On December 13, 2013, a Friday nonetheless, Atlantic City, New Jersey gave birth to a new horror convention called Bizarre AC, from the talent hands and mind of Jon Henderson, his event created an atmosphere unlike other horror expos, especially since it was in December a time of the year left for cheerful smiles and jolly music. However, for hardcore and dedicated horror fans, the month can be too much, but thanks to evil elves and an ax wielding Santa that terrorizes children into screaming panics and outrage many others this event became a welcome sight.
First off, conventions are different creatures than a mere film festival, more occurs and usually at once which sometimes becomes a drawback and a hardship for those in attendance and sometimes even the stars, press personal too. Many of these conventions across the country and around the world are vast and elaborate and Bizarre AC was no different, complete with a MC, InkIllusionist, and a stage, large screens for all to see, usually set in hotels, yet this one took over two floors of the Tropicana Casino. As like other horror convention, the event contained numerous stars, seminars and vendors, however, Jon and his crew pulled off wonderful showmanship, an informative crew, kind, polite and helpful to all guests.
Yet, two slight drawbacks to the event, one was that convention was split on two floors, while that is common, these floors were the first and the fourth (exhibit floor), that added some confusion, with the casino floor between and spiral pattern to get the escalators. This casino, added one luxury for some of the stars and guests alike, a spot to grab a cigarette break, especially since in the month of December being outside of the casino in NJ is no luxury and a tad inconvenient. The second drawback dealt with the vendors, approximately 30, not including the stars themselves, these vendors were not the same that many would expect at a convention, a few were seasoned veterans, however many were fresh to the vending circuit. Hence, the load in time, was a tad off, by the time a convention starts in normal manners, the aisles must have no excessive items in the way to prevent collisions and issues, the vendors need to have themselves at the point to sell, herein many were not prepared. The vendors also seem bored, many sitting back not engaging; this might be for two reasons first, light crowds and crowds that unaccustomed to these types of vendors. The vendors (known as Bizarre Bazaar) ranged from a bookseller promoting his own novel to a few steam-punk sellers, then a few gothic and Alchemy jewelry sellers, a t-shirt seller named True and NJLids for baseball caps. The horror sellers included Fangs (a dental company for fancy teeth attachments), Teddy Scares, and Troma Films (which did have a film playing at the convention). Next, a bit of original feature, a few tattoo artists, and even a local alcohol company call Jersey’s Toxic Waste (with no free samples and no relation to Tromaville). Sadly missing, were the Rotten Cotton t-shirt maker, a staple at most conventions, and then the countless magazine sellers with copies of Fangoria and Gorezone, and numerous other ones that sell incredible iconic pieces of collectible pieces, the only ones that came close in the area, Graveyard Girls (a calendar) and a comic artist name, Terence Muncy. Lastly, a horror themed musician, Wyzae Crankfield gave an impromptu show stopping performance of growling sinister metal performance, of songs from his CD “Momento Mori” to many delights.
Speaking of performances, there were pre-planned seminars, performances and panels, all set in the room exhibit room of the fourth floor, in one corner, the audience for the most part stood to listen or watch the performance, with a large screen televising parts of the performance.
Jon presented an organized tight ship, open friendly to the guests and press alike, not a family friendly aspect that some of the small film festivals bring to the forefront, however an event that had festive mood, with high hopes and thoroughly entertaining, with high production value.
Friday the 13th
Bizarre AC picked a perfect day to launch the new convention, a wonderful birthday, what could possibly knock down the day, weather; earlier in the week, a freakish snowstorm covered most of Philadelphia and southern New Jersey. Then by Wednesday, a brief sleeting laid down, however by Friday and the weekend looked well – yet the attendance was without much doubt light, the horror icons took their marks for the most part, Tom Savini was one the first to arrive, and prepared his table in a precision perfect manner. Then followed by Michael Berryman, and the leather-gloved Kane Hodder (the finest Jason Voorhees) who had constant shout outs to Michael, set their tables respectful, with author Michael Aloisi, Steve Dash (The First Jason), with the sexy Jasmin St. Claire, making a worthy entrance complete with the assistance of a bellhop, who she graciously thanked (lucky guy) . Jon’s handiwork setup and inside joke involving Lar Park-Lincoln sat nearly across from her nemesis Kane, was many recall their battle from Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (1988), many times Kane would do signature move of choking his fans, and in some case look across to his “Tina” the one that beat him with a devilish intent.
