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A Feeling of Community: The Mahoning Drive-In Theater

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A Feeling of Community: The Mahoning Drive-In Theater

It’s easy to feel isolated right now. Distance is the rule. We all have more steps to climb towards connection. A lot of our favorite things to do are restricted. A lot of our favorite spaces can’t give us the safety and security they normally do. Some of us have always struggled to feel like we’re part of something. For those of us who feel this way, isolation is a current and critical concern.

The Mahoning Drive-In Theater is an excellent way for genre fans to enjoy a safe communal experience. Now through the end of their season Nov. 1st, the largest CinemaScope screen in Pennsylvania offers a variety of curated screenings, ranging from slasher fare to family-friendly picks. Vendors selling hotdogs, t-shirts, DVDs and more keep the site bustling before and between movies, making the whole thing feel like a real event. The grounds are campsite-friendly, with many weekend-spanning engagements that invite viewers to stay the night.

For those who may not have ever visited a drive-in, or for those who haven’t visited in years, the Mahoning folks have an itemized breakdown of what to expect over on their website (https://www.mahoningdit.com), which includes a super-helpful FAQ section that’s sure to answer all your drive-in inquiries.

Mahoning Theater Set

It’d been a few decades since my most recent drive-in experience, so I was a little unsure of what to expect. However, the lineup of this past weekend was enough to put an end to my hesitation. And so, I purchased two tickets to Camp Blood VI: 3 Nights of Terror. Truthfully, I was only able to attend one Night of Terror. Although the images on the giant screen certainly fit the “Terror” of the event’s name, I found the Mahoning Drive-In to be friendly, inviting, and comfortable. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I drove an hour-and-a-half outside of Philly to the Drive-In grounds. Pulling off the highway into Jim Thorpe country, I rolled down the windows and breathed in some far-from-the-city air. My Waze app took my right to the Drive-In’s entrance, where I was greeted by a friendly employee who scanned my ticket and granted me entrance to the grounds. I was struck by the patience and understanding of every employee I met. They may have been there every night, but they knew it might be my first time, and so everyone was super helpful and friendly in directing me towards where I’d park my car.

If you’re going to make the trip out, I recommend getting there early. The event page for Night 3 of Camp Blood VI listed a “6:00” start time, although the movie didn’t start until much later. It’s pretty dependent on the sunset, so keep that in mind when you plan your journey out. Luckily, we arrived with ample time to explore the area and stretch our legs. I should make it clear that, currently, all Mahoning Drive-In patrons are expected to keep a mask on while moving around outside of their car, which allows everybody to mill about and interact relatively worry-free. This is really important, because wandering around and talking to people is really the best part of the whole experience. I’ve never been in an outdoor environment like this filled with so many horror fans. It was amazing. Friends and Drive-In regulars were reuniting all around me. The very fact of being there was invitation enough for conversation; everybody there had the built-in commonality of loving horror movies.

Three movies were shown that night. We in attendance of Camp Blood VI: Night 3 were treated to screenings of Pieces (1982), The Prowler (1981), and Massacre at Central High (1976). I was shocked at how crisp the sound and image were with each one. In particular, The Prowler just looked absolutely gorgeous on such a big screen, with such a pristine print. It’s a rarity for old movies like this to be shown in 35mm, and that alone was well-worth the drive.

Mahoning Theater Set 2

But again, I must reiterate, even more so than the movies themselves, the main draw for me was the community around the movies. I saw more cool t-shirts here than I had seen anywhere else at one time. I saw a Basket Case t-shirt, I saw a TerrorVision t-shirt. I wore my Friday the 13th: Part IV t-shirt and for once it didn’t feel out of place!

If you’re going to attend a screening, I definitely recommend bringing some pocket money. At least for the Camp Blood event, the Mahoning Drive-In was packed with incredible vendors. DiabolikDVD was in attendance selling Blu-Rays featuring the GarageHouse label. I was kicking myself for not having enough cash to purchase their Trailer Trauma V (I will return, and I will be making some buys, mark my words, DiabolikDVD). In addition, I can absolutely recommend the Concession Stand’s hotdogs and their chicken and waffles. Again, bring a couple extra bucks, because if you’re not hungry, you’re going to want to buy a t-shirt or a poster. The t-shirts and posters were incredible, featuring art by Justin “HauntLove” Miller (https://www.hauntlove.com/).

I can say that this experience was fundamental to breaking me out of the quarantine blues. It’s tough being stuck inside watching scary movies by yourself all summer. Horror is supposed to be a communal art. We’re supposed to scream together. We’re supposed to laugh together as the tension is relieved. And we’re supposed to talk about what we saw afterwards. That’s what the Mahoning Drive-In provides. It was a safe place to congregate with fellow fans and go “That one kill in Pieces? The waterbed stabbing? That was pretty gnarly!”

For more information on the rest of the Mahoning Drive-In Theater’s 2020 season, visit https://www.mahoningdit.com/events-schedules/current-events.

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