Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sights and Sounds :: April Ghouls Monster Rama :: Day 2 :: Welcome to the Drive-In! Slashers on the Left, Zombies to the Right!

Everyone, meet the gang. The gang, meet everyone.

As we geared up, Sean introduced us to two new victims to our collective head of knuckle -- make that three new victims, Dave, Hilary, and an adorable three-legged pup named Bandit, who were truly hardcore by camping out at the Riverside itself for the two day festival. (Don't know about the rest of you, but April has been blatantly frigid in my neck of the woods and the hills of western Pennsylvania proved no different.) And after a few logistical snags were cleared up (Tim, did you ever find that missing chair?), we broke bread ... well, cookies and cake, hit the snack bar and the Creepy Classics booth, where I picked up the William Castle box set dirt cheap, and then eventually migrated back to our area and settled in for the national anthem (-- which I did not accidentally belch out the opening chorus for this year. Win!) And as the sun went down, and the stars fought against an overcast sky, showtime finally descended up on us...

Before June of 1980, summer camps probably brought to mind some fun in the sun, perhaps an inconvenient tumble in a patch of poison oak, or maybe stealing your first kiss behind the canteen before gathering and singing songs around the campfire. But after June 1980, thanks to the efforts of producer / director Sean S. Cunningham, a rousing chorus of "Kum-Bah-Yah" rapidly degenerated into a brutally quick rendition of "Kum-Bah-Yaaaaarrrrgghhhh!" when a lethally sharp gardening implement was shoved into your spleen, leaving you to gargle on your own juices for that last refrain.

Combining some old fashioned hucksterism, a little Agatha Christie, and a big old twitching dose of Mario Bava's Nerve of Death, people tend to forget that Friday the 13th was, at its heart, a genuine murder mystery. Sure, the mystery of who is knocking off the counselors at Camp Crystal Lake takes a back seat to the grisly nature of the murders themselves but we don't know who the killer is until the very end -- and aside from a brief, but very effective cameo, Jason Vorhees doesn't even appear in it. 

Cunningham also landed grue-F/X guru Tom Savini and it was his skills and kills that gave the film its legs and truly launched the franchise. Yeah, Paramount picked the film up after losing out on the rights on another slasher, Prom Night, and has always been embarrassed by this monster it created -- but that didn't stop them from rushing out four sequels in as many years after the initial release to cash in as the franchise quickly went off the rails and got really, really stoopid, really, really quick -- and this is coming from an unabashed fan. 

Tim puts on a production of Agatha Christie's 10 Little Kittens.

Okay, so, the campground bloodbath of Friday the 13th was based on the New Jersey urban legend of Cropsy, who, as the tale goes, was a camp handyman who fell victim to a disfiguring prank involving an open flame and some kerosene (-- what could possibly go wrong, there, am I right?), who then spent the rest of his life haunting and hunting campers for a little payback. And while Cunningham's film is only tangently related, the Weinstein brothers' The Burning is the full Cropsy Monte plus the added bonus of seeing Jason Alexander and Fisher Stevens' bare asses. 

The bloody and naked-boob'd rock on which Miramax was built, The Burning was an early slasher cash-in that benefits from the rules of such things not being set in bedrock just yet, meaning the victims actually react both proactively and like their heads are still attached once it's been established a mad-killer is running amok -- but only after a tragic encounter with an abandoned canoe. 

Again, Savini provided the grue, which helps overcompensate for the worst final girl in Stalk-n-Slash history -- some weasly little schmuck of pervert, who shows all the earmarks of being a serial sexual predator in waiting, groomed, perhaps, to take the killer's place in the sequel. Nice. Fortunately, then, even though The Burning was good enough to warrant a sequel, we never got one. And if nothing else, the film provided a running gag about the fate of those missing canoes for the rest of the rest of the Monster Rama. 

Speaking of the Monster Rama, one of the greatest things about this venue is how during the intervals between films, the audience is treated to a ton of genre-specific trailers on top of the vintage snack bar adverts.

On Friday, sticking with the slasher theme, we got the trailers for Friday the 13th parts I through VI, Happy Birthday to Me, The Prowler, Silent Scream, My Bloody Valentine, New Year's Evil and many others before switching gears from relentless killing machines to relentless killing AND eating machines... 

