cars and have fun. “Smokey and the Bandit,” released in 1977, sees Burt Reynolds’ Bandit try to deliver Coors Beer from Texas to Atlanta, which was illegal at the time, in a short time while outrunning police including a relentless sheriff, played by Jackie Gleason.

A double feature of films by Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg, “Jurassic Park” and “Jaws,” will also be screened from June 19 to June 21.

July 10 and 11 will see a screening of the entire “Evil Dead” trilogy with “Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn” and “Army of Darkness,” the second and third films in the series, being shown on July 10 and a newly restored 4K version of the original “The Evil Dead” shown on July 11. After July 11’s screening of “The Evil Dead,” the film will be followed by two Grindhouse horror films: 1981’s “The Beyond” and 1970’s “I Drink Your Blood,” according to the Midway Drive-In Facebook page.

Making a special appearance at Midway for these screenings will be Saturn Award winning actor Bruce Campbell, who portrayed “The Evil Dead” series’ main character Ash Williams in the original three films as well as its spin-off television show: “Ash vs Evil Dead.” Besides being present for the films, Campbell will be answering fan’s questions in a forum before each night’s screenings and introduce all of the films. 

For those with VIP packages, which cost $145 in addition to add-ons and can be found on the website for Flashback Weekend Chicago Horror Con, Campbell will be available for socially-distanced photos with fans and pre-signed commemorative posters will be handed out, Mike Kerc said.

On Sept. 19, Midway will host the Flashback Weekend Midway Drive-In Dusk to Dawn HorrorFest. Taking place in one night, the festival screens several horror films, both iconic films and deep cut Grindhouse films, as well as inviting horror vendors and classic horror trailers. Last year’s festival, taking place on Sept. 21, screened 1973’s “The Exorcist: The Director’s Cut,” 1983’s “Christine,” 1986’s “Night of the Creeps” and a 4K restoration of 1979’s “Zombie,” according to the Midway Drive-In Facebook page.

People might not be ready to go to an indoor theater even as Illinois enters phase 4, but there are still places to go to experience films with others in a safe environment. While cinema as an art form has its origins in Germany, Great Britain, France and the U.S., the drive-in is purely American invention that has lasted for decades despite the inventions of the multiplex, rental stores and streaming services.

“Drive-Ins have always been America’s pastime, sorry baseball,” Mike said. “It’s a great family experience and some of our greatest experiences have been at drive-ins watching movies from under the stars.”