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The Fangoria 2009 Los Angeles Weekend of Horrors
 

The following took place on April 17th, 18th and 19th.  Held at the L.A. Convention Center’s cavernous west hall on Fangoria magazine’s 30th anniversary, it was said to be the most elaborate and monumental Fango Weekend of Horrors yet.
     As usual I attended all three days, and below you’ll find my thoughts, beginning with...

Friday

     From outside the Convention Center looked quite nonchalant.  You might even think you’d stumbled onto the wrong place, as there was none of the expected punked-out, black T shirt wearing crowd milling around.  All I saw were several of those short buses for handicapped kids parked outside.
     The reason for those buses was ironic: a kiddie science fair was being held in the same wing of the Convention Center.  Its attendees--conservative, often Southern accented and largely underage--made for a definite contrast with the grown-up horror buffs attending the Fango con. 

The Line
     Long, though not obnoxiously so.  The intrusion of the science fair made it so the line was situated in a long hallway adjacent to the exhibitor room.
     An overheard complaint alleged that “they’re a little disorganized this year.”  Actually, I found the event’s organizers, Creation Entertainment, to be far more organized than usual.  The line actually moved reasonably quickly, and there wasn’t a lot of fumbling around when I got to its head.  The programs weren’t ready, however (I was told to “come back in a half hour”).
     After this we were escorted to another line, this one for the exhibitor hall, which opened at 2:00 PM. 

The Exhibitor Hall
     It seemed smaller than last year’s, even though it was held in the same place.  Many of the vendors from years past--Rotten Cotton graphics, Anchor Bay Entertainment, Bad Moon Books--were there, as were a bunch of so-called celebrities. 
     There was Cory Haim, looking sad, FRIGHT NIGHT’S William Ragsdale, looking lonely, and the Italian horror legends Lamberto Bava and Ruggero Deodato (who I spied receiving a CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST ad slick by a star struck vendor who called him “my brother!”), both looking mighty old.  I also noticed booths for HELLRAISER’S Ashley Laurence, Tobe Hooper and the DEMONS cast, but none were present.
     For that matter, the area overall was pretty sparse vendor-wise.  I could only hope more showed up in the following days. 

The Auditorium
     Also held in a different place than last year, a large room seemingly located a mile away from the exhibitor hall (last year the two rooms were much closer).  The auditorium seemed much bigger than usual, with a neat stage decked out with green backlighting and tombstones.  As always, Fango’s ever-smiling editor Tony Timpone hosted the panels, in his usual oversized suit and fruity, spring-heeled gait.

     First was a presentation for an upcoming flick called WAKING DISTANCE.  I don’t remember much about the presentation except for the fact that PHANTASM’S Reggie Bannister was among the panelists. 

     Next was a preview for PIG HUNT, a horror-actioner (looking an awful lot like the 1984 evil pig chiller RAZORBACK).  Director Jim Isaac was there; he claimed he had problems selling the film because Hollywood people like to strictly codify and categorize their movies, whereas his is apparently all over the place genre-wise.

     A far more significant presentation followed: an appearance by the one and only Sam Raimi to promote his upcoming horrorfest DRAG ME TO HELL, together with two of the film’s stars.  Raimi was poised, well spoken and outfitted in a suit and tie.
     He claimed he was aiming for a “good, old-fashioned campfire story” with his new film.  He also spoke about his experiences working in the Hollywood studio system, apparently a “very resource-rich environment” in which to make films, and imparted some advice to novice filmmakers: write every day, film something and then get your friends to each pay $1.00 to see it! 
     Somebody asked Sam if he’ll ever release the early short that was the impetus for EVIL DEAD.  He answered that he doesn’t own the music used in the film, so an official release is unlikely.  The presentation concluded with Timpone giving Sam an award, and a standing ovation from the audience (the first of many). 

     Next up was a preview for GRACE, an apparently extremely intense indie involving a pregnant woman.  The director Paul Solet was joined by lead actress Jordan Ladd and producer (and HATCHET director) Adam Green, who spoke briefly about an upcoming film of his own.  The latter frankly sounded more interesting, a ski lift slasher filmed in minus-30 degree temperatures in Utah.
     As for the film at hand, we were shown a clip of Ladd giving birth in a bathtub that reportedly caused several guys to pass out at a festival screening.  Somehow I managed to stay conscious.

     THE DEVIL’S REJECTS’ Bill Moseley appeared onstage to chat about his career in fear.  He claims to have debuted with an early-eighties TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE parody that was seen by Tobe Hooper, who was so impressed with Moseley’s performance he cast him as “Chop-Top” in TCM 2. 
     As for Moseley’s experiences with Rob Zombie on the aforementioned DEVIL’S REJECTS, “it’s a rare situation when a director and actor are on the same wavelength,” as demonstrated by an instance during the filming in which Moseley sniffed a gun barrel and Zombie suggested he compare it to “your wife’s pussy stink.”

