Sep 22, 2023

Baby Goat Snuggling

Steinmetz Family Farm
Bloomsburg Fair (2023)
I've been going to the Bloomsburg Fair almost every year for as long as I can remember and thing may be the most fun I've ever had here.

For five dollars, you can come into their tent and spend as much time as you like petting, feeding, and even snuggling with fifty baby goats.  They're as gentle and friendly as puppies and will let you pick them up and will sit in your lap.  One of them named Bubbles laid down across our lap for a half an hour while we sat and watched the other goats romp around and play.

This is without a doubt the best five bucks I've ever spent.

Sep 21, 2023

Master Control Program Has Chosen You...

Discs Of Tron
Bally Midway (1983)
One of the things that I saw often in arcades during the 80's and 90's was parents who would let their very young children stand on a stool in front of an arcade machine to wiggle the joystick and press buttons.  They wouldn't actually put a quarter in the machine and let their kids try to figure out how to play... they'd just let them pretend that they were playing for a minute or two while the demo screen played.  I always felt bad for these kids and wondered if they ever knew that they weren't actually getting to play the game.

My father and grandfather would actually give me the quarter or token and let me play the game.  It's one of the many things that I will always be grateful to both of them for.  It helped foster a lifelong hobby, and it allowed me to experience a taste of the final days of the arcade scene that built the gaming industry that exists today.  The games that I played back in those days are especially important to me.  They're an escape from all of the bullshit of adult life, if only for a few minutes.  When I play them, I am that little boy standing on a stool at Aladdin's Castle in the Laurel Mall or Space Flight in the Church Hill Mall.  The game that takes me back to those days more than any other game first appeared in arcades forty years ago.  It's the second arcade game based on the 1982 sci-fi adventure film Tron, and it's called Discs Of Tron.

The Discs Of Tron environmental cabinet had a roof and a back wall that was meant to make you feel enclosed in the world of the game, as well as digitized speech effects.  I don't ever remember seeing the environmental cabinet at any arcades in person.  I'm guessing that it either took up too much space or that it cost extra and it was an easy thing for arcade operators to omit from their order to maximize profits.  All of the machines that I've played were standard upright cabinets like the photo at the bottom, which was shared by scottamus on Flickr.

Discs Of Tron was unlike anything else in the arcades that I ever played up to that point.  Come to think of it, I can't think of anything else that's similar that I've played in the years that followed.

The game starts with two disc-shaped platforms.  Your character is Tron (the little blue guy at the bottom), and your opponent is Sark the red-orange character at the top).  You control the movements of your character with a joystick that was designed like a flight stick.  It had two buttons: a trigger on the underside that you would pull with your right index finger, and a red button on top that you'd press with your thumb.  To play, you'd pull the trigger to throw a disc at Sark, and you'd press the red button to hold up a shield that would cause the discs that were thrown at you to bounce off harmlessly

In addition to the joystick, there was a dial controller like the ones that you'd see on a Tempest or Arkanoid machine, which is what you use to control your target.  In the screenshot above, you'll see what looks like two small blue arrows pointing at each other on a blue line that forms a box around the arena.  Those arrows are your target, and turning the dial moves it 360 degrees along the blue line.  Wherever your target is when you press the trigger button is the direction that you'll throw your disc.  When your disc hits a wall, it will ricochet off of it and continue flying in straight lines until it comes back to you or until it is destroyed by coming into contact with another disc.  You can have up to three discs in the air at any given time, and the object is to hit your opponent with one of them before he can hit you.

The game gets progressively harder as you pass through each level, with multiple floor discs that both you and Sark can hop back and forth on.  Sark also gets faster and more aggressive with each new level, and he starts throwing specialty weapons at you that you don't have access to and cannot deflect with your shields.  Your only defense is to avoid them and destroy them by hitting them with your discs.

