Jul 31, 2022

Schlock-O-Rama VI

Schlock-O-Rama VI
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
This is one of my favorite annual events at the Mahoning.  Last year, we were only able to make it out to the third night to see The War Of The Worlds and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.  This year, we're going to the first two nights.  No disrespect intended to The Three Stooges, but I need a break after eight movies in two days, and I've got work on Monday morning. 

Here is the lineup of films from the first two nights of Schlock-O-Rama VI:

Night One
Night Two

A key part of the creature feature experience was the gimmicks that theaters and movie studios would come up with to draw in the crowds and to give them a more immersive experience once they got there.  An example of this is the Space Shield Eye Protectors that were given to fans who attended screenings of Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster in 1965.  It wasn't fancy - just a piece of plastic with a story that using it would protect you from high intensity cobalt rays that glow from the screen, but it made the theatrical experience more fun.

The folks at Exhumed Films managed to get their hands on some of these pop culture artifacts and they repackaged them for Schlock-O-Rama VI and made them available to the fans in attendance.  It's amazing that after 57 years, not only can we still enjoy vintage films on 35mm at a drive-in theater, but we can do so with the goodies that were given away to the fans who saw the movie when it was brand new.

Another thing that Exhumed Films and the Mahoning Drive-In Theater is known for is the vintage 35mm trailer reels that are shown before and in between each of the films.  They set the tone for the night, and they give me a lot of ideas for movies to look up and watch at home.

The first film of Schlock-O-Rama VI was a 1953 Hammer Films classic called The Creeping Unknown.  This movie was originally released in the UK as The Quatermass Xperiment and it tells the story of an astronaut named Victor Carroon who was sent by Professor Quatermass up into space in a rocket as a member of a three man crew.  The rocket crash lands back to earth, and Victor is found to be the sole survivor with the bodies of his crewmates nowhere to be found.  Victor is mute and not quite comatose when he is rescued from the wreckage.  Little do they know at the time that he was infected by an alien life form while he was on his mission, and it is in the process of mutating his body.

Before long, Victor goes on a killing spree in which he sucks the life out of the humans and animals that he comes into contact with, and the race is on to capture him before he can release spores that will spread this predatory alien species across the planet.

It!  The Terror From Beyond Space was the second film of the night.  It premiered in theaters in 1958, but the story is set fifteen years in the future in the technologically advanced world of 1973.  Like the first film of the night, it tells the story of the sole survivor of a space mission.  However, instead of crash landing back to earth, this survivor (Col. Edward Carruthers) was stranded on Mars with a crew of nine others.  He is rescued by a second crew who intend to bring him back to Earth to face a charge that he murdered his crewmates.  The rescue team doesn't believe Col. Carruthers when he reports that his crew was killed by a Martian life form, but they soon learn the hard way that he was telling the truth.

The timing of the second intermission was perfect for what I had planned.  My wife's birthday was on Saturday, and It!  The Terror From Beyond Space ended just a few minutes before midnight on Friday.  She stopped at the concession stand, which gave me enough time to bring out the slices of birthday cake that were hiding at the bottom of the cooler and have everything ready before she got back to the car.

Instead of trailers, they played a  cartoon after the second intermission reel on Night One.  It was a Tom & Jerry short from 1967 called Advance And Be Mechanized.  It was the second to last Tom & Jerry cartoon that was produced by Chuck Jones, and it fit in perfectly with the theme of the night.  It's a sci-fi episode that takes place on another planet and features the cat and mouse along with their android counterparts.

I wish I could tell you more about The Man From Planet X.  It's one of the movies I was looking forward to seeing the most.  Unfortunately, I only made it through the first 15 minutes or so.  It started drizzling during intermission, so we put the chairs in the trunk and sat in the car for this feature.  I had been awake for nearly 20 hours straight at this point because I had to wake up early for work that morning, so being warm and cozy in the car was too much to overcome.  I woke up about five minutes before the end of the film.  Thankfully, the rain had stopped by then, so we were able to bring the chairs out of the trunk and the cool night air helped to keep me awake for the fourth and final feature of the night. 