     The “Godfather of Gore” H.G. Lewis was up last.  He looked old and decrepit, but still spoke in his trademark voice, a smooth, energetic cadence (let’s not forget the guy was once an announcer and singer in addition to a pioneering goremeister).  He gave us the skinny on his new flick GRIM FAIRY TALE, apparently just completed last week. A trailer for the film was shown, and it was a hoot, depicting a demented game show in which people are hacked up--best moment: a woman confronting the program’s psychotic host with a severed arm, wailing that “I was told my son would come home in one piece and this is what I got!”
     In addition, Lewis stressed the importance of marketing and showmanship in low budget moviemaking: “Any schmuck can move a camera...what matters is whether someone will pay to see that schmuck’s movie!”
     There was much more to Lewis’ appearance, and I’d have liked to have seen it, but I ended up heading over to the film room for a 7:30 PM screening.  Which brings us to...

The Film Room
     Lots nicer than last year’s (a tiny upstairs room with the picture projected on a wall).  This new room was less cramped, although the projection still left something to be desired.
     As for the movie, the notorious French-Canadian sickie MARTYRS, you can read my thoughts here.  I’ll reveal that it definitely lived up to its fearsome reputation, inspiring several walk-outs.  The film was powerful enough that it held my interest even with a concert held in an adjoining room, whose noise clashed with and frequently drowned out the soundtrack.  After it was over the projectionist commented, “I think we can all agree that the French are really fucked up!” 

Saturday

     As expected, the crowds were bigger than on Friday, and more stars were on hand.  Mick Garris was glimpsed holding court, as were many of the previous day’s no-shows, including Ashley Laurence and the once-hot 1980’s starlet Sybil Danning.  Corey Haim and William Ragsdale were still on hand, and neither looked any happier than they did on Friday.
     Some especially memorable costumes were on display, my favorite being a dude outfitted as a blood splattered In-N-Out employee. 

The Auction Room
     An added attraction was the all-day movie memorabilia auction.  A highly regimented, decorous affair, it was held in a room adjacent to the auditorium and came complete with suit wearing overseers, a scantily clad young chick modeling the items being auctioned, and a motor-mouthed auctioneer.
     I didn’t bid on anything, and nor did anyone else present in the sparsely populated room.  All the bids came through phones or the internet, manned by intense auction employees and monitored by equally intense dudes who alerted the auctioneer to incoming bids with a loud “HO!” 
     Among the items auctioned was a minor’s hat from MY BLOODY VALENTINE, which went for $450, a jersey worn by actress Ali Larter in OBSESSED for $100, and actor Rider Strong’s wardrobe from PULSE 3 for $25.  Yes, people actually do pay top dollar for such crap, and no, I can’t believe it either!

The Auditorium Pt. 2
    
The presentations began at 11:30, 3 hours earlier than Friday’s.  I missed the first two panels, but caught a preview of a slasher called LAID TO REST.  It was notable for the obnoxious director, who sounded an awful lot like Sirius radio personality Scott Ferrall, and who summed up his skill level this way: “The one thing I know I can do is put in a lot of kick-ass deaths!”
     A clip was shown featuring a dude getting his face sawed off and a chick getting disemboweled.  There was enthusiastic applause for both kills. 

     The hotly anticipated Masters of Italian Horror panel, featuring the pastaland filmmakers Ruggero Deodato (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) and Lamberto Bava (DEMONS) and special effects technician Sergio Stivaletti (old men all) followed. 
     It began inauspiciously, with the translator nowhere to be found.  An Italian guy from the audience was called to the stage to translate, and actually did a good job--when the real translator finally turned up I found I preferred the other guy’s translations.
     Among the revelations: Deodato feels there’s “too much gore” in today’s horror films (yes, this is the guy who made CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST).  Bava thinks the American version of DEMONS, with the gore quotient pared down, is better than the Italian original.  Deodato claims CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST became popular after the release of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, which bore quite a few similarities.  A front row audience member gave an impassioned rant about the joys of Italian horror, and said he “lives in fear” of an American remake of Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE.  Deodato really hates CANNIBAL FEROX director Umberto Lenzi, saying he ripped him off.
     The presentation on the whole was a bit of a bust, with every question a drawn-out ordeal entailing multiple translations from English to Italian and back.  The crowd, however, was patient.  Most were evidently rabid fans, and gave the codgers another standing-o. 

