It was hot down in Kentucky for the recent FRIGHT NIGHT FILM FEST which saw the appearance of John Carpenter, Linda Blair, and Henry Winkler – along with a cache’ of independent films to be unveiled to an overheated (it was humid and like 100 degrees, I kid you not) horror audience. Among all these events and “A-list” horror celebrities was a small conclave of horror hosts who were invited by Horrorhound’s Jason Hignite to put on a LIVE show. While nowhere near the number of hosts seen at the Indy Horrorhound, FRIGHT NIGHT was visited by Midnite Mausoleum, Captain Crypt & Fenriz Fatal from Horror Dungeon, and The Count & Countess Gregula. Mr. Lobo & Dixie from Cinema Insomnia also made a stop through (to be covered in a future post) and I am pretty sure I saw Mel Praxis walking around too, but was on my way to the John Carpenter Q&A and never able to formerly meet him.
The plan was that there would be a showing of John Carpenter’s earliest film, DARK STAR and that each host would get up for 10-15 minutes and do a RIFF TRAX like performance, ripping on the lackluster film. The Gregulas carpooled down with me and both they and Dr Destruction (who had to cancel last minute) seemed uneasy regarding what to expect. Despite being familiar with performing, the prospect of getting up unscripted in front of an audience was a nerve wracking one at that. But there was one group of performers who had NO problem performing LIVE – with or without a script…
Atomic Age Cinema – featuring Dr Calamari, Basement Boy, Baron Mardi and Woody the Clown are no strangers to working a crowd and have been doing so for over six years. “It began in 2004 as a fundraiser for the Cinephile Film Arts Organization,” says Calamari. “It was dedicated to helping local filmmakers get their films made and shown. Cinephile eventually transformed into the Dark Carnival Film Festival and the profits from AAC!” I’d met them before at Horrorhound Weekend and always enjoyed talking with Doc Calamari who is not only a great guy but has one of the coolest & original looks. His tentacled face is matched only by his lone silvery eyeball that will have you quickly forgetting there’s a man underneath!
Despite the nature of this site, my original goals for attending FRIGHT NIGHT was less about covering hosts as it was about gathering info from THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW reunion. However, no respectable “Dave” would ever shy away from a horror hosted event and it should come as great comfort to my host friends that I skipped the “nude body painting show” in favor of attending this one. I knew it was slated to begin at 10:30 pm and tracked down a FRIGHT NIGHT attendant to assist me in finding its location. “Uh….I don’t know. Maybe look at the wall and see if there’s a sign?” Gee, thanks Einstein! Listen,when you’re done NOT helping anyone here, maybe you can check out the next room. I think I saw something shiny!
As I looked around for the Gregulas (passing a long line of conventioneers who suddenly had an interest in art) I ran into Jason Hignite. Let me state for the record that, when I die, I am hoping to come back as him. Not only does he get to work with horror hosts and write for Horrorhound Magazine, but he can always be seen at conventions with a cocktail in one arm and an attractive woman (in this case TWO) in the other. I mean no sarcasm when I say this; don’t bother reading a Martha Stewart magazine if you want to know the definition of “Living,” just hang around with Jason!
Hignite saw me and gave a warm greeting (despite neither offering me a sip of his drink nor one of his companions) and pointed in the direction of the show. I followed a winding hallway and, if there had been any question that I was headed to the right place, it was soon squelched at the sight of Woody the Clown pacing by the entrance. “We don’t have a f*cking movie!” he yelled. “No one has a copy of DARK STAR!” Well, at that point, I had no more reservations about missing the nude art show and knew that this was the place to be!
Before the main event we were treated to a screening of Dark Carnival’s DVD featuring The Vampira Tribute from 2010 – HOSTING HORROR: THE LEGACY OF VAMPIRA. Many people don’t realize that it was Dark Carnival who came up with the idea of a Vampira Tribute – eventually finding its way to Horrorhound. In this we should all be eternally grateful. The video features clips from that amazing afternoon as well as interviews from many of the participating hosts; Penny Dreadful, The Bone Jangler, and Karlos Borloff to name but a few. David and I each bought a copy of this video at the last Horrorhound and it has always been sad to me that the “other Dave” wasn’t there to see it LIVE with me. He, like myself, loves horror hosts and I know he’d have really enjoyed it. I appreciate Dark Carnival for creating this DVD – if only so he , and others unable to attend, could get a glimpse of it. Tonight’s venue was a small room but most seats were taken. As I settled in, I looked around and noticed Midnite Mausoleum’s Robyn Graves kicking back in more seasonal attire.
