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Fun Under the Stars

One of the last drive-ins in America, the McHenry Outdoor Theater draws local moviegoers all summer long.

What was old is trendy again. We’re not talking vintage clothes or classic cars on cruise night. We’re talking good, old-fashioned family fun at the drive-in movie theater. It’s refreshing to have a local, reasonably priced venue in the area: the McHenry Outdoor Theater (1510 N. Chapel Hill Road). The simple return to the drive-in movie theater experience invokes nostalgic, under-the-stars fun.

Pack up the kids and friends or have a date night. Snuggle up in cozy pants, your lazy T-shirt and a blanket and enjoy a blockbuster movie from the familiar comfort of your car. If you’ve never been to a drive-in, imagine the experience as a picnic mixed with tailgating and an added bonus of movie entertainment. And if you’ve been to the drive-in already, you understand the draw.

According to Scott Dehn, the general operations director at the McHenry Outdoor Theater, “while the drive-in is most popular among pajama-clad families, audience members range from age 8 to 80 on any given night, depending on the movie.”

Dehn and Cindy Kottke are in their fourth season as owners/managers of the drive-in, and during that time, they have witnessed resurgence in the popularity of outdoor movie venues. “There has been a bit of a renaissance period the past 10 years with drive-in theaters and nostalgia,” Dehn commented.

Blast From the Past

The McHenry Outdoor Theater was originally called the Skyline Drive-in, which was constructed in the late 1930s, just before the big boom for outdoor theaters after World War II. By the late 1950s, there were 5,000 drive-ins across the country. Today, Dehn estimates a little more than 400 drive-ins are still in operation in America. And we’re lucky enough to have one of our very own here in McHenry County.

Long before you could set your radio dial to listen to movies through your car’s stereo system, patrons of the drive-in listened to speakers on the pole. McHenry Outdoor Theater’s speakers on the pole are the real deal — dating back to their original installation.

Dehn thinks patrons continue using the theater’s original speakers out of nostalgia. “There are many people driving in old classic cars who come in to watch the movie,” he said. “Then, you get the old sound with it and it’s kind of a throwback.”

In fact, the McHenry Outdoor Theater has incorporated nostalgia into the fall season’s event lineup, with old-school movie theme nights such as “Belushi Weekend,” which will feature classics like “Blues Brothers” and “Animal House.” Attendees will suit up with sunglasses in the “Blues Brothers” style or dress up in togas to emulate John Belushi’s “Animal House” character “Bluto” Blutarsky.

While most events are geared toward kids, the “Animal House” screening is a rare exception, making for a great drive-in date night for the adults.

Family Fun

Over the summer, McHenry Outdoor Theater is open every night showing two feature presentations. Before the first show, you can find children playing Frisbee or catch on the drive-in’s grassy play area. The earlier feature is the most kid-friendly (rated G), followed by a later feature (rated PG-13) for a more mature audience (the drive-in shies away from showing R-rated films). You can stay for both movies or leave after the first one — the cost remains the same: $4 for children and seniors, $7 for adults.

The drive-in has become a celebrated venue for birthday parties, business events, and group or club gatherings. Based on customer suggestions, McHenry Outdoor Theater will also feature a summer flea market the last Sunday of each month, June through September. Once school starts, the drive-in is only open on the weekends.

“Cindy and I both have very fond memories of going to the outdoor theater,” Dehn said. “It only seems fair that other little kids could have those same memories, too.”

>> For show times, call 815-385-0144 or visit www.mchenrydrivein.com.

 

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