Destination Film: Mahoning Drive-In Theater

Horror is among my favorite film genres though only a few theaters in the country still have the option to show many of the greatest examples of the genre in it’s native 35mm film format.  Thus my friend and I began another out of state Destination Film road trip with the initial intention of seeing The Masters of Italian Horror in Philadelphia at a place called The International House, which was made possible by Exhumed Films.  From what I gathered, it appeared Exhumed Films also worked with a little known but beloved movie place in Lehighton, Pennsylvania called The Mahoning Drive-In Theatre.

Established in 1948 and operated by James Humphries before being owned by Mike and Deb Danchak who owned the nearby Angel Theater before ultimately being taken over by volunteers in 2014, this is one of 338 drive-ins left of the 2,400 venues that once ran through the U.S.  Formerly bearing a 600 car capacity before expanding to 900 cars, the Mahoning bears the largest CinemaScope theater screen in the state of Pennsylvania, spanning 120 feet in width while almost entirely exclusively projecting 35mm film using the same intact reel to reel Simplex projection equipment from the 1940s!

Already ecstatic about the International House in Philadelphia, upon hearing about what was being advertised as ‘John Carpenter Weekend’ at The Mahoning Drive-In the same weekend, I couldn’t resist.  As with any road trip for rare 35mm film experiences, it required planning.  The drive from Detroit, Michigan was about 9 hours give or take but worth every moment.  To travel to from Detroit, Michigan to Lehighton, Philadelphia meant at least one hotel room for a night, but the real appeal behind the drive-in that piqued my intrigue was being able to camp each night for $10 per car (yes, per “car"!).

Connected to the theater was a small old-school like building with decent affordable food, snacks, drinks and collectables from VHS tapes to vinyl to toys and much more!  Modern posters and T-shirts made up by Exhumed Films specifically for this event were also available.  Adorning the theater parking lot were props and decorations from classic horror movies including but not limited to the Halloween franchise and Friday the 13th, making it the perfect home for horror movie fans eager to consume all the 35mm glory they can get!  They have also brought in special guests including Squirm and Blue Sunshine director Jeff Lieberman as well as actresses Shelley Bruce from The Burning and Bonnie Deroski for special events such as Camp Blood 2.

While many are still of two minds about the drive-in theater scene over sound and image quality, the Mahoning represents one of the very best for the rich atmosphere of horror film aficionados and a bona fide love for the celluloid medium.  I have been there twice since last summer and I intend on going at least 3-5 more times this year.  This is something truly special and uncommon for fans of 35mm filmic nostalgia, so stay tuned for Zombiefest III in late May 2017!  

-Sean Provost
-Andrew Kotwicki