One of the reasons I remember Discs Of Tron is because of a story that my dad told me about a group of college kids who gathered around the machine to watch me play it.  I couldn't have been older than four or five years old at the time, and while I wasn't quite Jimmy Woods, I was good enough to hold my own and to make it to level 3 or 4 before losing my last life.  My dad was just a few years out of college himself at the time, and he told me that he just blended in with the kids who were watching me and cheering me on as I played through.  I have no memory of this specific day, but I probably didn't realize that a crowd had formed even in the moment.  Once I hit the start button, that was it... the outside world disappeared and it was just me and the game until the screen said Game Over.

The Bismarck Tribune - Bismarck, ND  (September 24, 1983)
Herald & Review - Decatur, IL  (November 9, 1983)
The Chapel Hill Newspaper - Chapel Hill, NC  (December 25, 1983)

It's almost impossible to pin down an exact date when a game first appeared in the arcades.  Many of them started out in test markets before they were produced and shipped out on a wider scale.  Even the dates that are a matter of public record are questionable at best, with evidence from newspapers and trade magazines that these games were being played in arcades for months prior to their official release date.  The furthest back that I was able to trace is an advertisement for an arcade called The Wizard that was in the Kirkwood Shopping Center in Bismarck, North Dakota.

The game was ported to the Commodore 64 in 1984, and it was included on the Game Boy Advance version of Tron 2.0, but neither of them capture the spirit of the game as it played at the arcade.  It's also available to download on the Xbox Marketplace, but I haven't owned an Xbox since the original console was released back in 2001 so I couldn't tell you if it's good or not.  I can say that it runs pretty well on Mame, but it takes a little bit of time to get used to using the keyboard and mouse in place the joystick and dial.

There was also a home cabinet released by Arcade1Up that combines both the 1982 Tron and 1983 Discs Of Tron games in a single machine.  I managed to pick one up at a good price, but it's still in the box while I finish work on the basement.

Sep 20, 2023

The Choice Of A New Generation

Pepsi Zero Sugar
PepsiCo (2023)
Products with the new Pepsi logo are starting to show up on store shelves alongside the existing stock that have the logo that the company used from 2008 to 2023.  I'm digging the new look.  It reminds me a bit of the logo that they used back in the 80's.

Sep 19, 2023

Keep The Tang Out Of The Pottie

Pootie Tang
MTV Films (2001)
There are a lot of odd things that get donated to the VHS Wall at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater.  My favorite one of the 2023 season has got to be this very obvious bootleg of the 2001 comedy, Pootie Tang.

The only thing that's better than the description on the back of the box is the label on the tape itself.

I sure hope that this is Pootie Tang and not a parody that was filmed in a bathroom stall.

Sep 18, 2023

Pike Isn't A Name, It's A Fish

Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
Sunday night at the drive-in was a tribute to the late actor and comedian Paul Reubens, who is known to fans around the world for his childlike character, Pee Wee Herman.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

The movie that Mr. Reubens' is best known for is probably Pee Wee's Big Adventure, but that was screened earlier this season.  No one outside of the actor's closest friends and family even knew that he was sick at the time, so the entire night was a fun filled celebration of a character that most of us grew up with.  He passed away less than four weeks later.

Last night was bittersweet.  It's been a few months since his passing and it rained all night, so there weren't very many cars on the lot, but the folks who were there got to see a memorable horror comedy from the early 90's that features the iconic comic actor as Amilyn, a vampire who is preparing for his masters return and working to take down the new slayer.

There was also a secret feature shown after the film.  We've been asked to keep it secret so I won't say what it was on here, but I will say that it wasn't a full length movie.

The title card photo is from Brendan because the photo that I took was so obscured by rain on the windshield that you could barely tell what it was.  It rained throughout the movie, but it slowed down a little bit before the end so I was able to take a reasonably clear shot of the end credits with Mr. Reubens' name in between swipes of the windshield wiper.

