CAMP BLOOD PART II: TALES FROM A DRIVE-IN SURVIVOR

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For some time now, I’ve heard about some extremely cool goings-on at The Mahoning Drive-In. Assuming that it was too far a trip for yours truly, I never bothered to actually find out its actual distance from Vault HQ. That finally changed this past July, when this drive-in announced their ALIEN VS. PREDATOR WEEKEND. Upon discovering that this theater was a mere hour-and-half away, I decided it was time to pay it a visit to enjoy absolutely pristine 35mm prints of ALIENS and PREDATOR!

The Mahoning is one of the (less than) 350 drive-ins still operating in the U.S., and one of the very last to exclusively screen 35mm prints. Their concession stand boasts decent and extremely affordable food, and contains displays of cool toys, VHS tapes, and vinyl records. It’s a veritable shrine to retro entertainment, and I love it!

After a really positive experience at my “trial run” at The Mahoning, I didn’t waste any time in buying tickets to their CAMP BLOOD PART 2 event at the end of August! Once my tickets were secured, I had to endure the month-long wait to enjoy a killer two-night lineup of six 35mm slasher flicks!

When the final weekend of August arrived, Tara (aka The Vault Mistress) and I loaded up our car with chairs, blankets, pillows, a cooler full of snacks and booze, and my newly purchased Ion Tailgater speaker. (Which made us quite popular with our drive-in neighbors I might add!) After quick pit stops to an ATM and a gas station, we zipped down the PA Turnpike to our destination!

A sign of good times ahead!

A sign of good times ahead!

Roughly ninety minutes later, we arrived at The Mahoning Drive-In and were surprised to see so many people had already arrived and were setting up tents. The concession stand was decorated with Friday the 13th memorabilia, event posters and t-shirts were laid out for sale, and various gory body parts were scattered around the area for decoration. What’s even cooler is that at someone hooked up a Nintendo in the building, so passersby could try their hand at the “classic” LJN Friday the 13th video game!

The ante was upped even further when people dressed in authentic Jason costumes began strolling around and getting photo ops with everyone. One guy was dressed as FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V’s “Roy,” while another donned a super cool undead FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V Jason costume, complete with utility belt! (And a relatively authentic Freddy Krueger showed up later that evening to chill out with the two masked maniacs!)

While all of this was already pretty damned awesome, the bar was further raised when the “camp games” were announced! Goaded by the megaphone-wielding “Counselor Morty,” all attendees were asked to report to the “archery range” to compete in the Camp Crystal Lake games! The first event was the “Morgue Bag Race” where people had to climb into Crystal Lake “body bags” (i.e. huge trash bags) and hop their way to victory.

To further enhance this race, two Jasons would be on hand to pursue the competitors and pick off the stragglers. After two rounds, a little boy claimed ultimate victory to win a prize. Yours truly? I did my best in the second race, and managed to come in second (to last) place. Yeah I’m not the athletic type, but hey, at least neither Voorhees caught up to me!

"Pssst. Hey, you got an extra machete? I forgot mine."

“Pssst. Hey, you got an extra machete? I forgot mine.”

After that, the Vault Mistress and I took part in the “eyeball toss,” with contestants trying to gently toss an egg (with an eye drawn on it) back and forth without dropping it. Sounds easy right? Well each time a duo successfully passes the egg without obliterating it, both have to take a full step back. Unfortunately, we didn’t win this event, but my luck would change with the very next game: The Jason Tug-of-War!

I ended up on PART V Jason’s team (a.k.a. “Team Roy”) and am happy to report that we claimed a swift victory! For our showing of gymnasial excellence in rope-pulling, our team was rewarded with vouchers for free popcorn! And now I know what victory tastes like Vault Dwellers: It tastes like buttery popcorn goodness!

At this point in the festivities, dusk was fast approaching, and the night’s trio of films began to unspool before our eyes.

NIGHT #1

MOVIE #1: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING (1985)
I had previously seen this FRIDAY THE 13TH sequel in 35mm at Syracuse, NY’s Palace Theater last year. Thankfully the print shown at CAMP BLOOD PART 2 was in much better shape (an archival print mayhaps?) and didn’t have Spanish subtitles. A NEW BEGINNING was (is?) the black sheep of the franchise, and its for one reason only: Jason Voorhees is not in it!

