NJ Horror Con and Film Festival 2017 – By Baron Craze

On March 31st, in New Jersey, a state where horror lives strongly, with Blairstown and The Toxic Avenger, saw the creation of a new event by horror fans for horror fans, with the birth of NJ Horror Con and Film Festival, a lean, cleaver clean fun time hence move over Chiller and Monster Mania, the new psychotics want to play. The creators of the event, filmmaker Ryan Scott Weber, and Comic Book Men producer and pop culturist Rob Bruce from both NJ and equal horror fanatics, knew from attending many conventions and festivals over the years, what the industry needed. The fans craved a new fun event with laughs and a celebration for the genre, criticized often by others, yet this time a common good vibe filtered across the 3-day fest. Many other conventions have endured countless years of supreme reign, becoming bloated, with nothing fresh or new, forgetting the purpose of the event, for the fans, displaced by peers, join together sharing their passions with others who understand their place, a collection of black tee wearing army of horror freaks all equal and united for a good time. On hand for the NJ Horror Con, held in Edison at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, among many of the fans, families a mother and father with their children and others making bonding experience of it. The aisles wide enough and kindness of others elude to the ability of those confine to wheelchairs the access to meet stars or visit the precious vendor rooms. When Friday March 31st greenlighted for the start of the fest, the wind, rain, thunder and lightning commenced at Edison, as if erecting a monster, all those who gathered seem as a load-in day at college dorms, crates and carts, along with hearses, all working to set up as fast as possible. Nevertheless, the crew for the event, vendors, and press on hand prepped, as a hearty battle ready independent film crew, awaiting the curtain to open for a much talked about fest on many social media platforms.

On Friday – March 31 at 5pm

Scanning the beautiful slick program guide, outlining all the events, this mirrors the t-shirts and posters, showing the guests, including Father Evil and some movie cars (The Mystery Machine; DeLorean DMC-13; various Ecto Ghostbuster cars, along with the Circus Rejects Ice Cream truck). The film festival started with a Short Film Block of 6-films hence the name, the first of 4 for the weekend, first up Feeding Time (2016), from director Matt Mercer. A telling tale of a young woman substituting for a friend, after meeting the steampunk dressed parents, Sasha (Stacy Snyder) begins to suspect strange things, before you know it something wants to feed, who makes to dinner an important question. A curious sub-note for this film comes from composer, Steve Moore (part of the band Zombi, and a synthesizer guru) known for his soundtracks for The Mind’s Eye and Cub. Quickly and smoothly transitioning into director David H. Jeffery’s Girl #2, which gives an amusing play on the credits in a horror film, where the audience sees an unknown person listed as Cute Girl and then Girl #1 and so on, well, in this movie, something very odd occurs. The theme ‘the hottest girls always go first’ otherwise sometimes known in the horror stereotypes as the slut, very well explain in a verbal panic between two women as a killer works his way through the door, and they concoct a desperate plan of insanity. In the end, the audience cheered on with laughs as the impossible mayhem occurs at feverish fun pace, lining everyone up for the third installment. Heather Taylor directed and wrote a 4-minute short, Stitched (2016) about sibling rivalry and how far too goes to make sure the favorite sister actually hears other’s issues and feels their love. The Bride of Frankie (2017) tallies in as the longest of the shorts for the opening segment at nearly 20-minutes, shown in black and white and all in homage of The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), from the mind of director Devi Snively. A tale, which gives more power to the woman created and the assistant than merely the godly qualities of Dr. Stein (Circus-Szalewski), though like many other of the shorts in this segment a tinge of comedy shines through the dark tale. The Bride (called Shelly in reference to author Mary of Frankenstein) bonds more with the assistant, who loves and nurtures, where Monty (the monster) acts more as brute and aggressive sexual beasts without control (but again his brain not quite normal), it works on many levels and opens a new path to take in the Universal Monsters. The fifth tale relates back to Feeding Time, as it called The Babysitter (2016), except herein the parents quite happily normal and the dad just loves moves, especially those that capture the life and beauty of special people. Meanwhile, Nathalie (Frederique Dansereau) there to look after their daughter Melanie (Satine Scarlett Montaz) who equally loves movies, but how does the entertainment go before it all is too late? The last movie of the segment conjures a bizarre macabre coed tale called The Barber’s Cut written and directed by Mark Brocking, with a simple message keep your head on, or everything in your life will fall to pieces.

