The annual horror convention of Atlantic City, NJ, known as Bizarre AC III returned for another run this past October 2015, with mixed reactions, from the display of the vendors, and most importantly the fans, that long for events like this especially in the hard-pressed month of Halloween and horror themed activities dominating the area. In this session, the 3 day event, had a musical guest, Doyle, all held at the non-casino hotel The Chelsea, hence opening the event to a more welcoming location and family friendly too. The primarily reason for the change of venue from Tropicana, the cost of the stays, 3-days $500 versus $850, and then the venue, more welcoming to the crowd, that dresses in full grab for Halloween cheer and Horror Idols, gaming locations, disallow masks for obvious implications. In general, a horror convention brings fun, fascination, fantasy and fears to the audience, and those around them, parental groups and religious like-minded see them as a satanic orgy raining damnation, and the fans of the genre good old fashioned fun, with opportunities to decorate their homes with passionate items and to meet their idols. However, convention creator, Jon Henderson, looked to change the common theme and setup of the horror con, with a few minor adjustments, though not quite well accepted, yet the wrinkle allowed for new treats for the fans.
Starting the event on Friday, October 16th, at 6pm, the lobby buzzed with anticipation for the conceptual Horror Hotel, the suggestion reference in the marketing leading up the 3-day extravagance taking over a hotel complete with a hearse out front although not permanently, a small dedicated crowd grew in presence waiting for the bell to toll. As for a complete takeover to convert the location into a motel hell, sadly did not become a true realization, with just barely covering the lobby, a partial transformation of the fifth floor and the slight conversion of the second floor with regard to the ballroom area. Although the biggest trick for all involved was the new experience 28 days survival mode of a Zombie Run. The Zombie Run, a unique experience often set up in a muddy field complete with obstacles and insane fans making for a terrifying time, and loads of enjoyment, with the survivors awarded and the rest label as infected. Now herein laid a few jollies, the crew of zombies plus their makeup artists’ team created a fantastic horde matched with the set design combined for an equally wonderful disaster moment, inside The Chelsea parking garage. A hidden course filled with haze, sirens, honking horns, screams and growls some from a soundtrack and others more sinister lurking in the shadows, making sure of delighted fun for all involved. All this commotion echoing down to the street level, and even at one point brought the Fire Department to the scene, sadly they were not part of the scene, rather checking on a safety issue, and all was reported as a-ok, allowing the scaring to continue. For the most part over the 3 days this sole-event became the big draw. The rules no running, but the zombies could, and no pushing and here again the zombies reportedly bear-hugged individuals, and ran their own betting game. But this often occurs at these events, the zombies, tend to really get into the roles of attacking, and for the most part everyone plays nice, but always minor issues. The downside, attendees report on the zombie event, too short, and then awards, the certificate to show one as clear cool, but an infected sticker sadly not thriller. One could sense that Jon is a student of the legendary William Castle, and then upping it to that of the Faces of Death, with their brand to separate the winners from the whiners. Lastly, as to the regard for no running, which normally defines the “zombie runs”, simply it is a concrete structure, you’ll body will give in before it does, and hence sign waivers.
One the standouts on Friday night, and in fact the entire weekend, came from Father Evil who creepily and quietly walked among the guests, employees, and even the security staff, calling many sinners, which the patrons proudly acknowledge. Father Evil has no real identity, who and where he comes from – unknowns, and capturing his image on camera proved increasingly difficult, only clear when near a supposedly innocent soul. He definitely got one’s attention from the regular guests checking to the fans of horror, no one knew quite what to make of him, some wonder if the dear father would perform a wedding or baptism, sadly neither happened but there is always chance next time. His presence welcomes everyone to the event, and deadly blessing for all in attendance.
