This movie season is on track to give audiences what they’ve been waiting for, said Scott Dehn, owner of the McHenry Outdoor Theater.
Moviegoers will see more new releases than has been offered in the past two years. A lot more, he said.
“Where we are today is so close to normality or what the industry has been calling normal since before COVID in 2019,” Dehn said.
What is normal for stretching and the drive-in cinema? A summer program full of blockbuster action films and family-friendly films.
The theater opened in May with show times only on weekends for the season. Memorial Day weekend begins its seven-day summer program.
Dehn’s anticipation for 2022 includes the release of “Top Gun: Maverick” over Memorial Day weekend. Filmed in 2019, its release was delayed as star Tom Cruise insisted the film be only in theaters and not streamed.
Movies are Dehn’s passion, he said, and he appreciates Cruise’s attitude of holding back until theaters are fully open again.
“There’s nothing better than the theater experience,” said Dehn.
The McHenry Outdoor Theater experience will be better for customers with a remodeled screen, new this year.
“We completely renovated the screen tower with a new screen,” said Dehn. It was the first full renovation of the screen tower since 1974.
He spent $40,000 this spring to renovate the screen, which is six stories high and 100 feet wide. Another $10,000 went into new lighting and lenses for the digital projector.
“The picture is just beautiful and sharp and razor sharp. It’s just stunning and looks great,” said Dehn.
The concession stand also received a facelift and Dehn added branded merchandise for fans to purchase. Soft ice cream is now on the menu. It could soon be alcohol too.
The drive-thru had a bring-your-own drinks license, knowing visitors would bring their own alcohol. A license to serve on-site gives Dehn more control over what is consumed on-site, he said.
Once the liquor license is approved by the village, Dehn plans to add a bar and adult-only play area.
When cars pull into the drive-in, drivers receive a hand stamp. The stamp tells its employees who they are not allowed to serve alcohol to. The sale ends in the break between the two films.
He has other plans as well, including wrapping the screen tower with life-size images of popular movie characters. Children (or adults) can take photos with the characters as part of the overall drive-through experience.
Due to the crowds over the past two years, Dehn advises guests to arrive early and find parking.
Sound is broadcast over FM radio, so Dehn suggests guests bring portable radios to listen to if they’re worried about the car battery.
Further additions are possible in the coming years. He bought an adjoining lot from the village of Lakemoor when people started parking there when the site ran out of parking.
“We are the drive-in theater that thrived, not just survived,” he said during COVID-19 and the general Hollywood film shutdown.
“If your goal is to thrive and succeed, you must always find ways to make things work. These are the locations that seem to have made it,” said Dehn.