Now with all conventions, a problem can occur when horror actors and stars even after they accept the invite few in the end cannot make due to scheduling conflicts. This was the case with Tony Todd, and later during the week of December 9, Tiffany Shepis cancelled, due to her father’s passing, which she shared on her Facebook page, and entire horror community of fans and friends passed along well wishes, and sadden sympathy to her. This also affects the patrons, with so to accomplish, visit the vendors, see some films and of course, the signings and the visiting their Horror Gods, many times the more than one film shows at a time, sadly many never have repeat times. Herein, Bizarre AC, was no different, 25 films, 3 days, all with Q&A sessions that run on average of at least 30 minutes, and only 2 films repeated themselves, Sparks and Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1.
The activity was buzzing steady on the exhibit floor, mainly for the fact to attend the event one need to acquired tickets at an extremely low reasonable rate on this floor. Meanwhile, the “Green Room” located to one’s left immediately entering the lobby stated clearly Bizarre AC, but admittance forbidden without a ticket, located on the fourth floor. Hence, the confusion for the guests, this green room, for Friday was heavily sparse, with two steam-punk vendors and music box maker, and actor Fred Williamson (From Dusk to Dawn (1996)) fame. Many tables and booths set about with names of stars that were not yet on hand. There appeared in the lobby a vacant desk area that might have been useful, although the reason for the lack of usage, likely could be Tropicana wanted to limited confusion of lines for check-in, room services and valet, the option to have the ticket services in one central location proven a wiser decision.
Lloyd Kaufman’s Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1 (2013), highlighted the 8:00PM feature film, from horror fans beloved Troma films, to a solid pack audience with all the laughter intended and the most fantastic special effects with the usage of CGI, that one could muster for the enjoyment of many. Those in attendance understand what a Troma is, the essence of the design the one-liners, both crafty with tongue planted in a cheek and sometimes through it, while referencing social plights and never taking itself too seriously. Troma roared viciously and deliciously with the tasty morsel that defines them very well and unique, especially when Lemmy Kilmister graces a screen as the President, who received as part of his payment Maker’s Mark, and why not, another subtext to Lloyd’s film. This film has a retro feel to it that appeals to gore-hounds and horror fans in general, defining and reviewing a Trauma film proves difficult, as Kaufman does abide by any rules or norms. He takes pulls the pin on the hand grenade and throws it into a pile of gasoline doused fireworks on a pile of toxic waste and stands back waiting for the contamination of gross shocking entertaining mayhem for all to salivate in the pleasure filled madness. Stan Lee, gives an incredible intro, a throwback style from the late great Don LaFontaine, a voice actor used in many of the horror films. Aside of mutant teenagers the storyline surrounds two girl enemies becoming lesbian lovers, Chrissy and Lauren (Asta Paredes and Catherine Corcoran respectively) while battling a corporate giant, a duck, some very enlarge male genitalia that becomes cannibalistic mixing with more gore and soft porn, and ending with offensive references to controversial topics. The first Bizarre AC’s People’s Choice Award easily went to Kaufman and his insane crew for creating a graphic splattering gooey gushing horror film. One wonders why the film contains Volume 1, the ending gives it away, except that it might be a reference to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2, however Lloyd tacks on the grossest nastiest homage sequence to Brian de Palma’s Carrie shower scene – REJOICE Horror Hounds!
By the night’s end, some of the guests headed to Firewater club for a party event with however some found themselves turned away due to improper dress code, which seemed to an area of confusion for both the club personnel and the guests even those with tickets. The tickets were for Richard Christy’s 13 Scary Beers, of which featured Rogue Dead Guy and Iron Maiden the Trooper. No mention of a dress code found itself listed in the Bizarre AC program guide, likely a miscommunication between mixed instructions at the door and unfamiliarity with the program guide.