Of course, no horror convention is complete with a selected number of films playing of the event and this occurred on the fifth floor, but sadly, a lack of signage hid away the screening room, a problem later solved, however the signage issues became a problem throughout the event. One might think, nitpicking over the issue, but if the guests don’t know where events occur and the staff a tad confused too, it becomes a later issue. Yet, these items never stopped horror fans, they just know how to adapt and overcome, to search in the darkness, around blind corners, empty rooms, for the forbidden treasures. Yes, these items always end in mishaps in gruesome horror movies, yet the breed does press their luck more often with great success. The screening rooms were a tad odd, think of a movie theater and put a small screen on the center of the wall and keep the seats all, facing forward, impossible for the seats at the extreme ends to see the film, and that were the layout herein. Although not to the fault of Bizarre AC, that was preconceived by the staff of The Chelsea, yet once again the crowds were small, and spelled sadness for the filmmakers on hand, namely Ninjas vs. Monsters (2012). The film hosted by actor and wrestler Philip Stamper (who was part of the cast of the two previous films of this trilogy, those were Ninjas vs. Zombies (2008) and Ninjas vs. Vampires (2010)), however he gave a great endorsement of the film and told the very limited crowd about the trilogy and made the experience more enjoyable. The first night ended with a concert of Doyle, on the open pool deck, with bit of a chilly night, added with a wind, sadly the inventive and sexy costumes needed covering, though the Ghostbuster with Stuff-Puft Marshmallow Man made an appearance. The concert, originally billed at 10p didn’t start to the witching hour of 12a, when the mysterious powers swirled in the wind, the concert kicked off with a thunderous and explosive start. The crowd a small, yet loyal following of attendees of the Bizarre AC III, the noise level, drifted far beyond acceptable levels, and alerted the staff of The Chelsea, with the rumors of police the crowd shrunk in size. The music carried inside the motel, into the elevators, lobby, parking garage, and into the Tropicana’s valet area (a casino next door), arising to complaints, later discovered the next day from guests at the motel and nearby areas. Atlantic City like other cities have noise ordinances, and while many casinos have a soundproof room, to hold concerts inside, avoid the sounds traveling to other sections or rooms, this location did not have that luxury. The metal concert gave the intense entertainment that made all have an enjoyable time, besides having Doyle play at 8pm, impossible everyone knows the sinister creatures don’t rise into the lateness of the night.
Saturday, October 17, brought more attention to the Surviving 28 Days Zombie Escape, larger crowds on hand for the enjoyment, and then Halloween DIY panels from Ricky Vitus found themselves gaining attention, in fact, the attendees enjoyed the panels, aside the charge extra for them. The strangest part for many was that the vendors and the stars shared the same room, something that is never at other events. However, a quick tour show the reason why, the lack of vendors and stars gave way for the base-print of changing the face of conventions, providing more interactions rather an one sided avenue, an autograph mill, that facet well enough covered by events such as Monster Mania and Chiller in New Jersey, time for something new. Also, accompany the new wave of stars, filling in for the commonplace of Tom Savini and Kane Hodder, this time Eric Roberts, star of countless b-movie films, and making lately the customary cameo role in films, very polite to his fans, and taking photos with one rule make sure the flash is on for it. Then pro-wrestler star turned actor Gene Snitsky, welcome to his fans, and noting his upcoming lead role in 100 Acres of Hell, from Walking Dead Films, who also hosted the Belly Flop Bash at midnight cold air of the pool deck. That event left the horror fans scratching their heads over the concept relating to the horror films, adding to the running discussion of pop-culture, which many frowned upon quickly. The fans enjoyed the concept of strange, unusual, scary and embraced for the conventions, acceptance into their own grouping, with finding clicks that enjoy the movies of gore, scares, and music of psychobilly to punk and venture across to the extreme of death and black metal. The phrase pop-culture fitted as much as crucifix to a vampire, no place for it unless referencing the topic of ‘zombies’ and how the creature once feared and repulsing to everyone, has become a staple of society found in music, kitchen products, beverages, toys, games, books, and even part of the doomsday preppers.
One can’t forget to mention that the day started at the Steel Pier, with Atlantic Scary’s Resurrection Zombie Walk 2015, taking place with the invading horde traveling to feed upon the humans at the Bizarre AC III. The coolest zombie was Troy Aikman, dress infamous Dallas Cowboys uniform, a hate outfit especially in Philadelphia and extending to New Jersey. However, this time, he had no head, yes headless, in fact the uniform smeared with blood and green, and carrying a helmet with head in it and the spine flanging in the crisp morning air. A true show-stopping piece of art all with the price admission, can food for a shelter, after all one wants to fatten up a future meal for zombies.
