There’s not a whole lot to do in Pennsylvania. Especially if you’re into pop culture. There’s a few comic book stores, or the occasional comic con… but most of your geeky hobby time will be spent online or in your own home. But there’s always that diamond in the rough. In PA, one of those diamonds is The Mahoning Drive-In Theater. A drive in located in Lehighton Pennsylvania that specializes in screening classic films. They are the last remaining Drive-In in the country that exclusively plays 35mm films.
The Mahoning has been running since 1949, and until around 2014 was overall a fairly typical drive in. However, due to slowly dwindling sales, the owners made the incredible decision to switch to classic and cult films and catering to their fans. Since then, people flocked from all over the country to experience their favorite films at The Mahoning.
From April to September, The Mahoning hosts themed events every weekend, as well as single film screenings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Every weekend, the place is decorated to match the theme of that event. From posters and props, to photo ops, and even themed food at the concession stand. They’ve even had celebrity guests appear for different events to meet fans and sign autographs.
This past weekend, my wife and I were able to attend “Godzilla-Palooza Raids Again!”, the second Godzilla themed weekend that the theater has hosted. The previous one being in 2019, which we were also in attendance for. Despite the several hour long drive, this was our 9th time visiting the Mahoning, so you can tell we enjoy our time there. While there we met up with our close friend and another Toho Kingdom veteran, Vinnie DeGregory (Darth Calypso).
The event was four days long, although we were only able to stay for two, and they screened eight total films over the course of the event (Godzilla vs. Megalon, Terror of Mechagodzilla, Mothra, Godzilla 2000: Millennium, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Rodan, Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, and Destroy All Monsters).
We arrived Friday evening a few hours before the films began. There’s always a lot to do and see at The Mahoning so we wanted to get there early. The most exciting thing on display at Godzilla-Palooza was the nearly twenty foot tall Godzilla statue that was exhibited right next to the massive movie screen. The big guy was built by Jason Miller, Mystessa Zeneca, and Riggz Miller and was able to roar and spit fog from his mouth. There was hardly a moment where there wasn’t a line of people forming to get their pictures taken with the King. We were even allowed to lift and hold his tail for photos.
This weekend Exhumed Films (who partnered with the theater for this event) had tables set up for fans to buy DVDs and Blu-rays of classic horror films, buy shirts and posters for Godzilla-Palooza and other past events, and even participate in a raffle that could net you some amazing goodies such as the Criterion Godzilla collection or a gorgeous statue of King Ghidorah from Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). I didn’t win…
Inside the concession stand, the walls were decorated with classic Toho movie posters, and episodes of the classic Ultraman TV series played while people browsed through the hundreds of VHS tapes, DVDs, and records that were for sale. There was also a table inside with Mahoning and Godzilla-Palooza merch for sale, alot of which from what I understand completely sold out. The most popular piece from what I could tell was a Godzilla-Palooza tumbler featuring a psychedelic design and MegaroGoji. I was particularly fond of the VHS night lights they had, which are made from repurposed VHS tapes and feature Mahoning labels.
There was also a second raffle inside hosted by the Mahoning that included even more kaiju themed goodies. Which I entered both days we were there. Again, I didn’t win either of them… I’m not salty.
Along with the typical movie snacks like popcorn and candy, The Mahoning also serves burgers, chicken, mozzarella sticks, and so much more… but for obvious reasons, the Dogzilla stood out this weekend. Unfortunately, this themed food felt a bit underwhelming to me. When I think of a Godzilla themed hotdog, the first things that would come to my mind would be 1) extra spicy, or 2) an extra large sized hotdog. This was neither. It was a fairly normal chili dog, but with lettuce and tomato on top. Which none of that screams Godzilla to me. But at the end of the day, it was still a delicious (but messy) dinner to eat while watching the King of the Monsters punch Mechagodzilla in the face.
Just outside of the concession stand, they had a large white screen with a projector displaying the classic SNES game “Godzilla Kaijuu Daikessen” (Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters) where fans could line up and beat the snot out of each other head to head.
Before every film, the audience was treated to collections of movie trailers that were appropriate for the theme and/or era of the subsequent film. These ranged from other Toho kaiju films like The War of The Gargantuas (1966) to classic Horror films like The Excorcist III. These intermissions also included classic Drive In advertisements for drinks and snacks that really sells the retro mood the Mahoning goes for. There was also retro and themed music playing from the moment the gates opened until the show began.
As stated earlier, the films were all presented in 35mm film. The Mahoning doesn’t do anything digital. On Friday the night kicked off with Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), with its “Terror of Godzilla” title. Which was a fun way to start the evening. And the last showing was the American version of Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999), which is always a great time, but the highlight of the night was a screening of the original Mothra (1961) in its original Japanese language. This was actually my first time seeing the original Mothra film, and seeing it in this way made it a truly fantastic experience.
Saturday night was the night I was most excited about. It included screenings of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) which is one of my absolute favorites of the franchise. The original Rodan (1956), and excitedly Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001). My favorite out of all the Japanese Godzilla films. According to the Mahoning, this was also a rare screening, with the movie not often being shown at theaters in the United States.
Unfortunately the rain kicked in at the beginning of Rodan and we had to move into our car… which dampened our excitement a bit, but we weren’t about to let a little rain ruin our evening!
We purchased the extended passes for the weekend, which granted us permission to camp out on the Drive-In lot. So we spent all day hanging out with tons of people and talking about Godzilla. We even sat down and played “King of Tokyo”, a popular giant monster board game with a few different people, bonding over all of our love for Giant monster movies. And those are things that can’t be replicated anywhere but at events like these.
I can go on all day about how much I love The Mahoning. The staff in charge are sincere fans of the films they screen, and it shows. Jeff, Virgil, JT and the rest of the staff put their heart and souls into this place and none of their efforts go unnoticed. We are definitely going to be back in the future for more amazing experiences. Primarily later this month for their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles double feature! Cowabunga!
If you’d like to learn more about The Mahoning Drive-In Theater, check out the documentary “At The Drive-In”! It’s available for free on Amazon Prime, as well as on DVD. You can even buy a copy of the movie at the concession stand while your waiting for the film to start!