After the murder of chocolate-loving Joey at a secluded home for troubled teens, a killer begins knocking off the locals using Jason Voorhees’ old modus operandi. Tommy Jarvis (John Shepard), who literally killed Jason in the previous installment, just so happens to have been recently placed in the care of the facility. Is he the killer? Is Jason back? Or is someone else responsible for the outrageous murders?

This installment of the FRIDAY THE 13TH series has cemented itself as one of my favorites in the series, and I was so happy to see it getting so much love from most of the CAMP BLOOD attendees. Yes, some people still feel cheated by the film’s “Scooby-Doo ending,” but I like the twist, and kind of wish the series had even just temporarily gone in the direction of having a new killer take up Jason’s mantle with each new sequel. But if that happened, then we would never have gotten the super fun, and over-the-top sixth film in the series!

Friday the 13th Part Blub!

Friday the 13th Part Glub!

 

MOVIE #2: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES (1986)
Directed by Tom McLoughlin (frontman of the newly resurrected rock group The Sloths!), JASON LIVES is considered by many to be the saving grace of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise. This final entry into the “Tommy Jarvis Trilogy,” spoofs the hockey-masked horror icon, as well as the slasher sub-genre. Taking a page from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jason is inadvertently resurrected via lightning bolt, thanks to Tommy Jarvis (now played by RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD’s Thom Matthews).

The rotting serial killer climbs out of his grave, then makes a murderous beeline for Camp Crystal Lake. The only problem is that his old haunt is now called Camp Forest Green, and is populated by dozens of children and a handful of counselors! Zombie Jason hacks his way through the adults, and briefly menaces the kids, until Tommy arrives and attempts to permanently put Jason to rest at the bottom of Crystal Lake.

JASON LIVES is a blast! From it’s hilarious James Bond nod during the opening credits, to the rockin’ theme song by Alice Cooper that blasts over the end credits, this movie is pure joy for most slasher fans! It was a definite breath of fresh air for the franchise, and led to two more official followups before New Line Cinema took over. The print was in wonderful shape got me super-hyped for what was once my all-time favorite FRIDAY THE 13TH movie!

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This film shot in glorious Voorhees-scope, the miracle of the silver screen!

 

MOVIE #3: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD (1988)
After another round of 35mm slasher trailers, the night’s final film began to roll. THE NEW BLOOD kicks off with a really cool montage of footage from the previous six films, with narration by Crazy Ralph himself, Walt Gorney! Afterwards, we meet the film’s protagonist Tina (Lar Park Lincoln), a young girl with telekinetic abilities. She has some issues to work through because when she was a child, she collapsed a dock on to her dad, trapping him beneath the waters of Crystal Lake.

Years later, Tina is brought back to the lake house to face her fears and get “treatment,” from Dr. Cruz (Terry Kizer). While trying to use her powers to dredge up her dead dad, Tina accidentally frees Jason from his watery prison. Exiting Crystal Lake, Jason (played for the first time by stuntman Kane Hodder) is now even more decomposed, and completely unstoppable. Eventually Tina realizes what she has done, and tries to save her mom, and the partying teens next door from certain death.

After slogging through a slow first half, the movie finally picks up steam when Tina squares off against Jason. The hockey-masked death machine is clearly outmatched because he can’t get close to Tina, but Jason has the upper hand because he simply cannot die! After taking brutal punishment from Tina’s attacks, Jason is finally defeated in a super-lame way before the film’s epilogue and end credits.

Gutted by the MPAA, John Carl Buechler’s THE NEW BLOOD is a rather tame affair that actually had me briefly dozing a handful of times. Still, its a cool entry into the franchise and features, what I consider to be, the absolute best makeup f/x in the series. (At least in regards to Jason himself.) Too bad all of the kill scenes were pared down, because this could have been the bloodiest sequel of them all!

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Regardless of the MPAA’s tampering, it’s still a thousand times better than the Nintendo game!

After the film ended, we were pretty beat, so instead of staying up even later to party with some friends, Tara and I opted to pull into the “camping area” and get some rest. Believing that a tent was unnecessary, we crammed ourselves into the back of a Subaru Forester. Curled into a quasi-fetal position, and feeling a bit claustrophobic, we both somehow fell asleep, and awoke hours later under the searing heat of the sun.

THE NEXT DAY….

