Oct 29, 2023

What Ever Happened To My Transylvania Twist

Universal Monster Mash VII
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
We were in attendance for Monster Mash V in September 2021 and Monster Mash VI in August 2022.  It has become one of the annual events that we look forward to the most at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater.  They scheduled things a bit differently this season by holding off on Universal Monster Mash until the final Friday and Saturday of the season, with the The Lost Boys as the season finale on Sunday.  I am totally in favor of saving this event for the final weekend of the season and I hope that they keep this schedule for the future.  I can think of no better way to close out the year than to all get together to watch vintage horror classics during Halloween week before one last surprise on the final Sunday of the season.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

The lineup of Universal Monster Mash VII consisted of six films, including a 90th anniversary screening of The Invisible Man, Creature From The Black Lagoon, and The Raven on Friday night, and an 80th anniversary screening of Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, The Mummy's Ghost, and an 80th anniversary screening of The Mad Ghoul on Saturday night.  There were secret features on both nights, and while I won't share them on here, I will say that they weren't Universal monster films, but they were classic horror films that fit the tone of the event.

The poster (left) and t-shirt (right) for Universal Monster Mash VII were both designed by artist Tom Bifulco, who just got married a week ago today.  Congrats dude, and awesome artwork as always!

Our friend Louie absolutely killed it with his cosplay, as he has done all season long.  This weekend, he came to the event as The Invisible Man.

There was a costume contest on both nights of Universal Monster Mash VIILouie's take on The Invisible Man was my favorite, closely followed by Gene and Ben dressed up as Virgil, but there were a lot of other incredible costumes, including Wolf Cop, Frankenstein and Bride Of Frankenstein, Cocaine Bear, and a group of folks who dressed up as characters from different Twilight Zone episodes.

We really lucked out with the weather for Universal Monster Mash VII with temperatures in the mid 70's during the day and in the high 50's to low 60's after the sun went down.  There also wasn't a drop of rain, so we got to have one last weekend sitting out in our camping chairs and enjoying these classics under the stars with our drive-in family.

There were two cartoons shown before the first film on Friday night.  The first was a short called Absolution, which was written and directed by Jill Yapsuga.  I wasn't able to find anything about it online so I don't know where to recommend you go if you want to check it out, but it was very dark and very cool, and it set the tone for a night of horror classics.

The second cartoon that was shown before the first feature was the 1954 Loony Tunes short: Bewitched Bunny.  It's a Bugs Bunny cartoon directed by Chuck Jones, and it's the first appearance of Witch Hazel.  This is the one where Bugs discovers the witch that has lured Hansel and Gretel into her cabin. He rescues the children, but then discovers that the witch would be just as satisfied with a pot of rabbit stew.

The first feature that was shown was a horror film based on the 1897 HG Wells novel, the 1933 classic The Invisible Man.  I've never watched this before.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that all of the movies from this weekend (including the secret features) were first-time screenings for me.

As the title song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show says, Claude Rains is the star, but there are two other actors who make this film especially great.  The first is innkeeper Una O'Connor, who gives a whole new meaning to "scream queen", and the second is E.E. Clive, who plays the town's police constable who gives some of the most hilarious deadpan responses that I've ever seen.  This movie is a true classic that literally every movie fan in the world should watch at some point in their lives.

Next up was the 1954 horror classic, Creature From The Black Lagoon, which is the first in a trilogy of Universal Monster movies from the 50's to feature The Creature (aka: Gill Man) as the monster.

There was a nice tribute to Ricou Browning that was shown on the screen throughout the pre-show and during the intermissions.  The stuntman and actor who played The Creature in the underwater scenes was the last surviving actor who performed as one of the monsters in the original Universal monster films.  He also has had a long career as a director, writer, and stunt coordinator and has worked on a wide variety of films including Flipper, Thunderball, and one of my all-time favorites, Caddyshack.

Mr. Browning passed away earlier this year on February 27th at the age of 93.

The final announced film that was shown on Friday night was a movie that co-stars the legendary duo of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, the 1935 classic, The Raven.  It's the story of a doctor (Lugosi) who is obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe and with a young woman whose life he saves, but who is engaged to marry someone else.  Unfortunately for all concerned, this doctor also has a fully functional torture chamber in his basement, and the ability to use surgical techniques known only to him to deliberately disfigure a criminal (Karloff) whose face he will only fix if he helps to torture and murder the girl's father and fiance.  It's a twisted tale that was first shown to audiences 87 years ago and is just as disturbing as it ever was.

That's not quite a wrap on Night One because there was a secret feature after the credits rolled on The Raven, but it's going to remain a secret on here, so... onto Night Two.

The first movie of Saturday night was another classic horror film that paired two of the most iconic actors in film history.  This time, Bela Lugosi partnered with the equally great Lon Chaney Jr in the 1943 monster rally classic, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man.

There were two Speedy Gonzales cartoons shown during intermission between the first and second movies on Saturday night.  The first was a 1958 short directed by Robert McKimson called Tortilla Flaps, and the second was a 1959 Friz Freleng short called Here Today, Gone Tamale that also features Sylvester the Cat.  I've seen the second one before, but I didn't recognize Tortilla Flaps at all.  I have watched Loony Tunes since I was old enough to know what a cartoon was, so it's pretty rare that I come across one that I haven't seen before.

The second movie on Saturday night was the fourth Universal Monster Movie to feature The Mummy; the 1944 Lon Chaney Jr classic, The Mummy's Ghost.  I know that I've seen the original 1932 film The Mummy, but this was my first time seeing The Mummy's Ghost.

There was a third cartoon shown on the big screen on Saturday night.  This one was a 1954 Popeye cartoon called Fright To The Finish that was shown during the second intermission.  As the name and the title card suggests, this is a Halloween-themed episode in which Bluto and Popeye try to scare each other away from Olive Oyl, who gets caught in the crossfire as she often does.  I'm not as familiar with Popeye cartoons as I am with Loony Tunes so this might not be as unusual as I think, but I was pretty surprised that Popeye doesn't eat spinach in this one.

The final announced movie for Universal Monster Mash VII is the one that I knew the least about going into the weekend, but may have been my favorite movie out of all of them, the 1943 film The Mad Ghoul.

It's the story of the world's worst college professor who turns his prize student into a zombie.  The student snaps back and forth between being a normal (but sickly) young man, and a ghoulish zombie who must obey the commands of his professor when he's in that state.  The student has no memory of his behaviors as a zombie when he is lucid (and presumably vice versa), which is for the best because the professor is forcing him to take turns committing grave robbery and murder to obtain human hearts, which are the only thing that's keeping him alive.  Oh yeah, on top of all of this, the professor is trying to hook up with his student's singer girlfriend, and one of the reasons this hasn't worked is because she's already seeing one of his friends behind his back.  It's safe to say that this poor kid is having a pretty rough time.

It's a compelling story with excellent performances from the entire cast, and I wouldn't hesitate putting it in my top five favorite black and white horror films of all time.

The clock is ticking on the 2023 season at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater... just one more night before my favorite place in the world goes into hibernation for the winter.