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A Report on Fangoria’s May, 2007 Weekend of Horrors

  

Another year, another Fangoria Weekend of Horrors.  2007’s Southern California Fango WoH was, like the previous year’s, an elaborate three-day event held at Burbank’s Airport Hilton (now Marriot) convention center from May 18-20.  Burbank, a.k.a. the End of the Universe, is a funny place: it seems to always be hot, really hot, out there.  Much of the rest of LA, interestingly enough, has cooled down in recent weeks, yet it was still approximately a thousand degrees out in Burbank. 

     But anyway: Creation was as usual the presenter, and, for once, did a halfway decent job.  For starters, the waiting in line experience, which drove me into a near-psychotic fugue last year, was a mite more pleasant this time around.  The Creation guys, led by the same wisecracking Native American dude who coordinates the line every year, were actually, dare I say it, efficient!  They promised we’d be let in at 1:00 and, even though I was bounced to the end of the line after reaching its apex early (it apparently didn’t occur to Creation to separate patrons who already had tickets from those who didn’t), that was about the time I actually did get into the convention center. 

     I was privy to all sorts of interesting things while waiting in line, more so than previous years, simply because the black t-shit wearing people around me were more interesting then usual.  Some interesting facts I learned: that Walt Disney World apparently hosts a Hot Topic sponsored Goth weekend every year; that Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman is an incoherent nut job (this is news?) and MY SO-CALLED LIFE alum Jared Leto, the self-proclaimed “Prince of Darkness”(!) a total asswipe (that too?); that military men are huge PC game buffs; and that the celebrities who speak at these West Coast conventions are on their best behavior due to the high concentration of producers and casting agents in the LA area.  Those same celebs apparently act like shitheads at East Coast cons, often showing up drunk (although Clive Barker in his Sunday appearance appeared more than a little soused himself--more on that in a bit).

    Once inside I was immediately shunted into another line, this one for the all-important freebie table.  Its wares included lots of useless flyers, movie one sheets, merchandise from last year’s event (including buttons for the OMEN remake: “6/6/06: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED”--remember that?) and even a brochure from “The Order of the Waning Light” headlined “WHAT CAN SATAN DO FOR ME?”

     The dealer’s area was vast as always, comprised of two rooms set alongside the main auditorium, a.k.a. the Academy Ballroom, and the hallway bordering it.  In previous years the dealer’s area also included a portion of the ballroom closed off to form a separate room, but this time the entire space was utilized for the celebrity presentations, hosted by Fango editor Tony Timpone (who as always wore suits that looked several sizes too big).  The remainder of the dealers’ area was grouped in two meeting rooms of the adjoining hotel, meaning you had to walk some distance to get to them. 

     Quite a few dealers were back from previous years, including the underground T-shirt outfit Rotten Cotton (who had a handwritten sign reading “Boobies = Free Tee!”) and the Lovecraftian DVD distributors Lurker Films.  Lionsgate maintained a space, to gave away posters and have actors recreate scenes from HOSTEL II (a hot chick sitting bound and gagged while guys stood over her menacingly wielding chainsaws and mallets--which completely jammed up the already congested hallway) and something called FIDO (a gal in fifties-era garb ordering around a zombie guy).  There was even a table manned by Fangoria itself, promoting its DVD line with two impeccably made up zombie babes.

    Let’s not forget the Anchor Bay booth, from which I scored several free DVDs.  Its proprietors held trivia contests (sample question: “What is the name of Stuart Gordon’s cat?”), one of which I won, only to be disqualified for “blurting out” the answer and not raising my hand (grrrrrrrrr!).  I got my just desserts, though, when on the last day of the convention I happened to walk by the booth...and was presented with several brand new, shrink-wrapped DVDs that hadn’t been won. 

    And you simply gotta love the sign I saw on one DVD dealers’ table that read “Cases Are Empty, Fuck You!”  Somehow I doubt you’ll ever see a sign like that in Best Buy!

     Then there were the presentations in the ballroom, of which I made a point to catch as many as possible.  Friday began with panels for the future releases HEADLESS HORSEMAN, REVAMPED and BRUTAL MASSACRE.  I missed those panels, but was there for a “New Zombies” discussion, in which ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE author (and all-around wise-ass) Max Brooks interviewed the creators of the DAY OF THE DEAD remake, BRAIN DEAD, DIARY OF THE DEAD and FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.  A trailer was shown for the last film, which got an enthusiastic reaction from the audience; I’ll have to say it looked fun, kinda like SNAKES ON A PLANE with zombies in place of reptiles.  The irrepressible Max Brooks, for his part, was back on Sunday, and was allowed to REALLY let loose--here, though, he seemed overly subdued.