Seeing as how the theater lacked showers, we drove to a nearby Beltzville State Park and cleaned ourselves up the best we could. (I can’t speak for my significant other, but I was eyed up suspiciously as I washed my hair, brushed my teeth, and essentially bathed in a bathroom sink.) After freshening up and changing into clean clothes, our next mission was to get some breakfast. We decided to give the nearby Boulevard Drive-In Diner a shot and were relatively happy with our meals and service.

Seeing as how The Mahoning was closed until 6:00 PM, we then drove around the area to kill some time. We wandered around the Mahoning Farmer’s Market, gazing at mountains of junk and VHS tapes for a few hours, but didn’t find anything worth buying. Afterward, Tara and I decided to take an impromptu visit to Blairstown, NJ to visit some FRIDAY THE 13TH shooting locations. An hour later, we were wandering up and down Main Street in Blairstown, snapping photos like two geeky tourists.

Once our curiosity was sated, we decided to go on another little adventure to briefly sneak up to the entrance of Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco (where the bulk of the original FRIDAY THE 13TH was shot) for a quick photo op. I’m happy to report that we managed to pull off this mission, and did not get captured while trespassing. After escaping unseen to our vehicle, the Vault Mistress and I decided to stop at the Blairstown Diner (another FRIDAY THE 13TH landmark) for a treat, but were dismayed to find it had already closed.

 

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The Blairstown Diner. They must’ve locked the door when they saw me coming! Haha!

 

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Main St. in Blairstown. Robbi Morgan (Annie) passed through here nearly four decades ago!

 

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The Vault Mistress ready to get a closer look at the historic Blairstown Arches.

 

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The small bridge next to the arches.

 

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Yours truly showing pure unadulterated joy at Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco!

With a few more hours left until the gates opened, Tara and I hit up a roadside produce stand, wandered around an enormous Country Junction store, and enjoyed some delicious pulled pork sliders from Big Creek BBQ! Finally, it was nearly 6:00 PM, so we drove back to The Mahoning and parked in our spot from the night before. After getting everything set up, we mingled with nearby Horror fans for a bit.

Eventually, I wandered into the concession area and met director Jeff Lieberman. After a hearty handshake, I told him how I discovered SQUIRM on late-night TV when I was a kid and how it became an instant favorite. I then revealed that I had never seen JUST BEFORE DAWN before. Unfazed, Jeff suggested that if I enjoyed the film (which was screening at dusk) that I should seek out the now out of print Code Red blu-ray release.

After chatting for a few more minutes, I purchased a mini-SQUIRM poster and got Jeff’s autograph on it. Shortly after that, “Counselor Morty” began marching around and rallying people to “the archery range” for round two of the camp games! Tara and I declined to take part in the three-legged race, but gave the eyeball toss another shot. Though we did fairly well the night before, we didn’t even make it past round one this time.

Eager to win at something, I made sure to once again take part in the tug-of-war. This time around, it was “Team Jason”  pitted against “Team Lieberman.” I ended up on Lieberman’s squad, and as we prepped ourselves, I was shocked to look over my should and see Jeff taking up position behind me! Though our crew ended up losing (sorry Jeff!), I think we all took solace in the fact that Jeff Lieberman was cool enough to throw in with us during this contest of strength!

Afterward, numerous people took part in the “Just Before Dawn Bean Bag Toss,” including special guests Shelley Bruce (Tiger in THE BURNING) and Bonnie Deroski (Marnie in THE BURNING). By the time this game of skill finally ended, dusk had fallen, so everyone scattered and prepared for the night’s trio of films!

NIGHT #2

MOVIE #1: JUST BEFORE DAWN (1981)
The first film of the night was Jeff Lieberman’s “backwoods thriller,” JUST BEFORE DAWN, which the director insisted is not a slasher movie! I know this because during my chat with Lieberman, I referred to JUST BEFORE DAWN as a slasher flick, and he stopped me in my tracks. To paraphrase Jeff: “Just Before Dawn is not a slasher flick, though I know there’s plenty of people out there that refer to it as one. It’s just a film, and should be enjoyed on its own merits.”

While I see where Jeff was coming from (he cites DELIVERANCE as his main inspiration), I myself would probably categorize this as a slasher movie. You have a mysterious killer on the loose, stalking and murdering people unfortunate enough to wander up into the mountains where he roams. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t that typical of most slasher movies?