Horror Host “summer fashion” continued with the arrival of The Count and Countess Gregula – Gregula sporting a rather unique vampire look with a T-shirt, overcoat, and shorts. Here’s an interesting tidbit; not long after FRIGHT NIGHT, Gregula was cast for a role in a new NBC Fall series called “The Playboy Club.” I can’t help but think that the casting director may have seen one of these shots from the DARK STAR event before making their decision!
Soon the big moment arrived with a copy of the film arriving just in the nick of time. Showing their mettle as LIVE performers, it should be noted that the gang from Atomic Age Cinema were willing to perform to a DVD copy of ANY movie so long as it was readily available. As the lights went down, the show became less like RIFF TRAX and more like THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. The Atomic Age Cinema guys remained standing while everyone in the audience was encouraged to belt out comments and participate. In this I was at a distinct disadvantage having no alcohol in me, though this in no way stopped The Countess from stealing the show.
I’m here to tell you that she was absolutely hilarious utilizing her dry sense of humor like an artist delves in oil. Many folks believe that vampires have no blood but I can safely say that isn’t true as some of the “adults only” comments flying out of The Countess’ mouth left her counterpart turning a decisive shade of RED. Further adding to Gregula’s chagrin was my suggesting to him that perhaps his wife was the actual horror host and he should start thinking of himself as the sidekick. Gregula looked like I just “staked” him but, rest assured, I meant it only in good fun and they BOTH added a lot to this event.
In between bouts of laughter, and inappropriate comments, were special “games” organized by Atomic Age Cinema complete with prizes. The first of which was a drinking challenge in which Jason Hignite further secured his status as a party god and one we should all revere. As I write this I am making definite plans to start stalking him!
As for the movie it self, what can I say? If ever there was a film in need of the “horror host treatment,” this was it. I’d like to say that it was a rip-off of STAR WARS had it not been for the fact that this film was made a few years before. DARK STAR is definitely not something you’d want to watch again and again but, for these purposes, it was a welcomed attraction. A few members of the audience got so caught up, one eager participant ended up wearing a popcorn bucket on his head before winning a prize for his belly dancing.
The highlight of this event, however, was turning the lights on and seeing the film’s lead cast member, Brian Narelle, sitting amongst the audience! Sadly, the director of the film, John Carpenter was no where to be seen (no doubt sitting up in his hotel room issuing “Order 66″ and the extermination of the Jedi Knights). Narelle seemed to enjoy the show and was given a special Atomic Age Cinema T-shirt for being such a good sport!
As the event ended, everyone left with big smiles on their faces (probably equaling the hang-overs they’d have the next day) and it was clear that, despite recently losing their regular performing venue, Atomic Age Cinema is far from beaten. In the spirit of their new-found solidarity, they would not be confined to a booth at FRIGHT NIGHT and moved freely about the entire weekend. Everywhere they went they brought laughs and smiles at a convention that desperately needed it. This was further illustrated on the last day of the convention when, eager to take advantage of the familiar looking walkway that joined the two buildings of the hotel together, they decided to re-enact the cover of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road.”
I look forward to seeing them again, hopefully at the next March Horrorhound Weekend which, I am told, will take place in Columbus, Ohio this time instead of Indianapolis. We Daves will definitely be there and hope you will be as well!
Now…. if you’ll excuse me, I must hurry on my way! Jason Hignite just “tweeted” that he’s leaving his apartment.
I just returned from FRIGHT NIGHT FILM FEST in Kentucky and have mixed reviews regarding the event. Actually, there is another blogger out there who fairly (and from my perspective accurately) describes the ups of downs of this past weekend. Check out Shawn Patrick’s write up via Shawnster the Monster for a really great read.
Due to the busy convention season and number of events slated in and around my native Chicago, I had no intention of going down to Kentucky for this one. That was, however, until shortly after Horrorhound Weekend when the writer of one of my all-time favorite films, DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW called it to my attention. J.D. Feigelson is without question one of the nicest and most personable celebrities I’ve ever encountered. He treats David and I like kings and he certainly never has too.
J.D. informed me that FRIGHT NIGHT would mark the first appearance of DNOTS lead characters, Larry Drake and Tonya Crowe. The prospect of a DNOTS reunion and an opportunity to get some direct quotes for a piece I am writing for SCARY MONSTERS MAGAZINE meant I needed to be there. So, despite this event being far from perfect, I must admit that I was able to meet all of my objectives – along with the honor of seeing J.D. again and cast members from the film. This, in itself, was a true honor! I was also able to meet John Carpenter and other great celebs and will post those encounters (as well as plenty more DNOTS news) soon.