     I also caught a brief look at Dario Argento’s new film THE THIRD MOTHER by actress Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni and screenwriter Jace Anderson, which was decidedly underwhelming.  We in the audience wanted to see Dario himself or the film’s lead Asia Argento, but neither was in attendance--and anyway, the flick just didn’t look all that cool.

     Ditto PARASOMINA, the subject of the next panel.  The presentation was notable only for the presence of its adorable young lead Dylan Purcell (a dead ringer for LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE’S Abigail Breslin) and REST STOP’S way-hot Cherilyn Wilson, even though neither had much to say (I later spotted these two walking through the dealer’s hall together, Wilson apparently being Purcell’s guardian for the day--I’m sure she was thrilled). 

    THE BELIEVERS panel was equally unexciting.  The film is a post-apocalyptic thing set in an underground bunker beset by a freaky religious cult; that aspect was enumerated by two yo-yo’s who wandered the convention wearing cardboard sandwich boards reading “THE END IS NEAR” and handing out flyers for the film.  I’ll admit I was initially fooled by these goons, mistaking them for actual religious nuts.  They certainly had the appearance of such: pasty and vacant-eyed, and frequently accosting me with the creepy quarry “Are you a believer?”  Clever promotion, but the movie doesn’t look like much.

     Frank Darabont’s Stephen King adaptation THE MIST is one of the movies I’m most hotly anticipating this year, and this was a presentation--by Darabont, actor Thomas Jane and conceptual artist Berni Wrightson--I was looking forward to immensely.  Alas, it was pretty dull, with no clips from the film and rambling commentary from Darabont.  Things particularly bogged down toward the end of the panel, which degenerated into a dull chat between Darabont and Wrightson, who, graphic genius or not, isn’t much of a public speaker. 

    There followed an appearance by Pinhead himself, Doug Bradley, a witty and urbane speaker who bemoaned the creative bankruptcy of modern Hollywood, with its overabundance of sequels and remakes.  As you might guess, Bradley didn’t seem too jazzed about the upcoming HELLRAISER redo.

     I skipped the 9 PM “Rock-N-Roll Spooktacular”, with performances by Voltaire, Zombeast and others, but showed up bright and early Saturday morning (having parked about two miles away as the hotel lot was full to overflowing), just in time for the HOSTEL II panel with Eli Roth and actresses Bijou Phillips and Vera Jordanova.  The gals looked sharp, but the motor-mouthed Roth kept the spotlight to himself, regaling his struggles with the MPAA and Lionsgate studio heads, whose perpetual reaction to Roth’s ideas was “You can’t do this!

     Next up was a panel for WRONG TURN 2.  I could care less about the movie, but was anxious to see the presentation because of “HENRY FUCKIN’ ROLLINS!”  That’s a direct quote from the flick’s director Joe Lynch, who claimed he said just that when Henry showed up to audition. 

     Lynch proceeded to show the first fifteen minutes of WT2, which were interrupted by the ear-splitting whine of the fire alarm (recognizable from last year’s MASTERS OF HORROR panel--evidently the goddamn thing goes off often and without reason).  Thus the clip had to be recued and screened again.  I must admit it was pretty compelling, with a cute chick driving down a country road, taking a turn (a wrong one, evidently) and running down a skuzzy dude...only to have him get up and, together with an equally skuzzy female companion, chop the cutie in half.  The killing was presented in immensely clever fashion, and got a HUGE reaction from the audience.

     The clip gave the presentation a terrific lead-in.  Throughout, Lynch was appropriately enthusiastic and Rollins his usual stoic self: He claimed he was attracted to the “stealth” of his character, and recounted the production’s many arduous fight scenes...yet he said little about the quality of the film overall.  Somehow I don’t believe there’s a whole lot to say on that subject!

     The BORDERLAND panel that followed was a letdown, of interest only for the way director Zev Berman SHOUTED every word into his mike while enumerating the film’s true-life aspects.  It didn’t look or sound very promising to me, although I was later told by someone in the dealers’ area that it’s a “kick-ass piece of work”, so will keep an eye out for it.

