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Monster Bash: It's a Graveyard Smash

on Wed, 06/18/2014 - 00:00

Who amongst us hasn’t experienced the early childhood sensation of being initiated into the world of vampires, werewolves, giant apes and building-crushing lizards through the classic horror films of the 1930s, 40s and 50s? In many ways, a fascination with such monsters is as much a part of our childhood as comic book superheroes, and while modern CGI special effects have raised the bar on the movie-going experience in recent years, nothing can truly duplicate the original thrills of our youth. We played with plastic replicas of these creatures, built Aurora models, and even dressed as them for Halloween. Regardless of whether that initial indoctrination was Bela Lugosi donning the cape of Dracula or an actor in a rubber Godzilla suit smashing his way through Tokyo, being a fan of monster movies is a childhood memory that we cherish long into adulthood and still serves as a rite of passage for younger generations in the Twenty First Century.

Ligonier resident Ron Adams can be considered one of true believers when it comes to those childhood memories. Like many of us, Adams became fascinated by dinosaurs at the age of three and by the time he was five, had made his way to the classic monster movies of old. That fascination carried over into adulthood as well, but a strange set of circumstances involving the Westmoreland Mall and a series of US Postal Stamps resulted in something totally unexpected—an annual Monster Bash weekend convention in the Pittsburgh area that shines the spotlight on not only the monster flicks of the 1930s and 40s, but science fiction films of the 1950s and cult television shows from the 1960s as well.

“I was working at WTAE in Pittsburgh and driving home to Ligonier every evening,” Ron Adams remembers. “One cold February night I was passing Westmoreland Mall and saw on their marquee, ‘Spring Fashion Show—This Weekend.’ I thought it would be cool if that marquee said ‘Live In Person—Karloff, Lugosi and Chaney!’ My thoughts expanded to thinking about the classic monster stamps that were being released by the U.S. Post Office. I thought, you know, I could maybe make this happen. The stamps featured classic horror stars Boris Karloff (Frankenstein’s Monster), Bela Lugosi (Dracula) and Lon Chaney Sr. (Phantom of the Opera) and Lon Chaney, Jr. (The Wolf Man). While those actors were all long gone, there sons and daughters were around. I contacted the post office in D.C. and the sons and daughters of the stars. I was able to pull together the East Coast unveiling of those stamps, get the sons and daughters out to Western PA, added vendors, a film and event program and it became the first Monster Bash in 1997.”

The Monster Bash tradition continues over the weekend of June 20, 2014, with a three-day extravaganza at the Four Points Sheraton in Mars, Pennsylvania. This year’s event includes special appearances by Joel Hodgeson, creator and star of Mystery Science Theater 3000; Laurie Mitchell, who appeared in Attack of the Puppet People and Queen of Outer Space; and both Jay North and Jeannie Russell from the Dennis the Menace television show. The weekend also features various musical performances and screenings of such cult classic films as 13 Ghosts, Revenge of the Creature, Superman and the Mole Men and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.

“Fine tuning and events has escalated to a celebration that borders on insanity,” Ron Adams offers as explanation for the growth of Monster Bash through the years. “We’ve developed craziness like adding six-foot King Kong footprints around the host hotel one year, to the now regular Saturday night drive-in show. We erect a twenty-five-foot screen in the hotel parking lot and screen a Saturday night old-time film with cartoons and ‘snack bar’ trailers. It gets people outside for a break midway through the three day show. We screen a Mexican horror movie usually once a Bash and pass out free tacos and burritos, have live keyboardists for silent films, and Monster Bash beach balls during 1950s beach monster movies. A make-up crew does professional looking classic monsters that roam the halls, and we have the Frankenstein Monster deliver flowers to guests.”

In many ways, Monster Bash was a logical progression for Ron Adams, who started his own part-time retail venture in 1993 called Creepy Classics. “I had been attending horror and science fiction conventions and decided to do a mail order business that would go deeper in selection for videos than the normal brick-and-mortar store would do,” he explains. “The mail order business was a part-time/weekend thing since radio was my ‘real job’ since 1977. Over the years it reversed, where the ‘monster biz’ is my full-time job and radio, my part-time job. I now run the small, but sincere local radio station for Ligonier, The Valley. Playing pop oldies that most stations have let go. It streams on-line at www.LigonierRadio.com and on Shoutcast Radio apps too.”

Ron Adams lists the 1931 original Frankenstein with Boris Karloff and 1951’s The Thing with Kenneth Tobey and James Arness amongst his favorite monster films, although he likewise cites the supernatural ghost drama Portrait of Jennie with Joseph Cotton as his all-time favorite movie. In terms of guest celebrities at Monster Bash, Adams refrains from spotlighting any single one of them as personal favorites as many have now become close friends. The various guest who have appeared at past Monster Bash include Charles Herbert from The Fly and 13 Ghosts, stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen (Mighty Joe Young, Jason and the Argonauts), director Bert I. Gordon (Attack of the Puppet People, Village of the Giants), Lon Chaney’s grandson Ron Chaney, Hammer Horror film star Caroline Munro, Butch Patrick and Pat Priest from The Munsters, science fiction über fan Forrest J. Ackerman and actor Arch Hall (Eegah).

“It’s funny,” Ron Adams remarks. “I program Monster Bash to be the perfect convention that I would love to attend and enjoy. Problem is that I’m so busy making it happen, I really can’t enjoy the programming. But my favorite—and truly the best part that makes it all worthwhile—is on Sunday as the show is winding down, or Monday before people are leaving to catch flights. An attendee from here in Pittsburgh or one from some distant place like Seattle will come up to me and say, ‘This is the best weekend of the year for me.’ Or something like ‘Our family makes this our annual vacation,’ or ‘This was the best weekend of my life.’ People really say that and it almost brings me to tears knowing that what I work on all year round is working. It’s a special time, a special place for people that grew up having fun with monster movies.”

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Ron Adams—and a random coincidence involving the Westmoreland Mall and the United States Postal Service—it’s also a Pittsburgh area tradition that has been going strong since its first inception in 1997, and one that will no doubt continue for many years to come.

Anthony Letizia (June 18, 2014)

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