Sep 4, 2023

Camp Blood IX

Show poster designed by Justin Miller

Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
If someone were to design a Mount Rushmore of annual events at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater, the four strongest contenders would be Camp Blood, VHS Fest, Schlock-O-Rama and ZombieFest.  Out of those four, the George Washington position has to go to Camp BloodVHS Fest may have a slightly higher head count with all of the vendors on the property, but for as cool as it is, I don't think that any one event captures the spirit of this place and the community that has built around it more than Camp Blood.

Camp Blood IX featured ten classic horror flicks on 35mm across four nights.  We were joined by a few special guests, including Felissa RosePaul DeAngelo, Judie Aronson, Shelley Bruce, and Bonnie Deroski.

This was the first year that I attended all four nights of Camp Blood.  There were camping games with prizes, good things to eat and drink, and an awesome vibe from start to finish.

This year's Camp Blood event was the first year that we all got together to tell spooky stories around the campfire.  I hope that this becomes an annual tradition because it was a hell of a lot of fun.

The stories were limited to Thursday night only because every other night had triple features on the big screen that ended after 2:00 am, but it was a memorable event that included readings of original works from my friend Louie, and from Virgil.  This was the first of Louie's two stories.  After hearing his second story which was called Graveyard Sale, I wish I had recorded them both.  This dude is crazy talented. 

The hours prior to the start of the feature films on Friday and Saturday were filled with camping games.  Tom, Gene, Louie and I were among the participants in the Body Bag Race, and although I didn't win, I'm proud to have hopped my way to the finish line without wiping out in the grass (which I fully expected to do).

The second event was an eyeball (egg) toss which our friends Tom and Ben took part in.  From what I've been told, the team that went on to win have won for the past four years.  I'd like to think that they're practicing in their neighborhood during the summer with their neighbors wondering why they're launching eggs at each other.

There was also a tug-of-war and a three legged race.  I didn't get video of either of these events this year, but here are a few photos.

And now... onto the movies!

Thursday night is considered to be a preview night at Camp Blood... something for the locals, and for the hardcore fans who camp out on the lot all weekend to relax and enjoy.  There's only one movie (not counting secret features) and there are no camping games, but the spooky stories around the campfire on Thursday after the feature was a perfect addition.

The first film of Camp Blood IX, and the only film that was scheduled for Thursday night, was the 1981 summer camp slasher, The Burning.  This is one of those movies that I thought I had seen before, but realized that I hadn't about five minutes into its runtime.  It premiered in theaters almost one year to the day after the premier of the first Friday The 13th movie.  Since it's also a horror film that takes place at a summer camp, it is often compared to its more famous older brother.  I won't go as far as saying that it's a better film than Friday The 13th, but it's a damn good horror flick and Cropsy is up there with the best slasher villains of the decade.

It's always cool when there are actors in attendance for a screening of a film that they were in.  Shelley Bruce (Tiger), and Bonnie Deroski (Marnie) were both on the lot to meet fans, take pictures and sign autographs.

There were two familiar faces to me in this movie.  The one on the left is Brian Backer, who is probably known best for his role as Rat in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, but who I will always remember is one of the two skateboarders (along with David Spade) in Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol.

The actor on the right is Jason Alexander, who played my favorite character in television history, George Costanza on Seinfeld.  I haven't seen The Burning before Thursday night, so seeing George Costanza's bare ass was not on the list of things that I expected to see at Camp Blood, but it was there in all of it's glory on the big screen at the Mahoning.

Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter / Madman / Neon Maniacs

Friday night was the first full night of Camp Blood IX, with camping games and a triple feature of films on the big screen.

Friday night's films on the big screen kicked off with Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter.  This is the fourth movie in the Friday The 13th series, and it was not at all the final chapter.  The next movie in the series premiered less than a year later.  If you're not familiar with the series, this is the one where Corey Feldman hacks Jason to death with a machete before hinting that he may grow into the next serial killer of the series.

