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The October 2010 L.A. Weekend of Horrors II

Yes, there was a second Los Angeles 2010 Weekend of Horrors, and I was there. I’ve already covered the first, which took place back in May. This follow-up was held the weekend of October 15-17 and…well, was about what you’d expect from an under-publicized event that followed closely on the heels of another, which itself was nothing to shout about.

     This Weekend of Horrors was situated at the Convention center of the Burbank airport Marriott Hotel, a.k.a. the Middle of Nowhere, the site of several previous WoHs (back when they were hosted by Fangoria). This one, however, had far fewer dealers than I recall seeing at any other WoH, with the dealers’ room packed largely with celebrities hawking autographs (including Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, director Jack Hill, porn starlet Ginger Lynn Allen and director Frank Henenlotter). Even the celebrity presentations felt perfunctory and uninspiring, with quite a few guests I’ve seen time and again at previous conventions--Sid Haig, Ken Foree, John Buechler--and no less than two presentations by the cast of THE BOONDOCK SAINTS(!?).

     In a word, the show felt anticlimactic. Don’t believe me? Read the following and decide for yourself…

The turnout was shockingly scant. Not that this was such a terrible thing, as most of the vendors were still setting up their booths as the show began around 3 PM. As for the auditorium where the meat of the event--the celebrity panels--took place, it was largely deserted. At its most crowded (on Friday) the place was barely a quarter full.

     The presentations began with the master of ceremonies, Creation’s Adam Malin (replacing Fango’s more charismatic Tony Timpone), interviewing special effects ace Gabe Bartalos. He spoke of working for the late Empire Pictures, laboring on Michael Jackson’s MOONWALKER video and designing the critters for LEPRECHAUN 2, about which Bartalos claims a Trimark executive told him “Whatever you did (in part 1), don’t touch it!”

     Following this was an independent filmmaker panel with Sean and Jonathan Lewis of BLACK DEVIL DOLL, Geza Decsy of the infamous backyard wrestling doc THE BACKYARD and the upcoming horror flick ALLUVIAL, Brain Damage Films’ David Sterling and a couple guys whose names (and credits) I don’t recall. The panel was largely focused on the Lewis boys, who got some scattered applause from the sparse crowd and were repeatedly questioned by the other panelists, who seemed genuinely interested in the success of BLACK DEVIL DOLL.
     Shawn Lewis claimed he wanted to do something “really cheap and sleazy” with BLACK DEVIL DOLL, that he’d never again work with a puppet, and that he booked the film primarily on the midnight movie circuit--where it “looked like shit” but audiences didn’t care because “they were drunk anyway.” Other interesting things from the panel: that for the major studios independent film is a “glamorous name for union busting,” and that, according to one of the panelists, filmmakers can do “so much less” with $1 million than they can with $150 thousand.

     I skipped the following panel, a presentation for THE BOONDOCK SAINTS, which is a). not horror by any stretch of the imagination, and b). not that great a movie anyway.

     I did, however, make sure to catch the one and only Joe Bob Briggs (a.k.a. John Bloom), who gave a one-man dissertation that he performed in his standard attire (Wrangler shirt, jeans and cowboy boots). He was more soft-spoken than he is on TV, and his Texas accent not nearly as thick. He was funny, though, recalling the nine years he spent as host of The Movie Channel’s DRIVE-IN THEATER, where his mission was “taking the worst movies ever made and finding some reason to watch ‘em.” On moving to TNT in the mid-nineties to do essentially the same show, Joe Bob said TNT execs offered him the slot and he responded that he “only knew how to do one thing.”
     He spoke of a contest he held on TNT in which he offered to send a case Old Milwaukee to anyone who could explain the plot of SUPERBEAST (1972); nobody was able to do so. Even wilder, he prided himself on developing a cult around THE HOWLING VII (1995), which Joe Bob says he analyzed “like the Criterion Collection.”
     Joe Bob also talked about his print reviews, in which it’s apparently rare to find a star rating lower than 2, since “as long as it’s anything but boring it can’t go below a 2”; the fact that he was the “only” critic who ever wrote a favorable review of the original I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (ahem!); that he believes in remakes, but only of bad movies; that he’s a big fan of streaming movies on the internet, apparently the independent moviemaker’s “best friend”; that the Texas studio where he taped his TNT program was built by onetime presidential candidate Ross Perot; and that he’s planning on producing some micro-budgeted horror flicks to help clean up the “big mess” he feels has been made of the independent film scene.

This second day was more crowded than the previous one, although the turnout was far from the massive Saturday crowds I’m accustomed to seeing at these events.