As a the first Q&A of the festival started, involving Frankenhooker and Brain Damage featuring Kevin Van Hentenryck among others, it was time to visit the vendor floor to meet and greet, and thereby finding a sponsor to the fest, Wild Eye Releasing, headed by Rob. As many readers of both Rogue Cinema (who I was representing for this fest) and The Horror Syndicate, in which I do a column called DOA Review, where I review bad movies, many that happen to be from this company. The discussion covered about giving the opportunity to new filmmakers, delivering a quality project, and while admitting some the films fill in the lower scale, it garnished a lot of interaction with fans. The topic evolve to note the censoring of covers, by some business which shall state nameless as well as how other distribution houses operate, lastly though informed that Wild Eye appears ready to branch outward to attract a high quality horror film, such as Tales of Poe (2014). From there met with Jonathan Straiton, he director of Night of Something Strange (2016) and cast member Michael Merchant who portrayed Freddy, and received both their signatures on the film’s movie poster a big highlight to me.

At 8pm time to venture back to film festival screening room for the night’s Double Creature Feature, first up The Night Watchmen (2017) a horror comedy, which lays more on slapstick and insanity than just horror, a movie, knows no limits or any political correctness. Director Mitchell Altieri delivers a crazy fun filled film, of a group of night watchmen (security guards) at office building where a group employees have a late night work shift, while an errand delivery comes into their garage, the aware horror fan knows no good can come of this. The shipment a coffin, destined to arrive at 3100 Stokers Ave, (Bram Stoker) interesting, it contains the body of famous clown Blimpo who died in Romania. An quick introduction of the principle characters Ken, Jiggetts, Luca and Rajeeve (Ken Arnold; Kevin Jiggetts; Dan DeLuca and Max Gray Wilbur, respectively along with Karen (Kara Luiz), and it sets off a bit slow with comedic moments, but gets rolling very quickly. It became a crowd favorite, the laughs work for a large crowd, and enjoyment had by all, so much film references to From Dusk to Dawn (1996) and even True Blood. It reinforces the concept of cubical hell workplaces sucking one dry and having everyone leeching off each other to they become mindless zombies. The campy film contain pot influences, weird dances, and gallons blood splatter, squeaky clown shoes and even a zombie lesbian romance moment, that swept the audience into a frenzy of hoots, hollers, and rampaging laughter. In fact, some in the audience used their phones texting others to join them for the fun, vendors left their tables to partake in the fun, halfway through the movie the room, filled well with more horror fans entering to stand and watch the insanity. If you see out on the fest circuit definitely one to stake your claim too! After the flick ended the crowd thinned out, it time consuming and organized and polite manner, allowing for Roddy Piper (They Live) final movie to air, The Chair by director Chad Ferrin, which also starred Bill Oberst Jr. The crowd on hand didn’t fare as well, after all it is a prison movie, heavy on dialogue, resulting in an ultra slow burn, frustrated some, especially understanding what it just perceived it. Ferrin’s film about a prisoner struggles to understand who really monsters, himself or the guards (who rape prisoners) and the betrayal of others, all while seeking revenge for the evil which consumed him.

The first night concluded with a private engagement with Bryan Johnson, a known comic book author, podcaster and actor, resulting in a conversation and viewing of his movie Vulgar (2000), since it was an add-on event, this reviewer needed to pass on it, sadly to reserve funds.

Day 2 – Saturday April 1

My day started with a chance encounter (very brief) of meeting John Waters on the elevator, before venturing and noticing a large swarm of individuals at the ticket booth, well word got out about the fest resulting in a long line into the convention. Along with others lining up for the stars room in full effect and both vendors room as well as the lobby prepared for the onslaught which typically occurs on the Saturdays at these places and Deadly Grounds’ coffee, serving the early morning brew, as the cosplay fans arrived in full design too. Meanwhile Ted Raimi held a Q&A in the film festival room, at 10a, while fans learned that actors Matthew Lillard of Scream fame and Traci Lords filtered into one of the vendor rooms due overflow for their tables.

