off Old Branch Avenue, Clinton, Md.
capacity: 450 cars (small for the Washington area)
years of operation: 1953-84
currently: part of a residential subdivision -- check your Prince George's County street map for Cinema Court (no kidding!)
Opened as the Branch Drive-In (named for Branch Avenue); debut feature was the
3-D House of Wax. Renamed the Ranch in 1958. Part
of the Roth's chain in its later years. Secluded woodsy setting; grass rather
than gravel or blacktop covered the lot. Famous for its dusk-to-dawn
marathons. Story is that its reputation as a party spot during the '70s
earned it the nickname "the Raunch".
"I remember taking pictures of that Ranch sign...wish I'd have 'liberated' it...I'm sure it just got tossed when the housing development came in. The only thing remaining now is a cement slab by the road where the neon sign was." -- Greg Laxton
"To whom it may concern. They gave it away to some lucky person. The Ranch Drive-In gave it away. I had a 1951 Mercury 2-door sedan. Some lucky person had the lucky ticket. I wonder who got my car. It would be cool to know who?... This was in 1959." -- Clyde W. Kidd
Bob Mondello, movie critic for National Public
Radio, was the advertising director for the Roth's chain who came up with
many of the "dusk-to-dawn" gimmicks at the Ranch and other drive-ins.
He recounted those stories on a recent edition of Weekend All
Things Considered. Click here to listen to this segment.
A first-hand recollection of some all-night
Ranch "Horror-Thons" was penned in 1998 by the late author and B-movie
buff J.D. Guilfoyle. It appears in his book Drive-In Nights, and is reprinted here
with kind permission of Helen Guilfoyle.
For my friend Doc and me, the weekend closest to Halloween meant eagerly awaiting the line-up for the annual dusk-to-dawn "Horror-thon" usually held at the Ranch Drive-In near Waldorf, Maryland. In those days. Waldorf was east of nowhere (as a matter of fact, it still is). Along with a half dozen features, the Ranch promised coffee and donuts to any patron surviving until dawn. For veteran dusk-to-dawners like Doc and me, the rising sun revealed a scene that could only be described as Waldorf Gothic. Try to picture the drive-in staff emerging from the snack bar in ill-fitting Halloween costumes, toting bags of tired donuts and coffee that would wake the dead. At this point, I should offer a brief bio of the Doc. We have been amigos for 30 years, yet no one knows why he is called "Doc". It is just a given. Doc, however, is a true drive-in artisan. He won his "spurs" in our college days when he took an Incomplete in a class so he could devote more quality time toward developing the perfect drive-in weather guard. His creation, fashioned from shoeboxes, poster board and a shower curtain, remains a true testimony to what is possible when you really understand what's important in Life.
For more than a decade, Doc and I lived at the drive-in on weekends, but Halloween was always special because it was a celebration of the horror films that were the staple of our celluloid diet. The Ranch would always deliver, with movies featuring big bugs, creatures from the primordial ooze, or better yet, a Hammer Studios "six-pack" to carry us through 'til morning. We loved a good scare, but we were just as happy if the features were terrible with distinction. One year the Ranch unleashed The Vulture at the dusk-to-dawn. The Vulture was a black and white dud starring Broderick Crawford. Broderick had his moment in the Hollywood sun, but it had long since set by the time he signed up for this dog. Poor "Brod" was the size of a fully loaded Volvo, and in the climax, is carried off by a winged creature that resembled Phyllis Diller with a beak. Doc and I traded quips, as the "bots" and Mike would share a generation later on the cult classic, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and were howling by the time Broderick exits on reinforced wire to a fate most fowl.
One year the drive-in encouraged patrons to come in costume, with the promise of some meaningless prize. They even provided masks to the costume-impaired so that everyone could share the moment. As Doc and I rolled up to the ticket booth that evening, we were greeted by the Wicked Witch of the West and, as a better man once said, "The game was afoot." The evening was a first-rate hoot. The Ranch was crawling with hunchbacks, ghouls and other things that don't do well in sunlight. I can still remember standing in line at the rest room wondering if I had crashed The Night of the Living Dead's cast party. It was all part of celebrating Halloween at the Ranch, where innocence and the absurd joined forces with ads featuring dancing hot dogs and movies that would never play in prime time.
Drive-ins like the Ranch have all but disappeared now, replaced by multiplex cinemas that proudly serve healthy popcorn. They fell victim to the price of real estate and the emergence of the home video market. A sad reminder that progress exacts its own price. Doc and I are now in middle age, and on Halloween we pass out candy to children dressed as Power Rangers, Mutant Turtles and other critters with whom we have no experience. (For the record, we harbor no ill feelings toward Power Rangers or their cinema kin, but they never would have achieved true drive-in status in our day.) For Doc and me, Halloween will always mean the drive-in, parked in the first row of cars, waiting for the likes of Peter Cushing, John Carradine and even Broderick Crawford to entertain us until dawn.
© 2003 by J.D. Guilfoyle
|Click here to see the 1979 USGS map depicting the drive-in and
Click here to see an aerial photo of the drive-in from 1988.
Right: the opening night ad from August
Above photos were taken 1986-87. Thanks to
Alan Beauvais for them.
Thanks to Greg Laxton for the below 1988 photo:
Got some additional information, or some pictures
or stories about this drive-in
you'd like to share? Email me -- thanks!