In the desert outside El Paso stands an aging drive-in movie theater named after the unusual patch of rust-colored sand on which it was built: the Red Sands. Twenty years ago it was a state-of-the-art cinematic oasis; now, in the summer of 1982, it's a dilapidated relic, host mainly to B-list exploitation movies, Friday-night drunks, local trailer-trash, and a shady cast of employees.
But during that same extraordinary summer the Red Sands Drive-In will undergo a brief renaissance, brought on partly by the efforts of three "square peg" high-school kids, and partly by the release of the popular movie E.T.-The Extra-Terrestrial. In the process they will come to know the drive-in's owner, whose past holds more than one terrible secret, and they'll be drawn into a feud between him and a rival businessman. What follows is more than any of them bargained for, including a showdown with a major high-school bully, an unofficial "exorcism" on the drive-in itself, a blossoming teenage romance or two and, just maybe, one teenager's learning to make peace with his mother's death.