By 11ish, the film festival kicked back into gear, with the feature film Deviant Behavior (2017), made on a miniscule budget of $5000, director Jacob Grim and writer Sal Hernandez who worked together before on Dreadtime Stories (2014), presented an interesting slasher twist tale involving Charlie Reese (Eric Rodrigue) a lousy private detective. The killer, very unusual but fits more into a Leatherface back-story and stars John Dugan (Grandpa, from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)) as Murphy and reuniting with Ed Guinn as Al, also from the 1974 cult horror classic movie. Herein a story contains plenty of torture, sleazy moments for hardcore horror fan to enjoy.

No need to slow down the carnage train of horror thrills, as people drifted in and out of the film festival room, especially another Short Film Block started at 1230p with The Frozen Eye (2016) (aka: L’Oeil Silencieux) by writer and director Karim Ouelhaj. While the crowd large in size, it added to a bit of a problem, the movie contain subtitle, while normal to have foreign horror flicks play at fests, the ability to read English words hard with so many individual’s heads in the way. Therefore, the audience became creative, watched the images for entertainment, and used their phones to look up the film on IMDb website to understand the premise of the story. Horror fans definitely know how to enjoy the genre, yes a roadblock, but with excellent wifi and net abilities no problems logging on to discover and learn of new gems. It is a well-crafted tale of gruesome obsession about voyeurism and a loss of manhood, all through endless factors of compulsion attitudes. Generating more interest, in the zombie films, came Carl Timms’ Still (2017) about the human statues, painted silver, black (for a coal miner) or in this case gold (Joe Capella), while the undead feed on people in from, image having to fend off cramps, aches, twitches and blood splatter, great way to spend seven minutes. A rarity at horror fest, came as sci-fi flick Impervia (2017) but had a well-supported crowd, namely due to actors connections to other filmmakers at the festival. Namely Deana Demko and Christopher J. Murphy both whom starred in both Manny Serrano’s Theta States (close out films on Sunday night and many of Ryan Scott Weber’s movies too) but overall the tale shows a cyber world beings replace the humankind long ago, still battle for eminent domain. The two final films of segment entitled The Sin Reapers Halloween featuring episode 5, while other was a found footage movie simply called Her Apartment.

The crowds return for a dark thriller feature entitled Bad Frank (2017), a movie, which so far won 11-times for 11-nominations in various festivals, marking how powerful of film director Tony Derminario delivers with his talented cast, featuring Kevin Interdonato (Frank) and Tom Sizemore (Mickey). All involving Frank a man trying to live life on righteous side, after all it opens with him in an intimate moments of passion with his girl, Gina (Amanda Clayton), but his past emerges with dangerous and volatile consequences and disrupts his grasp on sanity resulting in uncontrollable rage and violence. Bad Frank accelerates quickly, the dialogue and action sequences balancing very well together, and the carnality rears its head often, along with a few comical moments enjoyed thoroughly by the audience, which clapped and cheered at the weirdest moments. But that’s a horror fan crowd – enjoying good fun cinema. Upon leaving the room, a filmmaker Erick Kaslov called out asking for people to come see his movie in a late show later that night, and while some ignore the flyers it did get the respect of fellow filmmakers, who learned his movie earn nominations for it at this film festival.

Horror fans, like all fans of cinema, enjoy a good event and equally wonderful produce films, and though shorts often find themselves panned by many, it’s now consider commonplace to highlight one’s talents as well as their respectful crews, all basically borrowing from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead model with regard to Within the Woods. Therefore at 430p while vendors grinded onward, and horror fans walked about with several bags full of goodies, to add to their personal collections with their eyes dazzling with a pure natural adrenaline of fun, another short segment of films started. Mr. Dentonn (2014) launched the ride once more, enticing the fans to hang on for another wild ride, followed with Let’s Play Dead Girl (2016). Inspired by three youthful girls belief and experiences with Slenderman, and herein the ultimate sacrifice needs a human who will it be? We who saw it know the truth, but not telling. Up next came Don’t Feed the Troll (2016) from director Marc Fratto followed by As I Prey by John Johnson, who gives technology a horror trip for friends and dating, housed from Eternal Ground Films, these two films becoming more socially accepted as the public interacts with the tech gadgets themselves.

