Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, October 6, 2014

CON REPORT: Monster-Mania 29

I remember a time when I didn’t go to horror movie conventions. Firstly, I didn’t have much expendable in-come at the time. Secondly, I wasn’t even aware that there were a few cons in my local area. It’s not hard to find negative criticism of, not specific conventions, but the entire concept of conventions. I can’t abide by this cynicism. Are prices going up? Yep. Could things be smoother? Sure. Yet, even at a less then ideal convention like Monster-Mania 29, there’s still a lot of really cool stuff to do.

There was never any doubt I was going to be at Monster-Mania 29. I ordered my tickets and reserved my hotel room months in advance. In the weeks leading up to the event, the guest line-up continued to be underwhelming. Sure, Robert Englund is cool. At an event like this, he’s the equivalent to Elvis. Yet he frequently does cons. Odds are good that this wouldn’t be my only chance to meet him. Billy Dee Williams was a fun late addition. I’m not a huge “Star Wars” fan but Billy Dee is a pop culture icon. Beyond those two? A few “Walking Dead” cast members were squirreled away in a room that had a huge wait all weekend. A bunch of actors from “Halloween 6” were reunited, along with “Children of the Corn,” “Monster Squad,” and “Elm Street,” none of them being huge names. However, Bob was enough to get my travel partner and podcast co-host excited. We were going to this thing, even if Monster Bash in Pittsburgh next weekend has an arguably better line-up.

JD and I arrived with plenty of time to check in at the Hunt Valley Inn and get a nice, leisurely lunch. (Our mantra all weekends was “We’re on vacation!” which is why we had steak and lobster both nights.) Last year, we waited in line two hours for Adam West. In hopes of avoiding a similar situation this year, we went ahead and jump in line for Robert Englund early. Unlike last year, the line was forming outside, on the veranda across from the garden room. Only eight people were ahead of us, so JD and I thought we had a good thing going.

We waited for three hours.

Once again, the VIP attendees, those people who plopped down 125 dollars for special tickets, got service first. Bob didn’t actually arrive until about twenty minutes after we got in line, smoozing and cat-calling to people behind us. I’m not a big fan of the VIP service to begin with. If it must exist, why not have them meet with the stars at some pre-determined time earlier in the day, so everyone else isn’t forced to wait for hours simply to hold on to a place in line?

It wasn’t a fun experience. The goth-rock couple in front of us provided some brief amusement. The girl was carrying a vintage Matchbox Freddy doll. However, after they, without a sense of irony or humor, referred to themselves as Satanists, I couldn’t take these people seriously anymore. A kid, looked about seven, was dressed as Jason and was more then willing to entertain the crowd. I don’t usually bring items for celebs to sign but I couldn’t resist an opportunity to get Robert Englund to sign my couple of “Freddy’s Greatest Hit,” a collection of standard covers by unnamed studio musicians with Bob in character as Freddy growing one-liners over the music. On vintage thrift store vinyl, naturally. This invited some questions from fellow line-waiters which was exactly what I was hoping for. These distractions kept my occupied through the first hour. By the second hour, I was becoming irritated. By the third hour, JD and I were about ready to bail. My spirits weren’t raised any when a convention employee came out and told us that Bob’s price tag was forty bucks for a signature and forty for a photo. Did I mention that a strong wind had kicked up by this point too? Never say I don’t suffer for my fandom.

When the doors finally opened, everyone was just happy to be out of the cold and be sitting down. We were a fairly hostile crowd at first. Things quickly changed. It became apparent that Englund is enthusiastic about meeting his fans and takes his time with everyone. Once we were inside, the line moved fairly quickly. Unlike most big ticket guests, Bob signed multiple items and posed for numerous pictures without any extra charge. He tried on each Freddy glove someone brought to him. He drew pictures and blurbs on the posters given to him. He joked around, laughed, and basically gave everyone their money’s worth. When we walked up to the table, Bob was more then happy to answer questions about “Freddy’s Greatest Hits” and how such a strange thing came to be. I asked him what the weirdest thing he was called on to do during the peak of Freddy’s popularity. Was it being a VJ on MTV? Rapping with the Fat Boys? His answer was that, not long after the first film, he appeared as Freddy during a Thanksgiving Day parade somewhere. Unfortunately, I can’t find any video proof of this momentous occasion.

In-between JD and I, Kane Hodder of all people carried a little girl who couldn’t be older then six into the room. She had a lithograph of cartoon versions of famous horror villains and, after getting Kane to sign it, was interested in Rob signing it. The little girl handed Rob a photograph of her dressed as Freddy for Halloween, which he happily accepted. Considering both of these guys bent over backwards to accommodate a little girl, it goes to show these big bad horror villains are actually cream puffs inside.

Anyway, after JD got his Powerglove Freddy action figure signed – Bob requested multiple pictures to make sure there wasn’t any glare off the figure’s plastic – I sheepishly requested if we could get an opening blurb for our podcast. Once again proving how generous he is, Robert quickly recorded a tiny skit in character as Freddy welcoming potential listeners to the Bangers n’ Mash Show. I’m not going to lie, this made up for the insane wait. I’ve got Freddy Kruger, on tape, saying my name. Both of us listened to the clip repeatedly over the weekend and it still makes me smile like crazy.

