Jul 14, 2024

Come Up To The Lab And See What's On The Slab


There are few weekends at the Mahoning that can match VHS Fest.  It's an annual event that takes place in the second weekend of July and features dozens of vendors selling movies, movie memorabilia, and other goodies, as well as a lineup of movies that bring us back to the days of the 80's and 90's when we'd grab a pile of tapes from our local video store.  I'll write about the movies soon, but this post is all about the vendors and the things that they had at their tables.


There were fewer vendors on site this year compared to VHS Fest 7, but that was by design.  I believe that they capped each day at 40 vendors, some of whom were on the lot for just one or two days while others were there for all three days, and I think this made for a better experience for everyone.  Not only was there a lot more room to move around, but the limited number of spaces likely helped the folks who were vending to make more than they did last year.


Crypt Video Rentals had a shop on the stage outside of the concession building that resembled an old mom & pop video rental store.  In addition to selling movies, they offered a tape cleaning service for anyone who had a rare or valuable VHS or Beta tape that had gotten damaged by humidity.
 

Lunchmeat have been one of the co-sponsored of VHS Fest since the beginning, so they naturally had one of the larger tables on the lot.  I picked up a sweatshirt, some stickers, and a very nice tape stand that was created by James Dufendach.

Photo by Sean O'Rourke
Photo by Rob T.
Photos by Justin Cluckey
Photos by Dave Wright

Most of the photos that I took of the vendors were at a distance.  I feel kind of weird taking pictures of the merchandise because I don't want to give the impression that I'm about to haggle with them over finding something on eBay at a better price, and I also don't want to accidentally take pictures of people who don't want their picture taken, so here are some photos shared by the Mahoning staff and the vendors themselves.


One of my favorite parts of VHS Fest are the shows put on by the guys from the Found Footage Festival.  I've been a fan of theirs for years prior to our discovering the Mahoning Drive-In Theater.  I picked up the first eight volumes of their show on DVD from their merch table, and I'm looking forward to spending an evening in the near future watching them and laughing my ass off.


I'm a sucker for a good mystery bag.  One of the stands had a box of them available for five dollars.  Each bag contained three tapes and some bonus stickers, and your only clue of what was inside was written on the outside of the bag.  I bought one labeled "Monsters" and was happy to find that it contained Night Of The Living Dead, Dracula: A Cinematic Scrapbook, and Frankenstein.


There were a lot of cool things for sale on the lot this past weekend, but my favorite purchase was this art projectLate Night With The Devil is easily in my top five horror films that I saw for the first time in 2024.  Kozmo of Cosmic Debris VHS liked it too, but he wasn't a fan of how it changed the aspect ratio for some scenes, and the fact that it began as a faux-documentary but it didn't end in the same way.  He re-edited the film to remove the intro and the backstage segments added commercials from 1977 into the breaks to make it feel like it's something that was recorded off of television from start to finish.  It's brilliant!
 

I'm always on the lookout to find the movies that they're showing on the big screen during VHS Fest.  I was able to pick up three of them at this year.  The photo at the top is an old bootleg of Nightmare Sisters that I picked up from Hayden Hall, who is the artist who designs the VHS Fest poster every year since I've been going.  I bought this copy of Robot Ninja from J.R. Bookwalter who wrote, directed, and produced it.  He and actor James L. Edwards who plays Sculley in the film had a table outside of the concession building.  Mr. Edwards signed the back front of the tape cover, and Mr. Bookwalter signed the back.  Finally, this copy of David "The Rock" Nelson's short film Conrad Brooks vs Werewolf was purchased about ten minutes after we saw it on the big screen, and I wasn't alone.  The entire lot was laughing their ass off during this screening, and as soon as the Found Footage Festival guys said that it was available for sale, Tom, Mike, and I each ran over to their table and purchased a copy.  This one is for the Marines!


Soylent Green is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I was happy to find a big box MGM tape, as well as a copy of Make Room! Make Room! that the movie was based on.  The written story came out seven years before the movie, but this paperback was published shortly after the movie premiered, which is why the actual name of the novel is in small print on the cover beneath the title of the movie that was based on it.


These are the rest of the tapes that I picked up at VHS Fest 8.  I didn't buy any one thing that was rare or expensive, but I did get a lot of great deals on some of my favorite films, as well as others that have been on my watch list for a long time.  I'm sure I'll have more to say about each of these movies as I watch them, but I'm going to save that for another day.

Jul 13, 2024

The Big Guy And The Big Dipper


There's going to be a hell of a lot of photos of VHS Fest 8 to share next week, but for now, here is a shot that I took on the lot on Thursday night.

Jul 12, 2024

It's All Part Of A Cosmic Unconsciousness


Repo Man
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
Last night was the unofficial kick off to VHS Fest 8 with a mid 80's classic.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

The fourth punch on my Thursday Thread-Up card was the 1984 sci-fi punk rock comedy Repo Man.
 