Saturday the 14th
Then Mother Nature (an uninvited guest) threw a curve an odd storm that covered the outer portion of Philadelphia to the west with snow, as one brave enough drive to the AC, would travel through, snow and sleet, then bands of heavy, light rain with intense windy conditions. This element did have some effect to the attendance, however southern NJ fans charge onward for the convention, showing their support and dedication. The common theme for most convention-goers, meet their icons, get items signed and perhaps purchase horror-themed items, and then leave, watching films is a second aspect, especially if the line to meet their icon is vastly too long. Armageddon Ed McKeever, a caretaker, at the convention, polite and helpful to the press on-hand, making sure they had proper access, and yet made sure that the meeting rooms that served as theaters ran on an even schedule. He and his staff made to escort guests into the darkened and small theaters especially after a film started, by assisting them to find sits, thereby avoiding arguments and disgruntled fans.
Upon, this Saturday, many of the horror stars were nestled into a rhythm and available to the press for quick interviews, a time snatch a few one-liners, however the big noted stars were still tough to come by, as the preference for fans always come first. Jasmin, patiently refrain from speaking about her adult career, and maintain focus on her latest horror film, Army of the Damned, released on December 10, while her seductive manner made her booth compete with passion of fans for Kane Hodder and Tom Savini.
Director Jay Lee, sat next to Joel Reed and on hand for his film Zombie Strippers (2008), while he promoted his film Manhunt that stars Gene Snitsky a former Sand Diego Chargers player and pro-wrestler. His film Zombie Strippers as he stated, “cult of beauty that many are obsessed with, do they submit and become a zombie or be like themselves and perhaps lose out on success. This was a perfect film Jenna Jamison, because of entire concept of natural beauty versus fake beauty.”
Heather Langenkamp made an appearance for her fans and presented her horror documentary entitled, I am Nancy (2011), a film that shows the love affair with her heroine character from the famed A Nightmare on Elm Street series. Actually, the film shows the intense frenzied for Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger, while she is more of a side note in the series. The film had a polish look, that brought entertain, and not a talking down to the audience, but showed her with fans and trying to convey the attention for Robert / Freddy. Let’s face it, Freddy’s character graces the screen more than she does, for more films, and has some of the best lines, great ways to kill off teens. Nancy is the 80’s version of Laurie Strode (Halloween (1978)), the good girl that defeats the evil, after all her character wears white pajamas a common theme of innocence and purity, for example, Janet Leigh in Psycho (1960) she wears white undergarment and then commits a crime, hence then black, and needs punishment. Nancy’s character show a serious manner and style with solid character development from Wes Craven and then the skill and talent from Heather to make the character her own, however she did not like the remake version of Nancy. The film also told of the merchandising now so much of the film industry – all thanks to George Lucas – many options for Freddy than for Nancy, his are more detail, more intense while hers remain mundane. Overall, I am Nancy film really made for an enjoyable film, and her Q&A afterwards summed up enjoyment of sharing with the fans.
Sheriff Tom vs. the Zombies (2013), a film from director Ryan Scott Weber, this flick actually a sequel to Mary Horror (2011), yet not seeing the first film, has no impact of understanding the storyline, as the plot herein travels in a new different. This film has many good aspects, a fun movie, never too serious, hilarious dialogue, with screen filling gore. In addition, Lloyd Kaufman stars in the film, hence here comes the laundry list of insanity, blood-spurting wounds, splattering brains, removal of private parts, sex and death scenes, with flesh-eating-rotting zombies, who can speak, and engage in sexual acts. WOW! The tidbit of trivia for this film must come from the budget about $5,000 and with an appearance from Tom Savini and that, Patricia Quinn reprises her role from Mary Horror, who most know for her role of Magenta in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).
One of the curious vendors that I stumbled upon was that of Jersey’s Toxic Waste, a liquor company, selling 750ml bottles of their product, at their first horror convention, the brand the famous Jersey Devil. Those unfamiliar with this creature need only to Google the name “Jersey Devil” as there many films, documentaries and discussions about this urban legend. However, the team behind this product, headed by William Dametz founder of Line Brands, wanted a unique harder blended alcohol one that Jersey Man tough and sweet on the women. Their product, is a 35% alcohol (70 proof) grain spirit with a citrus flavor, which has been displayed at other liquor convention, yet the ‘horror scene’ seems more interested with the product than other market lines. William stated, “Part of our proceeds will go to clean up toxic waste sites.” A nice tax deduction as Jersey’s Toxic Waste invades more bars (at least 80) in the state, many in Monmouth their base of operations. At the convention no free samples were available, perhaps a reason dealing with Tropicana’s liquor policies, regardless the club Boogie Nights which hosted the kickoff party for Bizarre AC, sold out of their product, however not disclosed was the number of bottles sold (17 shots is the average number from a 750ml bottle).