Time for a stroll through the vendors’ rooms, as the Back to the Future Q & A Panel took place, one cannot overlook the importance of these talents, I encountered, Grey Matter Art, studio licensed poster company who did the artwork for The Toxic Avenger as well as The Puppet Master (which sadly appeared not for sale). Then it was onto to meet with artist Joel Robinson, the Art Pusher, his work is beyond awe-inspiring, lately many discovering it upon many Blu-rays such as Just Desserts and Return of the Living Dead (which I purchased)! His talent, incredible and wonderful design, a pleasure to discuss the artwork forgotten on DVDs and dating it back to that to his favorite Iron Maiden’s Killers album. A stroll across the room to Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market, discovering their connection to the filmmaker of Sodomanic (2015) a comedy horror flick available through Wild Eye Releasing made on a budget of $850, Anothy Catanese (aka: Tony G. or Tony Goggles, who ran the media in the film festival room). Interesting enough to learn that he finishing another film with a curious title known as Teenage Bloodsuckin’ Bimbos, scheduled for a 2017 release, something else to look forward to.

The evening’s entertainment had nearly 3-hours of a John Waters all for private engagement with his fans, another add-on perk which included almost one-on-one meetings with his fans, giving a very personal moment, as he had autographed copies of his book on hand too. During this time, I visited the table for Optimus Maximus Publishing, and their passion for horror novels, and while understanding the eBook phenomenon they enjoy the feel and smell of an actual book. It here I met author and filmmaker Emir Skalonja, who told me of his latest novel Born of Blood and his zombie flick The Plague (2016).

Unlike many other horror conventions, when the hour grows late the fans find themselves tucked away nicely thinking of the day’s events and enjoying their nightmares, however not the case with this NJ Horror Con, as an after party carried onward, a short film block attracted more stayover guests. Her Name Was Samantha, from directed Kaslov, an extremely short film of 3-minutes which was original only 1-minute and 30-sencionds long, telling the tale of girl haunting her killer from the grave, later to discover the Erick begun penning a feature film from this initial concept. One thing, that many horror fans commonly agree about missing, the midnight showing, to gather at a theater sometimes an isolated location, one should avoid but the attraction drives us to attention, such as Exhumed Films’ Cannibal Holocaust movie. Well, Weber didn’t have that gore fest but presented Night of Something Strange (2016) for directed Jonathan Straiton who gave a Q&A afterwards in the wee hour of the morning. If you missed it, first for shame on you and now grab the DVD, it is a ruckus ride for a movie so enjoy it with a beer in hand and laughs with your friends, The Night Watchmen would make a final double feature. Imagine a STD turning sick pervert who’s a janitor getting his freak on with a corpse and develops into zombie plague revolving around sex and that’s just the start of the mayhem, silliness and thrill ride of laughs.

Day 3 – The Final Day, Sunday – April 2

Matthew Lillard started the day with his very friendly and personal Q&A at 10ish, to an intimate crowd of fans, he teased and joked about, settled down laying the out the truth about being an actor, the payment, the offset, the lengthy breaks between gigs, and how the market with Amazon and VOD changing the careers paths. It became an insightful moment, and one he spoke honestly about and importance of the conventions, directing his thanks to Weber who sat in the audience. He even mentioned working with Carol Burnett on an episode of SVU, and how great Markiska Hargitay’s abilities bring that show together each time, how he tried out for Negan (The Walking Dead)four times, fondly mentioned Wes Craven and the movie Scream, noted his favorite film SLC Punk! (1998)

Shortly afterwards the final short film block presented itself with 7 movies, first Eye Love You, followed quickly Lila Baghzouz comedic horror flick Ghost, Misunderstood, concerning a ghost whose a bit of a klutz and scares a couple early in their relationship, best part is the movie’s accomplished film in just 5-hours. Then Jennifer Valdes’ Laid to Rest (2017), about the revenge of the dead, Jessie (Jessica Felice, a star in many horror and thriller films) to her former lover Doug (Taylor August). Chateau Sauvignon: Terroir began a trio of movies, which seemed to leave them fidgeting in their seats, before the last film played entitled Silently Within Your Shadow (2015) from director Scott Lyus. Lucette (Sophie Tergeist) a ventriloquist and her dummy Hugo (voice supplied by horror icon Bill Moseley) seem to have a bizarre relationship, and no room for her boyfriend Jace, threesome sometimes bring more pain and problems than pleasure.