     While on the subject of the dealers’ area, let me add here that Saturday was a sold-out day, with the whole place all-but packed to the rafters.  The simple act of placing one foot in front of the other was a challenge, and the presentation ballroom filled with so much chatter it was often difficult to hear the speakers.

     The next panel of the day was a biggie: a PHANTASM reunion, with director Don Coscarelli joined onstage by several cast members from PHANTASM and its sequels, including Reggie Bannister, who’s been in all of ‘em--although Angus Grimm (a.k.a. the Tall Man) was conspicuously absent.  Coscarelli had some interesting tidbits about the arduous process of finding a distributor for PHANTASM 1, the similarities of its hooded critters to the Jawas of STAR WARS (the two flicks came out around the same time), and PHANTASM 2, which is currently “in limbo”.  The show was all-but stolen by actress Gloria Lynn Henry, who claimed she was the first-ever black woman to be killed in a horror movie and couldn’t seem to contain her evident excitement (“Sorry, am I being too loud?” she asked at one point).

     The PHANTASM gang later did a signing at the Anchor Bay booth, creating a long-ass line that clogged the main hall and so had to be rerouted through an outer door, where it wound around the outside of the building.  I opted to remain in the ballroom and catch the composers panel, which consisted largely of bitching from the likes of Christopher Young (HELLRAISER), Richard Band (RE-ANIMATOR) and John Harrison (CREEPSHOW) about the current state of the industry, the increasing use of “found” music over original scores, and technology, which one of them (I’ve forgotten who) claimed is “biting us all in the ass”. 

     I was surprised by the next panel, for the old school slasher flick HATCHET.  It was hosted by director Adam Green, who momentarily silenced the auditorium chatter by taking the stage and roaring “CAN EVERYBODY FUCKIN HEAR?” into his mike.  He then unveiled a making-of piece on the film, which began in bland fashion but gradually got better, and unforgettably climaxed with a guy getting his head twisted off his neck by a shadowy assailant, eliciting near-orgasmic cheers from the audience. 

     Green turned out to be an engaging speaker, introducing one of the film’s stars, Tony Todd, by asking the crowd to shout “CANDYMAN” (Tony’s most famous role) three times.  Green promised HATCHET will be the “hardest R ever”, denounced the “PG-13 shit” clogging modern movie screens, and, best of all, told the audience “it’s your fault” we’re plagued with so many shitty horror movies. 

     He was entirely correct, of course.  The movies we see and DVDs we purchase directly determine what films get made, pure and simple--this is a point I’ve been enumerating for years and nobody’s listened, so I doubt very many will heed the words of Adam Green.  I applaud him for bringing this issue up, though.

     Onto the next presentation, according to Mr. Timpone “the one you’ve been waiting for”: the Rob Zombie panel to promote his HALLOWEEN remake.  It began with a trailer for the film that didn’t make much of an impression (it looked exactly like the old HALLOWEEN), and then Timpone introduced several cast members, including Rob’s beau Sherri Moon and HALLOWEEN veteran Danielle Harris (last seen as a little girl in part five or six), as well as the kid who plays the young Michael Meyers and Rob Zombie himself, who got a standing ovation.

     The place was majorly packed for this, with people lined up along the walls...and, for virtually the only time that day, it was actually quiet.  That didn’t make it any easier to hear what was being said, however; at one point a guy in the audience asked about Zombie’s influences and he, mishearing, went into a dissertation on deleted scenes.  

     Zombie also claimed the tyke playing Michael Meyers was “scary as fuck”, admitted he shot an entire movie’s worth of footage for his GRINDHOUSE trailer, said Malcolm McDowell (who plays the Donald Pleasance role in Zombie’s film) was a “fuckin’ awesome guy”, that Martin Scrosese was his main cinematic influence, and that the TNT program he briefly hosted last year was a “miserable experience”.  Harris also got in some good digs, in particular her declaration that “all you pervs wanted to see my boobs when I was ten--gross!

     The presentation ended on a sour note, with Zombie heading back to his editing room in lieu of signing autographs.  Timpone had to repeat this info at least three times to the pissed-off audience; he even got into a tiff with one irate crowd member who shouted “You suck!” at him.  Tony fired back: “It’s not my fault he’s out of time!”