The greatest heckler ever, gave performance artist Lady Aye a bit of a startle during her act, and it came from none other than The Cryptkeeper (John Kassir), however The Lady, continue her performance of bad jokes mixed with incredible oddities. She perform such acts as escaping from a straitjacket, have glass walking and foot stomping experience, before finishing with a audience participate who removed swords her mouth and throat (noting that Lady Aye is a member of SSAI – Sword Swallowers Association International).
Legendary filmmaker and writer Joel Reed had a booth and ready to show his infamous film Bloodsucking Freaks (1976), a creation from a one-day script writing blitz, inspiration pouring in from Ilsa films and other wicked inputs, his film eventually found it banned with the help from the political group Women Against Pornography. Reed’s film has few interesting connections, such as Oliver Stone’s admiration for the casting portion and none other than Troma in the distribution of the film. Now that he’s 80 – he has decided to return to the horror genre, leaving behind the corporate world of computer design, and working on a film entitled Zombie Death Camp. His film welcomed by both long-term fans and those of the younger crowd hungry for a macabre film filled with exploitation, torture and wonderful dazzling practical effects of dismembered.
In a perfect opportunity and a bit of luck, John Dugan and Kevin Van Hentenryck, were available for brief interviews, each providing a bit of flair to their crafts. John Dugan, as many should know was Grandpa in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), which was his first horror film, and while he enjoyed the opportunity he dislike the makeup and the latex. The role as he conveyed called for more physical than voice, as Grandpa did not speak, he needed to show the age, the elements, a totaled drain of strength and ability to do things. He rather express himself with his voice and mot as much with latex, thereby allowing the actor within to express the role to the audience, and make the cringe to uncomfortable levels. John recently completed the horror film Butcher Boys and in pre-production of Mangled working with cohorts that presented themselves for the convention, Bill Moseley (a Yale University graduate), Kane Hodder and Michael Berryman. Although, Debbie Rochon, perhaps the hardest working actress in the horror genre, with 174 credits in this genre alone, also stars in this film, sadly though she did not appear at the event.
The chance meeting of Kevin Van Hentenryck, truly and a element of electricity in discuss not only his films – Basket Case (1982), but his art interests; too. His first film ever, the legendary gory Basket Case, from director Frank Henelotter, as he recalled, “it was lots of fun, took over a year to complete, nights and weekends”. In other terms a dedicated crew, something hard to come by these days to work for that long on a project unsure of the payoff, except that they all enjoyed the experience and opportunities it provided. However, Kevin’s passion in art, goes far beyond mere film, extends to expressing it with his hands, – yes that’s correct a sculptor. He believes that stone work can and does speak volumes, conveying not just strength but deep meaning, which reflects from the artist, and similar to acting, taking words on a page translate them to actions and bringing forth wonderment and delight. His most detail and extraordinary piece entitled Rip Van Winkle (taking 14-years to complete), where the face alone shows perhaps the awakening shock of Mr. Winkle to the world and the changes to the one he left behind.
The most popular and yet little known actor, Randy Memoli, made rounds at the event, and thoroughly enjoyed the attention and why not, he starred in three films The Meat Puppet (2012) with a cameo appearance, and Sheriff Tom vs. the Zombies, and his own creation Gloom (2013). Randy made in time for his film directorial debut for Gloom, a story of how contaminated water in NJ causes a killing spree – it really does explain a lot about the state. Randy has a strong following, and known for working with director Thomas Norman, with his short films Just Like You (2012) and 2009’s Gitchy (with a very creepy clown).
