Retro Review: Sinaloa Screams brings Annabelle home for Halloween

Sinaloa Screams, currently running at Harley's Bowl in Simi Valley, goes the extra mile to present itself as a Halloween event, not just another series of horror movies. The pop-up drive in is decorated with gravestones and skeletons; fog wafts through the parking lot; and monsters menace the occupants in cars as they wait for the movie to start.

On top of that, a DJ spins creepy tunes which act as audio accompaniment to cartoon short subjects before the main feature, and there is even a brief, live musical performance. In short, this is not just a movie but an event - a sort of casual tailgate party enhanced by pizza from the parlor next to the bowling alley. The operative word here is fun.

Sinaloa Screams Review: The Screening

Being a pop-up drive-in, Sinaloa Screams uses a large inflatable screen - big enough to fill most of your field of view through your windshield. The visual quality is mixed: clear and sharp during daylight scenes, a bit too dark during night scenes. There is also some "light pollution" from passing vehicles, though this is noticeable only during darker moments.

Sinaloa Screams Review
Donald Duck in "Trick or Treat" on the big screen - accompanied by DJ music

The film on the night we attended, Annabelle Comes Home, is filled with such moments - the movie relies on darkness to generate suspense, as viewers wonder what is lurking in the shadows. Fortunately, this does not seem to have diminished the fright factor for the audience watching with us - they screamed at all the big jump-scares and even some of the little ones. There's an old saying that "the thing unseen is most frightening," and that certainly seems to have been the case here.

It probably helps that Annabelle Comes Home is not particularly plot heavy: it's essentially a simple setup (don't go into the room and unleash the cursed doll), followed by a series of scary set pieces once character inevitably goes into the room and unleashes the doll. The sequences that follow are almost mini-videos - neat little creep-outs that stand on their own, whether or not you're engaged with the story and characters. So in a sense, it's the perfect drive-in movie: if you miss a scene while going to the pizza parlor to pick up a slice, your viewing pleasure is barely diminished.

So much for the video - what about the audio? Sinaloa Screams features the best sound we have yet encountered at a drive-in. Not only is there a strong, clear FM signal for your car stereo; there are also massive speakers blasting the soundtrack through the parking lot.

We switched back and forth between the two, sometimes both at once. Which was better? Well, the inflatable screen requires a constant flow of air, creating an audible hum, which we found distracting during dialogue scenes, so we rolled up the windows and relied on the automobile's sound system. The scares scenes, on the other hand, use some disturbing low-end rumble to which our car speakers could not do justice, so when the horror took over we turned off the stereo, rolled down the windows, and listened through the event's audio system. This had the added advantage of enabling us to hear the frequent screams drifting from other cars in the parking lot.

One other thing worth mentioning: the film billed for Friday, October 23 was Annabelle, the 2014 prequel to The Conjuring films. We were actually happy with the switch to Annabelle Comes Home, because we prefer that film, but if you're thinking of attending you might want to call the theatre to double check what's on screen.

Sinaloa Screams Review: Conclusion

As with all drive-in presentations, pop-up or permanent, viewers don't go for a premium movie-going experience, such as Dolby Atmos or IMAX. The point is to have a blast, surrounded by like-minded horror fans screaming not only in fear but also in joy at the chance to have a night out - a rare thing in this Covid-plagued Halloween season. Sinoloa Screasm certainly succeeds on this level.

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Preshow perks at Sinaloa Screams

The perks are nice, too. The monsters, decorations, and pre-show set the scene nicely, putting viewers in the mood. The 10-inch pizza from the convenient parlor is just the right size for a snack during the film, and the shop will deliver it to your car. (You can order in person or remotely.)

The two main factor distinguishing Sinaloa Screams from other Halloween drive-in events are:

  1. The schedule includes more recent horror films like Get Out and The Conjuring, not just older cult films.
  2. The cozy vibe - with Master of Ceremonies Scott Juceam in person directing cars to their parking spaces and introducing the film, while a friendly staff check you in, and friendly monsters harass you before the film - feels like a larger version of a neighborhood get-together. It's not a way to watch a serious Oscar-contender film, but it's a great way to enjoy a scary movie.

Find more examples of Halloween on Screen in Halloween Cinema.

 

Sinaloa Screams Ratings
  • Visual
  • Audio
  • Perks
4

Bottom Line

A cozy, casual way to enjoy a scary movie during the Halloween season.

Sinaloa Screams continues at Harleys Bowl on weekends through October 31. The address is 480 E Los Angeles Avenue, Simi Valley, 93065. Tickets are $35 for adults and $25 for children. The website for the event is: savingthedrivein.com.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.

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