The events Dehn has recently booked are not limited solely to movies. The McHenry Outdoor Theater has hosted various graduation ceremonies for students stuck at home, and on Saturday, June 27th, it will screen a Garth Brooks concert that has been recorded exclusively for drive-in theaters. Prior to the pandemic, I always preferred attending the McHenry Drive-In during its fall flashback series, since it offered less bugs, cooler temperatures and such enticing rarities as a triple bill of the Universal horror landmarks “Dracula,” “The Wolf Man” and “The Mummy.” I’ll never forget catching a Hitchcockian double bill there of “The Birds” and “Psycho” where it began drizzling during the latter film’s infamous shower scene.
The unpredictable beauty of nature becomes an intrinsic part of the show, and last weekend’s glorious screening of “The Wizard of Oz” was no exception. It was preceded by a rainbow—which my cherished RogerEbert.com colleague Collin Souter captured with his phone—and then a radiant sunset that burst through the sepia-toned clouds in all its technicolor splendor. The first screening I caught at the venue this year happened to be my favorite Spielberg film, 1982’s “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” and it proved to be an even more emotional experience, considering its masterful cinematographer, Allen Daviau, is one of the many souls we have lost to COVID-19. His indelible images continue to bring us home during periods of isolation, and getting the chance to experience them with an appreciative crowd—even at a six-foot distance—is a profound gift.
“There’s a magic to just being in a theater with like-minded movie fans who want to be entertained and who want to be challenged,” said Dehn. “That’s a glaring omission in life right now, and it has been since March. The customer base here is like nothing I’ve had at any other theater, and what it does for me is it increases my responsibility to keep the place nice. The employees and customers take ownership of the venue, so I have to keep improving upon it. That’s the handshake deal that I have with my audience. You keep showing up, and I’ll keep making it better. It’s simple, but it works.”
The McHenry Outdoor Theater is located at 1510 Chapel Hill Road in McHenry, Illinois, and tickets are sold at the box office on a first come, first serve basis. Next up at the venue is a pleasingly offbeat Schwarzenegger double bill of “Kindergarten Cop” and “Twins” kicking off tonight, June 26th. For showtimes and other information, visit the theater’s official site and Facebook page.