The last film delivered, on Saturday night, fittingly named The Meat Puppet, by the devious mind and skillful hands of director Joe Valenti. Hands off, this film truly had a classic horror theme embedded into itself, with a heavy coating of story and meaty characters. Characters Andrew Shelton and his mother Claire Thomas, portrayed by Keith Collins and Geri Reischl carefully pull each other strings as they play a twisted game of finding the perfect woman. Keith’s memorizing style fills the screen and delivers shivers with sadistic pleasure to the audience while he struggles to remain societal normal, but his lusts and hunger for women wages mightily hard on him forcing him to tease and torment beautiful women into pieces of meat. Joe acquires an elaborate cast for television stars, April Hunter, Blaze Kelly Coyle and one musician, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal of Guns ‘N’ Roses, excelling his production values and giving refine precision with his vast filmmaking experiences. In addition, Brandon Rucksdaschel portrays a stubborn detective and creative suspects that Keith’s character of wrongdoing, and giving him a bad taste in his mouth in many ways. Horror fans long clamor for a return to true horror, less shock more substance, storyline, and characters one root for, than the customary paper thin ones common today, then this feature definitely something for one to chew on for an epic meal.
Sunday the 15th
For those who in attendance all three days of the convention, the beginning of Sunday brought an eerily stillness to itself, as mixed feelings swirl, a proud moment of feeling successful and knowing in t-minus 6 hours then first horror convention in December in Atlantic City ends.
Some of the actors located in the “Green Room” were Fred Williamson, Doug Bradley, and Ginger Lynn Allen, who warmly embraced those, willing to submit to her, and she truly focused on keeping the topics on her role in The Devil Rejects. Her counterpart for that role was Bill Moseley and Michael Berryman (who had the distinct honor of the fourth floor exhibition room). In addition, host of the local horror channel in Washington DC, Karlos Borloff who runs the show, Monster Madhouse, a wildly off the wall setup that comes from a basis of Creature Feature and Gore Du Val. His stride into the lobby of the Tropicana had many guests parting the way for him and that happen without his own unique face paint on, which honors more to the band Kiss than Alice Cooper does does, top off with sinister cowboy hat, that even Lemmy have fueled his jealously. His show has movies from the public domain, but always has the worry that film may deemed not for public usage, and while that limits the content, many favor the old camera tricks to the CGI of today.
An early afternoon delight came from director Derek Lindeman, with a film entitled Miss December (2011), original known as Calendar Girl, and with the horror, convention in the month of December this film seemed proper. First, off though, Derek’s film is not a straight-up horror, perhaps a low budget mystery-thriller is a better genre definition, regardless the storyline surrounds a n aspiring artist and current waitress Ari (Jensen Bucher) and a serial killer working on his own version of calendar of corpse-girls. Sadly, this killer did not know that Gorgeous and Gory calendars were available at the Bizarre Bazaar, but everyone does like to express themselves, in new ways. Hence the opening of the film gives some quick T&A, grab the male viewers attention, in the form of killings, while Jensen brings life into character that truly possesses the mentality and attitude of a south Philadelphian woman, whose a odder and most excited to be consider the next victim for the month and year-end selection of December. Actor Gilbert Gottfried truly steals the scenes that he acts in and brings a flustering humor to a cold film. However, there might be a deeper meaning, December brings both implied happiness by flaunting one’s spending power, and in month, nature shows power by killing off all life, requiring it to seek dormancy – and in this film that permanent. Therefore, Ari’s aspirations for fame and immortality through her art may very well become the year’s final glossy cover shot, all at the delightful hands of her lunacy-filled killer.
The biggest complaint from the patrons that has not change regardless of the event, convention, expo or festival, the cost of the autographs, Bizarre AC, constantly stated in a absolute polite and delicate manner that they “didn’t control nor set the prices, that is left to decision of the Performers and Exhibiters”. On average an autograph had the cost as low as $10, for Brittany Shannon, a former adult star (translates “taking a break of the biz”) as she prepares for a film called Manhunt (with some interesting connections to others who were in attendance at the convention – but that is for another article) to $30 for Kane Hodder or Heather Langenkamp . Bizarre AC set up a booth of their own to arrange a photographing session for guests to obtain a photo with a Star at pre-set times, to combat the higher costs of an autograph.
