Sunday, September 13, 2009

Time Travel is Real

Who says you can’t go back in time? This past Saturday I stepped back into the seventies by taking a drive to the little town of Vandergrift, PA (about an hour outside of Pittsburgh) for night 2 of the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama at the Riverside Drive-In. Sponsored by the website, I believe the event is now in its third year. This was the second year my wife and I made the trek from Cleveland, OH to this mecca of trash cinema.

Getting there was an adventure in itself. Despite the fact that rural PA has some of the most confusing roads known to man, apparently street signs are optional. Still, it was well worth the effort to see a quadruple feature of Hammer horror films from the seventies on a larger than life drive-in screen.

We saw The Vampire Lovers, The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula, and Satanic Rites of Dracula, but wimped out and left early before Vampire Circus. Between features there were also vintage trailers for other Hammer films and classic concession stand ads, one of the worst cartoons I’ve ever seen, and a Three Stooges short (can’t go wrong there). The trailers were in rough shape, having faded from their original Technicolor to a pinkish monochrome. The films themselves (all actual 35mm prints), however, looked surprisingly good for their age.

The Vampire Lovers was arguably the best of the films I saw. It's an early lesbian vampire flick, but like most Hammer films retains a conservative viewpoint even as it lures viewers in with the promise of sex. The vampire Carmilla (Ingrid Pitt) even has to have a male vampire pimp of sorts, thus diluting any actual power her character might have had. Still, it's a well made film with an effective opening sequence and a fair amount of blood and bare flesh, and the always enjoyable Peter Cushing in a decent supporting role.

My favorite film, however, was the absolutely awful Seven Brothers Meet Dracula. You can practically smell the desperation at Hammer studios in this one, a co-production with Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers that mixes the undead and martial arts. It's hilariously inept, with the same 5 minutes or so of footage that opens the movie reused numerous times throughout until this sucker is as padded as a baboon's ass. Enjoy this trailer:

Satanic Rites of Dracula was the last of the Christopher Lee Dracula films, and it's a sad way to go out. Set in the 1970's, Dracula is the leader of a modern day Hellfire Club, but you really don't see him until near the end. Cushing is back as Van Helsing, and a young Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous) plays his granddaughter. It's not as bad as Seven Brothers, but not as fun, either.

It’s easy to take seeing classic (and not so classic) horror films for granted these days. All these movies are available on DVD in pristine, restored, uncut versions with bonus features and all kinds of bells and whistles. But seeing movies like this at the drive-in the way they were originally meant to be seen is an experience. Even eating the awful (and I do mean awful) concession stand pizza and burgers is part of the fun.

I always felt like I just missed out on the golden era of drive-in movies. I’m old enough to remember seeing the newspaper ads for dusk til dawn horror fests in the seventies, but by the time I was old enough to drive in the mid eighties they were gone, replaced by the same movies showing at the multiplexes. So thanks to the Riverside Drive-In and the folks at the website for doing their best to turn the clock back and give me the experience I missed.

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