     The last presentation of the day--or at least, the last I sat through--was by SAW’S attractive Shawnee Smith.  The crowd had thinned out considerably by this time, and didn’t seem too into her session (the biggest reaction was elicited by a throwaway mention of Smith’s appearance in the eighties comedy SUMMER SCHOOL, which contained FX by Rick Baker).  Smith spoke reeeeeally sloooooowly, enumerating several times that she didn’t want to be a “stereotypical badass” horror babe in SAW 1-3 (okay, I get it!) and that she could be cut from parts 4 and 5 if she reveals any upcoming plot details.  At the end of her appearance Smith was surprised, or pretended to be, by a guy who showed up outfitted as Jigsaw--yawn.

     That was Saturday.  I was back Sunday AM to catch actress Thora Birch, looking thinner than she usually does onscreen and sporting blondish hair, discussing the new British horror flick DARK CORNERS.  I like Thora B., who usually always chooses interesting projects (DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS excepted) and has an engaging screen presence--which, it turned out, extends beyond the screen. 

     Birch was quite verbose, though, answering every question asked of her in lengthy, adjective-packed sentences.  She spoke, among other things, about the “riotous” experience of making GHOST WORLD, the “impactful” subplot cut from AMERICAN BEAUTY, and her “visually challenging” new film (of which I snagged a DVD copy, so expect a review sometime soon).

     There followed a promotional trailer for Anchor Bay, which consisted of a montage of clips from various AB-distributed productions, concluding with an astounding POV trip into a man’s right nostril as he screams.  Anyone out there know what movie this is from?

     Moving right along, we arrive at this year’s MASTERS OF HORROR panel, with series creator Mick Garris--who immediately announced, to enthusiastic applause, that yes, there will be third season of MOH--and two of the masters, Tom Holland and Meter Medak.  Both men looked old and graying, although they definitely weren’t at a loss for words, particularly the Hungarian-accented Medak, who hijacked the presentation with a long, boring soliloquy about the making of his 1980 “classic” THE CHANGELING

     We were shown lengthy clips from Holland and Medak’s MOH episodes: in Medak’s a bunch of grey wigged old farts have a cannibal chow down, while Holland’s featured a guy stuck on a rooftop discovering his body turning into book pages, apparently the last scene of the episode--“we might as well give away the ending”, Garris muttered.  Holland then spoke about the terrible reviews for the original PSYCHO as a preamble to discussing his own work on the PSYCHO II script, which he claims got uniformly positive reviews(!?).

     Next was--get this--a panel devoted to the upcoming films of Uwe Boll!  For those who don’t know, Boll is the German madman responsible for stinkers like ISLAND OF THE DEAD and last year’s mind-numbing BLOODRAYNE.  Two actors from his upcoming atrocities, Zack Ward and Jackie Tohn, discussed those films (the man himself was absent).  They include BLOODRAYNE 2(!), which Ward jokingly referred to as the follow-up to “that gigantic hit”, drawing much derisive laughter.  Understandably, neither actor seemed terribly enthused.

     A far better filmmaker, the British Neil Marshall, of DOG SOLDIERS and THE DESCENT fame, appeared next, with a look at his new apocalyptic thriller DOOMSDAY.  It’s apparently a much bigger, more epic work than the others; Marshall, who was unfailingly poised and serious throughout his presentation, compared it to MAD MAX and THE WARRIORS. 

     Marshall also briefly discussed the making of THE DESCENT, with its cramped sets in which he loosed his lead actresses and “let ‘em suffer!”  He’s apparently in the “very preliminary” stages of a DESCENT 2, which he’s not writing or directing but still keeping a close eye on, to ensure its makers “don’t fuck it up.”

     I paid scant attention to the following merchandise auction, with a signed guitar, banners and other things from last year’s WoH auctioned off; the banners, FYI, went for $550.  The auctioneer also called for a round of applause for the late Bob Clark, who appeared at the ’06 WoH and was tragically killed last month.

     But the weekend’s most anticipated (by me) event was coming up: an hour-long chat by the one and only Clive Barker!  My expectations weren’t exactly fulfilled, but I can’t say I was disappointed by his appearance--although I was definitely surprised.

     Clive appeared onstage in personally designed patched jeans (his “painting wear”), unkempt hair and a sweaty, worn-out look.  A far cry, in other words, from the dapper, high-spirited gent I’ve grown used to seeing over the years.  He also appeared not a little drunk and/or medicated, speaking in a weird guttural tone and having evident trouble holding a coherent thought in his head. 