     There was an obnoxious wait for the HELLRAISER reunion, as the participants--Clive Barker, Doug Bradley and Ashley Laurence--were busy doing photo ops.  In the meantime several appropriately themed songs were played: Inxs’ “Devil Inside,” Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” and Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone.”
     The presentation, once it finally got started, proved quite lively, drawing the largest crowd thus far and boasting a typically animated Clive Barker.  He spoke the most out of the three despite the fact that his voice sounded raspier and more guttural than usual (he revealed that the polyps taken removed from his throat last year are back).  Clive also sported a shaved head and earring, and looked sweaty and confused (in other words, medicated).  As for his companions, Doug Bradley was chipper and Ashley Laurence sexy and vibrant--though obviously quite a bit older than in HELLRAISER.
     Doug and Clive recalled how they first met back in high school, where Clive was very active in writing plays.  Ashley spoke of her audition for HELLRAISER, with Clive telling her “your uncle is trying to kill and have sex with you, in that order...respond!”
     HELLRAISER marked the first feature film credit for Clive, Doug and Ashley, and according to Clive all three were “too ignorant to censor ourselves.”  It was also an early credit for scorer Christopher Young, one of the project’s “great unsung heroes” (Clive again). 
     In other Clive Barker news (as I said, he was by far the most talkative of the three), he’s reportedly “a draft away” from finishing his long-in-the-works epic novel THE SCARLET GOSPELS, and a chapter shy of completing the third ABARAT book.  He also claimed he was glad he got his start writing rather than making movies, or he would have been driven crazy and “killed somebody.”
     A standing ovation topped off the presentation. 

     THE MUTANT CHRONICLES is, according to Tony Timpone, the spring’s horror/sci fi movie to beat.  A trailer was shown depicting a highly stylized CGI universe populated by several well-known actors.  Two of them, Ron Perlman and Thomas Jane, took the stage, along with actress Anna Walton and director Simon Hunter.
     Hunter, a dapper Brit, was a mite dull, with a tendency to ramble.  The pretty Walton, also British, came off as ditzy (describing her character as a “monk-ette”) and Perlman distant--he answered every question posed him with a glib exclamation (i.e. “I recommend it” when queried about working with Guillermo Del Toro), followed by a long pause and then a more thoughtful, if halting and stuttering, response (i.e. “it would be a dream to, you know, find a movie that-that Thomas could be in”).
     As for Thomas Jane, he acted groggy, disoriented and plain out of it.  His opening remark was “I gotta take a leak,” after which he left the stage and returned minutes later wearing dark glasses.  “Have you not caught on to the fact that I don’t know what’s going on?” he blearily asked Timpone.  I don’t know what kind of chemical substance Mr. Jane was on, but I want some! 
     Jane became semi-coherent at the end of the panel, revealing that a previous Fango Convention’s enthusiastic fan reaction to the question of whether he should play the Punisher convinced him to take the part.

     The day's last panel was a tribute to the late, great Stan Winston.  It was taken up largely by a lengthy succession of film clips showcasing the Winston-designed special effects of films like JURASSIC PARK, THE TERMINATOR, ALIENS, A.I., PREDATOR, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and many more, all cut into a juicy montage of monsters, robots and gore.  There was also a trailer for the flick PANDORUM, produced by Winston’s company Legacy Effects, and depicting a bunch of guys going nuts aboard a spaceship.

Sunday 

     Still crowded, though considerably less so than Saturday.  Overall I found Sunday a bit of a letdown--think of Friday as the warming-up period and Saturday the blast-off.  That made Sunday the comedown...or, if you prefer, the hangover.

The Exhibitor Hall, Pt. 2
      Many of the expected exhibitors still hadn’t turned up, including Tobe Hooper (although his name still adorned a table).  It was a day of deplenished stock and declining buyer interest.  This, however, didn’t seem to inspire too many of the vendors to drop their prices! 

The Upstairs Auditorium
     This Weekend of Horrors was so jam-packed a second Auditorium was set up on the second floor.  Considerably smaller than the other, it housed many less-than-auspicious presentations, of which I caught two. 

     The first of those presentations was for a soon-to-be-released thriller called DARK MIRROR, which didn’t look especially promising.  The participants, however, couldn’t praise the script enough, particularly actress Lisa Vidal
     The latter all-but hijacked the panel, chattering even when she didn’t have a microphone to talk into.  Also present was Daeg Faerch, who played young Michael Myers in the HALLOWEEN remake.  He had little to say outside the revelation that his part was “pretty cool” and, speaking of his turn in HALLOWEEN, “I highly enjoy the whole murdering thing.”