This is a movie that reminds me of South Florida.  I saw it for the first time when I was 12 years old shortly after it came out on home video.  My stepsister and I used to watch movies together over the weekend, and I remember that I didn't believe her at first when she told me that one of the vampires was Pee Wee Herman.  This was before you could just look something like that up at a moment's notice.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I had never even heard of the internet at the time.  I remember that she proved it to me by pausing the tape during the end credits while she went to find a magazine that showed that Paul Reubens was his real name.

Rest in peace, Mr. Reubens, and thank you again for everything.

Sep 17, 2023

Your Mother Sews Socks That Smell

This is an interesting annual event at the Mahoning.  It's kind of an open-ended horror weekend with the films being loosely tied together by an overall theme.  Last year's theme was horror flicks based on cars and other vehicles, and the year before was crazed psycho killers.  This year's theme was demonic possession.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

Friday night was dedicated to films with characters who were actually possessed while Saturday's focus was on characters who were accused of possession (among other things) and victimized by instruments of the church.  I've only ever been to one night of a Weekend Of Terror before back in 2021, so I decided to make a full weekend out of it this season with both nights.

This is Front Row Cat, or Tortellini, as our friend Donnie calls him.  We've seen him on the lot quite a bit over the past few weeks.  He won't come right up to anyone to be pet, but he's not shy either.  He spends most of the night marching back and forth the lawn under the screen, just a few feet in front of where we were sitting, with occasional breaks to eat food that gets set out for him.  I'm pretty sure he lives under the blue digital projection booth because we saw him crawl under there a few times.

These are some of the slides that Dave made for Weekend Of Terror VIII.  They were on the screen during the pre-show after it got dark enough for them to be visible.
The first night had a much higher attendance than the second.  It's pretty easy to see why - it kicked off with one of the most well-known horror flicks ever made and, at one time, the highest grossing Rated R movie of all time.

The first movie of Weekend Of Terror VIII was a movie that is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time and a true icon of the horror genre, the 1973 William Friedkin classic: The Exorcist.

This movie has an amazing story, it's beautifully filmed, and it has some of the most memorable performances and scenes in the history of horror cinema, and I'm very glad to have gotten a chance to experience it on the big screen.  Having said that, I think that the storytelling is so choppy and disjointed that it's a heavily flawed film that succeeds in spite of itself.

My main problem with The Exorcist is that you barely get to see Regan before the demonic possession begins, so I didn't get too much of a sense of who this girl was.  I felt bad for the character because she was a child in distress, but the character development was so shallow that it could have been any old random kid and I would have felt the same way.  That's not at all Linda Blair's fault.  In fact, she gives probably the greatest performance I've ever seen from a child actor, but the vast majority of that performance is her in a state of demonic possession so I don't really have much of a sense of the loss of her personality because there really wasn't much of one in the first place.  There also isn't too much of a story being told on the screen that shows you the transition of a regular 12 year old girl to a vessel of the devil.  She goes from a normal girl who barely has any screen time at all, to a girl with a sleep disorder who barely has any screen time at all, to a demon in a girl's body who gets most of the screen time.  There's so little suspense built into this that they might as well have just started the film with her already possessed.

Regan isn't the only one that gets short-changed in this film.  The character of Burke Dennings is so underdeveloped that he could be cut out of the movie altogether if not for the fact that his death leads to Detective Kinderman's involvement with Regan and her mother.

I'm not generally a fan of remakes, but I think this is a movie that could really benefit from a fresh set of eyes to write a screenplay from the novel with better pacing.  That'll probably never happen because the original is held in such high regard, and that's a shame.  I know that this is coming across as me tearing a classic film apart, but I don't mean to.  I like The Exorcist, but there's a much better story to be told here than the one that we got in 1973.

Next up was the 1990 film: The Exorcist III, which is a personal milestone for me as it's the 300th movie that I've watched at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater.