FRIGHT NIGHT FILM FEST is really an event designed for Independent film makers – and not so much the fans. Throughout the weekend, special screenings are provided of various unreleased films, while the film-makers themselves are on hand seeking fan reaction. Its also a great way for bloggers such as David and I to promote their work (ONLY if we like it, trust me) while making positive connections in the horror realm.
Its sort of like a high school dance where you start out slow and unsteady hoping that, as things progress, you’ll start gaining better moves and attract the most popular girl in school. The organizers have no trouble drawing fans in by booking big celebrities, such as the aforementioned John Carpenter. This is not unlike those electric bug zappers you hang in your yard but, in this case, its your wallet that gets “zapped!” Regardless, autograph seekers should have left satisfied.
While there was no question the event brought in some amazing celebrities, it was not designed to encourage meaningful fan/celebrity interaction. The main celebrity room was too small and the celebrities were herded in such a way, you could easily overlook them. John Carpenter and Linda Blair are great names in horror but aren’t known for their warmth. That being said, FRIGHT NIGHT must have been right up their alley. My meeting with John Carpenter (which I did on three separate occasions throughout the weekend) was so quick I almost got motion sickness, and my poor friends in the horror host community had the thankless task of being stationed in the hallway to get to them.
Between the retro hotel (which for $69 a night I suppose can’t be criticized too harshly despite being in desperate need of upkeep) and the scorching heat/humidity, I heard a lot of fans and vendors grumbling throughout the weekend.I also saw lots of people I met at DAYS OF THE DEAD a few weeks back who unanimously agreed that this event wasn’t nearly as enjoyable. How much of that was from the heat and hotel logistics vs the event itself probably depends on who you talk to. I would suggest to the hotel that when its 100 degrees outside they might have reconsidered closing the pool. This was done to accommodate more vendors who were spread between two buildings and needed to set up shop near the pool. Not good.
This, however, should not suggest that there weren’t some great moments and connections made here – and we’ll be delving into those in the coming days. Am I happy that I went? Well…uh…yeah. But I wasn’t “glowing” with happiness on the ride home like I was with HORRORHOUND and DAYS OF THE DEAD.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think that (considering the state of our economy and how hard people work to raise the funds to attend these fan events) “glowing” is not too much to ask for. If you’re an insider (or trying like hell to become one) who is willing to promote some great people with money not being an issue, by all means go down to FRIGHT NIGHT. If , however, you’re a fan who doesn’t have the luxury of doing multiple events and are trying to decide which one to attend, then I’d advise avoiding this one in 2012. Your money isn’t just important to you, its important to them and, as horror consumers, we should support those who are interested in treating us to an amazing weekend – and not just potential profits.
…or at least not be so obvious about it!
The biggest draw of any fan convention lies with the celebrities they feature. I find that there are few experiences more gratifying than seeing your idols up close and having an opportunity to tell them how much you appreciate their work. You can also get a small glimpse of what they are really like as opposed to the 2-Dimensional view offered by the small & large screens.
Of course, this can be a double edged sword; Sometimes you gain a new respect for a celebrity like Ardriene King who, though not a horror fan, is happy to share her FRIDAY THE 13th memories while supplying unique genre items for fans to purchase. Other times you become disappointed, as was the case of when I met Linda Blair, who was so stand-offish I started sympathizing with the demon from THE EXORCIST.
The success of a celebrity encounter, however, is not all centered on their behavior. There are things that us fans can also do to increase the chances of having a positive experience with them as well.
1) Mentally prepare yourself that you will be standing in line. We’re an inpatient society and we tend to want, what we want, yesterday! Like it or not, waiting in line is a fact of life and even more so at a fan convention (STAR WARS CELEBRATIONS being the WORST in that regard). Wear comfortable shoes and hopefully find a buddy to chat with. It will make the time seem to go much faster while offering an opportunity to make new friends. You’ll also be less of a crab ass when you finally meet the big headliner.
At last years Horrorhound Weekend I waited 4 hours to meet George Romero. During that time I chatted with a friend, did ample “people watching,” and later enjoyed a cocktail (brought to me by the aforementioned friend). By the time I met the Godfather of Zombies I was calm and in a happy frame of mind. I’m not encouraging alcohol consumption during convention lines (I’m not discouraging it either) but am merely pointing out that the situation can be a more “social” occasion as opposed to a tedious one.