     A LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT reunion followed with actors David Hess, Fred Lincoln and Marc Sheffler (the bad-asses from the original 1973 film) together with author David Szulkin, who wrote the popular LHOTL making-of book.
     The presentation took forever to get started, with the four panelists milling around alongside the stage for some time.  At one point Hess jumped up on the empty stage and growled, “You guys are just gonna have to wait for me to scare you!”
     Once it got going the proceedings were pretty raucous, with moderator Shannon Lark, a pretty gal chosen as Fango’s 2009 “Spooksmodel,” fighting to keep the unruly panelists on track--and more often than not losing!
     On how he “prepared” for his role, Hess responded thusly: “Who prepares?  We were lucky to get work for chrissakes!”  Sheffler discussed how that in a pivotal emotional scene one of the lead actresses wasn’t giving it her all; he claims he supplied the needed motivation by threatening to throw the girl off a cliff.  He also assured us that “my dick getting bit off wasn’t real” and praised the efforts of Fred Lincoln, the most experienced member of the cast and crew: “Wes (Craven) gets all the credit, Sean (Cunningham) gets all the money, but Fred deserves a lot of credit.”  Hess finished the presentation off by pointing out that all the actors were friendly with one another, and that it’s very important in low budget filmmaking to “make sure everybody likes each other.” 
     Oh, and the recent LHOTL remake?  Two of the four participants hadn’t seen it.  Of those who had, Szulkin dubbed it “worthless” and Hess a “fourteen dollar loss.”

The Auditorium Pt. 3
     Back downstairs I caught a reunion for a much more recent film, the “cult classic” REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA.
     Please understand, I harbor no hatred for REPO.  In all honesty, I don’t have any strong feelings about the film one way or another.  I couldn’t help but feel annoyed, however, at all the self-congratulatory hype dished out by director Darren Lynn Bousman, who spent much of the panel reiterating how the film started out with “no publicity” (not entirely true as I recall) and became a worldwide phenomenon strictly due to word-of-mouth--and in just six months!  We were shown a short documentary to help illustrate his point.
     The doc only lasted a couple minutes, and was composed of extremely fast edits.  It contained a montage of the many comic strips inspired by REPO (which a subtitle informed us were all drawn by the same guy) and enthusiastic audiences reacting to it--most of which appeared to have been filmed in the same movie theater (which the documentarian, who was on hand, confirmed).
     The audience for this panel just happened to include several “Shadow Cast” members who dress up like the film’s characters and act out scenes.  These Shadow Casters acted as cheerleaders, hooting and hollering at the panelists’ every utterance.
     Giving Bousman and his cast the benefit of the doubt, they may well believe REPO is the Earth-shaking cult phenomenon they made it out to be.  As one who’s been directly involved in the making and marketing of several independent films, I can attest that a certain tunnel vision is quite common when one has spent over a year of one’s life invested in a project--it appears the REPO crowd evidently have a malignant case of that very affliction.   

     A more welcome presentation followed with Tobe Hooper, although his mumbled delivery wasn’t entirely edifying.  He began by revealing how he came up with the idea for THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: he was in a crowded department store and came across a chainsaw display.
     Leatherface was apparently inspired “more by the family doctor than Ed Gein,” and later, after the film was completed, Hooper had to fight rumors that he was a Hell’s Angel tearing up L.A. film sets--“and that was before I even moved here!”  Working on the late MASTERS OF HORROR series was “really good...really cool,” and EATEN ALIVE star Neville was apparently a tough guy who roughed a lot of people up on the set. 

     Hooper was later joined by cast members from TCM 1 & 2 for a TEXAS CHINASAW MASSACRE reunion: Marilyn Burns (the heroine of part 1), Caroline Williams (part 2’s headliner), Bill Moseley (part 2’s Chop-Top) and Bill Johnson (the second film’s Leatherface).  All were extremely deferential to Hooper, who (typically) didn’t evince much reaction.
     On charges of misogyny, Burns said “I did get away!” and the Texan Williams emphasized the toughness of her character: “In Texas there are girls and gals...I was a gal!”  Johnson proved a refined and urbane gent, comparing Hooper to an opera conductor.  Moseley for his part claimed to have improvised the line “Lick my plate you dog dick!”
     There was much reminiscing about Lou Perry, a bit player in TCM 2 who was recently murdered, and who was apparently close with everyone on the stage.  An audience member asked Hooper what scared him the most; his response was inaudible, but Moseley offered his own answer, “George W. Bush,” only to have Williams counter with “Barack Obama” and a mini-rant about taxation.    

     The final presentation was by Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman, who turned up onstage with a guy costumed as Toxie from THE TOXIC AVENGER and a bunch of pretty ladies holding Troma signs.  Lloyd made lots of bad jokes (“Now that we’re in a happy mood let’s bail out AIG!”), showed a dull music video he directed, gave his feelings on CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (he doesn’t much like it, particularly the porpoise killing scene), and talked about his brother Charles, who made MOTHER’S DAY and currently runs a bread-making operation in San Diego (buying some is “the yeast you can do!”).  And so on.

 

--4/20/09
 


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