This movie ignores that Exorcist II: The Heretic ever happened (which is for the best) and picks up with the lives of Father Dyer and Lieutenant Kinderman fifteen years after the events of the first film.  I've watched a few times before and I've enjoyed it each time, but I'm still not entirely sure that I understand everything that's going on.  If I have any criticism at all, it's that there are too many scenes where the characters aren't having a conversation, but are instead delivering long speeches to each other.

I'd give The Exorcist a B and The Exorcist III a solid C+.  Although it probably seems like I do, I swear that I don't dislike either of these films, but I don't really love them either.  Maybe this franchise just isn't my cup of tea.

The last movie of Friday night was an odd film that I've never seen or heard of before.  It's a 1977 film called Ruby that stars Piper Laurie as the title character in her first film after writing her name in horror history as Carrie White's mother in Carrie.

Ruby is an ex-mobster who owns an operates a drive-in theater in 1951.  Her boyfriend, Nicky, was murdered 16 years earlier on the same night that she gave birth to their daughter, Leslie.  Leslie is mute and traumatized from the knowledge that her mother is thinking of institutionalizing her, and this trauma allows the spirit of Nicky to not only possess his daughter, but to take vengeance on the rest of the gang who had him killed.  It's a cheesy movie to say the least, but it's a hell of a lot of fun.  It's also pretty cool to see a movie that's set at a drive-in theater at an actual drive-in.
The theme for the second night of Weekend Of Terror VIII was witch hunters, with a triple feature of films from the late 60's and early 70's.

The first movie of Saturday night was the horror classic Witchfinder General (also known as The Conqueror Worm). It's a British film from 1968 and was directed and co-written by Michael Reeves, who died of a drug overdose at the age of 25 just nine months after this film premiered in theaters.

The story takes place during the English Civil War and is loosely based on the life of a witch hunter named Matthew Hopkins (played by Vincent Price) who is said to have been directly responsible for the death of over 300 innocent people from 1644 to 1646.  The ending is a bit abrupt, but it's a great film and a must-watch for any fan of horror flicks.

We saw another Starlink Satellite Train in the sky about halfway through Witchfinder General.  Mike and I spotted the first one on the last night of Camp Blood IX.  This one wasn't quite as spread out as the one on September 3rd, but it was pretty awesome to see.

This time, I managed to catch a quick video of it.  It may not look all that impressive here, but it's very noticeable when you see it up in the sky.

The second movie of the night was the 1970 West German movie: Mark Of The Devil.  I had never watched this movie before last night, but I felt like I had because I've seen the trailer for it at least a dozen times this season at the Mahoning.  It's one of those trailers that gives away way too much of the movie, including the scene at the end that reveals the fate of one of the main characters.  I probably would have enjoyed it more if I was going in without having seen the trailer, but it was still a damn good movie and I'm glad that I got to see it on 35mm.

It definitely lives up to its reputation for violence, especially for the time in which it was released, but I don't think the brutality ever goes past what you'd see in a movie like Hostel or one of the Saw films.  I think that Witchfinder General is the better of the two films overall, but Mark Of The Devil has a better ending and stands on its own as a classic horror film.  This isn't gore for the sake of gore.  It tells a story that's more interesting to me than an average horror movie because the kinds of things that you're seeing on the screen actually happened.

Mark Of The Devil was called the most horrifying movie ever made, and it was marketed with a gimmick that they would not allow anyone in to see it without taking a free vomit bag so that the theater owners could be assured of keeping the place clean.  Harry had a big pile new ones specially created for Weekend Of Terror VIII at the Exhumed Films table for fans in attendance.

The second intermission featured a cartoon instead of a trailer reel, and I think this may be the first time that they showed one that I had never seen before.  It was a 1954 MGM / Tex Avery cartoon called Billy Boy.  It stars The Southern Wolf, who was voiced by Daws Butler doing the voice that would go on to become the one associated with Huckleberry Hound.  The character is pretty similar too, with the main differences being his appearance and that the Wolf had an odd stutter at the end of some of his lines.  It wasn't a stutter like Porky Pig had, or like anything you'd ever hear from a person who stutters.  The last word of some of his sentences repeated four or five times, but the voice actor wasn't reading the lines like that.  They took the audio recording of the last line and just repeated it, so it had the identical sound and inflection.  It was kind of jarring the first time I heard it, and I thought that there might have been something wrong with the 35mm reel or something, but no... the cartoon was produced that way.