One of the last films to close out the weekend with came from a outfit BloodShot Films, from founding producer Melina Smith and co-producer Matthew Blauvelt, who also served as directors of Redroom Experience, a first person documentary of extreme kidnapping psychological terrorizing reality scare trip into hell and perhaps back. Redroom, is a new extreme haunted house experience and the term house, only because some of the events happen in a building, however this not a scary latex monster tour, rather human monsters that scream, shout, pull, tug, toss, otherwise terrorize a woman to brink of madness and maybe beyond. That is correct Redroom Experience limits itself to terrorizing women over 18 years old with complete abandonment of social, political correctness runs, brazen disregard for sanity, allowing a woman to devolve into a intense psychological torture, that consumes her past physical limits and dives into her mind. Some wonder if the staff work at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, or if they extras from a Hills Have Eyes meets Wrong Turn families, due to their enjoyment for terrorizing their victims. The documentary provided a glimpse of 45-minutes into the 3-hour experience, racist charged language, with sexual and violent situations, that cross or at blur the lines of simulation, yet stay an inch on the side of legal. The actors (the captives) stay in character almost too easily, feeding off each other’s depravity and upping the intensity with no concern over effects or pleas.
The Redroom Experience finds itself in a world where, the typical audience wants more of a scare, they seek something past the cornfield mazes and haunted house, ideal want to experience something much more shocking and thoroughly madding. It is possible, that this intense simulated situations started with Blackout (founded in NYC), and now approximately 21-intensive physical attractions exists nationwide, all with similar legal waivers, caution warnings galore, however Redroom limits itself to women only. Needless to state the experience appears on screen as real, and tries to shock a shockproof culture, for in the youth’s world exists, humiliation, bullying, school shootings, sexting, more easily obtain devices and vices for them to experience all before the age of eighteen. These newfound ‘haunted trips’ take disturbing real life nightmares to new levels or depths, and question one’s own sanity, each one of these attractions keeps pushing the limit, but what is the final endgame, no one knows or dare to offer the answer.
Tropicana itself, operated on a fair basis, handling the convention and the attendees with politeness and enforcing one rule no costume masks on the casino floor for obvious reasons. Those with costumes presented themselves for the contest, which included the judges to be none other than some of the horror icons on hand. One wonders who really was under many of those masks and layers of makeup and latex, alter egos unleashed in a devilish and blood-soaked manner, many original and few with send-up to the industry’s serial killers, perhaps one might be Karl Atticus in disguise. However, a strong presence of security presented itself often and frequently – no need, everyone behaved themselves. Nevertheless, the surge of horror fans never seemed quite sure of themselves, there was no “takeover” no element that made it feel that Horror Fans invade the premises, and this again might be due to factor that Bizarre AC set itself in a casino. The room rate for a 3-day stay was quite reasonable, approximately $233, and valet parking cost daily $10, with a Trop-Card, acquired from guest services.
Now, for the all important, rating of this convention, some argued that it is a A-plus, way better that other conventions, however, that cannot given, there’s always room for improvement. The production value as previous stated had high marks, and good organizational-planning, with measured amount of activities to keep everyone entertain, though lack information on the after-party events for guests. The setting in a casino lends to a splashier event, and likely Jon and his staff know to keep it low-key the first year, before lighting the fires of intensity for all parties involved. A solid 4-star rating, and the reason it misses the 5-star stellar setting, the lack of horror vendors, and the some vendors needed a pep talk, to market them as engaging, thereby assisting in the foot traffic, a bigger crowd, with a “takeover” theme in the lobby. Lastly, if the Bizarre AC remains at the Tropicana, then more media content with the first floor room, a staging area or television screens that show activities upstairs and vice versa to the downstairs, making guests wanting to be in all areas. The “Green Room” needs some more light, a tad depressing, especially when some horror stars are set a distance back from others namely Stephen Geoffreys.
The story sadly ends, here as the silence the imaginations and creations from other side maybe dancing in the minds of fans and the aspiring artists, the lasting encouragement from them, but the Bizarre ended the battle and finished strong. Remember kiddies Bizarre AC will arise again, preparing to twist one’s mind, tantalize the eyes, throttle everyone’s senses and create memories to last a lifetime.