As much as I regret sleeping through the third feature, I'm glad that it gave me enough of a rest to be wide awake for Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster.  At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Col. Frank Saunders who is about to make his first trip into outer space.  We soon learn that Frank is not a man, but an android who is partially built out of human remains.  Frank's ship is shot down by Martians which causes him to crash down in Puerto Rico.

Frank is followed to the island by a Martian spaceship which is piloted by the very eccentric Dr. Nadir and Princess Marcuzan, who is the only woman left alive on Mars after a nuclear war.  They have come to Earth to kidnap women in bikinis from the beaches of Puerto Rico with the intention of using them to repopulate their planet.  The conflict culminates in a battle between Frank and a Martian Space Monster named Mull.

This movie is every bit as ridiculous and awesome as it sounds, and it was the perfect way to end the first night of Schlock-O-Rama.

Saturday night began with a cartoon that was the perfect setup to the first film of the second night of Schlock-O-Rama VI.  It was a 1969 short from animator Marv Newland called Bambi Meets Godzilla.  This cartoon was shown prior to Godzilla 1985 during its initial theatrical run, and it was even included in the home video release of the film.

The first film of the second night was Godzilla 1985.  It was the only movie at this year's Schlock-O-Rama that I've seen before this weekend, and it's one of the earliest examples of a reboot sequel that I can think of.  This is a little tricky to explain, and I'm far from being the most qualified person to attempt to do so, but I'll give it a try:

Godzilla 1985 is the American localized version of the 1984 Japanese flick, The Return Of Godzilla.  Both the American and Japanese versions were the Halloween 2018 of their time.  The end products of the American and Japanese films are very different, but both were created to be a direct sequel to the original Godzilla films in each country.  In other words, the 1984 Japanese film The Return Of Godzilla picks up the story of the original 1954 Godzilla film from Japan, and the American Godzilla 1985 movie builds directly off of the story that was told in the 1956 Godzilla - King of the Monsters film, which was the Americanized version of the original 1954 Godzilla.  Both The Return Of Godzilla and Godzilla 1985 disregard all of the other movies in the Godzilla franchise except for the first film released in each of their respective countries.  It resets the timeline of the franchise, both in America and Japan, as a two-movie series.

I realize that I've probably just made it sound way more complicated than it really is, but Godzilla 1985 is a hell of a lot of fun.  I first saw it at my next door neighbors house when I was eight years old, back when my mother and I lived in a half double on First Street in Hazleton.  It's one of the movies that made me fall in love with Godzilla as a child, and I'm very glad to have gotten to see it at the Mahoning.

This is my favorite part of the ten minute intermission reel that plays at most of the double and triple features at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater.  You can hear the sound of people saying "awwwwww" echoing across the lot as soon as the puppies and kitties hit the screen.

The Monster That Challenged The World has got to be one of the greatest names for a film that I've ever heard of, and it might be my favorite movie of the Schock-O-Rama VI weekend..  It puts a picture in my head of a giant green monster shaking his fist like a drunk at a bar and challenging everyone on the planet to a fistfight.

This creature feature from 1957 is better than anything I could have imagined from the title.  It's the story of prehistoric giant mollusks that are let loose into the Salton Sea after an earthquake.  They hunt down their prey to drain them of every drop of fluid in their bodies until the United States Navy get involved.  It's the perfect combination of wacky creatures and sincere acting performances in a cheesy flick.

The giant squid flick of the weekend was the 1955 creature feature, It Came From Beneath The Sea.  I don't know what it is about the third film of a quadruple feature that conks me out, but this is another film that I partially slept through.  We were outside in our lawn chairs, so I was awake for a lot more of this than I was for The Man From Planet X the night before, but I was snoozing through enough of it that I'm having a hard time remembering too many details about the plot.  I'll have to have a double feature at home some night to catch up on these two films and give them the attention that they deserve.

The final film of Night Two was the 1953 RKO release Port Sinister.  It's one of the most obscure films that I've ever had the privilege of seeing at the Mahoning.  It was never released on home video in any format and it's not available to stream on any service that I'm aware of, so your only two choices to see this movie are to watch one of the few surviving film prints or a bootleg that was made from one of them.  It was released as Beast Of Paradise Isle in the UK, so I'm guessing that the 35mm print that we got to see was originally shown overseas.

