Originally created 06/04/99

Drive-in theater's a fun way to watch movie



MONETTA, S.C. -- For the Lamon children, it was the first trip to a drive-in theater, so Mom and Dad came prepared.

The Orangeburg family packed the truck with blankets, soft drinks, popcorn and a boombox, so much the better to hear the FM movie sound broadcast from the projection house. They parked their pickup with the bed toward the screen, so all could get a good view.

"We wanted to surprise them, to take them somewhere they've never been before," Gina Lamon said as her children, ages 12, 13 and 5, settled into sleeping bags.

After reopening in April under new ownership, the Big Mo seems to have no problem attracting families. Tonight is a double feature: Twin Dragons, starring Jackie Chan, then Never Been Kissed, starring Drew Barrymore.

Dusk nears, and the Top 40 music tapes broadcast over the theater frequency end. Richard Boaz, owner of the Big Mo, loads the 3-foot-wide movie reels onto the projector. There's always an element of suspense at the start of the show because he's not certain the projector lamp will come on, he said. He had to buy it used and isn't quite sure what decade it's from.

This is the first drive-in theater the nostalgia buff has owned and one of only two in South Carolina -- the other's in Beaufort. He hasresearched its history, reviewing newspaper ads going back to 1951, when the theater opened. Its first film, shown on April 26, was Nancy Goes to Rio, he said.

Today, Mr. Boaz has been at the theater since 6:30 p.m., his car parked in front of the projection house to make sure no large vans park there and block the projector.

The theater has attracted about 40 cars by nightfall: plenty of Explorers and Voyagers where Nomads and Country Squires parked during the drive-in heyday of the 1950s and '60s. Tonight's patrons are families, friends getting off work and a few couples on dates, preferring to watch the movies behind the privacy of their own windshields.

After the 1970s-era ad reels for the Pic mosquito repellent coils (on sale at the concession stand for $2.25) run out, Mr. Boaz plays a reel of the national anthem. Children leave the playground equipment in front of the screen, and cars are still trailing in as the opening film recounts the tragic story of twin Jackie Chans separated at birth.

When Mr. Boaz saved the 5-acre theater from being turned into a junkyard, he had some work to do to turn it into a working theater again. The theater had been vacant since 1986, when it closed after running pornographic films.

Mr. Boaz, an Irmo, S.C., resident who works as a federal court librarian during the week, pulled weeds in the dirt parking lot and built a new screen.

The snack bar got a renovation. It now offers standard movie fare -- popcorn, candy and soda, all for less than typical prices at a multiplex -- and not-so-typical items, such as hot dogs, corn dogs, hot chocolate and dill pickles.

The theater drew 429 cars the first weekend it was open and has attracted more than 100 cars a weekend since, Mr. Boaz said. The theater has room for more than 200 cars.

A drive-in is a new experience for many patrons, but there are few social gaffes to worry about: It's OK to talk during the show; it's OK to arrive late; it's OK to bring your own food; and as long as you don't walk in front of the projector window you're fine.

Mr. Boaz wants to install floodlights to shine down the wings of the theater and, maybe, he muses, a giant three-dimensional peach on a rotator to make the drive-in easy to find above the peach orchards of Monetta.

"It's kind of what drive-ins used to be," Mr. Boaz says. "A little bit of fun and whimsy."

On the town

What:

The Big Mo Drive-in, Monetta, S.C.

Hours:

Gates open at 7 p.m. and movie begins at dusk (about 8:30 p.m.) Friday-Sunday

Admission:

$9 per carload

Directions:

Take Interstate 20 to exit 33 (South Carolina Highway 39). Drive north for seven miles to Monetta. Turn right onto U.S. Highway 1. The drive-in is about one mile on the right.

Information:

Call (803) 685-7949, or visit the Web site: www.thebigmo.com.

Staff Writer Todd Bauer can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.