Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, October 4, 2015

CON REPORT: Monster-Mania 32

I’ve been going to horror conventions for about five years now, having been to seven events in that time. I don’t know if I’d consider myself a veteran of these sort of things but I figured I was at least experienced. While JD and I were waiting in line to meet Matthew Lillard Friday evening, five convention goers I definitely recognized from prior years were in front of us. We couldn’t help but listen in on their conversation. One declared that he drove all the way from Ohio. One came from Connecticut. Listening to the guys discuss conventions they’ve been to in the past, they mentioned driving as far south as Georgia and as far west as Indiana. Further on, they mentioned driving out to the remains of the “Evil Dead” cabin and stealing some rocks. Or seeing vehicles betting towed away from the actual camp “Friday the 13th” was shot at. At this point, I became aware of how inexperienced I was as a con goer. Even as a horror fan, I’m now wondering about my credentials. I’ve never been kicked off of any property!

Anyway, we arrived at the Hunt Valley Inn on a cold, drizzly morning. Thanks to Hurricane Joaquin, it rained all weekend. Autumn has arrived, I suppose. In the last year, the Hunt Valley Inn completely refurbished. The whole hotel now has this weird equestrian theme. Photos of horses adorn all the walls, their eyes and flanks in extreme close-ups. The tables in the rooms are held together with leather straps. The entire wall of the main lobby is covered with small, horse statues. Nothing else has changed. There’s still the giant escalator leading down to the vendor’s area. Only now, the wall facing it is decorated with saddles. Am I the only one who thought this was slightly weird? It’s still a really nice place but the interior decorator’s horse fetish was strangely specific.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Monster-Mania 32. Last year, the convention didn’t leave me with the best impression. The guest list had seen some fluctuation. Roddy Piper was one the earliest guests added and he, sadly, passed away earlier in the summer. I’ve always been a big Keith David fan and was excited to see him added. So imagine my disappointment when he canceled days before the event. The “Pet Sematery,” “The Thing,” and “Halloween” reunions left few names that grabbed my attention. George A. Romero and Matthew Lillard were the headliners. Yeah, I was definitely springing for Romero and JD felt the same about Lillard. Still, when guests you’ve seen in years past – Zach Galligan, Meg Foster, Dee Wallace, Tom Atkins – start showing up again, you wonder if it’s time to find a new convention.

These concerns were unfounded, with a few exceptions. Monster-Mania 32 is maybe the most fun con I’ve ever been to. After checking in, having a relaxing lunch, and chilling for a while, JD and I went down to the floor. Last year, the con had to awkwardly, hilarious share the hotel with a wedding. This year, it was back to the traditional set-up, with the vendors in one room, guests in another, and the panels in the up-stairs ballroom. This made the convention easy to navigate. We were even lucky enough to get rooms right next to a staircase and elevator.

On Friday nights, we usually get the signatures we want, as lines are shorter on the first day. We still ended up waiting a surprising ninety minutes for Matthew Lillard. However, this was because he took his time with each guests, sometimes chatting for ten or fifteen minutes. While waiting, I jumped out of line fast enough to meet Jordan Ladd. I was a fan of Ladd’s performance in “Grace” and told her such. She leaped up in excitement, saying “I love people who love “Grace!”” We talk a while about the genre, our share preference for more psychological films (We both love “May,” by the way), and she kept repeating I “made her day.” Before the photo was snapped, she gave me a big hug. That was fun.

While waiting in line for Lillard, I looked up his IMDb page and was surprised to see that his first credit was in “Ghoulies III.” Well, I had to ask about that! Lillard told an interesting story about how he was hired on as a non-union extra, sneaked in the five lines necessary to get a SAG card, and badgered the production into not cutting the scene. JD had brought along his doll of Ghostface and asked Lillard to sign it with the line, “I’m feeling a little woozy here.” Funny enough, Matthew didn’t want to sign the box at first, as he didn’t want to devalue its collectability! He also noted this was the first time anyone ever asked him for the line of dialogue. He joked around with us a lot, keeping the mood jovial and light. I’ve never been a huge fan of the actor or anything but he definitely seems like a good guy.

As something of a mini-“Scream” reunion, another guest at the convention was Roger L.Jackson, who provided the famous Ghostface voice. After getting Robert Englund to record a blurb for our podcast last year, I couldn’t pass up an oppretunity to get Jackson to do the same. And he was cool, commenting on the Universal Monsters shirt JD had on and sharing his love of “The Mummy.” He also shared his Christopher Lee impersonation. He was more then willing to record a bit for the show.

My only complaint was the price. It was forty dollars for a recording and that didn’t include a photograph. It was like that all weekend. Lillard wanted 60 for a signature and photo. Romero wanted 55. Even Denise Crosby, who I’d consider a perennial B-lister and whose signature I only got because my Trekkie mom wanted it, was asking 40 to sign and an extra 20 to photograph. Prices go up every year and it’s starting to get ridiculous. One of these days, I’m going to hit a ceiling and stop going to these things. I’ll be priced out of my own hobby.

