A Visit To The Fangoria Chicago Weekend Of Horrors – By Brian Morton

 I have to admit, as much of a horror fan as I am, I’ve never been to a horror convention, and so this was my first. I’ve attended other conventions, but those are usually one-day events and they’ve been fun, but nothing that I’d have written home about, but this was a beast of a different color! I decided about a month or two back that I’d like to see for myself what kind of horror movie geek-fest this might be, and I don’t mean that in a demeaning way, I’m one of the biggest horror movie geeks you’ll ever meet! In fact, my wife told me that it was quite rude of me to nearly push her out of the way in order to get to shake the hand of Stuart Gordon and tell him how much I loved and still love Re-Animator…it was that kind of weekend for me.

It all opened on Saturday morning, I got tickets and there we were at the opening, first a greeting by Tony Timpone, the editor of Fangoria and then a great opening with Lloyd Kaufmann of Troma. To say that Lloyd is irreverent and a great speaker is probably the understatement of the decade. Lloyd even won over my wife, who didn’t have a clue about horror movies or Troma, but now intends to pay more attention. Lloyd’s speech ran the gamut of informative, (a new book about the Toxic Avenger is in the works and his new movie Poultrygeist: Night Of The Living Dead Chickens will be out by the end of the year) to the completely irreverent (he claims that Poultrygeist’s original name was ‘Good Night And Good Cluck’, but “Rosemary Clooney” stole it, and he was glad to see the Oscars because Hollywood never gets a chance to congratulate itself…said with more than it’s fair share of sarcasm. Lloyd is always entertaining and informative and he speaks his mind about the ‘Hollywood scene’, if you ever have the chance to see him, TAKE IT!

Next up was a panel on the upcoming movie, 2001 Maniacs, a sequel of sorts to the Herschel Gordon Lewis original, 2000 Maniacs. The panel featured director, Tim Sullivan and three actors from the movie (Christa Campbell, Wendy Kremer and Dylan Edrington). After the panel, I decided to wander around and see what else was going on. This was a pretty cool experience, actors and directors I’ve read about for years, just walking the crowd shaking hands and signing autographs, Tom Savini was there, Kane Hodder, who played Jason in 5 Friday The 13th movies was there, several ‘scream queens’ were there at various locations signing autographs and posing with fans, Lloyd Kaufmann was downstairs selling Troma merchandise, signing anything you put in front of him and telling stories, as I walked to my room, I passed Mick Garris, the creator of Showtime’s Masters Of Horror anthology series, then, at dinner, sitting across the room, there’s Gary Sherman (director of Raw Meat and Dead And Buried), to say it was surreal is a bit of an understatement.

Next up was a panel for the movie Slither, written and directed by James Gunn, who wrote the Dawn Of The Dead remake, the first thing yelled at him was “Fast Zombies Suck”, and I have to give him credit, he took the criticism with a lot of humor and humor was the mood of the moment on the Slither panel, that featured, besides James, Nathan Fillion (from Firefly), Michael Rooker (from Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer), Elizabeth Banks (who plays Betty Brant in the Spiderman movies) and, James’ wife, Jenna Fischer (who plays Pam on the NBC sitcom, The Office), these guys had so much fun on stage, it really made me look forward to the movie, which I was already looking forward to. Just to give you the idea of the mood of this panel, as James Gunn introduced his cast, his wife was introduced as “the only person on the cast I’m sleeping with…other than Rooker”, and there was a very funny moment when Nathan Fillian talked about filming his upcoming project, White Noise 2, and someone in the crowd shouted out “WHY??!!”, and Michael Rooker jumped up to hold Nathan back, telling the crowd, “don’t start with Nathan, you don’t know what you’re getting into” with a laugh! It was a cast that seemed to genuinely enjoy each others company and I look forward to seeing the movie! They did offer a screening of Slither, but it was showing at the same time as the mandatory costume contest, and, if you know me, and by now I hope you do, I’m not about to miss a freak show like that, no matter what the movie is!!!

 Brian with Kane Hodder After the Slither panel, came a brief presentation by Max Brooks about his book , How To Beat The Living Dead: A Zombie Survival Guide. Max was a writer for Saturday Night Live, but the most entertaining part of the discussion to me, wasn’t Max, it was the group of people who sat next to me, who apparently are seriously preparing for the return of the dead and seemed to treat the book as something other than fiction…if you know what I mean! Then, it was time for the day’s headliner, the legend himself, George Romero. I knew that Mr. Romero was a legend, but I had no idea that horror geeks flocked to him like Star Trek geeks flock to William Shatner! Mr. Romero, who seemed to be feeling a little under the weather, sat and answered questions for the better part of an hour. The only thing I heard that I hadn’t heard other places was that if there’s going to be a sequel to Land Of The Dead, he’ll be doing it himself just to keep other hands off his work, but he doesn’t really want to do any more Living Dead movies for a few years! Also, when asked, he told the crowd that zombies shouldn’t run, in his opinion, he said that his zombies would “be taking out library cards, not gym memberships”, I have to say that got a huge response from the crowd!

