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The May, 2010 L.A. Weekend of Horrors

If you’ve read any of my previous Weekend of Horrors reportage (see here, here, here, here and here) you’ll likely notice a big difference with this latest one: it’s no longer Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors.
     In the last few years Fangoria has attempted to diversify, with largely disastrous results. The Dee Snider hosted Fangoria radio program was a bust and Fangoria television a non-starter, while the last big Weekend of Horrors, held last year in NYC, was reportedly a disaster. Add in the crappy economy and it’s not too hard to see why Fango elected to leave its former partner Creation Entertainment to put on this year’s convention, and apparently all subsequent ones (Weekend of Horrors is no longer even mentioned on Fango’s website) by itself.

     Thus we now have Creation Entertainment’s Weekend of Horrors, which ran from Friday, May 21 through Sunday, May 23 at the LAX Airport Marriott, specifically the meeting area beneath the hotel lobby. The crowd this year was quite sparse compared to past ones, as were the dealer’s room and guest line-up. Clearly the publicity engendered by Fangoria is integral to the event.

The scantiness of this Weekend of Horrors was most evident on Friday. It didn’t start until 5 PM, and so only lasted a couple hours that largely consisted of those dealers who bothered showing up unpacking their swag in the dealer’s room.

     The line to get in wasn’t long, just slow as shit. When I finally got to its head I learned why it was so slow: Creation had just one person scanning peoples’ tickets.

     From the start the mood was one of dour resignation. Everyone seemed to have something to bitch about; there was even a near-fight in the lobby between two guys over (I think) competing websites.

     There was the usual film trailer compilation that started things off in the ballroom, and it wasn’t too inspiring. Among other things, we saw a preview for Christopher Nolan’s upcoming INCEPTION, a trailer you’ve most likely already seen if you’ve been to the movies in the past couple months.

     As for the all-important presentations by famous horror folk, there were a whopping two of them.

     The first presentation was an independent filmmakers’ panel moderated by Creation’s Adam Malin. (The latter is a familiar figure from past Fango conventions, although I couldn’t help but lament the absence of the inimitable Anthony Timpone, Fango’s former editor, as moderator.) On the panel were Patrick Rea, Edward Payson, Jesse Kozel, Philip Calderone and Dave Reda. No, I haven’t heard of any of those guys either, but Adam claimed they’re “the future filmmakers of America.”
     The crowd for the presentation, in keeping with the overall attendance size, was extremely skimpy, and evidently stacked with the panelists’ friends and families (based on the outsized applause many of them got). This being a Creation event, there were naturally a lot of technical difficulties--lights not coming on, faulty projection, etc.--that had Adam begging the crowd to “be patient!”
     As for the panel, there was much talk about technology “democratizing” filmmaking. It’s apparently a great time to be a filmmaker but also an extremely hard time, as everyone now has the tools to make movies, and so mediocre product is no longer acceptable.
     Of the filmmakers’ work we saw several clips, the most promising of which was the one for a short called THE ITCH, which its maker described this way: “A guy has unprotected sex with a prostitute and turns into a creature.”

    The second and last panel was for the retro dime novel series JASON DARK, with writer/creator Guido Henkel. The German accented Henkel spoke of the extensive research that went into his tales of Victorian England, and how he timed the first installments of his opus to coincide with the release of SHERLOCK HOLMES last December. Henkel also complained of “too much splatter” in today’s horror movies, and that the imagination can create far more “macabre-er” images than any filmmaker can dream up.

     There ended Friday. I elected to skip the 8 PM “Zombie Walk” (whatever the Hell that is) and hoped the following day would be better.

     As it happened, Saturday did go a little better. Attendance increased considerably and so did the panel guests. There was even some free stuff to be had in the lobby, including the usual flyers and postcards, as well as copies of issue #2 of the abovementioned JASON DARK series. The dealer’s room still sucked, however!

     Nor was I too impressed by the opening panel, a preview of the upcoming I SPIT ON YOU GRAVE remake. The original is a classic of sorts, but what was shown of the new version--including a clip in which the heroine pulls out a dude’s front teeth with pliers--looks pretty interchangeable with most so-called torture porn flicks.
     At least the original’s director Meir Zarchi was present. He said he likes the remake, although he also claimed his wife told him not to invite any of their friends to see it. Beyond that there was little of interest on this panel outside the fact that the lead actress Sarah Butler looked way hot, and a prosthetic penis was brought out at the end of the presentation and passed around.

     Next onstage were the makers of the new NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET documentary NEVER SLEEP AGAIN, including its narrator and executive producer Heather Langenkamp--Nancy from NIGHTMARE 1, 3 and 7--who confessed her role in the doc largely consisted of helping corral the interviewees. Also on hand (in the audience, that is) was the actress who played the hall monitor in part one (“Where’s your pass?”), who praised NEVER SLEEP AGAIN profusely.