     The day began with a half hour trailer reel, which I skipped, before kicking off with a presentation by special effects maestro Greg Nicotero. He was there to promote his work on AMC’s new WALKING DEAD series, and brought along a couple crewmembers and a spindly actor; the latter plays a zombie because, Nicotero claims, he’s “very zombie-like” (true). Nicotero praised AMC for giving him complete freedom on the show, showed a time-lapse video of an actor getting zombie makeup applied, and recalled working with George Romero on DAY OF THE DEAD, where Romero taught him to fine tune the performances of zombie extras.

     I missed most of the following presentation by DAWN OF THE DEAD’S Ken Foree, but did catch the tail end. Ken may be an overused standby at these conventions, but he is quite the speaker: impossibly animated and energetic, and always in an up mood. As I entered he was in the middle of a story about his encounter with actress Francis Fisher (who he identified as “that woman who played the mistress in UNFORGIVEN who Clint Eastwood was divorcing”) before he was cut short by time constraints. He promised to finish the story another time.

     Next was a presentation for the 1988 grindhouse “classic” MANIAC COP. I’ve never thought much of that film but enjoyed the presentation, a true freakshow with lead actor Robert Z’Dar, who appears to have put on at least 300 pounds in the ensuing years, joined by director William Lustig, who’s always been a big (VERY big) guy, and actress Laurine Landon, whose face was so pulled back it looked demonic. Joe Bob Briggs was back as moderator.
     Lustig recalled how filming commenced without a script, just a concept and a poster whose unforgettable tagline read “You Have the Right to Remain Silent…Forever.” He also admitted he much prefers MANIAC COP 2, an opinion Joe Bob, who claimed the latter film contained “one of the greatest car chases ever,” seconded. Joe Bob also mentioned a MANIAC COP rip-off called SAMURAI COP, which happened to star Mr. Z’Dar, who had little to say about the experience (he spoke a bit about the swordplay he performed in the film before cutting his reply short with “Next question!”).
     Joe Bob asked Lustig if he’d ever make a MANIAC COP 3. “We did” was his reply. Lustig added that he was none too pleased with that film, a “MANIAC COP film for people who don’t like MANIAC COP films.” He also spoke briefly about the late Joe Spinell and the upcoming MANIAC blu-ray release and theatrical rerelease.
     The presentation ended with Robert Z'Dar pushed out in a wheelchair and Ms. Landon grabbing the microphone for a final plea to “all the women out there: Please follow your dreams and believe in yourselves,” and that “when someone breaks your wings get back on your broom and fly!”

     Sid Haig is another Weekend of Horrors regular who was trotted out once again. Of course there’s a reason this guy, like Ken Foree, is such a fixture. Quite simply, he’s damn entertaining.
     The presentation consisted of Haig sitting in a chair and fielding questions from the (pretty scant) audience. Regarding Quentin Tarantino, Haig praised his “energy-energy-energy all day long” and admitted he regrets turning down the Marcellus Wallace roll in PULP FICTION, due apparently to a misunderstanding about the shooting schedule. Somebody asked how it was working on so many films in the Philippines, which got a fairly long-winded reply and the observation that the weeks there are eight days long, but “once you get past that (the experience is) amazing.”
     Haig just completed his 64th film, and says the worst thing about being a horror icon is that people think HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS are the only films he’s ever done. He views frequent co-star Pam Grier as his “little sister” and once answered a first-time director’s quarry about giving Haig a line reading with “sure, just as long as you realize those will be the last words you ever speak!”
     He also believes he pissed off a young James Cameron while shooting GALAXY OF TERROR (1981), on which Cameron worked as a second unit director, because Haig challenged Cameron’s direction to “die silently.” Asked about NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3-D (2006) he replied, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all,” and excused the many crappy movies he’s appeared in this way: “If some cheesy-ass movie is the only way to get the bills paid, you go ahead and do it…and hope nobody sees it!”

     Joe Bob Briggs was back to moderate a panel for a remake of the eighties cheese-fest NIGHT OF THE DEMONS. The best part of the presentation was a pre-panel clip from the movie, showing a hot chick sticking a lipstick into her tit and pulling it out of her pussy (needless to add, there was a stern parental warning beforehand).
     On the panel were director Adam Gierasch and screenwriter Jace Anderson, both of whom I found annoying (although they were evidently quite pleased with themselves), and the original film’s director Kevin Tenney. Speaking to Tenney of the first NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, Joe Bob bluntly proclaimed he “would not put this in your top films.” This new version doesn’t look much better.

     Following this was the costume contest, with a gaggle of costumed folks appearing on the stage. The winner was chosen by the intensity of the audience applause that accompanied his/her appearance, and that winner was a fat dude with decomposing zombie makeup who pushed a wheelbarrow filled with prosthetic body parts.

