Over the last few years, Awesome Fest has provided a retro movie experience for Philly film buffs, showing pop culture classics and even setting up a makeshift drive-in theater in Eakins Oval. With the series’ founders too busy suing one another to program a season this year, local audiences may have to venture a bit further afield to get their cult-film fix. The Mahoning Drive-In, 90 minutes from the city in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, is not only providing a day-trip alternative but one-ups the Awesome Fest by screening exclusively 35mm film prints on one of the largest screens in the country.
This weekend provides the perfect excuse for making the trek, as the Mahoning has partnered with Philly horror-film presenters Exhumed Films for “Zombiefest!,” three nights of living dead triple-features. The festival will feature genre-shaping films from the ’70s and ’80s, including classics by genre pioneers George A. Romero and Lucio Fulci and the Romero/Dario Argento collaboration “Two Evil Eyes,” adapting Edgar Allan Poe stories, among others.
“Zombiefest!” helps usher in a new direction for the Mahoning, which has remained in business since its initial opening in 1948 but fell on the same hard times faced by most drive-in theaters. The theater was recently taken over by projectionist Jeff Mattox, along with new managers Virgil Cardamone and Matthew McClanahan, Temple film school grads determined to preserve a dying cinematic experience.
“I come from a tangible film background,” says Cardamone. “Digital theaters are showing glorified DVDs, and if you came up in a certain era the mind and the heart are trained to feel 35mm in a different way. It’s nice to be one of the standard-bearers for keeping that medium alive. What makes this theater awesome is that it’s a pure retro experience.”
In past weekends, the Mahoning has screened double-features of family classics “The Wizard of Oz” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory;” prison films “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Cool Hand Luke;” and, to counter the fact that nearly every one of their counterparts was showing “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” a superhero throwback double-feature with the Christopher Reeves incarnation of “Superman” and Michael Keaton’s first turn as “Batman.”
The weekend following “Zombiefest!” will be highlighted by the drive-in’s official ribbon-cutting, and programming will continue with retro double-features every weekend after, including programs coinciding with Lehighton’s car show and motorcycle rally later in the summer.
Cardamone also hopes to build a stage and host live music performances at the theater. “This whole project,” he says, “is a means to try to save the drive-in and push it into a stratosphere that it’s never seen before.”
If you go