     HATCHET'S always enthusiastic Adam Green followed to screen a couple gory clips from HATCHET 2. Both were too darkly lit to make out much, but the audience applauded.
     Cast members from the film then took the stage. HATCHET 2 is evidently a genre all-star affair featuring Tony Todd, Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder, and FRIGHT NIGHT/CHILD’S PLAY director Tom Holland(!). Of the just-completed film’s chances with the MPAA, Green claims there’s “no fuckin’ way it’s gonna get and R.” It apparently has seventeen onscreen kills (as opposed the first HATCHET’S seven) of such creative nastiness that Mr. Hodder admitted he was impressed with Green’s ability to conjure up novel murders.
     Tom Holland claimed HATCHET 2 marked his first acting job in 25 years, and that as a director he’ll “never be mean to an actor again.” Green also revealed that the first HATCHET’S popular tagline “It’s Not a Remake, It’s Not a Sequel, it’s not Based on a Japanese One” was taken from an actual note by studio executives who turned down the film.

     Robert Englund, a.k.a. Freddy Krueger, took the stage next, and the house was full. He seemed nice enough, but proved quite a rambling speaker. Among the topics he expounded upon was the recent NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake, to which he bears no ill will and was furthermore happy to pass the Freddy baton to Jackie Earle Haley, an actor he greatly admires; an Italian movie he made called THE RETURN OF CAGLIOSTRO; how talented actor Jeffrey Combs is; and how much he loves train rides through Europe. By the end of this hour-long slog I was nearly asleep.

     I was excited to see the following panel, a RE-ANIMATOR cast and crew reunion with director Stuart Gordon, producer Brian Yuzna, screenwriter Denis Paoli, composer Richard Band, and stars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton.
     Among the nuggets of this presentation were Crampton admitting RE-ANIMATOR was the first-ever movie she auditioned for, Combs saying all his character in the film wanted to do was rent a room in a basement, Band copping to lifting Bernard Herrmann’s score from PSYCHO, and Gordon recalling a production assistant telling a naked actor that “it’s no big thing.”
     There followed a lengthy clip of Combs playing Edgar Allan Poe in the popular Stuart Gordon directed stage piece NEVERMORE. It featured Combs as Poe lamenting his tortured life and reciting “Annabel Lee,” with extremely histrionic emoting that drew much inappropriate laughter from the audience.

     What occurred next was easily the most bizarre portion of the entire weekend. Everyone cleared the stage and Gordon’s buddy George Wendt, together with KING OF THE ANTS’ lead actor Chris McKenna, took the stage (to the inevitable cries of “Norm!”) to jointly perform a song from an upcoming RE-ANIMATOR musical! I honestly don’t have words for what transpired, but can say it was every bit as hilariously batty as you might expect (sample lyric: “You can blame my elation on reanimation, Herbert West brought a cat back to life!”).

     I sat out the following panel but was back for the HUMAN CENTIPEDE presentation by two of the lead actors. It would have been nice to have the director on hand and/or to see a clip or two from the flick, which is currently the cult movie du jour. The assumption seemed to be that everybody had already seen the film, which in my case isn’t true (although I really want to). The lead actress (a cutie) claimed that during auditions “at least seven or eight” prospective actresses walked out, and the film, about a depraved experiment that fuses three people together, has seriously freaked out many viewers.
     As I said, I want to see this movie very much!

     The final presentation was the “Jason” panel, featuring nearly all the actors who’ve played Jason in the FRIDAY THE 13TH cycle. All looked quite weathered but for the youthful Ari Lehman, who played Jason in part 1 at age 14. Also present was part 7’s director John Carl Buechler, who moderated, and composer Henry Manfredini. It was Manfredini who provided the panel’s most interesting info, namely the origin of his famous “Ki-Ki-Ki, Ma-Ma-Ma” chant, which is abbreviated from “Kill-Kill-Kill, Mama-Mama-Mama.”
     Every Weekend of Horrors, it seems, has to have at least one drunk panelist, and one of the Jasons (I don’t recall which) provided that role this year. Sitting at the leftmost end of the panel, he babbled inanely and clearly had little clue what was going on.
     The most attention was lavished on the aforementioned Kane Hodder, the only one of the actors to play Jason repeatedly (from part 7 to 10). Hodder claimed he “tried to put more character” into the role, and responded to a question about how he managed to get from New York (actually Vancouver) in part 8 back to Crystal Lake for part 9 with “I didn’t write the fucking thing!” He also described choking people for photos at conventions, and how he once accidentally choked a guy unconscious.
     Other things I learned form this panel were that Mr. Lehman is the only Jason who got no royalties whatsoever (current royalty laws didn’t go into effect until 1982) and that Buechler believes Paramount is embarrassed by the FRIDAY THE 13TH flicks. Gee, I wonder why?

