September 30, 2013

Experience Recap: Dead til Dawn Drive-In 2013

It was over two years ago that there was supposed to be a big two night drive in marathon out in west Pennsylvania. Two nights, ten movies, it was looking like an awesome time for fans of Italian zombies and 70's exploitation. Sadly, it never happened. I never got to experience an all night orgy of 35mm joy. Fortunately, there are people out there who see the possibilities and step in to fill the void. Phil and Paul (from It Came Schenectady) staged a one night zombie-thon in 2012, Dead til Dawn Zombiefest. Sadly, I missed that too.

Fortunately, that was not a one shot deal. This year that one night event was expanded to two nights and spanning ten films. The newly dubbed Dead til Dawn Drive In event ranged from popular horror classics to obscure features, including one that neither Phil nor Paul had seen before it screened on the first night. To take that a step further, the mastermind behind the Hudson Horror Show, Chris Alo, had not even seen it. More on that later

As soon as I learned of the event, I started making plans. I figured out how far away the theater was, how much in snacks I would need, and most importantly, how to adjust my sleeping in an attempt to stay up all night. I didn't want to miss anything, but knew going in that would be difficult. I took off Friday, stayed up late Thursday and slept late to help that out.

So, Friday arrived, I hit the grocery store for some chips and soda, to supplement the theater concessions on a long night, and headed up state to the Hi-Way Drive In in Coxsackie, NY. I arrived with plenty of light Still in the sky. While waiting to get in, struck up a conversation with show promoters, Phil and Paul. Talked movies, talked about the show, and had a great time waiting for the sun to set. I also got a very cool print retro style ad for the event. On a side note, made friends with a couple I have talked to in the past, and was offered a FrankenBerry rice Krispy treat, let me say it was awesome, and I have to also say that I have met some very cool, kind, giving, and friendly people in the horror community. It truly is a happy, dysfunctional family.

The first movie of the night is perennial fan favorite, The Evil Dead II. It lit up, sort of, the 75-foot screen as Bruce Campbell's Ash goes all manner of beat up for 90-minutes. As the movie ended and true darkness settled over the land, the lot was filled with flashing lights and honking horns of approval.

The night continued with a possession theme with the Dario Argento/Lamberto Bava team up, Demons. This was the second time I have seen it projected and it was just as much fun, although it did not quite have the same meta level as seeing it in an indoor theater, but there is nothing quite like seeing this on a giant screen. If you haven't seen it, you are missing out. The film did break right near the end, but that was rectified in short order.

The next film takes the infected/possession element of Demons and adds a cannibal aspect. The movie teams John Saxon with the Italian pin cushion John Morghen (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) as war veterans in Invasion of the Flesh Hunters (aka Cannibal Apocalypse). Not my favorite of the cannibal cycle, but it is kind of interesting to watch a cannibal movie play out as Vietnam war allegory through the eyes of Italian film makers. It is also weird watching Saxon interact with the teen girl next door.

The fourth film of the night was the first of those I had not yet seen. It is also one of the movies I was really looking forward to this weekend. The movie is none other than Lady Terminator. I don't even now where to begin with this. The movie is insane. I do not think they knew what they were making, or rather they thought it was a serious movie and had no idea just how bad they were at making it. This woman, possessed by an ancient witch goes on a rampage. It is kind of like a mix of Terminator and Species. Words escape me, but I need to see it again.

The first night closed with that one movie that no one had seen. This is the movie that was the wild card. It is none other than The Devil Woman. Now, I feel this was the weakest movie of the first night, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. I still enjoyed his cinematic oddity. The Filipino production tells the story of a girl born with snakes for hair and some childhood issues lead to her parents being killed by the other villagers, like in an old Universal monster movie. She grows up, vengeful and angry. She terrorizes the town with her control of snakes, all of it leads to an inexplicable conclusion that makes no sense. Fascinating piece of grindhouseiness.

With the evening complete and the clock moving past 3:30am, it was time to head home. Sure, it is not an overly long drive, but I was in a post cinematic stupor, the fogs had rolled in, so crossing the industrial looking Rip Van Winkle Bridge was more like entering Silent Hill, and driving down the Taconic Parkway was a game of spot the deer and pray. I did make it home, pushing 5am and ready to recharge for night two.

-insert semblance of sleep-

The trip for day two started something like the first day, except for the snack stop. I got to the drive in with plenty of sunlight left, chatted with Paul and Phil, and a few other early arrivals. Soon enough I was pulling into a spot in the second row. After settling in, talked some more with Chris and other friendly horror family types. I was even invited to sit out under the stars up front with Chris and the the others. I only made it through one movie as the temperature seemed to dip quicker this second night and I was not prepared for it. Still, it was fun hanging out up front.

The fist movie for night two keeps the trend of the first night, start up with a recognizable horror and draw them in for the oncoming obscurities. The opener was Re-Animator and it plays very well on the big screen. The blood, the comedy. And the incredible performance from Jeffrey Combs. Man, the timing and dry wit that is throughout this movie is just fantastic. It was a great way to open the night.

From the opener we move onto the gut punch of the weekend, Carnivorous (although it is probably better known as Last Cannibal World or Jungle Holocaust). This plays out like a warm up for director Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust. This one follows a man who crashes in the jungle, ends up captured by a tribe of cannibals and is forced to fight to survive and find a way to escape. It is a brutal, visceral film. It is a movie that assaults the senses and refuses to be ignored on that giant drive in screen. And while I has it's fans, it did not seem to go over too well with a good portion of the crowd. I overheard a bunch of negative comments as I walked to the snack bar between movies.

The third movie is one that missed the most of as I dozed off. I tried not too, but it just did not work. I liked what I saw but did not see enough to make a good overall assessment. The movie was The Next Victim (also known as Blade of the Ripper). What I can say about it is that was a delightful first introduction to Edwige French. Just... Wow. I do believe I need to see more movies with her.

The fourth movie is one that I had been introduced to at Hudson Horror Show a few shows back, Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman. The Paul Naschy film is a bit goofy and a lot of fun. Funny, this time around I could not help but be reminded of Sub Species, they seem to have similar plots. I love Naschy's histrionics as he changes into a wolf, not to mention the slow motion involved with the vampire woman. It also struck me that between Naschy here and Jon Saxon from the first night film Cannibal Apocalypse, these two could have a shirt off competition.

The final film to unspool is none other than Raw Force, once of my most anticipated for the weekend, alongside Lady Terminator. Unlike Lady Terminator, I do not feel that Raw Force is unintentionally bad, it is meant as a comedy, it is meant to be ridiculous ad it more ham succeeds at it. It is a weird and goofy mix of horror, Kung fu, and comedy. Karate experts, a SWAT officer, and others cross paths with villains who take women for jade. The women are used for food by cannibalistic kung fu masters. It is some crazy stuff and a perfect finish to a long weekend. Not to mention, another movie I want to see again.

So, with that done, I wander around saying some good byes and them make my way back home, battling fog and dodging deer all the way. What else is left to say? Two nights, ten movies, four of which I had never seen before, six I had never seen projected, it was fantastic. The prints were all in good shape, with the expected personality level of damage.

For this movie fan, the weekend was a complete success. I got to talk with some fellow horror lovers, see some great movies and just have a great time under the stars with a giant movie screen in front of me.

Looking forward next Dead til Dawn Drive In event!

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Paul Kz said...

Thanks Chris! I really enjoyed meeting you. See you soon in Poughkeepsie, I'm sure!

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