Actress Judie Aronson was on the lot on Friday night.  She appears in the film as Sam Lane, who storms off in anger after her boyfriend kisses another girl in their cabin only to be killed by Jason in an inflatable raft.  She has a larger role in American Ninja, which was the first film that we saw at Shot Out A Cannon on August 12th.

Next up on Night Two was the 1981 slasher film, Madman.  I saw this movie for the first time in 2019 when it was hosted by Joe Bob Briggs on The Last Drive-In and I enjoyed the hell out of it, but this was my first time ever seeing it on 35mm or on the big screen.  Like the first two movies that were shown at Camp Blood IX, the story is set at a summer camp, and I'd argue that it's a better film than Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter, though not quite as good as The Burning.

The last movie from Night Two (not counting secret features) was the 1986 film Neon Maniacs, and it fell into the same Friday night trap that a lot of movies have fallen into this season for me.  I have to wake up early for work on Friday morning, so by the time the last movie of a triple feature hits the screen, the only thing keeping me conscious at all is caffeine.  I was awake for about the first 20 minutes of this movie, and then was in and out for the rest of its runtime.  It wouldn't be fair of me to give an opinion on the movie because even as I write this, I barely remember what it was even about.  I'll try to catch it at home sometime over the winter.

Friday The 13th will probably always be the most well-known horror franchise that is set at a summer camp, but the Sleepaway Camp series is a close second.  Saturday night at the Mahoning was dedicated to these movies with a triple feature of the original trilogy from the 1980's.

The first Sleepaway Camp movie is a masterpiece.  If you enjoy horror movies and you haven't seen it before, my recommendation is to watch it with as little information as possible.  Don't look up the plot.  Don't even search for memes about it.  Try to go into it as cold as possible to experience this film the way that audiences did when it premiered in 1983.

There were two special guests at the drive-in who appeared in this film.  The first was actress Felissa Rose, who was the starred in Sleepaway Camp as Angela when she was just 14 years old.  She, and her first film, have found a whole new audience over the past five years after her appearance on The Last Drive-In and the work that she has done in the horror genre over the past twenty years.

The second guest on the lot was actor Paul DeAngelo, who played camp counselor Ronnie in Sleepaway Camp.  He's one of the counselors who was kind to Angela throughout the film, and who discovers her in the iconic scene at the end.

Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers was the second film of Saturday night.  It originally premiered in 1988 and it stars Pamela Springsteen (Bruce Springsteen's younger sister) as an older Angela who has returned to summer camp, but this time as one of the counselors.

The people who write and direct horror films tend to take one of two roads: either ramp up the brutality in an attempt to outdo the original (Saw, Final Destination), or to play it for laughs and turn the franchise in the direction of horror/comedy (Child's Play, A Nightmare On Elm Street).  Sleepaway Camp 2 seems like it's trying to take both roads at the same time, although the brutality never tops the curling iron scene from the first film.  The kills are brutal, but they often are in scenes that are tongue-in-cheek that borders on slapstick.  That doesn't make this a bad movie by any means.  In fact, it's a hell of a lot of fun, but I feel like it could have been better if it was handled as more of a straight-up horror flick with Angela's identity being kept a secret until the end.  If you're only going to watch one movie in the series, I'd strongly recommend the original, but Part 2 is definitely worth your time.

The final film on Saturday night was the last Sleepaway Camp movie of the 80's and the end of the original trilogy; the 1989 horror comedy Sleepaway Camp 3: Teenage Wasteland.  A fourth movie was originally scheduled to be released in 1992.  It was canned during production, but it was cobbled together using footage from the first three films for a release twenty years later.

Teenage Wasteland features Pamela Springsteen returning as Angela.  In her desperation to return to summer camp, she murders and then steals the identity of a teenager who is on her way to take part in Camp New Horizons, which is a scam run by a husband and wife who claim that their efforts are to bring teenagers from diverse backgrounds together.  Aside from the two of them, there is one camp counselor, a policeman named Barney Whitmore.  He's the only decent adult associated with the camp, but he's also the father of Sean Whitmore, who was one of Angela's victims from Sleepaway Camp 2.