The high prices still didn’t stop me from getting some other signatures. Nick Castle was asking a relatively reasonable 30. The guy is the original Michael Myers after all, which made his signage a hard thing for this horror fan to pass up. I always thought it was a fun bit of trivia that the first actor to play the Shape also directed nostalgic favorites like “The Boy Who Could Fly” and “The Last Starfighter.” He was amiable enough, cracking jokes and making small chat. In the same room was Tom Atkins, who was somehow still charging the same 20 dollar fee he was asking five years ago. I talked JD into going over to his table. He asked Tom about the ambiguous ending to “Halloween III.” “We stopped the signal in time and saved all the kids,” Atkins said before noting that he is an optimist. I always assumed “Season of the Witch” had a downbeat, apocalyptic ending. But you know what? Atkins was actually in the film. His opinion outranks mine.

Surprisingly, Lillard was the longest we waited Friday night. We only stood in George A. Romero’s line for about fifteen minutes. It has been a while since I’ve gotten nervous at one of these things. However, I’ve been such an admirer of Romero, and for so long, I had a slight case of the jitters. Upon meeting George, it really dawns on you that he’s 75 years old. His hand shook when writing the signature and he seemed slightly shatterebrained when talking with me. Or maybe that was just from chatting with a hundred people in one day. Either way, I’m still pretty excited that I got to meet him. Years ago, I saw an interview with Romero where he said that he believes the best horror stories have some sort of moral or social relevance. It’s a message I took to heart. When talking about writing my own fiction, I’ve always told people I come from the “George Romero School of Horror.” It’s an anecdote I shared with him and he seemed flattered, I suppose.

Aside from spending too much money on guests at these things, I also spend too much money on junk in the dealor’s room. I grabbed a number of newer toys: new NECA releases like “Aliens” Ripley, John Matrix, or Leatherface, as well as the ReAction “Jaws” shark. However, what really caught my eye was a booth manned by an older gentlemen, selling old board games. Vintage board game collecting is something I’ve been wanting to get into for a while now. Among his shelves was “I Vant to Bite Your Finger” and “The Godzilla Game.” I was hesitant but when I heard the deal he was offering – both for fifty – I couldn’t pass them up. They both still work too! (I really wanted the Monster Mansion game he had but bulked at the price tag.) I also went home with a gorgeous print of the “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” poster, an old Fangoria that had Stan Winston on the cover, and even some cheap paperback books, including the novelization of “Red Heat.”

A presence at every single Monster-Mania I’ve ever gone to is the VHS Preservation Society. Over the years, I’ve seen the number of tables selling bootleg discs shrink. These guys have stunk around and I think it’s because they really take care of their product. Aimed at replicating the VHS watching experience, their disc feature vintage trailers and logos, musical menus, and even MST3k-style “stingers” at the end. I always make sure to come home with something from their booth every year. This year, I got into a long conversation with the guys. I asked them to recommend anything old or weird. I ended up going home with “Hellgate” and “The Witching,” two I’ve never heard of. I also picked up something called “Nocturna,” a disco(!) horror/musical about Dracula’s granddaughter. How was I supposed to pass that up? JD, meanwhile, grabbed “Psycho Cop,” “Grandmother’s House,” and “Return of the Swamp Thing.” Our conversation circled around flicks as divergent as “A Polish Vampire in Burbank” and “Rocktober Blood.” Another booth provided me with “Death Kappa” and golden age obscurities “Murder in the Blue Room” – which I grabbed for my Universal Horror collection – and “Island of Doomed Men.”

Usually, we spend Saturday going to panel but time was seemingly against us. Lunch ran late so we only caught the last ten minutes of the Meg Foster and Dee Wallace panel. This is a bummer, as you know they both have some stories to tell. We only saw half of the “Halloween” reunion panel. We still got to hear a great story from Tom Atkins, talking about how much the original “Thing from Another World” scared him as a teenager. Or how Don Shanks, Michael Myers in part 5, fell in love with pirate movies as a kid and would swing around on ropes inside his family barn. We had expected to see the “Scream” panel but it was moved at the last minute to 9.

So the only full panel we ended up at was the George Romero Q&A. However, it was a good one. Maybe it was just his mood because George was spry and full of stories at the Q&A. He talked about how the monkey in “Monkey Shines” was in heat and basically fell in love with the star of the movie. He discussed the difficulty of working with cockroaches in “Creepshow,” unrealized projects like “Diamond Dead,” his friendship with Stephen King, how easy it was to round up zombie extras on “Night of the Living Dead,” and his less then harmonious relationship with studio producers. And for the record: He thought the “Dawn of the Dead” remake was okay but hates running zombies, wasn’t impressed with “The Crazies” remake, and loves “Shaun of the Dead.”

Driving home from Monster-Mania 32 last night, mostly I thought about how jovial every seemed. Maybe it was some reverse reaction to the lousy weather outside. I can’t tell you how many times this weekend strangers striked up conversations with us. The couple across the hall from our rooms started chatted without us throughout the weekend, and even invited us to go drinking with them Friday night. All the guests were in good moods, being friendly and telling jokes. I bought lots of cool stuff and still didn’t spend too much. Overall, the convention was a total blast and probably one of my favorite events I’ve ever gone to.

Also, I was briefly possessed by Nyarlathotep

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