Our energy renewed, we headed to the dealer’s room. On first glance, the Monster-Mania vendor’s room did not look as jam-packed as usual. I only saw two DVD sellers. (I scored “Link,” a killer orangutan movie I’ve been looking for, at the reliable and ever-present VHSPS booth.) None of the toy booths had the big ticket item JD and I were looking for, the “24 Godzilla figure from NECA. That’s not to say we didn’t buy lots of stuff. JD found the die-cast Dragonzord, the “18 Adam West Batman, and four Ninja Turtles figures. I picked up DST’s Son of Frankenstein, some “Planet of the Apes” Apes, Dr. Tongue, and an in-box King Kong from back when McFarlane Toys made really cool stuff. I got the last item for a really reasonable price too. What can I say, we’re toy nuts.

One of the coolest attractions in the dealer’s room was a man selling replica horror weapons. This, itself, is nothing new. He was selling Freddy gloves and butcher knives. What made this special is he was also selling home-made replicas of “Phantasm” orbs in just about every variation from the films. Those were awesome but pricy so instead I came home with a “Re-Animator” syringe filled with glow-in-the-dark green reagent. There was a crowd around the guy’s table throughout most of the weekend.

The second day was focused more on panels. But we had time to squeeze in some other activities. After passing Cerina Vincent’s table a few times, I decided to put down twenty bucks to get her signature. She was nice, open about her days as a Power Ranger and her tendency to be nude in movies. (She brought that up, not me. I’m a gentleman.)

A number of people were waiting for Billy Dee Williams who was, at the time, at lunch. Not interested in waiting a long time for another guest, JD and I explored elsewhere, driving up to a near-by mall that Google said contained a K.B. Toys. It didn’t, unsurprisingly. When we returned, Billy Dee was back and the line had gone way down. His agent was requesting a fairly reasonable forty for his signature but, weirdly, you had to pick out the glossy from a pre-selected number system. I considered buying a bottle of Colt .45 to get it signed but decided against it. This was fine, since several other people in line had the same idea. Anyway, Billy Dee is quiet and doesn’t have much to say. When asked about Harvey Dent being re-cast in “Batman Forever,” he didn't show any hard feelings about it. He didn’t personalize the glossy but, hey man, I got to bump fists with Lando. Worth it? Worth it.

The time had come for panels. “The Monster Squad” panel assembled Duncan Regehr, Carl Thibault, and Michael MacKay on-stage. Thibault was extremely quiet, talking a little about how comfortable he felt in his make-up. Duncan talked somewhat about his artwork and how much he enjoyed frightening children in-character. Surprisingly, MacKay was the chattiest person in the panel. He talked enthusiastically about his prominent role in the upcoming “Insidious 3,” and had good memories about “Batman and Robin” and playing Charles Manson. It wasn’t a great panel but I’m glad I came anyway.

I’ll be totally honest: JD and I went into the “Halloween 6” panel strictly to reserve our seats for the Robert Englund Q&A, which was directly afterwards. I’m not a fan of “Halloween 6” but I was surprised at how enthusiastic everyone was about the film. Each of the actresses talked extensively about their characters and the re-cuts the film suffered. Dick Warlock and George Wilbur, who are veterans at this sort of thing, had a blast telling old stories about being Michael Myers and working on “Jaws.” The experience made me sort of shameful about never paying for Warlock’s signature. The guy is a classic.

The “Elm Street” panel was obviously the best of the bunch though. At one point, Robert said he had a huge ego. Maybe but, throughout the panel, he kept redirecting questions to Amanda Wyss and Ronee Blakley. He could have easily dominated the Q&A and no one would have complained. Bob had plenty of great stories about auditioning for “Star Wars,” wrestling Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the memories and experiences of being Freddy Krueger. As usual, he got questions about the remake, further sequels, and fighting Michael Myers and Jason. Each were approached in good humor and with enthusiasm. Wyss was excited to talk about her time on the film as well. Ronee had a lot more to say then I expected and shared stories from all throughout her career. It was a good time.

In summation, Monster-Mania 29 had some high-highs and low-lows. It would be easy to say a meeker dealer’s room, long waits, and higher prices ruined the convention. Yet the memories, man. I doubt Bobby Englund will remember recording an intro for the Bangers n’ Mash Show but he sure made our days. It was a good time, though an expensive one, and a good way to start October. Will I be back next year at Monster-Mania 32, which Dave Hagen promises is already a go? Odds are good I will be. What can I say, I’m a sucker for tradition.

Here's a picture of JD and I being huge dorks.


whitsbrain said...

Never been to an "any-thing con". Sounds fun and expensive.

Kernunrex said...

Hell yeah, Bobby Englund is good people. His handling a fans is incredible: he's generous and fun to talk to and will sign anything at all. So cool you got him to record an intro for the youtube show!

Drooling over the vendor with the Phantasm sentinels. Been hoping to find something like that every time I go to a con.