Sadly, though the vendors took another bath, with little sales, but the cost of the tables was lower than usual, and noting from past discussions, the vendors were sadden by the lack of foot traffic, with regard that at normal conventions the Friday grants them at least 75% of the budget for being at the venue. Then by the end of Saturday 120%, so green lighting deals on Sundays, here the slashing prices came even earlier. The clothing out Decay NJ, headed by Patrick Brennan, a friendly fiend, gave great insight to the vendor business, and some details of the trade available for a cost, but was extremely understanding of the event. Studiohouse Designs, owner Cody Ryan Brown, the man responsible for the Bizarre AC III artwork, a fine creation, works with various non-for-profits, bands, and others gave the insight to his artwork, from far away to mid distance then up close to seek all the 2 inch details capturing and hooking the admirer into the world of the art. Actor Philip Friedman star of Insidious (2010) as The Old Woman, on hand with kind words for his fans, and did a session with a professional photographer in full custom gear, an added bonus. Comic Book creators of Super, Zachery Dolan and Justin Piatt, took a front and center booth, in the vendor ballroom, providing great interaction with the fans, discussing both their quirky characters that seems more as social misfits in the world of magnificent ego fueled super-heroes. One must note John Brightman, a technical based ghost hunter, who starred on Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel, among other networks, provided interactive ghost tours of The Chelsea, for a minimal fee. John, respected people for being skeptical of the entire ghost’s concepts, and that is the key of industry, not to accept blindly, research for the evidence, and accepting the urban myths, disprove until nothing exists. A curious exhibit came from Level up Entertainment, with a retro- style living room, outfitted with video games of the late 1980s and 1990s to give a throwback to fans, how the attendance accepted it still escapes this journalist. The biggest letdown, and the Bizarre AC and management had no way of correcting the issues, one guest the who was to sponsor the panel “I’m a Witch” was unable to attend due to exceptional flooding in South Carolina. Many of the guests wanted to meet this individual and delve into the realm occult, as it is overuse in horror movies and simple curiosities, sadly nothing was posted and the information about the cancellation disseminated through word of month.
By Sunday, October 18, the final day of the all the planning, prepping, and performance coming to a rushing close, attendees, stars all seeking to finalize the goals of the day, complete as many aspects as possible, fulfilling on the bucket list. All in all, the interactive experience that the Henderson team had some success, and yet struggled, as social media tweeted out that many commonplace vendors not present, a backlash, by a few, some rating the event poorly. Hence, this contributing factor of social media now present of all conventions, not just this one, nevertheless the plan to pivot away from the 8×10 photos and strive from interactive performance to give the patrons memories. The final horror film to grace the screen, throwback slasher, Cuddlez from Director Bryan Enright, who showed a short trailer of his upcoming horror movie, moving into production mode in 2016, many of the workers at the Bizarre AC had cameos in the movie, including myself as a crazy hillbilly.
Throughout the convention, the staff of Good Time Tricycle, which backs the Bizarre AC and The Chelsea Hotel, provided a well-intended fest, helping to direct the guests to the best of their abilities and never tried to mislead anyone. However, the program of events did that all on its own, many complained over it and its design, but groups followed others to discover all the treasures of venue. One attendee Lou, informed this journalist, of their sadness, had saved up to attend, and sought merch (merchandise) such as photos, posters, horror movie tees, clam shell VHS, etc, and nothing available. This comment referenced often, is the struggle, facing this event’s identity with horror fans conditioned to accept the common themes of a convention, and not what you want but that the paying guest seeks, drives the attention. Another attribute the attendees wonder about, both the lack of marketing from the main event, and hearing more from others, and that really is just the new form of social media marketing, the local vibe of the event, than a national media blitz. It may sound that Bizarre AC III was a mix bag of tricks and treats, and while that is correct, one must admit the zombie event gave and provided the lift in a creative measure, horror convention don’t do that at all.
Henderson, revealed his plans for a Bizarre AC 4, one can hope he talks to everyone involved, even this journalist, for what to continue to provide in the event, and contribute to this local faire, for the horror fans, and maybe more. At first event started on Friday 13ths and then moved to the overwhelming popular October, and whether it remains in the month of October lies in the unknown. In addition to a more takeover event of the hotel, the cool signage dangling from the parking garage structure “alive inside” gave rise to new conjuring of deviant treats, therefore the promising new avenue has unmarked graves, but a dark haunting journey is always worth a bit a blood loss. Nevertheless, one can only hope that the mad doctor and his team henchmen of AC 4 do not become the final chapter with cannibals feasting wildly upon the corpse of Bizarre.