Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, September 30, 2013

CON REPORT: Monster-Mania 26

I’ve never felt more conflicted about a convention like I have about Monster-Mania 26. It’s not that I didn’t have a good time. I actually had a great time. However, certain elements dissatisfied me. This was my third year at Monster-Mania in Baltimore. That’s long enough that I can see the convention changing in ways I dislike.

My travel partner and I actually stayed at the Hunt Valley Inn, this time. This, admittedly, made the experience a little easier all around. It allowed us to arrive early, with plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely lunch and recoup from the stressful drive before facing the crowds.

Of late, Monster-Mania has, if not moving away from horror, been expanding into other spheres. The main attractions at the year’s previous cons were both “Star Wars” actors. 26 was focused on the 1966 “Batman” series. Adam West, Burt Ward, and Lee Meriwether were all in attendance. Even a few other guests were only sort-of connected to the genre, like Felix Silla, Lisa Loring, or Michael Madsen. This raises the question of how many horror films one has to do before being considered a “horror actor,” which may be beside the point. Odds are most horror fans like “Star Wars.” Most probably like “Batman,” sci-fi, wrestling, or crime movies. It’s certainly true for me, at least the Batman and sci-fi parts. Still, I can’t help but wonder if the, for lack of a better term, purity of the convention is being deluded in hopes of attracting more people.

Zombie Ninja Turtles. The kind of thing you only see at a horror con.

Friday evening, JD and I decided to get a jump on things by going down at four. At least, that’s what we thought. In actually, a long line had already formed for Adam West. With only four conventions under my belt, I’m hardly a veteran. I realized I had never waited an excessive amount of time to meet someone before. I got lucky with John Carpenter and Asia Argento was a twenty minute wait, max. The line grew behind us without moving ahead. This continued for two hours. Representatives let us know that West and Ward were participating in pre-paid meet-and-greet encounters. Around six, the doors finally opened and the line finally staring moving.

West’s blonde, beach-bum handler told us that it was sixty dollars for a signature. And that didn’t include a photograph. That was another sixty. I had come this far so I wasn’t walking out. That was still more then I expected to pay. Waiting in the second line, inside of the room, I noticed Adam was signing people’s items and shooing them away without asking a question. I had long since decided that I wanted to ask West about an obscure TV film he did in the seventies with Sammy Davis. Jr and Christopher Lee, a film born out Davis’ Satanist period, a truly bizarre piece of pop culture debris. As I handed over my three bills, I sheepishly asked if there was time for questions. The handler informed that there wasn’t much. Quickly, I asked Mr. West about the aforementioned project. He furrowed his brow and shook his head, having no recollection. That was that. I spent sixty dollars on twelve seconds with Adam West. I don’t even have a photograph to prove it. Buyer’s remorse set in immediately.

Of course, I had to get Burt Ward’s signature too. One’s useless without the other, right? I figured Ward, a humble fellow aware of his minor status, wouldn’t want more then the standard fee of twenty bucks. Forty at the most. Nope. Fifty, just shy of West’s asking price. And, no, photographs weren’t included. Burt was much nicer, actually took time with each guests. I made the decision I didn’t want to ask any of the “Batman” guest about “Batman,” picking another project off their resumes to be the topic of discussion. Burt remembered “High School USA,” a TV movie he made with Crispin Glover, but not very much. He’s actually a nice guy. Am I happy I spent fifty bucks to get him to sign a tiny piece of paper? I’m still not sure.

Proof that I met Adam West and Burt Ward.

After that wrapped up, we headed down stairs to explore the con more fully. The lay-out was changed this year. The hallway surrounding the primary ballrooms were packed with vendors, as always. However, this year, the remaining guests were packed into the vendor’s room. This quickly became congested. The layout was crowded and you weren’t sure if you were waiting in line for Michael Madsen or Heather Langenkamp.