After the presentation by Mr. Romero, he agreed to sign autographs and to a photo opportunity. The autographs took place right there in the auditorium, while the photos would take place in a smaller room in the basement of the hotel. I opted for the photo op, not knowing that George Romero is one of the nicest guys in the movie business. We waited in the room for him to appear for over four hours! We were told that after about an hour, the convention organizers were going to cut the line for autographs off, but Mr. Romero told them that if they turned his fans away, he would leave the convention and not return! Now, that was bad news for those of us waiting for the chance for a photo with this legend, but I think it says something about him as a person. All told, from the time he took the stage to the time he appeared to have his photo taken with us fans, he had spent about 7 hours just spending time with his fans! Pretty amazing for a 67 year old man who wasn’t feeling well…hell, that would be amazing for me when I AM feeling well, and I’m twenty years younger than him!

The last event of the day was a choice of two things, first a chance to see a screening of James Gunn’s Slither, or a chance to watch a costume contest. Now, ordinarily, you tell me ‘free movie’ and I’m all over that, but I can watch movies almost any time, and after seeing the presentation, I’ll gladly pay money to see Slither, but the chance to see geeks dressed up in costumes doesn’t come along every day and that I had to see. Now, there weren’t many people dressed up, but the ones who were there ranged from the truly good (The Zombie and The Crazy Chef) to the kind of lame (The Killer Klown) to the, in my opinion, very funny (Rosemary’s Miscarriage). There was one guy, who built a giant Grim Reaper costume, and when I say giant, he was on stilts, and stood about ten feet tall, the costume was amazing and he had built it all himself, unfortunately, stairs and stilts don’t go together and after a pretty bad looking fall, the costume kind of came apart, winning him the pity vote and the contest! Well, after all this excitement, I decided to call it a day, so, off to bed in order to get an early start on Sunday!

 Brian with Tom SaviniSunday, Bloody Sunday, and at the Weekend Of Horrors, that’s not just a U2 song! So, I was up early to get a good breakfast before everything started running again…a geek’s gotta keep himself properly fueled, doesn’t he? So, first thing up, for me, is a screening of a new documentary, Horror Business, a great documentary about independent moviemakers and why they do what they do (look for a full review of Horror Business and an interview with the writer/director of Horror Business Christopher Garetano in next month’s RC). After the movie and a very quick word with the director, it’s time for a break and then off to a presentation by Alexandre Aja, the writer/director of High Tension (one of the best horror movies in years!) and a preview of his new ‘remake’ of The Hills Have Eyes. Now, I know you remake guys are already moaning, but, having seen the movie, it’s well worth the price of admission! After Alexandre comes another chance for a little break and then the Shock-O-Rama panel, which is really just writer/director Brett Piper and actress/fan-boy-dream-girl Misty Mundae. It was almost more fun to see all the fan-boys drooling over Misty than to hear the actual talk they gave, which was pretty entertaining. Misty is about to break thru into a more mainstream type of movie after her turn in Showtime’s Masters Of Horror piece Sick Girl, and she spoke about taking a role in an up-coming made-for-Sci Fi movie, both under her real first name, Erin. But, there was a collective groan from the geeks in attendance when Misty mentioned her boyfriend, which I found very funny! Following the Shock-O-Rama panel is writer/director Christopher Garetano and filmmaker Mark Borchardt talking about the documentary, Horror Business. Chris wrote and directed and Mark is one of the film-makers featured in the movie.

This pretty much wrapped up the weekend for your ol’ Uncle Brian. I didn’t think it was possible for me to reach a ‘horror movie overload’ but I think I did it. I got the chance to meet young director Justin Paul Ritter and speak briefly about his movie Katiebird*Certifiable Crazy Person, but I didn’t get a chance to get to the screening that was being presented, I guess I’ll just have to buy the movie for myself! But, that’s about it, was it fun? Absolutely! Would I do it again? Most definitely. There were a couple of times when it felt like the Convention was being run a bit by the seat of the pants, but overall this was one of the most fun events that I’ve ever attended. The guests were personable and available, the people running it were very accessible, and I think for it being the first time this event has been in Chicago for almost ten years, it was run very smoothly. I would recommend it to anyone interested!

So, there you have it, the Chicago Fangoria’s Weekend Of Horrors was a success in my opinion, but if you went, you probably already know that. What event will I attend next? Who knows, it’s always tough to get me away from the TV and DVD player and out in public, but I tend to always enjoy it when I’m pried away, so I’m going to try to get out more. And who knows, the next time you’re wandering around some strange film festival and you see a big man wearing a Rogue Cinema hat, stop me and say Hi, and if it’s not me, you should probably run, because it’s probably my evil twin!!!