Aug 1, 2023

For Those About To Schlock, We Salute You

Schlock-O-Rama VII
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
This is an event that both my wife and I look forward to on the Mahoning calendar, but this was the first year that we were on the lot for all three nights.  The movies that are shown during Schlock-O-Rama are the exact films that moviegoers across the country flocked to drive-in theaters to see during the height of success for drive-in theaters in the 1950's, and it always draws a huge crowd at the Mahoning, so this weekend is probably the most authentic vintage drive-in experience that you can have in 2023.  

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

The banner, poster, and t-shirt for Schlock-O-Rama VII were designed by Andrew Kern.  It's one of my favorite t-shirts that were released on the lot.

The special at the concession stand for the weekend was Schlock Balls, which were meatballs cooked up with pepperoni and tomato sauce and served on a bun with mozzarella cheese.  It definitely hit the spot after the second intermission.

The first movie of Schlock-O-Rama VII was Earth vs The Flying Saucers.  It premiered in theaters 67 years ago and went on to become a reference point for science fiction creators for many years to follow.  It's impossible to watch this movie and not pick out scenes and plot devices that inspired a lot of what you see in movies such as Independence Day, Mars Attacks, and dozens of other alien invasion movies.

"Look honey... I'm a dickhead!"

The special effects for the flying saucers in this film were created by legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen, and the warbled voices of the aliens were provided by cartoon voice actor Paul Frees, who I'll always remember best as the voice of Boris Badenov from The Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle.

Next up was the 1957 classic 20 Million Miles To Earth.  Like the first film of the night, this movie featured the special effects work of Ray Harryhausen.  It's the story of an egg that is brought back from Venus when an American spaceship crash lands off of the coast of Sicily.  The egg hatches and releases a small creature on the Earth that rapidly grows into a kaiju-type monster.

This is an excellent movie, and one that really made me feel bad for the "monster".  He isn't an an alien invader.  He was kidnapped by alien invaders to his home, and brought back to a foreign planet where he is pursued from the moment he's born.  He's not a violent creature, but is put in a position where he's forced to defend himself for survival.

The second intermission of the night included a 1947 Woody Woodpecker cartoon short called Smoked Hams.  It's a vintage cartoon that had a second life in the early 90's when it was brought back to be shown in theaters along with Problem Child 2 in an attempt to market the sequel as a family-friendly film after its initial cut was given an R rating.

The third movie of the night was a 1958 Japanese monster/crime film called The H-Man.  After seeing the trailer for this movie in the weeks leading up to Schlock-O-Rama VII, it was one of the movies that I was looking forward to seeing the most, but I was pretty tired by the time this hit the screen so I wasn't able to give it the attention that it deserved.  I was more awake and attentive for the first third of the flick, and it looked pretty interesting, but I dozed off a few times throughout the rest of it, so I can't really give a fair opinion on it one way or the other.

It started raining during the third intermission on Friday so we had to watch the final movie of the night from our car.  That final movie was the 1957 Columbia Pictures monster flick: The Giant Claw.

This was an amusing movie that alternated between shots of people in a room having a discussion about how they plan to deal with the gigantic monster bird that has been terrorizing the world, followed by shots of the bird in question eating planes, smashing through buildings, and proving to be impervious to attack thanks to its anti-matter shield.  The gigantic monster bird itself was the star of the show because it was completely ridiculous; pretty much just a silly looking hand puppet that was filmed moving back and forth as it chased after and gobbled up toy airplanes.  I'm sure that just about everyone could put together a monster like this in a single afternoon using random things around the house.  Special effects like this have a charm all of their own, and it made for a fun way to end Night One.

Saturday night began with the movie from Schlock-O-Rama VII that I am the most familiar with; the 1955 Technicolor sci-fi classic This Island Earth.  This is one of those movies where it feels like they tried to throw every idea they could come up with into the story whether they make sense or not.  This is probably why it was chosen as the film that was shown on board the Satellite Of Love for Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, and why I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from singing "normal view... Normal View... NORMAL VIEW" along with the music during a scene about halfway through the flick.

The second movie of Saturday night was one of the all-time greats in sci-fi history: It Came From Outer Space.  This was the first 3D film release from Universal Pictures (then Universal-International).  It's based on a screenplay written by legendary sci-fi author Ray Bradbury, and out of all of the movies that were screened at Schlock-O-Rama VII, this is the one that I think everybody who loves movies should watch at least once in their lives.