What better way to blow off line fatigue then by buying stuff? I bought a lot of toys but the coolest was an original Shogun Warriors Great Mazinger, which I snagged for forty bucks, both rocket fists included. I was happy to see many vendors selling classic horror items. From one table, I grabbed “Shanks,” “Mr. Sardonicus,” “Brotherhood of Satan,” and the “Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection” triple feature. The prices weren’t great but the selection impressed. The MidAtlantic Nostalgia Con table got me a bootleg of “Curucu,” filling a spot in my Universal Monsters collection. Both were promoting conventions of their own. The previous weekend, at the same hotel, I missed the opportunity to meet another Catwoman, Julie Newmar. Meanwhile, Monster Bash next June will feature Julie Adams, Ricuo Browning, and Barbara Steele. I’ll probably have to go to that one.

Gerrit Graham was a last-minute addition. Being a huge “Phantom of the Paradise” fan, it was one I was excited for. Mr. Graham is very relaxed and friendly. He spent quite some time regaling me with stories of working on “Phantom.” Brian De Palma and Graham’s working relationship was close enough that the director allowed him to improvise, aware of his abilities as a performer. Graham let it known that he wasn’t pleased that De Palma dropped him and most of his established acting troupe after finding mainstream success. Graham is very nice and one of the few guests this weekend who wasn’t asking a ridiculous price for a signature.

You hear stories about Michael Madsen’s drunken surliness. There was no wait for and we went right up to his table. The guy is raspier in real life but nicer then his reputation suggests. Sort of. Midway through his discussion with JD, a gentleman walked up to Madsen’s table and gave him the middle finger. In mid-sentence, Madsen walked passed JD and went after the offending fellow. We were both certain an ass-kicking was about to happen. Madsen’s handler actually had to talk him down. Mike was nice to us, laughed when I asked him about working with Uwe Boll, and gladly posed for a photograph. But I wouldn’t recommend pissing the guy off.

Lee Meriwether wasn’t in the up-stairs ballroom earlier but was when we returned. Her line was slow-moving but for all the right reasons. Ms. Meriwether took time with each guest, happily answering questions and posing for photographs. (For no extra charge I’ll add.) She had many positive memories of “The 4D Man” while repeating often-heard but no-less entertaining “Batman” anecdotes for JD. Lee is probably the nicest guest we met all weekend.

Friday was winding down. Carel Struckyen was in “The Prey,” a movie I’ve gone on about at length, so I had to meet him. This might go without saying but Mr. Struckyen is extraordinary tall. Later in the evening, while waiting for an elevator, we noticed he actually had to duck in order to get through the hallways. He’s also very nice and soft-spoken. He didn’t remember much about “The Prey” but confirmed my suspicion that the film was as weird to make as it is to watch.

The last guest we met was Kane Hodder. Hodder does a lot of these things and has developed a chatty, humorous repor with his fans. While talking to us, he was throwing questions at passing guests and trading good-natured barbs with R. A. Maihailoff, whose table was next to him. Strapped for more interesting questions, I asked my old stand-by: What’s the weirdest thing a fan has ever done? Kane laughed and told me a fan once sent him a vile of semen. Wow. And gross. In every con photo you see, Hodder is stage-choking fans in typical Jason fashion. Turns out, that’s not “stage”-choking. Maybe I’m just a massive wimp but Mr. Hodder made it clear, in that moment, he could have easily killed either of us. The surprise on my face is genuine.

The next day was busier, with more people and lines everywhere. Roddy Piper was a no show, which bummed me out. I had so many casual, one-off encounters with vendors and random fans I can’t remembered most of them. I got Felix Silla’s signature for a friend. He’s nice but didn’t have much to say.