     And that was it for Saturday.

     If Friday was a warm-up and Saturday a highlight, Sunday was a definite comedown. The crowd was considerably sparser than Saturday’s, and Friday’s technical glitches were back, with malfunctioning microphones and lighting problems being constants.

     I showed up in time for the scheduled John Saxon presentation, but for whatever reasons that didn’t happen. Instead Creation conducted a survey in the ballroom about how people found out about the convention, with the results displayed on a screen at the head of the hall. This was every bit as exciting as it sounds.

     I had to miss out on the much-anticipated AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE panel with Joe Dante and others to do something I’ve long wanted to do: experience a film print of Dario Argento’s INFERNO. That film, in scratchy 16mm form, happened to be screening on 1 PM in the convention's dinky film room. The viewing conditions were less than ideal, with the front row lights kept on throughout the film, a noisy projector that often sounded like a conveyor belt, and a lengthy unscheduled intermission engendered by the fact that the projectionist wasn’t around to make a reel change.
     We did, however, get a live introduction by Dario Argento himself, who spoke of how most audiences had trouble understanding INFERNO’S loopy narrative and what a pain in the ass composer Keith Emerson was to work with. Unfortunately the nuances of Argento’s talk were lost on me, as noisy feedback from the speaker made it difficult to make out precisely what he said.

     By the time I got back to the panel hall FRIDAY THE 13TH composer Henry Manfredini was in the middle of a presentation.
     What I heard of Manfredini’s chat was mostly taken up with the issue of plagiarism. He denied accusations that he copied Bernard Herrmann’s PSYCHO score for F13 (“I was actually ripping off Jerry Goldsmith’s score for COMA more than PSYCHO”) but admitted it’s nearly impossible not to reference Herrmann’s work when writing a movie score. Manfredini concluded his presentation with a quote from Danny Elfman about the difference between defecation and regurgitation: the latter is apparently not the preferred mode of plagiarism, whereas with defecation you at least ingest outside influences and produce something of your own.

     I didn’t pay much attention to the memorabilia auction that followed, with people bidding upwards of $100 for signed posters and pictures. Among the big sales were a couple banners that went for $340 each and a guitar signed by many of the weekend’s guests that fetched $500.

     Following this was for me the major presentation of the weekend: a chat with the one and only Dario Argento, making his second and more substantial showing of the day. Apparently many others were as excited about Argento’s appearance as I, as he was given a standing ovation and his heavily accented chatter, interrupted by frequent coughing (he had a cold), was accompanied by a worshipful silence. The questions he was asked by audience members tended to be extremely long-winded, with much testimony about how much his films meant to them and recitations of individual favorites.
     Argento appeared onstage with an actress from SUSPIRIA and another from DEMONS, but it was his show all the way. Among the topics he covered were his directorial inspirations, of whom he name checked Dreyer, Bergman, Hitchcock, Antonioni and Fellini. Being the father of the popular giallo format, he enumerated its elements, namely sex, mystery and, perhaps most importantly, “beautiful girls.” He also spoke of a mysterious phone call he received a few years ago that sounded like his deceased father, which somehow inspired him to make MOTHER OF TEARS.
    Argento further elaborated on his “very good and very bad” working relationship with Keith Emerson, who was “a little bit crazy.” Argento wanted to have Emerson score another movie after INFERNO, but the latter apparently wasn’t “focused enough” to do it. To add insult to injury, Emerson later dissed Argento in an interview, and dismissed his INFERNO score as “the worst ever.”
     Other info? The rumors about George Romero directing a remake of DEEP RED are not true. Argento was depressed about the critical and financial failure of 1987’s OPERA but cheered up by the raves about the film from the English journalist Alan Jones. Argento originally wanted the heroine of SUSPIRIA to be 9 or 10 years old but the studio balked. On the set of SUSPIRIA Joan Bennett tended to “drink a little bit.” Modern American cinema is “too focused on money.” Finally, asked why he sets so many murder sequences in elevators and on stairways, Argento cryptically referred to “Mr. Freud.”

     And there ended my experience at the May 2010 Creation Entertainment Weekend of Horrors. It was around 5 PM (whereas the Fangoria conventions of old went to at least 6 or 7). Overall I can’t deny the whole thing was a bit of disappointment. Maybe the next WoH, to be held this coming October in Burbank, will be better.