     Next was Saturday’s final presentation, and, according to Adam Malin, “the highlight of the weekend for all of us”: an appearance by the inimitable Bruce Campbell!
     Those outside the hardcore horror sphere are probably puzzled by the pull Mr. Campbell exerts at events like this one. He’s the closest thing the horror convention set has to a rock star, and no wonder: he’s quick, lively and, most importantly, funny as shit!
     Bruce appeared onstage in a white suit, to an orgasmic comment from a woman in the audience: “You smell good!” He then called up people to take part in a makeshift EVIL DEAD tattoo contest; the winner was a guy with the poster image from the first EVIL DEAD tattooed on his belly. The prize: a whopping three dollars.
     Asked who he’d pick to play him in a movie, Bruce selected “Ben the Chin Affleck,” and Ashton Kuchar to essay his EVIL DEAD character Ash, as Kuchar is “one guy I’d like to see raped by a tree.” Also, “Don’t make a movie in Bulgaria,” where Bruce lensed THE MAN WITH THE SCREAMING BRAIN, although he acknowledged that “the movie would probably have sucked if it was shot in Burbank.”
     Bruce then did a bit he does at seemingly all his appearances: the pretend-you’re-a-studio-executive game. This entails asking an audience member if he’d greenlight a movie produced by Steven Spielberg, scripted by the Oscar winning John Patrick Shanley, based on a novel by Michael Crichton, etc. When the audience member says yes (although this particular guy actually said no, which Bruce countered with “Bullshit!”) he reveals that “you’ve just made CONGO.” CONGO (1995), for those who don’t know, is one of Bruce’s lesser movies.
     He mentioned an upcoming movie he wants to do called (I think) BRUCE VS. FRANKENSTEIN, which he promises will be “THE EXPENDABLES of horror,” starring himself and a bunch of horror icons. His old pal Ted Raimi, however, won’t be invited, as “this one I want to be successful!” This was the start of a lot of sarcastic Ted Raimi bashing. Working on XENA, for instance, was apparently fun “aside from Ted Raimi,” and Bruce recalled babysitting for Ted and taking him to cello lessons: “He sucked at cello and was a little brat!”
     Bruce also claimed his cameos in the SPIDERMAN flicks were pivotal to the franchise, as he named the character in the first film, was the only individual to defeat Spiderman in part two, and gave him important life advice in part three. He answered a woman’s quarry about how it feels to be the “only” sex symbol to female horror fans thusly: “I didn’t know there were female horror fans!” He then chided the crowd for shelling out for the dozen or so DVD versions of ARMY OF DARKNESS (“You suckers bought ‘em all!”), and for having “the chubs” for zombies (“Who cares about zombies?”). He dissed the TWILIGHT flicks (“Get a tan!”) and revealed that for Halloween he’ll be “An unemployed actor.”
     Bruce exited with a (seemingly) heartfelt tribute to his audience: “Thank you for putting my kids through college!”

Sunday, the final and most depressing day of the convention, started out in fitting fashion: with a reunion for the 1986 “cult classic” HUNTER’S BLOOD and a whopping 10 people in the audience. The whole presentation was a bit of a bust, with a moderator who literally said nothing until near the end and a lot of rambling by co-star Clu Gulager, who among other things droned on about a trailer he’d seen for THE CLONUS HORROR, an unrelated film produced by fellow panelist Meryl Schrieber.
     It was Schrieber who talked the most, going on about how HUNTER’S BLOOD, a low budget DELIVERANCE wannabe, was a “labor of love” and a “family affair,” with a cast that of course remained close friends after the shoot was over. It was revealed that Billy Bob Thornton got his first-ever acting job on HUNTER’S BLOOD as an extra, and that Schrieber got top (or at least above-average) actors to appear in the film by promising them elaborate death scenes. As to why the film has yet to be released on DVD Schrieber isn’t entirely sure, but promised he’ll speak with HUNTER’S BLOOD’S current rights holder Roger Corman about that ASAP.

     Following this was a noon screening of HUNTER’S BLOOD in the convention screening room (actually a regular room with a screen against a wall), courtesy of a DVD owned by Meryl Schrieber. Some “courtesy!” The DVD conked out a little over an hour into the screening (just when this slow-moving film was getting good, dammit!).

