Thursday, July 09, 2009


Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time will be aware of the great pleasure I take in talking about some of the special programming available to we lucky cinephile citizens of Los Angeles. There’s always something great going on at one of our repertory houses, museum program or university screenings on any given day around the city. We also happen to be one of the areas in the country where the extinction of the drive-in has been avoided. Certainly, where there used to be 80 –some drive-ins in Los Angeles County, there is now only one, with surrounding ozoners in Riverside County, Barstow, 29 Palms, and the San Diego area, so it’s not like there’s a bounty in comparison to the thriving drive-in culture of the past. But we’ve got it pretty good compared to other parts of the country where drive-ins have continued to fall victim not only to the general trend toward the big fade-out, but also to the economic downturn enveloping the nation.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t drive-ins still peppered throughout the country ready and waiting for those who live in the south, northwest, midwest and even the northeast. Some are more remote than others, and some have to be factored in to family vacations rather than just the casual let’s-go-out-to-a-drive-in vibe that we’re probably all familiar with to one degree or another from our childhoods. But they’re there waiting to be discovered. One good way to discover drive-ins in your part of the country is by referencing, the self-billed (and rightfully so) definitive resource for drive-in information. Here you can search state by state, to see if the drive-in you remember from years past is still around (odds are probably not too good) or to find one that is open and thriving. Other fun sites include the Drive-in Exchange and Drive-in Theater, as well as our own Southern California Drive-in Movie Society, which can connect you with lots of other great drive-in resources around Southern California and the rest of the nation. Finally, one of the best ways for drive-in enthusiasts from every corner of the globe to stay in touch is through the Drive-ins Discussion Group hosted on Yahoo! Drive-in fans and owners intermingle here and share their enthusiasm, their memories, their frustrations and their fears for the future of the all-American movie-going phenomenon, as well as the latest news on closings and even, occasionally, openings and re-openings of drive-ins long thought gone.

One of the names that frequently pops up in this group is George Reis of the Riverside Drive-in on Route 66 in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania. The Riverside is one of the beauties that does great seasonal business on the East Coast, largely because of the care the management puts into their establishment, but also because every once in a while they step away from the 21st century business model for success at the drive-in (first-run, family-friendly double features) to celebrate the history and atmosphere of movie-going drive-in style. Admittedly, to many drive-in operators and patrons, this usually translates into showing Grease or American Graffiti and inviting a bunch of classic car clubs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But the Riverside gets a little more creative and shows the true colors of its roots by staging an annual Drive-in Super Monsterama… and they don't wait till Halloween to do it. Probably because the weather is pretty dicey in Pennsylvania by the last day of October, the Riverside translates its Monsterama into fun for Labor Day weekend, as a way of bidding farewell to summer and giving loyal customers a memorable treat as a way of saying thank you for a summer’s worth of great drive-in fun. So when George contacted me recently to remind me that not all the drive-in action is happening in Southern California, and when I saw what he had planned for this year’s festival, I just couldn’t resist passing the word.

The festival runs two nights—- Friday, September 11 and Saturday, September 12. Friday night highlights three prime-cut late-‘60s specimens from the American International Pictures vault-- The Witchfinder General (a.k.a. The Conqueror Worm), Scream and Scream Again (both starring Vincent Price) and The Crimson Cult starring Boris Karloff, along with a mid-‘60s Italian gore-fest starring Barbara Steele entitled Terror-Creatures from the Grave. Horror fans of a certain age (mine) won’t have to be instructed to imagine how much fun it would be to see these super-atmospheric pics on the drive-in screen, surrounded as they will be by a slew of vintage trailers and other surprises George hints at having up his sleeve. The same seasoning is given to the Saturday night program, and this side might be even juicier—it’s an all-Hammer vampire bill, featuring The Vampire Lovers, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula (a.k.a. The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, Hammer’s martial arts co-production with the Shaw Brothers) and the rarely-seen Vampire Circus. Talk about the drive-in weekend to build a holiday vacation around! If you are not from the immediate area, find yourself suddenly salivating over the idea of attending the Monsterama and would like to find out about hotel accommodations (you can, like the best vampire, always sleep during the day), the Riverside web site has links for local hotels and other establishments to fill all the requirements for your Monsterama-fueled Labor Day.

George, you and the Riverside have succeeded in making this smug Southern Californian, surrounded by more great movie-going than he can possibly process, appreciate or attend, so very jealous and so very disappointed that I cannot be there with you and your lucky customers. I would love it if you’d send along some pictures from the weekend that I could publish here. And even though I can't be there, it makes me happy to think that there's a drive-in operator who continues creative, loving efforts like these to keep the heart of the drive-in beating strongly. The Riverside Drive-in is doing it not just through big ticket Hollywood fare, but also by creating programs like the Drive-in Super Monsterama that bring the inimitable thrills of seeing horror films at a drive-in the ‘60s and ‘70s back with such a goose-bumpy vengeance. George and everyone at the Riverside, for those of us who have only our Vampire Lovers and Scream and Scream Again DVDs to turn to, I salute you.



(Photos courtesy of George Reis and the Riverside Drive-in.)



blaaagh said...

Ohhhh, man! I am indeed jealous. At first I thought it was Riverside, CA., and I was thinking that maybe that would be the chance for me to get down to LA to visit you--but alas, no. We will have to find another excuse, which I'm sure we can manage! Anyway, this is awesome.

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