Before the movie began, Michael got on the radio to let us know that the print had suffered from significant water damage, so there would be moments that it will look pretty rough and go out of focus, but it didn't hurt the experience - especially for a movie as rare as this.

Port Sinister is the second film of Schlock-O-Rama VI to feature William Schallert (the other one being The Man From Planet X).  I know him best as the father from The Patty Duke Show.  In this movie, he plays a scientist who is planning to lead an expedition to a sunken island that is said to be the hiding place of pirate gold.  He gets attacked by a thug who is intent on stealing the treasure for himself.  When he regains consciousness, he heads out to the island in pursuit of the thugs, only to learn that the giant crabs that inhabit the island are in pursuit of all of the newcomers who have come to shore.

And that's a wrap for our nights at Schock-O-Rama VI.  I'm sure that The Three Stooges night was a lot of fun too, and I would have gone to it if it was just about any other weekend, but Friday and Saturday were both pretty busy days where I didn't get a lot of sleep.  I've also got work early on Monday morning, so I had to say no to Larry, Moe and Curly Joe.  I'm hoping they do another Three Stooges themed night at some point in the future though.

Jul 30, 2022

Oh That Barney Rubble... What An Actor

Night Shift
Warner Bros Pictures (1982)
The second film from director Ron Howard premiered in theaters 40 years ago today.  It's a hysterically funny comedy that features fellow Happy Days actor Henry Winkler and a young Michael Keaton in a breakout performance in his first starring role.  The two men use their night shift job at a New York City morgue to turn the facility into a brothel.

Jul 28, 2022

Puffin On His Pipe In His Hobbit Hole

The Ballad Of Bilbo Baggins
Leonard Nimoy (1967)
A short-lived variety show called Malibu U, hosted by singer Ricky Nelson, aired on ABC during the Summer of Love.  It only lasted for seven episodes and would probably have been completely forgotten if not for the special guest that sang a few songs on the show's second episode which aired 55 years ago today.

Mansfield News Journal - Mansfield, Ohio (July 28, 1967)

Leonard Nimoy kept himself pretty busy with musical projects in between the first and second season of Star Trek.  He released his first album, Mr. Spock's Music From Outer Space, and followed it up with a July 28th appearance on Malibu U in which he debuted a brand new song dedicated to the hero of J. R. R. Tolkien's 1937 novel, The Hobbit.  This resulted in what is now looked upon in hindsight as one of the earliest examples of a music video.

The Ballad Of Bilbo Baggins is a song that gets stranger the more you think about it.  The Hobbit was most certainly a well known and respected book, but it was nearly 30 years old when this song was recorded, and it was sung by a man who played a member of an alien race on a science fiction program.  To put this in perspective, imagine if Pedro Pascal from The Mandalorian appeared on That's My Jam to sing a song about Jessie Burlingame from Stephen King's 30 year old novel, Gerald's Game.

Mr. Spock's tribute to the title character of The Hobbit would be released as a single before the end of the year, and was included on his 1968 album, Two Sides Of Leonard Nimoy.

Jul 27, 2022

It Is Very Cold In Space

Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan

When I first started coming to the Mahoning, the fact that they show films on 35mm didn't matter to me all that much.  The most important thing to me was that I was getting to see movies that I loved, as well as classics that I had never seen before, on a giant cinemascope screen at a beautiful drive-in theater.  It's an immersive movie experience that even the best indoor theater or home video setup cannot match.  The fact that these movies were being projected from original 35mm prints was neat, but it wasn't the feature that brought me to this place.  On the rare occasion that a film had to be shown digitally at the Mahoning, I just kind of shrugged and thought "hey man, whatever it's gotta be is fine with me".

