Fangs for the memories: Monster-Rama to strike Parks Township drive-in
George Reis’ dream-come-true is the stuff of nightmares.
The 49-year-old organizes the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, a two-night celebration of vintage horror movies held at Riverside Drive-In Theatre in Parks Township. Now in its 12th year, the event gives Reis — and his ilk — the chance to see spooky classics under the stars.
“It’s the ultimate way to watch these movies,” says Reis, an avid film collector who grew up idolizing actors such as Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. “They just have a certain quality, a certain look to them. It’s hard to explain. I watch them today as an adult and I’m still captivated at how well the sets and the casts were put together.”
This year’s show is Sept. 7 and 8 and is dedicated to Hammer Film Productions, a British company that churned out gothic horror and fantasy flicks from the mid-1950s through the 1970s. Friday’s lineup includes “The Curse of the Werewolf,” “The Gorgon,” “One Million Years B.C.” and “When the Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.” Saturday’s bill – plucked straight from Reis’ childhood imagination – is “Scars of Dracula,” “The Horror of Frankenstein,” “Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde” and “Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb.” All of the movies will be presented fully restored and uncut.
Tickets are $10 per person each night. Children under 12 get in for free with adult or guardian and overnight camping, which includes a free hot breakfast, is available for $10 a person. The concession building also will be stocked with popcorn, candy, burgers, hot dogs, soft pretzels and nachos, along with a few vendors selling ghoulish goods.
“It’s like tailgating for geeks,” Marketing Director Gene Caruso says with a laugh. “It’s a classic part of Americana that people in other parts of the world don’t get to experience.”
The Regent Square resident and film buff works with Reis to create gimmicks — from gift baskets, photo ops and celebrity meet-and-greets — to coincide with each Monster-Rama. Like his friend, he’s had a lifelong obsession with creepy cinema and is happy that Pittsburgh serves as a sort of haunted headquarters for fans of the genre.
Director George A. Romero used western Pennsylvania as the backdrop in most of his creature features, which have been on the marquee during past Monster-Ramas.
Reis, who lives on Long Island, N.Y., doesn’t mind making the six-hour drive to Parks Township twice a year (Riverside also hosts the April Ghouls Drive-In Monster-Rama each spring). Because there are no drive-in theaters in, or anywhere near, his hometown, he scoured the internet looking for a place that would take a shot at a schlock festival.
Riverside owner Todd Ament, of North Versailles, saw it as a way to extend the season, which typically ran from April to Labor Day Weekend. Thanks to the popularity of Monster-Rama, which attracts between 200 and 250 people each night, the venue now remains open until mid-October.
Ament and his wife, Emma, leased the property in 2005, when it was known as The Galaxy Drive-In, and bought it outright last year. The 8.5-acre site is the last of its kind in Armstrong County and one of about only 300 left in the United States. The VCR, and later Netflix, dealt a harsh blow to the industry, which, at its peak, boasted about 4,000 screens.
About a decade ago, Hollywood studios stopped distributing films on celluloid reels and switched to digital prints. Both indoor and outdoor theaters had to invest in pricey high-tech projectors or go bust. After that, many drive-in owners called it quits.
The Aments invested more than $80,000 in upgrades to the facility, including a climate-controlled projection room that houses the delicate equipment.
Reis and Monster-Rama regulars appreciate the fact that the Aments have preserved a slice of American culture.
“I’m looking forward to this line-up of movies and seeing the camaraderie,” Reis says. “I’m hoping to see some new people. Even if you’re not a hardcore horror fan or you don’t want to stay all night, just come down and watch one or two movies and get a feel for it.”
Kristy Locklin is a freelance writer.