While the whole pandemic thing in 2020 closed a lot of businesses down, the Drive-in Theater had a resurgence! My family and I were able to get to the drive-in several times last year, and 2021 has started with a bang! The wife and I went to Vandergrift, PA for the annual April Ghouls Drive-in Monster Rama, and boy was it a fun time! If you’ve never been to a drive-in, haven’t been in a while, or know someone who’s never been, then now is the time to get to one! They’re all opening back up again for the season (well, at least those in seasonal areas like sunny Maine here), and a great many aren’t just showing new films, but classic ones worthy of the drive-in screen as well!
The brains behind it are Gene Caruso and George Reis who started with the Super Drive-In Monster-Rama event (which takes place every September) and expanded a few years ago with the April Ghouls Drive-In Monster-Rama event (which takes place every April). These two weekend events, which feature four classic Horror or Sci-Fi movies each night on two consecutive nights, take place at the Riverside Drive-In Theatre in Vandergrift, PA. Gene and George are super nice guys who are very knowledgeable when it comes to Horror and Sci-Fi movies! This year’s April Ghouls theme was 80s Horror films!
Since it is a 10-hour drive from the small town in Maine in which we reside, we decided to break the trip up into 5 hours on Wednesday, with a stop at a hotel in New Jersey, then the other 5 on Thursday to a hotel on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. The ride wasn’t bad and we managed to circumvent any major traffic issues, particularly in New York City. As we were driving, it occurred to me (and shame on me for not thinking of this sooner!) that Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead were shot by George Romero in and around the area to which we were headed!
So, Thursday night at the 2nd hotel, I mapped out a possible course of action. I knew above anything else, the Evans City Cemetery where Night was shot would simply HAVE to be visited. Anything else was gravy. As I did my research I realized that the mall that Dawn was filmed at, the Monroeville Mall, was in the area. I also uncovered a couple of unrelated points of interest: The town of Mars, PA has a giant statue of a UFO in the center of town, presumably because the town is named after our sister planet. I also found Kneiss’ Mini-Golf which has a statue of a giant shark out front, and a tavern called the Harmony Inn, in Harmony, PA, that is supposedly haunted.
Sadly, with the way every stopping point was situated, and the fact that we needed to get to the drive-in by 4 pm each day, we were unable to fit the Monroeville Mall and Kneiss’ Mini-Golf into our itinerary. However, that is just an excuse to go back to the area for the next event!
That night, we re-watched Night of the Living Dead so that I could make sure I knew where to look in the graveyard. Luckily, a friend online gave me some pointers (thanks Mary Rotolo!!) and we were ready to go.
For those interested in seeking out this iconic movie location, the GPS will take you to the cemetery entrance. You go up the hill, and at the top is a map of the layout. On the corner of the first left is the chapel, which we learned from a local, had been fully restored and is used for services! Take that left, and a little way up on the right is the iconic gravestone with BLAIR on it. I took some photos and have created a side-by-side comparison here:
I also did a live Facebook video pointing out many of the shots from the film and where they were in the real cemetery:
One thing I neglected to point out in the video is gravestone marked Myers, which is the one that Johnny hits his head on when the zombie pummels him.
The cemetery was very clean and peaceful, and the caretaker was pushing around the dirt in one area, making room for all the people who are dying to get in.
After that, we ventured to the center of town where we found the plaque dedicated to the film, and several information plaques around it not only about Night, but also mentioning Romero’s film, The Crazies, which was filmed right in Evans City:
As the day was getting away from us, we quickly hopped back into the car and headed over to the Riverside Drive-In. Now, I thought we were going to be ridiculously early and that they might night let us park in the theater because most Drive-ins don’t let people in till around 6 pm. However, what I did not know was that they knew a great many customers were coming from far away, so they started letting patrons in around 1 pm.