Everyone is conscious of how slow a line is moving while they’re standing in it. Unfortunately, this is quickly forgotten once you reach your quarry. Now, suddenly, you feel as if you can take all the time in the world and those poor saps behind you will just have to wait a little longer. Granted, you have earned some “one on one” time with the star. There are still, however, some things you can do to keep the encounter relatively quick while increasing its overall quality. This brings us to our next tip…
2) Have whatever it is you want signed OUT and ready to go! Some conventions limit the number of items that can be signed, or discourage photo taking with a celebrity. I find this to be unacceptable. The way I see it, if I’m willing to drop some of my hard earned, “non” celebrity money at their table (and willing to pay for each item) than I deserve a picture and having them all signed. At the same time they need to be out of their protectors and ready to be signed when the big moment arrives.
Likewise, if you’re purchasing one of the celebs own 8×10′s then choose your shot BEFORE standing in front of him/her. Most people are so transfixed watching them commune with the people in front of them that they don’t do this. Don’t use your time with a celebrity in choosing a picture, use it instead for…..
Be sure to limit that to one comment or question. This isn’t a lecture hosted by The Screen Actors Guild, this is a brief meeting between fan and star. Even if the celebrity is all alone, and with NO line, try to avoid the mindset that this is an opportunity to become their new best friend. Keep it short and sweet….not scary and stalkish!
4) Take the lens cap off! The simplest piece of advice is often the most overlooked. Get your cameras out and, more importantly, READY to go! Allow me a bit of “true confessions” as I share an embarrassing story that happened to me about 15 years ago. I accompanied a friend of mine to a small KISS convention here in Chicago. This was back before I had any monster friends and the thought of attending a horror convention would ever occur to me. My friend was (and is) a HUGE fan of the group and this event, while tiny, happened to feature one of the most elusive members of the group – Vinnie Vincent (he’s still alive but best of luck finding him today)!
It was a long line and, like waiting for Romero, we decided to have a cocktail. Unlike Romero, however, we didn’t just stop at one. By the time we made it to Vincent, we were both two shades to the wind. As my friend posed with the guitar master himself, I stood holding the camera, joyfully snapping away. As I smiled (and swayed) in my drunken splendor, I was oblivious to the fact that everyone was yelling at me to take off the damn lens cap! Before the sounds even registered, I remember noticing the mob of angry faces, many mouthing the words “dumb-ass!”
5) Don’t forget to pay! In many cases, this isn’t a free “meet & greet.” The attending celebrities are often not getting paid to do so. They are usually responsible for their own travel and room expenses and those 8×10′s they offer weren’t donated to them either.
You may wonder why some of the bigger stars need charge at all since they are, by many accounts, wealthy individuals. Well imagine if you’re sitting at a booth and some guy asks for your autograph. You sign the picture and, later that week, see it selling on ebay for $50. You won’t get a nickle of it, yet it’s YOUR signature! The sad fact is that many people standing in those lines are doing so more for profit than out of devotion. Charging for autographs (with larger fees asked for bigger celebrities) is a way of deterring this practice.
This past weekend, Chicago celebrated it’s annual Wizard Con at the Donald E. Stephen’s Convention Center in Rosemont. This is the Midwestern version of the famous San Diego Comic Con – largest of all fan events.
It’s been a long time since I collected comic books and about 12 years since my last Wizard Con (or whatever they called it back then as it has changed ownership periodically over the years). Upon discovering that THE EXORCIST star, Linda Blair, along with a few alumni from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” would be in attendance, I decided to give it another shot.
Last July I had attended G-Fest at the same location. Unlike the Godzilla Festival, which boasts about 1300-1500 attendees, Wizard Con utilized the full main floor of the convention center to accomodate it’s 500 celebrity guests (actors, artists, etc) and legions of fans.
In regards to fan conventions, I can safely say that bigger is not always better. Despite it’s immense size and impressive guest list, Wizard Con offers little to its fans aside from sore legs, hurt feelings, and empty pocket books.
We went on Friday, specifically avoiding the Saturday crowds, arriving a couple hours after the show opened to avoid waiting in line. Since I had prepaid online, we were able to enter the main hall with relative ease.