The cartoon itself is pretty cute.  The Wolf finds a baby goat in a bassinet on his doorstep along with a note that reads "Please take care of my little Billy goat.  PS: You will have no trouble feeding him - He eats anything."  The adorable little goat proceeds to do just that, consuming everything in sight up to and including the moon.

I was going to include a video here, but I couldn't find the full cartoon on YouTube - just the intro and a few clips.  I'm guessing this is one of the many properties that gets flagged for copyright and taken down, because god knows that a billion dollar movie studio hasn't squeezed enough money out of a six minute cartoon that was produced nearly 70 years ago.

The final movie of Weekend Of Terror VIII was the 1973 "sequel" of the previous movie, Mark Of The Devil: Part II.  It's widely regarded as a sequel in name only and a lame attempt to piggyback off of the success of the original film that borders on being boring.  It's a rare print, but the fact that something is rare doesn't really make it worth watching, especially after two movies that are superior in every day.  I decided to head home after the second intermission cartoon and make this night a double feature of two of the most iconic witch trial flicks of all-time.  Sometimes less is more, ya know?

Sep 16, 2023

Crush Your Enemies and Hear The Lamentations Of Their Fans

Louis Wes (2023)
This art print from Louis Wes Studio is incredible!  I'd love to see a series of psychedelic Donruss Diamond Kings style cards like these.

Sep 15, 2023

Drink Up... Skynet Is Watching

Coca-Cola (2023)
According to the company, the newest limited edition product from Coca-Cola is the first time that one of their products was co-created with the assistance of artificial intelligence in an attempt to imagine what we might be drinking in the year 3000.

In response to this, I have theorized two possibilities:  either the future will be a barren wasteland where the only foods that are available are Coca-Cola and Grape Pixy Stix and we sustain ourselves as a species by mixing the two, or the artificial intelligence has become self-aware and have created Y3000 to cause humanity to lose all hope in its future, striking the first blow in their war for conquest of the planet.

Sep 14, 2023

Aladdin Won't Compete With Santa

Ticket To Fun
Aladdin's Castle (1980's)
This arcade rewards card was shared to the Aladdin's Castle Arcade Facebook group a couple of years ago by Melinda Lawson.  The idea here is that you'd keep this card in your wallet and get it stamped every time you bought tokens.  After you accumulated enough stamps (which would be $50 in tokens), you would get five dollars worth of free tokens as a bonus, but for some reason, the arcade chain wouldn't let you redeem it between Thanksgiving and New Years Day.

Source: Gains McDonald  (Aladdin's Castle Arcades)

Melinda's card is a little different than the card that I wrote about a couple of years ago that was being sold on eBay.  The dollar amounts are all same, but the small print stated that it could not be redeemed between two specific dates (presumably Thanksgiving 1984 to January 2nd, 1985).  I'm dying to know the meaning behind this policy.  Was the arcade particularly busy in December, or did they not want to give out a bunch of free tokens at the end of the fiscal year, or were they trying to keep folks from buying $50 worth of tokens as a present and then immediately redeeming their coupon for another $5 in tokens for free?  I'm sure there must be a good reason, but nothing I can think of makes a lot of sense.

I know that I had one of these cards when I was a kid, but I'm pretty sure I only ever got it stamped a couple of times.  I'm still hoping to find one of these for sale at a reasonable price for my game room.

Sep 13, 2023

An Ice Cream Candy Bar

Snickers Butterscotch Scoop
Mars (2023)
These are exclusive to Wal-Mart and they're pretty damn good.  It's basically like any other Snickers, but with butterscotch flavoring added to the nougat.  They'd probably make a good inclusion for a milkshake or an ice cream sundae.

