Drive-In Super Monster-Rama! 

September 9 & 10, 2016

Riverside Drive-In, Vandergrift, PA

By Classic Camp

I saw my first Paul Naschy movie when I was eight years old, staying up late on a Saturday night to watch “The Late Great Horror Show,” a hosted horror movie show that aired on WJET-TV 24 in Erie, Pennsylvania. Instantly, I became a fan of the Spanish horror movie star’s brand of kitschy theme music, bright vivid colors, and most of all his enthusiasm for the monsters he portrayed, particularly the werewolf Waldemar Daninski.

I saw four Naschy horror movies on “The Late Great Horror Show:” Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, Dracula vs. Frankenstein, which I saw under the title Assignment Terror, Hunchback of the Morgue, and The Seven Murders of Scotland Yard, which I saw under the title Jack the Ripper of London. After “The Late Great Horror Show” and its latter incarnation “The Just Right for Late Night Horror Show” (which was highly short lived) I scoured the television signals of local stations and cable alike for his movies, but never managed to catch one. When we got a VCR and later a DVD player I was finally able to collect a number of his films for viewing at home once again.
But never did I imagine in my wildest dreams I would ever have the chance to catch one of his films as they should be seen, on big screen in the movie theater, or better yet on the giant screen of a drive-in theater where his films first achieved their cult following.

That all changed on the weekend of September 9 and 10, 2016 when I drove from my current home in Virginia for eight hours to a small town just 45 minutes northeast of Pittsburgh, called Vandergrift, Pennsylvania for Drive-In Super Monster-Rama at the Riverside Drive-In.

The two-day event occurs every six months, in September and April, and features four movies each night, always a Friday and Saturday night. But that’s not all. Between each feature, they show classic intermission advertisements for concession items, and trailers for other classic horror films similar to those playing during the evening. And the concession stand at the Riverside Drive-In actually carries many of the yummies the advertisements present, including staples such as popcorn, Snowcaps, Mike & Ikes, and sodas, and convenience dinner items such as hotdogs, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and even full pizzas. 

Another short feature they presented this year was a brief video tribute to late night horror movie host of the Pittsburgh area “Chilly” Billy Cardille.

The movies started on the first night with a Spanish horror classic that does not feature Paul Naschy, Horror of the Zombies (1974), a.k.a. El Buque maldito, The Ghost Galleon, and Ship of Zombies. It features the story of the Knights Templar worshipping the devil and returning to life as zombies to terrorize swimsuit models and others from their 16th century galleon. It stars Jack Taylor who was also featured in many other Spanish horror films including The Vampires Night Orgy, several Paul Naschy films, Jess Franco films, and even Conan the Barbarian alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Another interesting feature of this event is that all of the movies are featured in their original 35 mm film, not cleaned up digitized prints. This provides the ultimate drive-in experience that takes one back to how it used to be for those who remember attending drive-ins in the 1970s and 80s.

On the other hand, rarely an old washed out print comes up, and this was the case of the second feature on Friday night, Night of the Howling Beast (1975) a.k.a. La Maldicion de la Bestia (Curse of the Beast), Hall of the Mountain King, and Werewolf and the Yeti. It features the story of Paul Naschy’s (Jacinto Molina) most famous character, Waldemar Daninsky, traveling to the mountains of Tibet in search for the yeti when he comes across a beautiful woman, a Satanic cult, and finally the Yeti Bigfoot monster that battles the werewolf in the final climactic scene.

The next feature was another Paul Naschy classic, House of Psychotic Women (1974), a.k.a. Los Ojos Azules de la Muneca (Blue Eyes of a Broken Doll), and House of Doom. This is an Italian-style giallo featuring Naschy as a drifter who gets hired as a groundskeeper for a house of three sisters. Then the old groundskeeper returns to start a fight with him. Meanwhile, a number of grisly murders take place and the killer removes the victim’s eyes. It’s an interesting little who-done-it, with plenty of red herrings. Interestingly, the setting for the gunplay in the film’s climax looks suspiciously similar to the snowy hills of Tibet in the previous film.