I walked past the “Buffy” section featuring James Marsters (Spike), Clare Kramer (Glory), and Nicholas Brendan (Xander). It was great seeing them “live” and I was about to enter their autograph lines when I noticed a sign hanging above them which read, “No Pose Photography.”
This was a common feature of Wizard Con along with their convention staff/volunteers acting more as gestapo (preventing anyone from getting close to their idols) as opposed to providing assistance to the conventioneers. Most of the celebrities, with a few exceptions, sat like automatons providing minimal interaction with thier fans.
Needless to say, I decided to remove myself from the line. I love “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and will always consider it to be one of my favorite television programs of all time. If I was meeting Sarah Michelle Gellar, that would have been one thing. However, we’re talking about supporting cast members who haven’t engaged in a whole lot of noteworthy projects since the show’s demise.
While celebrity signatures make great collectibles, I prefer to have a photograph taken with them instead. An old friend of mine once had a room in his apartment covered with framed photos of himself along with members of the rock band KISS, Judas Priest, etc. To me, this was the ultimate trophy room and I could have stared at those walls for hours. At the very least, a genuine moment of me expressing admiration for their work along with a glimmer of appreciation from them (considering the lengths I took to tell them so) would suffice.
With my dreams of getting a photograph with the “Buffy” stars up in a proverbial cloud of “vampire dust,” it was now time to meet Linda Blair. There was no line to meet her and she was readily available. Handling her business transactions was “her neighbor” who was very friendly. Blair had a wide assortment of photos to choose from which could be divided into two main categories; EXORCIST shots and those depicting Blair cuddling with fuzzy puppies (hows that for contrast?).
An avid member of PETA, the 51 year old actress has dedicated her life to dog rescue and adoption. She does this via her own “Linda Blair WorldHeart Foundation.” All the money she charges for her autographs ($25) and/or photo with her ($15) was exclusively donated to her charity. Her dedication to man’s best friend is admirable. In terms of celebrity meetings, however, I’d have to rate Ms Blair a paultry “four” out of ten.
She was not interested in talking about THE EXORCIST, only her foundation. Her appearance at Wizard Con was clearly all business, with little regard for the role that made her famous let alone her devoted fans. I could almost imagine the conversation that took place between Blair and her business manager while going over her foundation’s finances. Manager: “Gee, it looks like we may be going over budget.” Blair: “Oh crap, I guess I’ll have to do a few of those damn fan conventions! Don’t worry, Fido (while stroking a canine’s head) for you I’ll gladly enter the gates of Hell!”
As soon as you got in front of her, she handed you one of her fliers. When she saw me hand it off to my son so it wouldn’t show up in the photo I was taking with her, she looked annoyed and tossed another one at me. Don’t get me wrong, I love animals. But this was a fan event and not a dog show. Furthermore, if I want to support dog rescues, I have a local Humane Society that doesn’t have the benefit of Blair’s celebrity status to bring in much needed funds.
It would be in the best interest of the “WorldHeart Foundation” if Ms Blair took a tip from FRIDAY THE 13TH actress, Adrienne King. By embracing her horror heritage as opposed to shying away from it, Ms King discovered that cozying up to her fan base can be downright lucrative (see earlier post). Here’s an idea Linda, how about selling your own brand of pea soup with a shot of you possessed on the label? You’d please your fans by offering a hilarious collectible while, at the same time, make plenty of cash for your four-legged pals.
The one thing I will give Blair is that she was willing to personalize my autograph exactly as I specified. The photo I had taken with her ended up a bit too bright but this lovely collectible prevented the entire experience from literally going to the dogs!
I’m sure some people had better experiences than I had meeting with their respective celebrities. I’m not a Trekkie nor a Batman fan so I have no idea how they were treated. I saw that Illinois public access host, Count Sam Gregula, had a bit more luck thanks to his persistence and press pass. I’m hoping he’ll share his experience with this blog so perhaps readers can get a more rounded view. I did notice that TERMINATOR star, Linda Hamilton, was very ingratiating towards her fans and seemed genuinely pleased to meet them. During the numerous times I walked past her booth, I observed her joking around and happily posing for pictures. It’s nice to know that a few celebrities remembered the reason they were asked to attend this event in the first place. Ultimately, however, I hold Wizard Con responsible for allowing them free reign.
I noticed the following day that former Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, made an unscheduled appearance. It is my understanding that, for a price, he would pose for photos and sign autographs. The press treated it as a groundbreaking story though I exhibited no surprise. As far as I was concerned, the disgraced “pay to play” Governor had certainly come to the right place.