The Marriott East in Indianapolis from March 28-30, 2008 was the setting for Horrorhound’s annual convention. Attending: myself and cult horror fanatic Timm Horn. It was my first Horrorhound and my colleague’s first convention, so we weren’t fully aware of what to expect. What follows is a run-down of our trip, the convention, the guests and the films screened.
The Drive Down
Driving from Appleton, Wisconsin to Indianapolis, Indiana is about 400 miles — just under seven hours, not counting the time zone change. We fueled ourselves on White Castle in Kenosha, we paid the fees at Illinois’ numerous toll booths ($1.50, $1.00, $3.50 and $0.50). We snail-paced it through the congestion of Chicago and cruised for hours through Indiana’s vast wasteland of farm fields (miles of flat nothing in every direction). Indiana, although clearly north of the Maxon-Dixon line, has elements of the south not present in Wisconsin or Chicago: confederate flags flying on the back of trucks and over gas stations. Low prices for motels. Moderately thick accents that drawl and give the impression of an easier time. And Indianapolis, while a large city in population, appears more like a rural oasis than anything else.
The Convention Vendors
Because I was attending the convention as a representative of Killer Reviews, I was able to get free access and privileged access to the celebrities (if they were willing). A special thanks to Nathan at HorrorHound for granting me a weekend pass. Don’t worry, guys — the funds I saved on a ticket I spent on merchandise.
Conventions are about three things: meeting the stars (see below), seeing some movies (see below) and buying lots of merchandise. If you can think it, they have it. T-shirts, action figures, paintings, posters, glossies… and what seemed to be this year’s most popular item, bootleg DVDs (of movies that haven’t found their way to DVD yet or films that are rare). Timm was quite pleased to find a copy of “Halloween 6: The Producer’s Cut”, and I bought a (legitimate) copy of “Ichi -1”, the prequel to “Ichi the Killer”. Not all vendors were merchandise dealers: HorrorHound, Anchor Bay and Twisted Pictures (the “Saw” people) each had their own booths.
The most noticeable and most memorable booth had two gentlemen dressed as carnival barkers with a large tent who would encourage passersby to enter the tent to see “the Queen of the Fiji Mermaids”. The cost? “Only one dollar, only a third the price of a candied apple.” What do you suppose was in the tent? I won’t reveal the secret, since I’m sure they’ll be at future conventions. Suffice it to say, it was well worth the dollar.
The following is my impression of the guests. Guests not spoken with include: Sarah Swofford, Bill Moseley, Sammy Terry, Stephen Geoffreys, Jason Craig, Marv Blauvelt, Jeff Rebner, Sean Clark, Joe Knetter, Leslie Easterbrook, Bill Johnson, Danny Trejo and Harry Manfredini. (The convention was set up in such a way where conversing without purchasing something seemed unprofessional. And as many things were $20 or more, costs added up quickly. I had to pick my tables carefully and sadly Moseley, Manfredini, Easterbrook and Geoffreys were cut.)
The first stop I made for autographs was Brian O’Halloran (“Clerks”), who was on site to promote his new film “Brutal Massacre”. I was nervous talking to him (he was the only one I was nervous for) and told him he was the person I wanted to see most (which is true). But then I didn’t know what to say to him. The rest of the day, I hoped to think of something to ask him, because his booth was almost always empty. I saw him sit for ten or fifteen minutes without a guest, and even Friday night when he showed up in the pub, nobody really seemed to notice him. My copy of “Mallrats” was signed, to add to its signing last year by Jason Mewes. More on O’Halloran below (see “Brutal Massacre” under panels).
Sarandon was definitely a businessman and a professional, and he knew he had the name and face recognition to charge the premium cover (the highest, along with Browning, at $25). Although his line wasn’t long, they had a “ticket” system devised where you purchased a ticket in exchange for a signature and a photo. I tried to haggle the price down with the ticket-seller because I provided my own item to sign, but she said whether with my item or his it would be the same.
Sarandon’s demeanor was also very stern and serious. A great many of the guests would chat longer than you’d expect and were happy to answer your questions. He seemed like a “hard nut to crack”, not really interested in chatting or praise that he had heard before. He asked what I wanted signed on my item, signed it, stood for a photo, and was done with me. Perhaps one shouldn’t expect more, but when everyone else is social, it makes the person who isn’t (Sarandon) look bad. But I can’t complain. I now own a signed copy of “The Princess Bride”.
As I said, Browning’s fee ties Sarandon’s for the highest. But he also happens to be worth it — signatures sold online average in the $60 range. Browning wasn’t one of the more popular stops, which I suspect is because the bulk of the fans are not into “older stuff” (he hasn’t been an actor in decades). And I confess that aside from a signature and photo, I didn’t know what to say or ask him… what do you ask a man who did “Creature From the Black Lagoon” and “Flipper”? But no one can deny he’s an icon, especially now that he is the only living Creature left (Browning was the creature in water, Ben Chapman was the creature on land). I thought to ask him how close he was to the other actor, but thought it may be in poor taste due to Chapman’s relatively recent passing. (One assumes not close, as they had met up for the 50th anniversary in 2003 at Creaturefest for the first time in a long time… maybe never again since.)
A little back story: leading up to the convention, I didn’t really get excited about Deodato’s appearance. I hadn’t seen much of his work, so it didn’t fully sink in how special this would be. But more than anyone else, Deodato was the reason others who couldn’t go were envious — most notably Tracey and Ryan Graham from 37.5 Productions, the people behind the film “Livelihood”. So I re-evaluated my outlook and saw how this was a unique opportunity (given that he will likely never be in the United States again) and how legendary the man is. This change of outlook paid off.
