Riverside Drive-In's horror movie festival draws campers from near, far to Parks Township
Classic and cult horror flick fans from across the country converge twice each year at the Riverside Drive-In for a weekend of camping ... monster style.
While it started small in 2007, Super Monster-Rama has grown into a two-day, all-night lineup of campy, scary and cheesy movie screenings at the outdoor theater along Route 66 in Parks Township.
Two monster-themed events, held every September and April, feature both slasher and classic horror films from all decades.
The April one — dubbed “April Ghouls” originally was held on the first weekend in April, but now it's on the last weekend in April when the weather is likely to be more spring-like, said Riverside owner Todd Ament.
“Our first Monster-Rama had about 100 people, and it has grown,” said Emma Ross, Ament's fiancée and the business' co-owner. “This weekend, we have about 700 participants.”
Attendees at the 11th annual Monster-Rama include locals, campers from as far away as Mexico, California and Washington and moviegoers who book hotels locally.
Event organizer George Reis of Long Island, N.Y., was seeking a venue for a horror film festival, because his hometown no longer offered drive-in theaters.
“I contacted several drive-ins and Riverside was receptive,” Reis said. “Right now, 1980s horror movies are in demand.”
Ament said he initially agreed because he traditionally closed the drive-in after Labor Day weekend, and this event would be a great way to sell off more concession stand inventory.
“Now this event is so big, I have to buy more (food),” Ament said.
Saturday night's 1950s movie lineup kicked off around 8 p.m. and continued until 4 a.m. Sunday.
Five movies screened Saturday night: “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman,” “Creature From The Black Lagoon,” “Terror From Beyond Space,” “She Demons” and “Half Human.”
The previous evening's movie lineup was “The Tingler,” “Munster, Go Home,” “Horror of Party Beach” and “Atom Age Vampire.”
Ament said a record 93 campers attended this year, each booking a $10-per-person package that included a hot, homemade breakfast.
A group of friends from Lawrenceville pitched three tents in the rear grassy area of the drive-in that encompasses more than eight acres. They were brand new to camping, and were attending Monster-Rama for the first time.
“I am feeling at one with nature,” joked Vince Santis, a bartender. “We definitely will return for the next event here.”
“I am looking forward to the ‘Creature From The Black Lagoon,'” said Ray Fuller, who drove in from Cleveland to join the Lawrenceville group.
Most campers said they relied on hearty concession stand specials that included haluski, or cabbage and noodles, along with chili, pierogis, pizza, hot sausage sandwiches and more.
“We haven't left all weekend,” Santis said. “Everyone has helped us out since we are new campers.”
Ask Sam Anderson of Raleigh, N.C., why he keeps making the 1,000-mile trek pulling his RV to Pennsylvania, and he offers a rousing endorsement of drive-in theaters. They're harder and harder to find in the United States, he noted.
“I started attending because I am dedicated to drive-in preservation,” Anderson said. “The horror movies are the icing on the cake.”
Anderson, who camped in his custom constructed RV, has attended 11 events at Riverside, the only remaining outdoor theater in Armstrong County. A few hundred operate nationwide.
“Pittsburgh people are friendly and down-to-earth here,” he said. “There is a sense of community with this event.”
Stephanie Evans, a teenager from Frederick, Md., said she hadn't been on the internet all weekend. Evans tags along with her uncle James Yee of Hedgesville, W.Va.
“This is my sixth time here,” she said. “The movies are cool, super campy and my favorite thing is seeing the people and friends we have made.”
Yee said his family slept in their car on the first visit to Riverside. They since have upgraded to a deluxe tent area, complete with tailgate-style cooking.
Yee, a hobby rabbit farmer, was cooking up homemade rabbit and dumplings on Saturday evening.
“It's like a tailgate/potluck here,” Yee said. “The movies are like 25 percent and the friends we have made are the rest.”
Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.