Harry from Exhumed Films had plenty of 3D glasses on hand so that everyone in attendance got to see this movie in the same way that fans experienced it when it was released 70 years ago on June 5th, 1953.

Next up was my favorite movie that was shown during Schlock-O-Rama VII.  I had never heard of The Manster before it was announced as a part of the lineup this year, and it wasn't one of the trailers that was shown at the drive-in in the weeks leading up to the event, so I had no idea what to expect.  What we got was a balls-to-the-wall mad scientist story that has instantly rocketed to the top of my favorites list.

The Manster is an American film, but it was shot and released in Japan, and it's comprised of a largely Japanese cast, with the exception of our "hero", his boss, and his wife.  The hero in question is an American reporter named Larry Stanford who is working as a foreign correspondent in Japan.  He's about to wrap up his time overseas and go home to his wife, but he's got one last interview to conduct before he does.  Unfortunately, that interview is with Dr. Robert Suzuki, who lives on a volcano and has been drugging people with an experimental serum to force them into what he believes is the next state of human evolution.

Apparently ,the next stage in human evolution is that we will sprout two heads, one of which looks like a werewolf zombie while the other just sort of bobbles around like a rubber mask, and we'll all go on a murderous rampage.

There are a few moments that seem as if they were the inspiration for the scene in Army Of Darkness when "Evil Ash" is born, first by appearing as an eyeball on Ash's shoulder, then as a second head before finally splitting off to become a separate person.

The Manster is a blast!  The English dubbing for the Japanese actors is way over-the-top, but the story is part sci-fi, part horror, and part crime drama, and it's a hell of a lot of fun.  You can stream it for free on Tubi.

The fourth and final movie of Saturday night was the most recent release of Schlock-O-Rama VIIThe Brain That Wouldn't Die wrapped in 1959, but it didn't hit theaters until Spring 1962.  Like The Manster, this movie served as the inspiration for horror movies for years to come.  Frankenhooker, in particular, seems to have borrowed a lot of its story from The Brain That Wouldn't Die, from the fact that it starts off with the death of someone's girlfriend, who then uses an experimental chemical to keep the head alive while the boyfriend seeks out the body of a sex worker to craft her head onto.

This movie is also available to stream for free on Tubi, and as an added bonus, that version of the film is hosted by the one and only Mistress Of The Dark, Elvira.

Sunday night kicked off with the 1957 classic: The Incredible Shrinking Man.  This was a much deeper movie than I was expecting from the title.  I can see why it was chosen, especially in a double feature about a woman who faces the opposite problem, but this seems like it's too serious of a film to be a part of an event like Schlock-O-Rama.

I've heard of this movie for practically my entire life, but I never saw it before Sunday night.  In fact, with the exception of what is obvious from the title, I didn't know what the movie was even about.  This is one of those movies that I am extremely thankful that my first exposure to it was at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater.  This place just makes me appreciate what I'm seeing on a deeper level.

I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but the main character's fate is not at all played for laughs.  The story handled in a way that starts off as a reflection of how it feels to be different in a exploitative world, then goes on to have moments of suspense that literally had me sitting on the edge of my seat, and it wraps up with an existential ending that I didn't see coming, particularly from a sci-fi movie from the 50's.  I'm not exaggerating at all when I say that if this movie didn't exist and was made in 2023, I think it would be a contender for Best Picture.

The cherry on the Schlock-O-Rama sundae was The 30-Foot Bride Of Candy Rock.  It's a fun slapstick comedy starring the great Lou Costello, and it was the perfect way to take the edge off from a movie as deep as The Incredible Shrinking Man because despite the similar premise of a lead character's drastic change in size, the two movies could not be more polar opposites.  There isn't a serious moment in this entire flick.  It's just pure zany silliness from start to finish, and you almost can't help but to grin from ear to ear the whole time you're watching it.

And that's a wrap on Schlock-O-Rama VII.  If you're thinking of checking out the Mahoning Drive-In Theater for the first time, this is the event that I think best represents what is incredible about this place.  It hits a balance of being very well-attended, but not as crazy busy as VHS Fest or Camp Blood to where you might feel overwhelmed.  You're get a full night on the lot, complete with intermission reels, trailers, and cartoon shorts, and you get a heck of a lot of movies under the stars.  This year's Schlock-O-Rama was about as perfect of an event that I've ever been to, and I can't wait to do it again in 2024.