The Mahoning Snack Bar had a brand new grill installed earlier this week, and it was put into service for the first time at this screening.  Jules Winnfield would definitely approve, because this is a tasty burger!  I challenge you to find a better tasting cheeseburger for this price at any movie theater in the country.


Instead of pre-show trailers, we got to see a classic cartoon prior to the start of the film.  This copy of the 1951 Tex Avery directed MGM cartoon Cock-a-Doodle Dog is part of Jeff's collection of vintage cartoons on 35mm.  We got to see it a couple of times last season (before Back To School and The Lost Boys), but whether it's new to me or not, I'm always glad to see these on the big screen at the Mahoning.


Repo Man is a cult classic which has received almost universal praise from both critics and fans over the past forty years, and while I enjoy it too, I will be the first person to admit that I really don't understand what's going on in the story.  I get the whole "consumerism is terrible, capitalism is evil, and the American dream is dead" vibe.  The film beats you over the head with that subtext so hard that it feels at times like a late 70's Saturday Night Live sketch without the laughter from the live studio audience.  However, setting that theme aside, I'm really not clear what's supposed to happening on the surface.

So... there's a Chevy Malibu being driven around by some guy.  If they ever make it clear who this guy is supposed to be, I have missed it every time I've watched this movie.  There is a dead alien in the trunk of this car.  Both the alien corpse and the car are radioactive, and they have the power to vaporize some people at random while leaving others unharmed.  The car also has the power to glow and fly, but only at the end of the film.  How or why the car has any of these powers and who is in control of said powers is never explained in a way that I've been able to understand.  It just kind of does weird shit randomly.

Several groups of people are chasing after this car.  The repo men want it because there's a $20,000 bounty on it.  The government and/or scientists want to reclaim it, which makes sense.  The United Fruitcake Outlet wants it, and they're a group of... I don't know... alien enthusiasts?  The Rodriguez Brothers want it too, but I'm not really sure who they're supposed to be let alone why they want this car.  Are they a rival group of repo men, or criminals, or aliens, or just a couple of assholes who like messing with the repo men... I have absolutely no idea.  A group of punk rockers want it, but I think they just got involved by accident thinking that they were stealing an ordinary car.  Finally, a televangelist who Otto's parents gave all of their money to is interested in the car, though I'm not sure how he even knows about it or why he wants it.  It's entirely possible that I just imagined that part.  The mechanic from the repo lot ends up being chosen by the car as its new owner for some reason, and with he and Otto sitting inside, it flies through the skies of Los Angeles like a glowing spaceship.  Then roll the backwards credits.

Look, I don't claim to be the smartest guy on the lot and I'm the furthest thing from an expert on movies.  Repo Man is a hell of a lot of fun to watch, but I've had the same experience every time that I've seen it: I enjoy it while I'm watching it, but I'm frustrated as hell for about an hour after the credits roll because it seems like everybody else understands this story but me.  Maybe something will click and I'll get it next time, but unless I'm watching it with someone who is willing to pause it repeatedly to explain what just happened, this is probably going to be one of those things that will continue to fly over my head like a radioactive Chevy Malibu.

Jul 11, 2024

From Yellow To Pink


Kit Kat Pink Lemonade
Hershey (2024)
I'm sure that their new Pink Lemonade version is different in some way from the Lemon Crisp Kit Kat that was released earlier this year, but without the benefit of trying them back-to-back, I can't really tell what that difference might be.  The old one had a tasty lemon flavor, and this one does as well.

Jul 9, 2024

Who's Road?


Dicks Dam Road
Camp Hill, PA
It was like that when I got here.

Jul 8, 2024

We Know How To Behave... We've Had Lessons


A Hard Day's Night
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
I've enjoyed listening to The Beatles music since I was a kid, but last night was the first time that I watched one of their movies in its entirety.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

Prior to the show, Angie, Kate, Mike, Gene, Ben, and I hung out on the field in the shade of the giant Mahoning screen.  Ben introduced me to a board game called Stratego that was a lot of fun to play.  Apparently, this game has been around in some form or fashion since 1946.


There was a curated trailer reel of movies centered around music and musicians prior to showtime, followed by a 35mm screening of A Hard Day's Night.  It was a fun movie with a lot of laughs and great music, and it looked incredible on the Mahoning screen.  Black and white movies really seem to pop at this place.  Being able to see the Fab Four at a drive-in theater isn't an experience that is available in very many places in the world in 2024, but it's just another incredible Sunday night in Lehighton.

Jul 7, 2024

Your Wish Is Granted

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

They Grow Up So FastBig / 13 Going On 30
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
Saturday night at the drive-in was dedicated to two movies about thirteen year old children who make a wish that results in them living in their adult bodies and in an adult world.  While these two movies share a very specific plot device, the characters, the setting, and the execution of that plot device make these films two distinct experiences that are both fun to watch.  It also makes them an excellent pairing for a double feature.