Back in 1968 Image Ten Productions, a motley band of weekend filmmakers, cobbled together the no-budget classic of all time -- not to mention one of the greatest horror films ever made, that came to be known as Night of the Living Dead. Soon after, however, the company splintered apart but an amicable agreement was reached on the copyright to their seminal film: director George Romero was allowed to the use the word “Dead” in future films, while scriptwriter John Russo laid claim to the phrase “Living Dead.” And while Romero would go on to write and direct the classic sequel Dawn of the Dead, followed by the not quite as classic, Day of the Dead, around the same time, Russo had hammered out a sequel of his own, titled Return of the Living Dead. But the financing to actually film it always eluded him and, eventually, Russo gave up and sold his share of the copyright, which changed hands several times before falling into scriptwriter Dan O’Bannon’s lap. 

And knowing full well he couldn’t compete with Romero’s films, O’Bannon -- best known for scripting Alien, junked Russo’s script; a direct sequel that seemed content to just rehash its source material; and so Return of the Living Dead went through a massive overhaul and became one of the most hysterical black comedies that still managed to give you the heebie-jeebies as the zombie chants of "Brains" filthfully and furiously entered the pop-culture lexicon. That, and one of the greatest Oh, shit endings to ever end and ending. 


A killer soundtrack, gruesomely outstanding F/X, and Linnea Quigley's magnificent breasts have long been trumpeted (and freeze-framed) as this film's main attractions but I think the majority of the credit for the film's shelf-life belongs to a set of other boobs played by Clu Gulager, James Karen and Don Calfa. 

Return of the Living Dead came out the same year as George Romero's Day of the Dead, our last feature of the evening, and, speaking frankly, the former has aged much better than the latter. Now, coming into this Dusk til Dawn rampage of a movie-thon, we all knew full well that the weather would probably be far less than ideal. The forecast for the evening called for lows in the 30s with a slight chance of rain and or sleet. Luckily, nothing ever fell from the sky but the temperature actually bottomed out at 24 degrees by the time the third feature ended and another round of adverts went up.

Now, I know it's a drive-in, meaning your seat is in your car but our group tends to treat these Super Ramas and Monster Ramas as a tailgate party, meaning lawn chairs and blankets and movies in whatever elements we're dealt. And, being prepared, I had brought several layers of clothing, jackets, hats, gloves and blankets, which I had been adding, layer by layer, with the conclusion of each film (-- and who knew those foil-wrapped cheeseburgers from the snack bar would make such great hand-warmers). But now I was out of stuff to add and, having foolhardily ignored several overtures of hopping in the car to warm up for a bit, watched as frost formed on my friend's shoes as the cold really started to sink in on this damp and dreary (weather-wise) night. 

Thus and so, with the clock tolling almost 3am, most of our group decided to forgo the last film, call it a night, and head back to the Roadhouse to warm up. Myself, I was torn. After all, I had driven 1100 miles for this thing and didn't really feel right leaving it undone. After packing up and jumping in the car, I talked Mike into at least sticking it out through the trailers, which was soooo worth it. (Dead and Buried and The Grim Reaper. Hell yeah!) And then, we stuck through the fantastic opening, pre-credit sequence for Day of the Dead that, alas, the rest of the film just can't sustain. Anyways, here's the trailer:

Video courtesy of Coldheart9009.

And here's a really good review by fellow attendee Scott Ashlin, whose opinion of the film I echo and endorse, making the decision to abandon it for the warming confines of the motel a helluva lot easier than it probably should have been. Yeah, after sitting in the cold for that long, the car's heater was a welcome respite but was already making me really sleepy. And so, we left Dr. Logan, Captain Rhodes, Bub and the rest to fend for themselves and trundled up to the motel, where, once inside, my bladder finally defrosted and I realized I hadn't gone to the toitee all night. The resultant flight to the bathroom I'll leave to your imagination. 

But, before I say goodnight, I'll remind you all that we still have one more night of movies to recollect through and the weatherman promises a 30 degree spike in the temp. Hooray. And lastly, a final shout out to the guy parked next to us who had his headlights covered with pizza boxes because he didn't know how to shut them off. Been there, dude. Next time, push the light switch in like a plunger and you should be gold. G'night, all... 

Stay tuned, Boils and Ghouls, for our final 
report on the April Ghoul's Monster Rama.
(And what happened to those canoes again?)


Anonymous said...

Wait, the canoes are gone?!

W.B. Kelso said...


Life Between Frames said...

That is an awesome bunch of movies, really wish I had been there.

- Cody

Tim Lehnerer said...

*frantically shakes a folding chair*

W.B. Kelso said...

Cody, I wish all who wanted to be could've been -- and encourage all to check out one of these Drive In Super Rama's to their bucket lists as soon as possible. So, so worth it.

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