Jun 17, 2023

Haunted House Party

Haunted House Party: Night One
Poltergeist / The Legend Of Hell House / Burnt Offerings
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA

Friday and Saturday nights at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater are always a good time, but they took things to another level this weekend with what I hope will be the start of another yearly tradition at the drive-in.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

This show was announced in March and, of course, we got our tickets right away. That's one hell of a lineup, kicking off with one of the greatest horror films of all time, and then taking you through a journey of iconic haunted house films of the 60's and 70's before bookending the event with the sequel to the movie that started us off.

Take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt, because I am not at all an expert on the movie industry or its fans.  Sometimes, I see an announcement of an event at the Mahoning and I think "damn, that one's going to be a sellout for sure!" and then I get there and the lot is less than half full.  Other times, I see an event on paper and think "that looks awesome, but I'm not sure if it'll draw a big crowd".  I'm wrong just as often as I'm right with these predictions, but this is a time when I am extremely happy to be wrong.  For as awesome as this event looked to me, I didn't expect that it would draw in a massive crowd.  Poltergeist is a masterpiece for sure, but it's not a movie that folks tend to talk about with the same nostalgic love that they talk about the iconic 80's slasher films, and while each of the other films are iconic in their own right, I wasn't sure if they'd draw in a ton of people.  It turns out that I severely underestimated the fandom of haunted house flicks because the lot was absolutely jammed with folks who were all having a great time, despite the fact that it rained quite a bit in the hours leading up to showtime.

A huge contributing factor to the hot turnout was the special guest on the lot for Haunted House Party: author Grady Hendrix.  I met Mr. Hendrix last May at a Sunday night screening of Enter The Dragon, where he made an appearance with author Chris Poggiali to promote their co-authored book on the rise of kung fu in America: These Fists Break Bricks.  On that night, he presented an informative and hysterically funny slideshow on the history of kung fu before the start of the film, and last night, he did a similar slideshow presentation on the history of haunted houses and their effects on the living.  If you have an opportunity to see Mr. Hendrix present anything, I highly recommend that you make plans to attend.  He's a good dude, and you will definitely have a good time.

The line to meet Mr. Hendrix and have him sign a copy of his book was as long as I've ever seen for any special guest that I've ever seen on the lot.  The only one of this books that I've read was These Fists Break Bricks, but I learned a lot about his other works in the horror and horror comedy genre from the other folks in the crowd last night, so I am definitely going to check them out.

Poltergeist was the first movie of last night's triple feature.  It premiered in theaters about a month before I turned two years old.  It's probably a safe bet to say that most folks who saw this film and are under the age of 50 have done so on television at home.  That's definitely the camp that I fell into before last night.  I'm pretty sure I saw it for the first time in the late 80's during an HBO or Cinemax free preview weekend.  I remember that it scared the hell out of me, but I don't think I was able to fully appreciate just how great of a movie this was at the time.

What I'm about to say is something that I realize I've said about other movies in the past, but it has never been more true than it is for Poltergeist - this movie hits you differently on a big screen, and it hits you even harder at a drive in.  The rain stopped about a half hour before Grady's presentation and it held off for the rest of the night, but the air had the cool and crisp feeling of a night in Northeast Pennsylvania after a thunderstorm.  It wasn't cold enough to make me uncomfortable, but just enough to make me want to grab a blanket to keep my body heat trapped.  Add to that a cloudy and dark purple night sky and the sounds of whatever birds, bats, bugs and other animals chirping in the trees that surround the lot and you have the perfect atmosphere to watch Poltergeist and absorb every ounce of terror that it has to deliver.

This was definitely one of the most memorable experiences that I've ever had of watching any movie.  It was one of those moments where I wish that life was like a video game that had save states, and that I could go back and live through it again whenever I wanted to.  Sometimes all of the random elements of the universe just fall together in a way that makes for an absolutely perfect moment that you can't plan for, or script, or replicate later on.  It just happens, and it's up to you to be present in the moment and appreciate it.

The second movie of the night was the 1973 film The Legend Of Hell House, which Grady Hendrix described as a hornier version of Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel The Haunting Of Hill House, which I'll have more to say about tomorrow.  It's a very creepy story that is well filmed and driven by an excellent performance from one of my favorite actors of all time, Roddy McDowall.

I hadn't watched this movie before last night, but it definitely lived up to Grady's hype about it being hornier than the average haunted house story.  While there's no nudity in the film (dark silhouettes only), the spirit of Emeric Belasco repeatedly influences Miss Tanner and Dr. Barrett's wife Ann to act in sexually aggressive ways that cause a lot of tension.  I'm not sure it's a movie that I'd recommend to every horror fan, but if you're a fan of 70's horror or of stories about hauntings in general, I think that it's something you'd enjoy.  It's not included in any subscription plans that I'm aware of, but it can be rented or purchased through a variety of streaming platforms.

The last movie of the night was the 1976 horror film Burnt Offerings.  The Mahoning played the trailer for this film quite a few times over the past few weekends, and it caught my interest and became one of the movies that I was looking forward to seeing for the first time.  Like the previous film, its cast included one of my favorite actors of all time: Burgess Meredith, but he's only in the first act.  The movie also features the truly iconic Bette Davis, who was one of my grandfather's favorite actresses.

I was a little woozy through most of this movie because I woke up for work at 5:00 am on Friday and the credits didn't roll on Burnt Offerings until after 4:00 am this morning, but I somehow managed to stay awake.  It's creepy as hell and I enjoyed it, but I'm going to have to give this one a second viewing before I put together anything that could be mistaken as a coherent review.  It's available to stream for free on Tubi and Pluto TV, so I'm going to watch this one more time later this week.

There's more I want to say about this movie, but I'm getting ready to head back to the Mahoning for Night Two of Haunted House Party as I write this, so it'll have to wait for another time.