Over time, I've coming to appreciate the 35mm aspect of the Mahoning quite a bit more.  It has a more authentic feel - like the difference between listening to a band perform live music compared to a recording that's been processed with auto-tune.  Even the scratches and discolorations on the film give it character and enhance the experience. You also get to see the same film that audiences saw upon its initial release, and it's not always exactly the same film as the one you can stream at home.  Sometimes those differences are subtle.  For example, look at the title screen of the print that we watched last night.  Do you see anything missing?

I had to play my Wrath Of Khan DVD earlier today to confirm that I wasn't having a Mandela Effect moment.  Sure enough, the title card on the disc identified the movie as Star Trek II, whereas the original print did not identify it as a sequel.  Now, is this a horrendous change on the level of the Star Wars Special Editions?  No, of course not.  However, it does make me wonder how many little things get tweaked and changed between the theatrical release of a film and the version that we get on home video.  It also makes me appreciate the opportunity to see an original 35mm print even more.  These reels are an endangered species, and I'm thankful that there are so many folks in the area who are dedicated to not only preserving these treasures from the past, but sharing them with an audience.

35mm... live long and prosper

Jul 26, 2022

Cheesesteak Chips

Wiz Wit Potato Chips
Herr's Snacks (2022)
I found these at the Hometown Farmers Market earlier this month.  I'm not sure if they really capture the flavor of a cheesesteak, but they're pretty tasty.

The Wiz Wit chips are part of Herr's Flavored By Philly promotion.  The two other flavors included in this line are Long Hots and (215) Special Sauce.  If you visit their website, you can vote for your favorite flavor and be entered into a promotion to win free chips for a year, or other prizes from Herr's.

Jul 25, 2022

Elly Kedward Haunts The Woods Of Lehighton

The Blair Witch Project
It's not typical that the Mahoning Drive-In Theater have a night dedicated to a film that came out as late as 1999, but this is a movie that is worth making an exception for.

The poster for this show was designed by artist Tom Bifulco.  He's created quite a few incredible posters in the time that I've been coming to the Mahoning, and this one is one of his best.  It sold out about 30 minutes before the movie started.  Tom is a guest on the latest episode of the Mahoning Drive-In Radio Podcast, so give it a listen if you are so inclined.

The Blair Witch Project was a cultural phenomenon when it was released in 1999.  It was the first independent film that I'm aware of to take full advantage of the internet as a promotional tool, and I think that it did so in a more effective way than any film has done in the years since its release.  It was preceded by a show on the Sci-Fi Channel called Curse Of The Blair Witch (available to stream for free on Tubi), which was presented as a documentary and led many to believe that the movie was a true story and that three college kids really did disappear in the woods of Burkittsville, never to be seen again.  Most of the people I knew at the time believed that the film was true, and that it really was pieced together from "found footage" that was filmed by HeatherJosh and Michael, and discovered by the search parties who looked for them.

Standard Speaker (Hazleton, PA) - October 15, 1999

The first time I saw The Blair Witch Project was at the Key Theater in West Hazleton in October 1999.  That theater has since been converted into a combination restaurant/theater called the Cinema & Drafthouse, but back in the 90's, it was a traditional single-screen cinema that sold tickets to every show for one dollar.  They typically showed films that were out of the major theater chains but not yet available on home video, but it was much easier to avoid spoilers in those days.  If you were patient, you could see six or seven blockbuster films on the big screen for the price that you'd pay for a single movie ticket at the Hoyt near the mall.  I lived close enough to the Key Theater that I could walk there in less than five minutes, so I saw quite a few movies here and each one only cost a buck.

I'm not a big fan of most of the found footage films that it inspired, but when The Blair Witch Project was first released, it was fresh and innovative and incredible in every way.  The movie blew me away the first time that I saw it in theaters.  I bought it on DVD as soon as it was available on home video and I watched it with and without the directors commentary.  The commentary track was very interesting, but I found that watching the movie at home didn't have the same effect on me that it had on the big screen.  The atmosphere that I'm in when I see a movie has a huge impact on my experience and enjoyment of the movie, which is one of the reasons why I keep going back to the Mahoning Drive-In Theater as often as I do.

