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The Rewind Zone travels to the Mahoning Drive-In Theatre for VHS Fest 7!

Thursday, July 20, 2023 | Events, Rewind Zone


There is a magical place filled with nostalgia and popcorn in the remote outskirts of Lehighton, Pennsylvania. That place is the Mahoning Drive-In Theatre where annual screenings of cult films and B-movies are presented during the drive-in season from April to October. Built in 1948, the Mahoning Drive-In presents movies on 35mm film, using twin Simplex E-7 projectors. As light passes through celluloid film onto their Cinemascope screen, you’re seeing these films the same way audiences watched them when they were first released. Isn’t history neat?!?

My focus with this column is to highlight my favourite event that occurs every July at the Mahoning – VHS Fest. Spawned from the brains of Lunchmeat Magazine writer Ben Mazz and Mahoning Drive-In partner Virgil Cardamone, with collaborator Lunchmeat VHS’ editor-in-chief Josh Schafer joining later, VHS Fest began in 2017 as a grand experiment: playing VHS tapes on the big screen and seeing if anyone would show up. VHS Fest has since become a massive celebration for tapeheads who travel from all over North America to spend their hard-earned cash on VHS, Betamax, Laser Discs, records, and, of course, to watch SOV films on the big screen with their friends.

I attended VHS Fest 2 in 2018 and VHS Fest 3 in 2019, but unfortunately, I missed the last three years because I hibernated during the pandemic. This year, I hopped on a plane to Philadelphia, got tattooed (if in the area, I highly recommend Jeff Saunders at Grim Tattoo), and then made my way to Lehighton for VHS Fest 7. I had heard that the tickets for both days sold out before getting there, but I was still amazed at the number of people, cars, and vendors I saw compared to the second and third years. A feeling of vicarious pride swept over me for all those who work together to make this event happen and for those who love and support VHS, something that brings so much joy to my life. The aura of community is palpable in this rural area of Pennsylvania.

Day one of VHS Fest 7 began with cars lining up outside the Mahoning. I arrived 45 minutes before the gates opened and was welcomed by friends socializing outside of their vehicles, which made the wait for tapes gratifying since I had not seen these wonderful humans since 2019. Once the gates opened, the aim was to find a good parking spot close to the screen, which we did. Then, I told my friends Ben and Sarah, “Peace out,” and they understood that my hunt for tapes was underway. (It was hours before they saw me again, carrying bags filled with tapes. That’s how I roll.)

I perused the outdoor vendors first, buying tapes from familiar sellers as well as newcomers. I was pleased to find the one Amityville tape I never find – Amityville Dollhouse. Seriously, in my opinion, this is the most underrated in the series, and it will be featured in a Rewind Zone column or video soon. I then heard someone call my name from afar. “Yasmina! You need to go!” It was my friend Kelly, a fellow astute tapehead. I then proceeded to run toward where she was pointing. Thanks to her and the man with the bin on the ground named John, I struck gold and came home with a mint original copy of Slime City.

The Mahoning’s indoor concession stand has a wide menu of foods that include vegan options. You can get a burger, corndog, chicken fingers, pierogies, mozzarella sticks, the best fucking popcorn on the planet, and a hug from Mark, which according to their website, is priceless but free on Thursday nights. The concession stand is where you’ll also find more vendors and prints of the event poster sold by artist Hayden Hall, who has designed every VHS Fest poster since year one. Special guest Patty Mullen, star of Frankenhooker and Doom Asylum, signed autographs both days, and I was lucky enough to catch a proposal at her booth on Saturday (She said, “yes”).

Before sunset, we were blessed with a performance of live music by Lapses, the one-man band of Matt Cannon. I watched Lapses play VHS Fest 2 and 3 and bought his album on Bandcamp when I got home. If you’re a fan of ‘80s synth, this is your jam. Then, once the sun went down, the first film, Doom Asylum, hosted by the Found Footage Festival began. Personally, I’m not a fan of this movie. The gore is great, but I just can’t stand all the classic film cut-ins that drag out the movie’s running time. Also, I was anticipating one of my favourite ‘80s horror movies that was playing next, motherfucking WINTERBEAST! Watching Winterbeast on the big screen with my friends is a moment I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. The last movie was Killer Nerd. However, despite my tremendous yearning to watch this film for the first time on the big screen, I sadly can never stay up for the third movie. It’s way past this old lady’s bedtime.

