For over five decades, western Pennsylvania has laid claim to being “The Zombie Capital of the World.” This is attributed in no small part to one of horror’s greatest directors, George Romero.
A New Yorker by birth and Pittsburgher by choice, Romero planted his roots in the steel city after attending Carnegie Mellon University (which pops up as a filming location in two of his locally-shot films, Creepshow and Monkey Shines). Once his apocalyptic zombie thriller Night Of The Living Dead took flight in the public consciousness, Romero ran with his newfound recognition in the horror world and created some of the most revered pieces of modern cinema, until his death in 2017.
While Romero has quite a claim staked in Pittsburgh (including his own museum in Monroeville Mall where Dawn Of The Dead was filmed), his inventiveness and creativity has influenced multiple generations of filmmakers, who have released a plethora of horror films spawned in the keystone state.
Here are just a few horror movies that were filmed in Pittsburgh that weren’t made by George Romero.
The Majorettes (1986, dir. Bill Hinzman)
While there are more than a handful of hidden gems in western Pennsylvania, not many have the shape shifting charm of The Majorettes, aka One By One. Directed by Night Of The Living Dead cemetery ghoul Bill Hinzman, The Majorettes follows a few different groups: a high school majorette team, a rough and tumble gang, and a devious caregiver and her elderly patient.
A venerable whodunnit with classic Pittsburgh flair, the movie experiences a surprisingly fun identity crisis for the third act, where it deviates away from its 80s slasher DNA and morphs into what we at Neon Brainiacs like to call “teenage Death Wish”. The Majorettes was filmed throughout the suburbs of Pittsburgh, including Cornell High School in Coraopolis and the Fox Chapel Country Club.
Midnight (1982, dir. John Russo)
Eventually, one has to wonder if Lawrence Tierney just loved playing sleazy characters, or if it was less acting than we realize. Regardless, he finds himself in a small role in John Russo’s 1982 satanic panic romp Midnight, where he basically throws the whole movie’s plot into action as an abusive father whose daughter takes off and is eventually abducted by a satanic cult. It’s sleazy, weird, gritty and strangely enjoyable.
While the film was called a “mediocre shocker” and “grave and heavy-handed” by the media, Midnight has enjoyed quite a stay in the cult film community, spawning a 1993 sequel and a 2020 remake. John Russo has enjoyed quite a bit of notoriety being the co-writer for Night Of The Living Dead but aspired to make his own name with films like Midnight, as well as writing the script for Return Of The Living Dead.
Flesh Eater (1988, dir. Bill Hinzman)
Another Hinzman joint, Flesh Eater finds Bill reviving (albeit unofficially) his cemetery ghoul role from Night Of The Living Dead, this time to bloodier and less-clothed results. Flesh Eater follows a rather large group of teens as they camp out in the woods on Halloween night. After the cemetery ghoul is dug up by a local woodsman moving a stump, he chomps and gropes his way through the cast of the film, racking up an impressive body count.
No one is spared in the movie; not even Bill’s own real-life wife and kids. This has throughlines to Romero’s Night, not only through Hinzman’s character, but also Vince, a character played by Vincent Survinski, who also had a bit part in Night.
Bloodsucking Pharaohs In Pittsburgh (1991, dir. Dean Tschetter)
I’ll admit, I didn’t love this movie on its face when I saw it for the first time (I saw it as a lower-rent alternative to the Jackie Kong horror comedy Blood Diner from 1987). However, as a sucker for Pittsburgh-filmed movies, Bloodsucking Pharaohs In Pittsburgh had my attention with its on-location shots in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville.
The behind-the-scenes roster is much more interesting than the film itself, as director Dean Tschetter didn’t do much directing in the horror realm after this movie, though he did have experience as an art director for such films at The Wraith and Never Too Young To Die, as well as directing multiple music videos for country singer Joe Diffie. Furthermore, the makeup and effects department boasted the likes of Tom Savini, Jerry Gergely (makeup effects designer on The Majorettes, Flesh Eater, and the 1990 Night Of The Living Dead remake), and Terri Godfrey (who also starred in The Majorettes and Flesh Eater).
Slaughter Drive (2018, dir. Ben Dietels)
Alright, for these last two, I’ll admit I’m doing a little pandering and talking about two movies made by my podcast co-hosts. But outside of having one of my band’s songs in Slaughter Drive, I had nothing to do with either film.
Ben Dietels’ Slaughter Drive pays homage to the silly suburban horror of The Burbs with some inventive practical effects and more than a few laughs. Filmed in some of the same neighborhoods as The Majorettes, the film is a fun romp that delivers laughs as well as stomach-churning special effects by Cody Ruch.
The Boonies (2021, dir. Lance Parkin)
This is another horror flick filmed by one of my podcast co-hosts, Lance Parkin, and was mostly created closer to central Pennsylvania in Ebensburg and Johnstown.
The Boonies pays homage to 1970s backwoods exploitation films by following a group of people going on a bachelor party camping trip who are unknowingly stalked and killed by a cannibal family. The film is influenced by Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven, taking their works like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Last House On The Left and interpreting the films through a modern lens.
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Neon Brainiacs is an 80s horror podcast with hosts Ben, Gregg, and Lance. From the biggest blockbusters to the most obscure shot-on-video deep cuts, no stone is left unturned regarding 80s horror.