Eventually, the siren song of Charles Band’s Full Moon table was too strong to resist. Band is also legendary for his theatrics. During our time together, he was heavily promoting Full Moon’s latest productions: Leprechaun flick “Unlucky Charms” (which could be purchased in a box of all-marshmallows cereal) and “Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong,” a crossover I doubt anyone was clamoring for. Mostly, he was pushing a new streaming service, promising me I could finally see “Crash!” and “MurderCycle,” and hundreds of other titles, for 7.99 a month. I passed and instead bought Blu-rays of “Castle Freak” and “The Evil Clergyman.” Truthfully, Charlie is fun. After telling us that Full Moon films are titles first and screenplays second, I suggested my own title. He laughed and told me “Doom Cock” is better suited to Troma. He’s probably right. Should I ever meet Lloyd Kaufman, I’ll have to pass that on.

Despite spending way too much on Friday, I still bought more. I grabbed a bootleg of Disney Channel’s “So Weird,” which probably doesn’t hold up but fifteen bucks for all of it was too good a bargain to pass on. I’ve made a tradition of getting an item from the VHS Preservation Society every year, as I love how their discs are presented. Unlike most bootlegs, the VHSPS’ discs have menus, music, and an MST3k-style “stinger” at the end of each film. It’s a small thing but really adds to the experience. After missing it last year, I left with “Unmasked Part 25.”

Saturday was concerned with panels. At the “Addams Family” panel, Felix Silla shared an amusing story about almost being set on fire while in the Cousin Itt costume. Carel Struckyen mentioned that, before getting cast in the features, people would ask him on the street if he was Lurch, with some getting belligerent about it. He was happy that, after being cast as Lurch, he could finally tell these people yes. The Kane Hodder/ R. A. Maihailoff panel was loose and laughter-filled. Both spent time promoting new films like “Among Friends” and “Smothered,” while happily answering often-asked questions like “favorite kill” or “favorite movie.” The “Batman” panel almost made up for the brevity of the earlier meetings. Adam West is a ham and knows how to play to his audience, cracking jokes and sharing stories. I learned that West was offered the role of James Bond and that Burt Ward burnt his ass while riding in the Batcycle. Annoyingly, no pictures were allowed. This makes me suspect that the real asshole isn’t West but his handlers. I enjoyed the panel but I think JD got more out of it then I did.

This Leslie Vernon cosplayer was pretty cool.

Staying in the same hotel as the guests did led to some encounters. Stepping off of an elevator Friday night, I overheard West hitting on a pair of very attractive twenty-something girls, both of whom seemed to be encouraging him. Charles Band almost walked into me after stepping out of an elevator. Saturday morning, I shared an awkward, crowded elevator ride with R. A. Maihailoff, who ended up hitting on the same girls Adam West was hitting on the night before. I guess you can get away from those things when you’re sort-of-kind-of-almost-famous.

We left the con Saturday, spent Sunday morning with friends in Baltimore before heading home. This gave me time to reflect. I’m embarrassed by how much I spent and wonder what I’m going to do with some of this stuff. The prices at Monster-Mania are going up and there’s more focus on expensive, extended “meet and greet” photo-ops and VIP parties. Should it continue, there might be a day when horror cons are too expensive for me. Still, a weekend this weird can’t be all bad.

Just some of the crap I bought this weekend.


Kernunrex said...

Hell ye-ah, Horror Con! Man, $60 and $50 for an autograph and no photo is painful. I think the most I've paid was $30 for Malcolm McDowell.

Gerrit Graham -- would love to meet him at a con. Phantom of the Paradise rules and should be doing the midnight circuit thing instead of that lame Rocky Horror crap.

Kane Hodder -- no, you are not a wimp. I just about passed out when I got my choke photo with him. Awesome guy, though.

Yes: always stay in the hotel that the con is held at. There's nothing quite like grabbing some breakfast in the hotel restaurant and having Butch Patrick sit at the other the end of the table while Heather Langenkamp grabs item from the salad bar. Also, my friend now gets to say: "I peed next to Pinhead!"

Bonehead XL said...

I've had several people agree with me on Kane Hodder's choke hold. Dude is hella' strong.

I'm looking forward to staying in the hotel again during next year's con season. Brushing shoulders with the guests in elevators is just too surreal.