     I reported back to the auditorium around 2 PM to catch special effects ace turned director John Carl Buechler. He looked like he usually does; that is to say he was severely overweight and wore flip flops.
     Buechler’s topics ranged from his years working for Roger Corman to how he broke into directing with Charles Band’s Empire Pictures. Mr. Band apparently gave Buechler “the best deal in history” on his directorial debut TROLL. Buechler also recalled how he designed the titular GHOULIES (in a film that started out as something else entirely but ended up with the so-called Ghoulies added in at the last minute) and admitted his vision for FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH VII, which he directed, was compromised by the MPAA and a clueless associate producer, who axed Buechler’s original ending.
     Buechler concluded his presentation by showing off several of his most memorable creatures, including the mushroom critter from TROLL and a Jason head.

     Next was the tattoo contest. This consisted of a couple dozen tattooed people called onto the stage to show their tats to four judges, among them Ken Foree and Sid Haig. The process took an obnoxiously long time, eventually concluding with three winners chosen. First place went to a guy who had the faces of several horror icons on his arm.

     I don’t watch TRUE BLOOD and so got little out of the presentation by its stars Jim Parrack and Kristin Bauer. The auditorium wasn’t especially full but those people that were present seemed quite enthusiastic.
     Parrack and Bauer talked a lot about the show’s creator Alan Ball, about whom “purity” and “brilliance” were the operative words. Kristin concluded her appearance by showing off a tattoo-in-progress on one of her shoulders that when completed will run down her back.

     The “Heroes, Heroines and Monsters” panel promised an appearance by several genre icons, but it was late in the day and most of the scheduled luminaries had left. Thus it became, in the words of its moderator Joe Bob Briggs, a “Theme-less Panel” with just three participants: DAY OF THE DEAD’S Joe Pilato, FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH’S Adrienne King and eighties trash movie fixture Sybil Danning.
     The irrepressible Danning, outfitted all in black leather (and, I must say, looking pretty damn good for her 51 years), hijacked the presentation. Among her ramblings were a recollection of an injury that nearly ended her career (“like a good German Shepherd I’m back again”), and of how she suggested ending REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS (1986) with a catfight between her and the late Wendy O. Williams that was called off because Williams didn’t want to do it. Danning is also certain that the segment of GRINDHOUSE in which she appeared, the Rob Zombie directed mock trailer WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE S.S., will soon be made into a feature film (following MACHETE). I won’t be holding my breath for that!
     On those rare occasions when they were able to get a word in edgewise, Danning’s fellow panelists had a few revelations of their own. King, for instance, has a wine called Crystal Lake (get it?), and Pilato is currently appearing in the fourth(!) remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.
     I got a kick out of an audience member who asked Danning the most fumbling, awkward question ever, with a record amount of “ums” and “you knows;” Joe Bob finally offered to “translate” the quarry for Danning. For the record, the question was about how Danning feels about all the nudity she’s done onscreen--she replied that, being European, she has no problem with it.

     The second-to-last presentation consisted of horror writers talking about their craft, moderated by the seminal splatterpunk John Skipp. There were ten authors onstage, nearly equal to the number of people in the audience.
     Skipp, as is his custom, was insanely high-spirited throughout. Among the panelists was Jeff Connor of IDW Publishing, who has a new anthology out that Connor describes as a “corrective” to those annoying literary horror mash-ups (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, etc). The popular comic scripter Steve Niles also spoke of his upcoming projects, but held the microphone too far from his face and so was difficult to hear.
     The majority of the panel was focused on Skipp’s new werewolf anthology, to which quite a few of the panelists contributed. Skipp also gave an interesting dissertation on the state of horror, admitting the genre has “lost some of its juice” but that its motifs have penetrated into mainstream culture (CSI and TWILIGHT being the stated examples), meaning its practitioners’ aims have been partially successful. His writing partner Cody Longfellow, alas, screwed things up by attempting to add to Skipp’s thoughts with his own far less insightful blather, which had a guy behind me groaning “Shut up!

     The final panel, an interview with three actresses who worked for Dario Argento, took place at 5:30 PM, and was decidedly inauspicious. The majority of the crowd had left by then and most of the dealers were packing up their wares (even though the posted closing time was 7 PM). On the panel were INFERNO’S Irene Miracle, Barbara Magnolfi from SUSPIRIA and Geretta Geretta from DEMONS. Appearance-wise all looked considerably older (and weightier) than I recall from the films. But anyway…
     According to Miracle, Argento is “very intense,” with a mind that “goes a million miles a minute.” Geretta claimed Argento was “really fun, really cool” and Magnolfi found him “very gentle with actors.” Speaking of the legendary underwater sequence in INFERNO, Miracle dubbed it “a gas” because at the time it was really hot in Rome and she got to spend the day swimming.
     Two of the actresses are now directing (their projects frankly didn’t sound too promising), while another worked for both Argento and the late Joe D’Amato. She described their working styles as “night and day,” with D’Amato far looser and more improvisational.

     And so on and so forth…