     Among his warbling revelations: that more blood was spilled in the climax of the upcoming MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN than in any other movie; that the long-awaited THIEF OF ALWAYS movie adaptation is stuck in “development Hell”; that “every fucking executive thinks they know everything about writing fucking books when can barely write their own names!” (raucous applause followed this utterance, possibly because it was one of the only fully comprehensible sentences Clive managed to get out); that with the upcoming HELLRAISER remake Clive wants to “get into the cenobites in a very real way”(?); that his upcoming novel is “so twisted and so fucked up” that it “wants to kill you”; that RAWHEAD REX was about a “nine foot penis on the run”; that convicts often write him saying his books “make the walls disappear”; that he’d like to script a new GODZILLA movie in which Dick Chaney (“with the emphasis on Dick!”) grows into a giant mutant and Godzilla is the only thing protecting us from him.

     With that, Clive was whisked off to sign autographs (for twenty bucks a pop) and Spanish superstar Paul Naschy hauled onstage.  I was hotly anticipating Naschy’s appearance but grew bored quickly, as he spoke in Spanish only; Timpone asked him questions that had to be translated by a bilingual gal who would then translate Naschy’s answers into English for us.  The process was every bit as laborious as it sounds, and I switched my attention to a Wrath James White novel I’d purchased earlier.

     After a last stroll through the dealer’s hall around 6 PM--a depressing sight, as everyone was packing up and the crowd diminishing quite a bit--I caught the last half of a presentation for a movie called THE SIGNAL.  This panel was notable for the hilariously archaic, GRINDHOUSE-like trailer they showed for the film, and an audience member who babbled about how it was “the best movie I’ve seen all year” (can you say, Plant?).  The director replied: “you should see more movies.”

     There followed a final panel, and probably the best of the entire event: a presentation by ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE and WORLD WAR Z author Max Brooks, who brought down the house with his gag-filled dissertation.  The guy was witty to a fault, and quite knowledgeable about horror lore, demonstrating all the comic ingenuity and ingratiating charm of his old man, Mr. Mel Brooks. 

     Of his first book, Brooks admitted “I was unemployed and had the free time to write it”, and strove to please himself so it would at least have one fan.  Of last year’s WORLD WAR Z, Brooks said there’s a film adaptation afoot, but he went out of his way to avoid any involvement.  He also instructed us on how to survive a real-life zombie assault on the auditorium: to view the people waiting in line for autographs from Clive Barker as “bait” for the attacking zombies, thus allowing the rest of us a chance to escape out the back exit. 

     Max also had some interesting takes on vampires and werewolves: the former, he claimed, were too “cool” and so he couldn’t relate to them, while the latter were falsely portrayed by the movies; in actuality they’d most likely be mellow creatures, seeing as how they’re natural-born predators.  Anyway, vamps and werewolves aren’t that scary according to Mr. Brooks, since you’d “have to go find them” in their respective lairs, whereas zombies “come to you”.  Good point. 

     Throughout Brooks’ presentation people were entering the ballroom dressed as Jason, Jigsaw, the Grim Reaper (who Max Brooks dubbed too intellectual to disturb, unlike the faceless reaper of MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE--“Now he was scary!”), etc.  They were there for the annual Costume Contest, which followed Brooks and drew a VERY sparse crowd (most everyone had left by then).  The Jigsaw guy won, which drew much consternation from the few audience members present. 

     Following was a mini-concert by Voltaire that was even more sparsely attended.  I only caught a little of it, as it was past 7 PM and time to say my goodbyes. 

     Thus ended my experience of the May 2007 Fangoria Weekend of Horrors.  I could go on, but won’t.  After all, I wouldn’t want to bore readers regaling the friends I made in the dealers’ area (interesting to me but probably nobody else), my goddamn obnoxious neighbors who kept me up Friday and Saturday night and so left me bleary-eyed and fit to pass out on the convention floor the following days, or how I moronically locked my keys in the trunk of my car Sunday night, thus necessitating a dash back to the hotel lobby to call AAA, only to discover my membership had expired.  Again though, I think I’ll stop here to save readers any further boredom--and myself further embarrassment! 

     It’s time to start looking forward to the 2008 WoH, to be held next April at the massive LA Convention Center.  This means the preceding might well have been the last-ever Burbank Fango convention.  If that’s the case (sniff) then I’ll take this opportunity to bid Burbank’s Marriott convention center a heartfelt Bon Voyage.  It was fun.

 

--5/30/07
 


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