There are very few experiences in my adult life that rival the magic and wonder of being a kid on Christmas eve. This is a miniscule list with fleeting entries such as: certain romantic encounters, the first dazed moments of consciousness that follow anesthetized surgery, and a monster movie marathon at the Riverside Drive In. As an avid patron of the Drive-In experience, and given the fact that I live in a region where they still operate, I frequent these endangered establishments regularly. I feel an obligation to their preservation because, in my opinion, if you have not experienced a terror filled cinematic adventure through the windshield of a coupe, or from the bed of a truck you haven’t truly lived. To watch a B-horror film on an outdoor screen is to see the medium in it’s most flattering light.
On this particular weekend, the movies scheduled were a hand selected collection of mostly 50s sci-fi. A far cry from the slasher films shown earlier in April. However it was an obscure “cinephiles only” feature starring television’s the Munsters “in color” and The Tingler directed by William Castle that peaked my interest most. Ducking out of work early on Friday I loaded my truck with the Cult Classic Horror banner and a mountain of stickers, put on my CCH logo t-shirt, ran the ole pickup through the automated car wash, and then dutifully set out on the 45 minute drive back in time.
Upon arrival tents were already pitched and an unusually large number of vehicles were parked around the snack bar. This was an odd site for early afternoon at the drive-in. Many of the plates were out of state. Folks had made the trek to western Pennsylvania from as far as Michigan and California. Pure excited chuckles escaped my lips as I selected my spot for the weekend. While strapping the company insignia to my tailgate, I surveyed the crowd. Boisterous conversations floated across the grounds. Interesting dialogues that beckon outsiders to join.
George Reis(dvddrive-in.com), who is the mad scientist behind this time-machine in the woods, walks amongst the crowd like Dr. Frankenstein admiring his abomination. Themed gift baskets brimming with autographed merchandise and prepared by George are raffled off each night. Meticulously designed event specific t-shirts hang from the tailgate of a van. I thanked Mr. Reis for allowing CCH to attend, and then immediately stepped back, not wanting to interrupt his whirlwind set-up process. What George and his friends have created is a real opposition to the passage of time. These forgotten outdoor theaters and thrillers form a symbiotic relationship that cannot be overstated. They complement each other like a good meal and it’s wine selection.
The FM transmitter began broadcasting on 105.3 marking an official start to the festivities. Classic tunes flooded the forest clearing. Horror themed surf rock rhythms usually reserved for late October were playing to a lively audience. Inside the snack bar I got the chance to speak with Ron Adams of creepyclassics.com. In addition to a library of dvds and blurays for sale, Ron offers an almost encyclopedic knowledge of vintage horror and sci-fi. We discussed the rare experience of meeting Vincent Price in his youth. He fondly recalls the tall and looming figure of Price stooping down to a child’s eye level in order to speak with him. A cherished memory of a classy legend.
Wanting to broaden my slasher-centric horizons, I asked Adams to recommend an Ed Wood Jr film, with the proviso that I’d already seen “Plan 9”. Ron pointed me in the direction of Bride of the Monster. On the second night I purchased this title, sold on his enthusiasm for it alone. Ron is just one example of the charmingly passionate characters that frequent the event. His quarterly publication, Monster Bash magazine, is a must have for any monster movie aficionado.
As the evening wore on, horrific images flickered in the moonlight. Munsters Go Home proved to be captivating for unusual reasons. Perhaps the film is merely a victim of the late 60s but this story now feels like an unintentional allegory for immigration tensions. When Tv’s favorite gruesome family inherits lordship and a stately manor in England, local residents feeling cheated plot to force this poor family traveling abroad back across the pond. In its initial run, Munsters Go Home reportedly was double billed with another horror themed TV-to-film vehicle: The Ghost and Mr. Chicken starring Don Knotts. A can’t miss performance from Fred Gwynne(Pet Semetary) as Herman Munster was the banner moment of the weekend, bringing vintage and contemporary fans symbolically together.
During the Tingler an instant of audience participation prompted terrified screams from the audience. During this scene the title creature is set loose on a group of unsuspecting movie-goers. No one in the audience seemed to care that the joke didn’t work considering the fact that we weren’t seated in a conventional theater. The next morning I spotted a woman in a sunhat trimming hedges. “Where does this road go?” I gestured to a gravel path leading out of the back of the grounds. “My house” she smiled. “Wow that is so cool you live in the Drive-In?” She narrowed her gaze and fired back “sometimes it’s cool” I snickered remembering the blood-curdling shrieks just before 10:00 pm the previous evening. Now recalling this exchange it seems like a good-natured ribbing. Even this hobbyist gardener, who had not attended the event appeared to understand the spirit behind it.
Another night came on, and new faces mixed into the established crowd. All of them ready for an evening with Gil Man and the 50ft Woman. Trailers for borderline exploitative films like Riot on the Sunset Strip and the Young Runaways brought sleazy back to the Drive-In. Delightful Technicolor images of young people doing hallucinogens, having premarital sex, and duping law enforcement officials. These scenes made me feel right at home amongst the traditional sci-fi bill of fare. The snack bar was still alive with activity at each post-film intermission, even during the midnight hour attendees were pouring over the extensive menu and DVD and Blu Ray selection.
That’s another one for the books. A monstrous weekend amongst my Drive-In brethren. The next event will be in April at the start of the season. I hope to see you all again next time. Until then, keep your rear hatches tied down to roof level, always patronize the snack bar, and above all support your local Drive-In.