Though I love a ton of 80s era films, by far my favorite film of all time is the 1987 Fred Dekker creature feature classic, The Monster Squad. Not only do I have one of the largest collections of Monster Squad memorabilia in the world (though no where near as impressive as some of my peers), but I’ve also had the unique opportunity to be featured in a documentary of the film (Wolfman’s Got Nards directed by one of the raddest folks I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, Monster Squad star André Gower.) I’ve written about my love of the film many times here at Branded, created my own custom set of trading cards, and showcased my collection of dead media that the film has been released on over the years (a collection that has grown considerably since I last wrote about it.) I’ve mentioned in the past that I feel extremely lucky to have caught the flick in theaters on the last weekend before it left cinemas all too prematurely back in August of 1987, and later, I’ve caught the film in practically every format imaginable from original airings on HBO in 1988, on home video rented from my local mom and pop rental store also back in 1988 (and ’89 and pretty much every year there after), and eventually on DVD and Blu-Ray. Hell, I’ve even sought out and own VHS recordings of the original HBO screening as well as one of the times it was showcased on a local TV affiliate Saturday afternoon matinee (complete with super rare deleted scenes and alternate edits.) I’ve made it a point to view the film in every possible format I have at my disposal including the Japanese laser disc versions (the first time the film was exhibited in it’s true widescreen format after it left theaters), the Mexican VHS (which is inexplicably 8 minutes longer yet manages to contain no additional deleted scenes), and revival screenings in movie theaters.
In the back of my head though I knew that there was one experience that I was probably never going to fulfill; one venue that is not only disappearing almost completely from the landscape of all the cities and towns in the United States, but one that also has very sporadic showings of older films as it is and to insure they pack in as many paying guests as possible, one that tends to screen way more popular flicks. The venue I’m talking about is the Drive-In movie theater. My parents never took us to a drive-in when I was a kid and they were still way more prevalent. In fact I had my fist outdoor movie experience just a few years ago at Bengie’s Drive-In in Baltimore when the Jurassic World movie hit screens back in 2015. But, as fate would have it a small, yet flourishing drive-in theater in Lehighton, Pennsylvania that specializes in showcasing mainly revival screenings of films had a special double feature back on October 7th, 2017. It was a Double Dekker Weekend at the Mahoning Drive-In and they screened two of director Fred Dekker’s most celebrated flicks, the 1986 pastiche horror flick Night of the Creeps, and of course, The Monster Squad!
Not only were the screening both flicks on the huge drive-in screen, but they were also showing original 35mm copies of the films instead of digital, which I think is pretty typically of drive-ins that are still operating these days (and certainly the format of choice for revival screenings in general as it’s hard to source original 35mm copies of films.) So this was a real treat just in time for the Halloween season that year. I booked my tickets a full 6 months in advance (not knowing how full this particular drive-in got in the cool months of the fall when it’s prime outdoor theater weather.)
Having only had one other drive-in experience (that was cool, but made very awkward by the super cranky owners of Bengie’s), I wasn’t sure what to expect when we pulled into the Mahoning a full 2 hours before the advertised showtime. I wanted to make sure we snagged a primo spot to park the car, and I also wanted to get the full drive-in experience by hanging out in the concession stand for a bit before the movies started. I can say without hesitation that my experience at the Mahoning was a million times better than at the Baltimore drive-in. The Mahoning is owned and run by cinema lovers and every square inch of the concession stand reflected that from the wall of cheap (yet rad) selection of VHS for sale ont he wall to their makeshift dead-media man complete with Jason Vorhees hockey mask. There were free posters and fliers for all sorts of upcoming double features and shows, tons of popcorn and snacks, and just a great, welcoming atmosphere all around.
The best part for me is that the technician that was manning the two giant projectors was very approachable and let me hang out in his area while he threaded up the first two reels of The Monster Squad! He had no problem with me snapping a bunch of pictures and asking a million questions. That was the first time I was able to get within touching distance of a copy of my favorite movie on it’s original 35mm format. These reels of film are probably the most prized possession (outside of screen-used props) that any Monster Squad fan could dream of owning. While I don;t think that’s ever going to be a realistic likelihood in my own dead media collection, it was an amazing honor to get a chance to be this close to one and to watch it being threaded into the projectors.
October 7th, 2017 quickly turned out to be one of the most enjoyable experiences in my life. The weather was perfect, the crowd was full of like-minded souls who loved The Monster Squad, and I was finally ticking off the last theater experience for watching the film that I desperately wanted to enjoy. Just a perfect night.
At a point I also had the surreal experience of being able to wrangle in both Fred Dekker and Rudy himself, Ryan Lambert to the screening, at least in spirit. I had shared some photos of the drive-in on facebook and both Dekker and Lambert not only shared the images, but also reached out to the Mahoning folks, so right before the film screened they made an announcement over the speaker system that they were tipping their hat to us all. There was some fun cheering and clapping, and it was the absolute perfect way to cap that great evening. Well, besides scoping the actual film, which was everything that I wanted it to be.
When it comes to the Monster Squad, I feel like I’m the luckiest fan in the world having been able to experience the movie in a ton of fun ways over the years. It’s a fandom that always manages to introduce me to new and awesome folks I never would have met otherwise, and it’s one of the most rewarding lifelong loves that I hold very close to my heart.