This movie isn't great, but it isn't terrible either.  It ramps up the comedy, and it follows the pattern of the previous two films by killing off unlikable characters before getting to the ones who the audience won't think deserve it.  I think it's the weakest one of the trilogy, but it's still fun to watch, especially at a drive-in triple feature with the other two.

Sunday night was an eclectic mix of horror classics.  It was the only night of Camp Blood IX that did not feature at least one movie that was set at a campground, but all three were must-see for any fan of vintage horror flicks.

Sunday night kicked off with a true horror classic and the only movie scheduled to play at Camp Blood IX that isn't from the 1980's.  When A Stranger Calls premiered in theaters on September 28, 1979, and even if you haven't seen or heard of it, I can almost promise that you're familiar with the famous scene in the first act of the film.  It's been parodied and references countless times in the year since it's release.  If you've ever heard anyone say "we've traced the call and it's coming from inside the house" (or words to that effect), this is where that line came from.  It's an excellent psychological horror movie that I haven't watched since I was a teenager.  The scene toward the end where Carol Kane receives a phone call at the restaurant is one of the creepiest moments of any movie that I've ever seen.

There were two pretty awesome things that happened in the night sky during the first film of Sunday night.  I was able to get a photo of the first one which I've lightened up a bit to make it a little easier to see (click here to see the original photo).  You'll see that there is what looks like a perfectly straight dotted line of stars from the top center to the right center of the image.  They're not stars... they're a Starlink Satellite Train.  This is the 103rd batch of 22 Starlink satellites that were launched by SpaceX on September 3rd at 7:20 pm.  It's a pretty awesome sight.  They're very bright to the naked eye, and they look like a perfectly straight line of dots flying up in a diagonal line across the sky.

I didn't get a picture or a video of the second thing in the sky, but plenty of others did.

This dashcam video has been shared by quite a few different sources.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure who to credit for filming it, but it captures exactly what we saw to the left of the screen at the drive-in about halfway through When A Stranger Calls.  There was a loud gasp followed by a cheer from the lot when it happened, and it was absolutely justified.  I've seen shooting stars before at the drive-in, but nothing that was even close to as bright as this.  It was a bright green meteor that, according to NASA Meteor Watch, disintegrated 22 miles above York County, PA and was about a quarter as bright as the moon.

The second movie on Sunday night was Stepfather II: Make Room For Daddy.  They screened the first movie on 35mm at the Mahoning in June of this year, but I wasn't able to make it out that night.  I'm not sure if I've ever seen it.  It sounds familiar, but I can't say for sure.  At any rate, I know that this was my first time seeing Stepfather II.  It's sitting at a 14% critic score and 34% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, which is not at all deserved.  I'm not going to heap praise on it as a masterpiece of horror cinema, but the performances are solid (particularly from Jonathan Bandis and They Live's Meg Foster), the story is interesting and suspenseful, and it's definitely worth a watch.

The final movie of Camp Blood Weekend was a banger!  It was the 1981 Jeffrey Bloom film: Blood Beach.  Picture Jaws, but instead of people being killed in the water by a giant shark that you don't see until the end of the film, they're killed in the sand by a giant worm that you don't see until the end of the film.  The MVP of the movie is one of my favorite actors of all time, Burt Young.  He's best known as Pauly from the Rocky movies, and he absolutely nails it as a sleazy police sergeant who has transferred from Chicago to Los Angeles.  The ending has a twist that is pretty much spelled out about 15 minutes before it happens, but it's still a great ending.  I'm very happy that my first experience with this film was a 35mm print at the drive-in.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

Once again, I can't stress enough how thankful I am that this place exists and that I am able to spend as much time here as I do.  The Mahoning Drive-In Theater really has become like home to me.  I don't make friends easily, let alone become accepted in a community, but this place really has given that to me, in addition to all of the actors and directors that I've met here, and god only knows how many hours of incredible music and movies.  Years from now, I'm going to forget all of the little annoyances and troubles that occasionally work their way into my brain, but I'll always remember this place and how much fun I've had here, and I hope that I continue to be fortunate enough to keep adding new drive-in memories for many years to come.