No place I have ever been has mastered the art of atmosphere better than the Mahoning Drive-In Theater.  I suspect that anyone who reads this blog probably thinks that I work here or that I'm being paid or given free tickets to praise them, but that is not at all the case.  I'm just a regular customer who's lucky enough to live nearby and to have a work schedule that seldom, if ever, stops me from attending a show.  If you love movies and you live in the area or are willing to take a road trip, you really should check out the list of upcoming shows and make it a point to come out.  Even if you just make it a one-time thing, I promise you that this is an experience you will be glad to have had.

Author Matt Blazi was in attendance to sign copies of his 2019 book, 8 Days In The Woods: The Making Of The Blair Witch Project.  He also hosted two virtual Q&A sessions that played on the big screen before the film.  The first of these had five guests which included producer Michael Monello and director Eduardo S├ínchez.  The second was a one-on-one conversation with Michael C. Williams, who was one of the three stars in the movie who fell victim to the Blair Witch.

While my experience at the Key Theater for The Blair Witch Project blew me away, my experience last night at the Mahoning made my first viewing of this film pale in comparison.  First of all, there are some movies that home video simply cannot do justice to, but this experience was more than just seeing a movie on a big screen.

Try to imagine this scenario:  it's a pitch black on a warm summer night.  You're sitting in a field underneath a massive cinemascope screen.  It is a cloudless night with no light pollution, so when you look up at the sky, you're seeing nothing but a blanket of stars.  The Big Dipper is to the right of the screen, hovering over the road that exits the drive-in.  There is a line of trees beneath and around the screen and surrounding the lot, so you hear every gust of wind and every cat, rabbit, and whatever else lives in the woods rustling around through the leaves and branches, and you hear the hums and chips of every insect.  On the screen is a gritty horror flick shot on Hi8 video cameras, and you are joining three terrified college kids who are lost in the woods and pursued by a witch.

Dude... a night at the movies doesn't get better than this.

Jul 24, 2022

Say Uncle!

Christmas In JulyA Christmas Story (1983) / White Christmas (1954)
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
This was an especially meaningful night at the drive-in.  A Christmas Story is a movie that will always hold a special place in my heart.  I've watched it during the holiday season with my family for as long as I can remember.  It brings back memories of the days before my grandparents passed away, when we'd all get together for the holidays.  We usually watched A Christmas Story during the day on Christmas Eve, so the house would be filled with presents and the table would be all set for dinner.  When I watch it these days, there are moments when I could swear that I hear my grandfather laughing.

This year's Christmas In July at the Mahoning had a very cool special guest: Zack Ward.  He was Scut Farkus, the bully in the coonskin cap who chases Ralphie and his friends home from school every day. 

Mr. Ward was a hell of a nice guy.  I didn't realize this until this weekend, but he also has roles in Almost Famous, Freddy vs JasonResident Evil: Apocalypse and Transformers.  He signed out show poster and took a photo with us outside on the lot.  There was also a replica of the living room from A Christmas Story where he was taking photos with fans, which is how this happened...

Uncle!  Unnnnncleeeee!!!

This is the idea that immediately came to mind when I first learned that Scut Farkus would be at the drive-in.  I'm going to have to turn this into a Christmas card!

The living room set was put together by John and Cindy Demmer.  They often put together incredible scenes for photo ops at the Mahoning, but they really outdid themselves this time.

The first movie of last night's double feature is more than just a movie.  A Christmas Story has become something closer to a national treasure.  Since it premiered nearly 40 years ago, it has become a part of family celebrations for literally millions of people, and I expect this will continue for as long as there are still people who watch movies and celebrate the holiday season.

The second half of the double feature was my wife's favorite holiday movie of all time: the 1954 classic White Christmas.  For most of my life, the only thing I knew about this movie is the reference to it made in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, when Clark rants that he and his family will have "the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tapdanced with Danny f'n Kaye".  I didn't see it until Angie introduced it to me, after which is has quickly become one of my favorites as well.  It's a very charming and heartwarming film that is easy to get lost in.

Another incredible night of movies on 35mm under the stars at the Mahoning is in the books.  It's been an amazing year so far.  We're getting close to the halfway point of the season if we're not there already, but there's so much more to go!