Day two of VHS Fest started with an endless lineup of cars again. This time, my aim was to scope out new vendors that weren’t there the day before. Thus, I met Scott of Strange Tapes Zine. I had spoken with Scott before, as I have written for Strange Tapes Zine a couple of times (as well as Lunchmeat Magazine about one of the best movies ever made – Heavy Metal Summer). As Ben and I hovered over him while he unpacked his box of tapes, my eyes locked onto a copy of Night of the Demon. MINE! No, not Night of the Demons, Night of the Demon, the one with Bigfoot rape.

Since I purchased most of my rare tapes on day one, day two gave me a chance to mingle, shoot some videos, and go through the cheap bins of commons. I met new vendors, film and art creators and an extremely pleasant vegan ice cream supplier named Sheila, who shows up to VHS Fest every year with a cooler of free treats. This is the kind of loving generosity you expect from VHS collectors.

The first movie of day two was Frankenhooker, featuring an interview with Patty Mullen in her purple dress and wig projected onto the screen. I enjoyed watching this film, occasionally turning around to watch the fireworks in the distance. I’m personally a bigger fan of Frank Henenlotter’s other movies Basket Case and Brain Damage. Still, it’s pretty cool that VHS Fest brought Patty Mullen and other special guests Sleazy P. Martini of GWAR and Larry Pine (aka Mr. Nasty, the insult tip man behind the 1985 videotape). You can watch the Found Footage Festival interview with Mr. Nasty on their YouTube channel. The second movie At Dawn They Sleep, and ending the evening was the glorious Canadian horror flick The Brain.

One of my favourite parts of VHS Fest is the random shit that gets played on the screen in between the movies, which was perfect for the Found Footage Festival team. I have a few tapes of the weird video artifacts they’ve found (I recently purchased Fabio: A Time for Romance). I think it would be perfect if Everything is Terrible or Red Letter Media were guests some year (Then, my life goal of being on Best of Worst would be closer to becoming reality). I wonder, now that VHS Fest is as big as it is, would they ever play Faces of Death scenes in between the movies like they did the first year? Probably not but one can dream.

I stayed at the Mahoning Inn and Country Inn when attending VHS Fest, but if camping is your thing, you can purchase overnight tickets and bring your tent. If you’re like me and need silence to sleep, then good luck with camping, as I hear the partying goes on all night. If you missed out this year, rest assured there is a documentary on VHS Fest, shot on video by @dinkiepie_, in production, and yours truly will be making an appearance. Even if you’re not a tape collector, there are plenty of other items for sale, including jewelry, art, vintage clothes, books, newly designed shirts (I’m very happy with my Mortal Kombat shirt by Tapes from the Crypt) and posters. There’s also a raffle you can enter to win a bag full of stuff, and guess what, my readers, I WON THE RAFFLE! I’m sad I missed the announcement after Frankenhooker because by then, I was beat and already back at my hotel. My only negative comment about the weekend was the music played during the day. I remember a DJ at VHS Fest 2 and 3 playing all the best ‘80s horror movie soundtracks like Rock and Roll Nightmare, Rocktober Blood, Killer Party, Trick or Treat and The Lost Boys, but what we got was obnoxious electronica that had me shrieking, “Get off my lawn!” Luckily, the parking area is filled with my people, who brought their boom boxes and Kiss tapes. I hope VHS Fest brings back that DJ who was clearly raised ensconced in wood-paneled walls. Either way, I’ll see y’all next year at VHS Fest 8!

Yasmina Ketita
Columnist and host of The Rewind Zone. My love for horror and VHS was established while growing up in the '80s, my favourite decade, because it spawned a new generation of incredible practical effects, amazing VHS cover art and most importantly, provides nostalgia. Watching '80s horror movies comforts me in a sentimental way as if being back in those movie rental days.