Despite warnings from a drunken doomsayer and a forest ranger (George Kennedy!), five campers wander up into the mountainous property that one of them inherited the rights to. These adventure-seekers plan on exploring the uncharted wilderness for a weekend of fun. Instead they discover a family of hicks that are hiding a dark secret. (Other than the fact that Pa Kettle was knocking the bottom out of his own daughter.)

I liked JUST BEFORE DAWN, and made sure to let Jeff know, though I think he was too preoccupied to remember me or the conversation we had earlier in the evening. It’s well-made, has a few tense moments, and a completely batshit insane climax. Seriously, my jaw dropped, and then I erupted into applause because what occurs at the very end of the film is just so unexpected.

Just Before Dawn.... just after dusk!

JUST BEFORE DAWN started just after dusk!

 

MOVIE #2: THE BURNING (1981)
I am no stranger to Tony Maylam’s THE BURNING Vault Dwellers. (Read my review for it HERE, and my coverage of it’s 35mm screening at Hudson Horror Show HERE.) Set at “Camp Blackfoot,” the movie starts off with a prank gone terribly wrong, leading to the camp’s abusive caretaker getting completely immolated.

Five years later, the horribly disfigured Cropsy heads back to his old stomping grounds with a viciously sharp pair of shears. He stalks around the camp, but doesn’t make his move until a bunch of kids and counselors go on a canoe trip down the nearby river. After cutting off their ability to escape, Cropsy goes to work with his murder weapon of choice, hacking up both adults and children! Can this twisted maniac’s killing spree be stopped?!

THE BURNING has easily become one of my favorites in the slasher sub-genre, and features several familiar faces in early roles, most notably Fisher Stevens (Ben from SHORT CIRCUIT), and Jason Alexander (George Costanza from TV’s SEINFELD). Toss in some great gore f/x by Tom Savini, and you’ve got a recipe for one of the best one-shots in slasher film history!

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The most iconic shot in THE BURNING!

 

MOVIE #3: THE FINAL TERROR (1983)
After a final round of trailers, CAMP BLOOD PART 2 headed toward its epic conclusion with THE FINAL TERROR. This was the first time I’d see this film in 35mm, but unfortunately all of the excitement from the previous forty-eight hours began catching up with me. Thirty minutes into the film, I took a short nap, missing just under a third of the movie in the process! (DAMMIT!)

THE FINAL TERROR focuses on a group of forest rangers (one of which is played by Joe Pantoliano) who run afoul of a backwoods killer. The usual slasher tropes are here: You have an enigmatic killer stalking “teens” in a secluded setting, horny characters sneaking off to have sex (and dying for it), plus an assortment of dead bodies and severed limbs. THE FINAL TERROR is rather tame, and somewhat forgettable, but its definitely worth a look if you’re a fan of slasher cinema!

As the end credits rolled, the entire drive-in suddenly came alive. People ran to the restrooms, cleaned up the messes they had made (lotsa empty beer bottles!), and either went back to their tents, or hit the road. Tara and I decided that we’d rather not sleep in the car again, so we made the (not so) perilous journey back home, and collapsed into bed just before dawn.

CAMP BLOOD PART 2 was a truly fantastic time, and has turned me into a diehard supporter of The Mahoning Drive-In! The staff put in an incredible effort to make the entire weekend a fun and memorable experience! And the super cool fans who attended each night (or both nights in many cases), hailed from all over North America. Some were locals, but many had driven from as far South as Virginia, and from as far North as Toronto, Canada!

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Counselor Morty, laying down the law. “When the hand goes up, the mouth goes shut!

The camp games hosted by “Counselor Morty” were a total blast, and were a fun way to get us all to mingle! It helped everyone loosen up a bit, and got us all in the mood for some summer camp and backwoods-themed slasher flicks! And the added bonus of meeting Jeff Lieberman, and subsequently teaming with him in a tug of war, was a real treat too!

All I have left to say is THANK YOU to Exhumed Films and The Mahoning Drive-In for creating such a fantastic event! While I do plan on attending other weekend screenings at this drive-in, I sincerely hope that early next year, they announce CAMP BLOOD PART 3! Until then, do what I do, and visit this awesome drive-in theater to help support its continued existence, and to help keep 35mm screenings alive!

CLICK HERE for more pictures of my adventures at The Mahoning’s Camp Blood Part 2!
CLICK HERE for other people’s videos and pictures from this event!
CLICK HERE for a list of upcoming screenings and events at The Mahoning Drive-In!