As a seasoned drive-in theater goer, I can tell you that the best spot is usually front row center, especially if you have a wagon or mid-sized SUV where you can back into the spot with the rear facing the screen. That way you can not only sit outside on lawn chairs, but you can also comfortably lay inside the back of your vehicle, ideally on an air mattress with blankets and pillows, as we did. It also helps if it rains, which it did on Saturday night. I was surprised to see that most of the first row was taken up, but we did manage to get a spot that wasn’t too far to the end of the row and had a nice view of the screen.
After getting set up (see the last video here if you want to see my ideal drive-in setup), I found George and he introduced me to the owner of the Riverside Drive-in, Todd. He was also extremely nice and my interview with him can be found in episode 44 of Then Is Now Podcast.
The Riverside Drive-In concession stand was great! They not only had some classic arcade games as well as cool pics on the wall, but also the staff was working hard to keep up with the food demand from the patrons!
I got to meet the vendors including Bob from Time Bomb Toys, and Ron Adams from Creepyclassics.com and The Monster Bash!! My interviews with them can also be found in episode 44. Bob had tons of horror merchandise, a lot of which was geared specifically toward the films they were showing. Ron had an amazing assortment of models, magazines, T-Shirts, and DVDs! I found several DVDs of MGM’s Midnite Movie series that I needed, so that was a score!
Felissa Rose, star of Sleepaway Camp showed up and the line to see her was practically around the concession stand!! She was very nice and stayed until she greeted the very last fan, and then went on to make an announcement before the first film, which was Sleepaway Camp. Sadly, she had too tight of a schedule to fit me in for questions, but perhaps we’ll get her on a future episode!
Originally Friday’s lineup was the following:
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Edge of the Axe (1988)
Here is the live video I did on Friday:
We got back to the hotel and it was then that I realized I had been up for 24-hours straight!! (Okay, I dozed a bit during Pieces, but I’ve seen that movie many times!) We slept till 10 am and were right back at it, hitting a cool diner and headed for Mars…Pennsylvania, that is! We easily found the UFO at the center of town, grabbed some pics, and at a nice restaurant there.
Next, we journeyed to Harmony, PA, where we sought out The Harmony Inn. We had a couple of drinks at the bar and took some pictures, but didn’t see any ghosts. Maybe you can see some in the photo? It would take several hours, and perhaps at night, to truly investigate the place, so that’s on my list for someday. As the day was getting away from us, we realized we wouldn’t be able to see the shark or the mall and be able to get to the drive-in in time, so we headed straight there.
We got there at 4 and managed to get a spot next to the one we had on the previous night. I did another live video and finally got an interview with George and Gene. That, too, may be found in episode 44 of Then Is Now Podcast. We could have talked for hours, but they were needed to help continue running the show, so we’ll definitely have them on a future episode!
Here is the second live video I shot at the Monster Rama on Saturday:
Unfortunately, as I mentioned previously, it rained that night. However, that made watching the films all the more fun as we snuggled up in the back of the SUV and lay in comfort eating burgers, chicken strips, bacon cheese fries, and popcorn, all wonderfully made by Riverside’s amazing concession staff! If you go to a drive-in or indoor theater, please make your food purchases from the concession stand, as that is how they make their money and if we want to continue going to these places, we need to support their business.
Saturday’s lineup was as follows:
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
The Howling (1981)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
I give a brief review of the films in episode 44 also.
The Creepy Classics set up, inside the concession building, was amazing!
We had a blast and a fun time in Pennsylvania! We broke up the ride home again, driving 6 hours one day, stopping in Poughkeepsie (to avoid what would surely have been NYC rush hour traffic), and then 4hours the next day! It was indeed a long drive, but well worth it!
Folks, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to watch a movie at a drive-in theater. I highly recommend that you seek out your local drive-in, even if it’s an hour away. It’s worth it because you can see two movies (most often first-run), for one price! You can take the whole family and have an inexpensive evening of fun and entertainment!
If you happened to attend this event, or if there are events at a drive-in near you, please let us know and we’ll mention it on the air! You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And let us know about your drive-in memories as well!