Sep 12, 2023

Call Me Sometime When You Have No Class

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

Back To School
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
This has been an excellent Tunnel Vision Tuesday season for classic comedy films.  This isn't the last Tuesday night that we're spending at the Mahoning this season, but it is the last comedy... at least for us.  I hope that they carry this focus on comedies into 2024 because these have been some of my favorite nights at the drive-in this year.

Tuesdays are a good night to bring Harvey out to the lot.  There's usually not too many other dogs, so he doesn't get too hyper, and he isn't overly tired at the end of the night like he is when we bring him out to a double or triple feature.

They screened a 35mm print of a classic animated short before the feature film instead of a trailer reel, and the one they picked was absolutely perfect.  The 1951 cartoon Cock-a-Doodle Dog was directed by the legendary Tex Avery toward the end of his time working for MGMAvery's work in his years with MGM are the gold standard for animated comedies in the mid 20th century.  They have the feel of Loony Tunes without relying on their well-known cast of characters, which gives them a feeling of being fresh and original that still holds today over seventy years later.

The 1986 comedy Back To School began immediately after the cartoon.  If you're a fan of the great Rodney Dangerfield, this is a must-see film.  Caddyshack gets most of the attention when it comes to his film work (and rightfully so, because it's one of the greatest comedies of all time), but Back To School is the best film if you want to see Rodney being Rodney.  He plays a man who rose from humble beginnings to become the rich and successful owner of a chain of big & tall clothing stores, but he never finished high school or went to college.  When his son struggles, both socially and academically, Rodney donates a building to the school in exchange for admission in an attempt to relate to his son by putting himself in his shoes.  It's a fish-out-of-water comedy that gives him the perfect platform to flex his comedic talents.  I'm sure some of the humor will make younger viewers "cringe" (as the little kiddies like to say), but frankly, that's says more about them than it does the movie.  The only way to sit through Back To School without laughing your ass off is if you've got a stick firmly jammed up there holding it in place.

This movie checks all the boxes for an 80's comedy classic.  First of all, you've got Rodney Dangerfield.  His son is played by Keith Gordan, who is probably known best for his starring role as Arnie in Christine.  Rodney's love interest is played by Sally Kellerman, who played one of the most iconic television roles of the 70's and 80's as Hot Lips Houlihan in M*A*S*H.  You've got Robert Downey Jr and Ned Beatty in smaller roles, but they make the most of their minutes with some of the funniest lines in the movie.  William Zabka plays antagonist to the son, and while he isn't quite the iconic bully that he was as Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid, he's absolutely perfect as the arrogant jock and antagonist to Keith Gordan's character.  There's a short, but memorable performance from legendary comedian Sam Kinison as a professor who's suffering from PTSD from the Vietnam War.

Rodney Dangerfield's friend, driver, and muscle is played by the great Burt Young, who I cannot say enough good things about.  I wrote about him a few days ago for his performance in Blood Beach, which was the last movie of Camp Blood IX, but all I really said is that he's best known as Pauly in the Rocky movies.  I don't know enough about the man to even come close to doing him justice, but he has a list of movie and television credits a mile long and he's been phenomenal in everything that I've seen him in.  In addition to being a great actor, he's a Marine and he been a boxer, a painter, and an author, among other things.  When the drive-in shuts down this winter, I think I'm going to spend a good portion of my free time watching more of his work and learning more about the man.  He seems like a truly fascinating dude!

Speaking of authors, Back To School includes a hysterical cameo from Kurt Vonnegut, a musical performance from Oingo Boingo, and a fun soundtrack that includes a catchy as hell title track by Jude Cole.  This movie really is a sampler platter of everything that was good and fun about the 80's, and once again, the Mahoning made it possible for me to see a movie on 35mm at the drive-in that was released when I was too young to see or appreciate it.