A reason the audience grew excited because the convention included a LIVE Awards Show, a rarity at horror conventions but this one hosted by the legend Lloyd Kaufman along with his group of talents of Troma, such as Toxie and even enlisted Tony Goggles help for a comedic time. By event time, the crowd grew in size, with filmmakers filter in on a red carpet and after interviews, each hoping for wins. Lloyd did a great job hosting the awards show, with taking potshots at everyone, including John Waters, all in good fun, each winner got a chance to give thanks and Bad Frank won the most awards another three into the tally. Normally a fest ends after the awards show, but this isn’t any normal event, and add-on event hosted The Amazing Kreskin for a special séance with the Horror Cosplay Contest hosted by Mike McManis to follow it.
From here I took the opportunity to visit a few more vendors, this time discovering co-owner of Obscura Antiques & Oddities, Mike Zohn, discuss the realism of his items and the shrinkage of a deceased’s brain over the course of time down to the size of walnut a fascinating time and place worth visiting, in New York City. Then met with author E.L. Jefferson, who believes in not only real actual books but also the human monsters, far scarier than ghosts, paranormal tales, and why not? Stephen King thinks that too. He spoke of the depravity that people bring forth of the within sick twisted depths, and noting sometimes his stories penetrate the soul deeply. While speaking with him filmmaker Ed McKeever of the movie 100 Acres of Hell (not yet released), stopped by for a few words. This then lead to chance meeting with Daniel Jacobs of the haunted attraction Camp Evans Base of Terror, which is part of The InfoAge Science History Museum.

Then with one final return, to the film festival room to catch the Q&A session of Ghostheads (2016) a documentary of the intense fans of movies and even extending to comic books, and the Real Ghostbusters, noting fan clubs in every state and some foreign countries. It might seem odd, but nothing crazier than the fans dressing as Freddy, Jason or Michael; those franchises each contain their dedicated fans, with tattoos and loyal collectors. However, the closing features needed to air before wrapping the event up in a fabulous bow, starting it off director and writer Manny Serrano (Blood Slaughter Massacre (2013) sat in the audience for the second presentation of his movie Theta States (2017). The movie deals with a few real things such as the Theta Brain State, a belief where one can create everything and change reality instantly and the painting entitled The Nightmare, very real and still controversial, from artist Henry Fuseli in 1781. Manny’s movie involves a multitude of elements, and refers to both Dreamscape and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and provides a straightforward story, and using audio to create a lasting impression, think of the shaky cam but now adjusted to your hearing. It works to tell the story of an insomniac Danny (Tom Ryan) suffering both at home and work, with no relief, but discovers some demons plague his darkness and soul, resulting in a battle over it. The cast did wonderful performance such as Erin Brown; Patrick Devaney; and Deana Demko, along with many others, you’ll need to catch this on the fest circuit, and if you miss it you’ll need to dream about remake hell of Hollywood. The final movie, presented itself, Romeo’s Distress (2016) from director Jeff Frumess gives a gothic romance of awkwardness, misunderstandings, accidental death and revenge tale, surrounding James his love for Jane resulting in the hatred by her father. This movie goes much deeper than one expects but delivers fine fitting end to festival and convention, and one people should seek out, if tired of the same of old stuff.

However, all events know hiccups do occur, the event organizers likely do an assessment or autopsy to understand the pluses and minuses, herein two minor ones. First, Saturday and Sunday had Q&A’s starting at 10a and the doors open at the same time, and if you’re in 50th in line you likely going to miss part of that activity. Second, the closing features had much smaller crowds, and while they aired, the noised grew from the slamming of tables and gear; vendors all cleaning up and the convention returning the lobby and rooms to a normal status hence making it difficult to hear the audio. The staff worked fantastically, polite and informative, and if they didn’t know an answer they either found out or honestly stated ‘I don’t know’ and others encourage patrons to visit someone or attend a show. One can’t believe this was a debut for them the great vie and energy had by all, delivered a wonderful three days. Needless look for this event to return September 22 – 24, 2017, don’t miss it again, all loyal horror fans need to pay honor to this bloody event.