I was kind of surprised that my wife stayed home for this one since she's a huge fan of 80's movies, but I get it.  She needs to have some quiet time away from people to keep in a good frame of mind.  I've become a bit of a celluloid junkie, so my quiet time for the past few years has been the winter after the baseball and drive-in seasons have come to an end, and I go into hibernation like a bear until the following spring.

Despite flying solo to the lot, I wasn't alone.  This place has kind of become like Cheers to me... a place where everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came.  I had my chair set up in the lawn in the shade of the screen prior to the show when our friends Tom, Jen, and Jaxon came by to ask if they could join me.  Abso-freakin-loutely!  They're three of the coolest folks I've ever been lucky enough to become friends with, and I'm always happy as hell to hang out with them.


Big is a movie that probably couldn't be made today, at least not in the same way.  It's a movie riddled with massive plot holes and a relationship that would be picked apart by the modern day pearl clutchers for being "problematic", but Tom Hanks delivers a performance that is so damned charming that it succeeds in spite of this.  The story is centered around a young boy named Josh who is embarrassed in front of the girl that he likes when he is too short to go on a carnival ride with her.  He wanders around for a bit until discovering a Zoltar fortune telling machine.  He puts in a quarter and wishes to be big, and then wakes up in his bedroom the next morning as a thirty year old man.

It's the kind of movie that you really have to approach as a modern day fairy tale to get the most out of it.  If you can switch off the critical part of your brain for an hour and forty-four minutes and just let the story be what the story is while laughing off the obvious flaws in the plot, you're going to have a good time.  There will be plenty of time after the credits have rolled to marvel at the fact that there was apparently no attempt to find a missing 13 year old boy, while the kid next door takes routine unsupervised trips to New York City to spend time with an adult male whose social security number came from a locker combination.

This movie premiered on June 3rd, 1988 and it became one of those movies that practically kid I went to school with had seen.  I didn't get to see it in theaters, but I know that I watched either as a weekend VHS rental, or during one of the pay channel free weekends, or over a friend's house.  I can't remember exactly how I first saw it, but I do know that I haven't watched it from start to finish since I was younger than the Josh Baskin character is in the movie.  I'm very happy to have had the opportunity to see it on 35mm on the big screen at the Mahoning.


Geoffrey brought a couple of classic cartoons on 35mm that were screened during intermission.  The first was a 1970 Woody Woodpecker short called All Hams On Deck, in which a pirate named Captain Blah chases after the woodpecker when the bird sees where he has buried his gold.  This was followed by a 1948 Tom & Jerry cartoon called The Truce Hurts, in which Tom, Jerry, and Butch (the dog) agree to be friends.  The truce holds up for a little while until a disagreement over how to share a big juicy steak puts an end to the peace.  Seeing these classic cartoons on the big screen at the Mahoning is always a treat.  This is especially true when they match the tone of the movies that they are appearing with, which these two cartoons most certainly did.
 

Like Big, 13 Going On 30 begins with a child living in the late 1980's who makes a wish that results in them waking up in their adult body.  However, in this case, the girl who makes the wish (Jenna Rink, played brilliantly by Christa B. Allen and Jennifer Garner) does not wake up as an adult in the same year in which she makes the wish.  She instead wakes up as herself in 2004 as a thirty year old woman with no memory of what happened in the years between her 13th birthday and the moment that she realizes that her wish has come true.

The focus of the movie is not just Jenna, as a 13 year old, trying to navigate the world as an adult, but doing so in a future that she doesn't understand, and discovering that the adult her is not a person who she's proud of or wants to become.  Another way this movie distinguishes itself from Big is the fact that unlike Josh Baskin, whose naiveté leads him into a relationship with a woman, Jenna Rink is disgusted by the attention shown to her by men.

I saw this movie when it first came out in 2004, but I can't remember if I saw it in a theater or if it was a DVD rental from Blockbuster or Hollywood Video.  I remember thinking that it was alright, but I saw it with my girlfriend at the time who I was in a relationship with that continued long after its shelf life had expired.  I don't think either of us even really liked being around each other after the first few months, so most of the things that I experienced with her in the early 2000's have taken on a slightly negative tone in my memory.  I haven't seen the movie since that first time and really never had any desire to go back to it, but as the credits rolled on the big screen at the Mahoning, I was glad that I had the opportunity to give it a second chance.  13 Going On 30 is a fun 2000's comedy flick with a killer soundtrack and heartwarming performances.  It's never going to find its way to one of my favorites list, but it's an enjoyable film that's absolutely worth watching for those of us who aren't trapped by our own cynicism, and it was especially enjoyable to watch it along with Big with friends at the drive-in.