So last weekend, I drove eight hours north to watch movies at the drive-in.
The Riverside Drive-In in Vandergrift, Penn. sponsors two film festivals a year: The April Ghoul’s Monster Rama and the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, which happens in September.
Click this link. for more information about Drive-In Super Monster-Rama.
I’m a fan of schlock horror movies. The worse, the better … sometimes at least. It doesn’t matter to me if the movie comes from the silent era or in this age of digital graphics – if it has a monster in it, I will find time to see it on the big screen.
And if that big screen happens to be outdoors with a food counter that serves grilled hamburgers, deep-fried dill pickles and ice cream sandwiches – all the better. But the real appeal of the Riverside Monster-Rama festivals was the chance to see several relatively “classic” horror movies including the original “Halloween,” “Carrie,” “Phantasm,” “The Hills Have Eyes,” “Suspiria,” “The Beast Within,” and “The Town That Dreaded Sundown.” Given the chance to see these movies on the big screen, well, eight hours is hardly what I’d call a major sacrifice.
But there was another unique feature to this festival that made the long distance trek to the drive-in appealing.
The Riverside was one of several dozen drive-in theaters to participate in a contest sponsored by Honda Motors last summer to buy digital projection equipment. The majority of movie studios are no longer going to make 35 mm film reels of their movies. Digital projection technology has taken over the landscape.
Unfortunately, Riverside was not one of the contest winners. They had to buy their own system.
One of the selling points for the April Ghoul’s Monster Rama is the chance to see classic monster movies in their native habitat – the drive-in theater. Another selling point is that most of the movies are original 35 mm prints.
Before I go on, let me explain that there are two types of people who attend events like the April Ghoul’s Monster Rama.
I go to see horror movies projected on a giant screen. I make fun of them a bit and try to one up my friends on our knowledge of obscure trivia about the movies on-screen. I could care less about the medium in which the movie is being projected.
Others go for the nostalgia of watching a 35 mm print projected on a big screen. They like the projector hiss, the clicking sound of the gears in the sprocket holes, the scratches and edits and jumps.
Emma, one of the Riverside owners, called them “purists.”
Having just purchased a new digital projection system, The Riverside decided to show off their exciting new investment by running a high resolution version of “Carrie” and “The Town that Dreaded Sundown” rather than the faded 35 mm print.
The movies looked beautiful onscreen.
The “purists” complained.
Nobody made a federal case out of it. A few simply expressed their wish that that all the movies would be shown in 35 mm – as they were meant to be seen.
This is the point at which the “purists” and I part ways.
On Saturday night, we were treated to an original 35 mm print of John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” The film debuted in 1978 and the print was original.
Now, I love John Carpenter’s work. He was raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky and graduated from Western Kentucky University. As a big fan, I’ve made a personal study of his work. He works primarily in the horror and science fiction genre, nevertheless, Carpenter is an accomplished filmmaker. He intended his horror movie, which would be a ground-breaker, to be seen in stark seasonal colors of orange, black and white. Black and white, especially.
The 35 mm print, however, is over 35 years old. Color films fade over time. Halloween was also made at a time when studios used cheaper film stock The night time colors were no longer jet black. They had a reddish hue. The other colors in the movie had faded dramatically.
It looked like an aging 35 mm movie.
And where it belongs is on a shelf. What it is not is the movie Carpenter intended audiences to see.
It’s pointless to debate the subject with “purists.” They are in love with the idea of what movies used to be. But watching a gradually disintegrating image on antiquated technology for the sake of “purity” I think rather misses the point.
For me, though, the thrill of this genre is not watching a product in a sad state of decay.
The digital preserves the integrity of the director’s vision. That, for me, is a purer kind of “purity.”
Regardless of the debate, though, it was a great two nights of movie watching.
The Riverside Drive-In has only started sponsoring these festivals in the last three or four years, but it is paying off for them. People have traveled to April Ghoul’s from as far as Tennessee, North Carolina, Nebraska (friends of mine, actually), Michigan and Maryland (friends) hell, even New Jersey (more friends of mine.)
Emma said that each succeeding event has attracted a larger audience.