The final movie of the first night was Curse of the Devil (1973), a.k.a. El Retorno de Walpurgis (The Return of Walpurgis), another of Naschy’s werewolf Waldemar Daninsky opus. The one starts with a Daninsky ancestor burning a Medieval sorceress at the stake, but before she dies, she places a curse on his family line. Then in contemporary times, Daninsky kills a wolf who turns out to be a local gypsy. The rest of his band decides to take revenge on him by having one of their members bite him with the skull of a wolf, and whamo! Daninsky becomes the werewolf that terrorizes people for the rest of the film. 

During the day, before returning to the drive-in, I attended a block yard sale, and ate at a Pittsburgh staple, Primanti Brother’s, where they feature a nearly world-famous sandwich. As legend goes, the original Primanti Brothers set up a lunch truck for blue collar workers, but forgot to purchase silverware, so they put the coleslaw and French fries into the sandwiches with the meat. The result is deliciousness that is well-deserving of its reputation.

The second night featured both of the Dark Shadows films from the television series’ original run. First up was House of Dark Shadows (1970), which starts out following the most famous vampire tale ever told, with Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) replacing Dracula. However, it throws in several other plot twists, such as Barnabas searching, and briefly finding, a cure to his vampirism, but then returning to his usual state.

The second Dark Shadows feature, Night of Dark Shadows (1971), unlike the previous film, took place in contemporary times, and did not feature main character Barnabas Collins. It was the story of artist Quentin Collins (David Selby) and his newlywed wife moving into a new home only to find it haunted. Quentin goes into and out of demonic possession several times, which made me believe this was loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward".

Third up was Amicus productions’ The House That Dripped Blood (1971) and featured British horror legends Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. The plot is an episodic tale based around a detective and police bobby discussing the haunting history of a home’s many owners and all of the horrors that have occurred there. Of particular interest was a segment based around a movie being filmed on the site with a character who was supposed to be an old-timey horror movie actor ranting about how terrible modern horror movies are. He names all of the Universal horror monsters as a time of greater horror movies, and when he comes to Dracula he blurts out, “with Bela Lugosi, not that new fellow!” (even funnier considering Lee was also featured in this movie). (That character was played by none other than Jon Pertwee, the third incarnation of Dr. Who and father of Sean, who is currently "Alfred" on "Gotham"--Know-it-all Mality)

Finally, The Bat People (1974), a.k.a. It Lives By Night, and It’s Alive, ended the night with the story of a doctor bitten by a bat in a cave and begins transforming into a man-bat. He seeks help from another doctor, but unfortunately, the treatments seem to inadvertently exacerbate his condition. Of course, the usual killing spree ensues. 

But Super Monster-Rama is more than just sitting in your car watching horror movies, while eating concessions and swilling canned beer (it’s BYOB, by the way, but they do ask people not to bring bottles into the drive-in for obvious reasons). There are also vendors selling t-shirts and DVDs of other cult horror films. This time around I picked up the usual official t-shirt of Super Monster-Rama (when else am I going to see the chance to purchase a shirt with Paul Naschy on it?), and two double feature DVDs. The first was two Santo films, Santo vs. las Lobas (Santo vs. the She-Wolves), and the other Santo vs. el Espectro del Estrangulador (Santo vs. the Ghost of the Strangler). The other DVD I decided to purchase was a Charlie Chan double feature from late in the original series of films featuring the third, and who many describe as the worst of the Chans, Roland Winters, in Sky Dragon, and The Feathered Serpent.

Overall, the experience was tremendous, to feel like one was back in the seventies, sitting in a car watching movies at the drive-in. There were a few threats of rain, but no more than a few small drops ever fell. It was warm enough to sit outside on lawn chairs, stuff ourselves with snacks, beer, and classic horror movies. It was also great to meet up with other fans of Paul Naschy, and I even found someone who also watched “The Late Great Horror Show” many years ago. It was nostalgia, but also a whole lot more. It was an even worthy of a pilgrimage.