Deodato was so friendly, just unbelievably friendly. He spoke little English, but says he’s able to speak Italian (obviously), Spanish, French and Arabic. I told him my Italian was likely worse than his English. He agreed. Even for signatures, you had to tell his assistant your name because he couldn’t quite understand with our American accents. The assistant would write it down, Deodato would try to pronounce it (incorrectly) and then use the assistant’s note to sign your photo. I had a “Cannibal Holocuast” poster signed.
He was just generally a fun and lively old man. I told him it was “an honor” to meet him, but I don’t think he fully understood what an “honor” is. He said it was an honor to be in America, but then went on to tell his story of customs. Deodato came in through New York. Apparently because he’s Italian, they made him go through the full motions. He told us, “New York is now like Soviet Russia” and they made him remove his shoes, shirt and pants… and then be photographed. He even demonstrated for us to make sure we understood him, although he only mimed the shirt and pants part. I asked him if he was joking (it’s hard to tell because he seems so happy) and he assured me he was not joking. I would love to have talked to him more if I knew what to say… at the very least say something in Italian.
Although Deodato was already my new favorite following our brief conversation, a small supplement sealed the deal of making his acquatance memorable. Friday night, Timm and I walked to a nearby restaurant or dinner — the Four Seasons — and shortly after we were sat, Deodato and his entourage came in. Recognizing us from earlier, he waved and came over to join us at our table and asked if the food was good and if he made the right choice for the restaurant. We said he had. We were eating potatoes at the time and he asked us (something to the effect of) “como se llamas – avagato?” We tried to continue a conversation, but it became strained, and he left us to return to his own table. It was, to put it bluntly, surreal, and this simple exchange really left a strong impression on me.
On Day Two, I tried to deliver Deodato a note. My sister took Italian in college, but was not fluent. I had to use the online translator Babelfish. So I wrote a letter telling Deodato it was an honor to meet him, I hoped his dinner was good and that I was sorry for the airport. I signed it with my address, thinking maybe by a long shot I’d get a response. Rather than take the letter, though, he went through it with me line by line, made numerous translation corrections, and signed the corrected letter. As nice as it would be to have received a letter from Italy, I can’t deny that a signed Italian lesson from Ruggero Deodato is a rather unique piece of memorabilia.
For much more, see the Italian horror panel write-up (below).
Doug Bradley is one of the most approachable people in the horror industry. He arrives early, leaves late and is always in a visible place. When other celebrities hide in their rooms, he is in the hotel bar having drinks with fans. In fact, last year I had met him in Chicago in a hotel bar. I had him sign a photo of the two of us last year, which he gladly did for free. Since there was no need to take a new photo with him, I asked him to pose with his little doll. You will see that picture below.
For more on Hellraiser, see the panel below.
Kane Hodder is much like Doug Bradley — he goes out of his way for the fans. He was happy to offer a free signed photo of himself strangling me last year. Timm posed for a strangulation photo this year. As you can see if I posted it here, Timm was quite happy to have the life squeezed out of him. And yes, Kane really does put on the pressure!
Linnea is a scream queen of the 1980s and still beloved by many. She is best known for the role of Trash in “Return of the Living Dead”. I talked with her a bit about my favorite film of hers, “Fairy Tales” and asked her how to get a copy of the workout video she did directed by Kenneth Hall. She gave me her contact info, so we’ll see how that pans out. Linnea was very sweet and generous, providing Timm with a signed photo for $10 and signing my “Return” DVD for free.
What can be said about Ashley Laurence (Kirsty Cotton from “Hellraiser”)? Two things come to mind: first, she is incredibly sexy. Some women get more attractive as they age, and Ashley is one of them. Second, she’s an excellent painter. She was selling her paintings at her booth, and I must admit they were quite good. She seemed to focus on the theme of autopsy corpses. I had her sign my “Hellraiser” DVD. As I had no interest in the cenobite signatures and Doug had already signed my photo, I told her the cover was all hers. She asked if I wanted a drawing and I said sure. When she asked what I wanted, I drew a blank: all I could think of was ninjas. I told her that wasn’t really theme appropriate, but she said it would be fun. So now I have three ninjas lurking on the cover of my “Hellraiser” DVD… signed by Ashley Laurence.
Simon Bamford, Nicholas Vance and Barbie Wilde
The cenobites were surprisingly talkative. You wouldn’t think they’d have much to say after twenty years and having such small roles, but you’d be wrong. Simon Bamford (Butterball) was happy to show off his original copy of the script, Nicholas Vance (Chatterer) had all kinds of models, and Barbie Wilde (Female II) was selling an unrelated book. She also talked about the scene where she and Bradley were dressed up as doctors and explained it didn’t make it into the final film due to budget restraints. (You can see stills of this on the DVD photo gallery.)
John Morghen, also known as Giovanni Rabice, is Italy’s perenniel victim. Killed again and again… including in Lucio Fulci’s “City of the Living Dead”, which I had signed. Morghen served part of the time as Deodato’s translator. His English was quite good. Other than that, Morghen was very quiet — he didn’t talk with us, and seemed unsure how to interact with fans. Unknown to me, Morghen also happens to be homosexual. (There’s nothing wrong with that, it just surprised me when I got my DVD back and he had signed his name with hearts on it…)
What can you say about Reggie Bannister? You can say he’s very cool. You can say he says “dude” a lot (even signing my “Phantasm” DVD with “phastasmic dreams, dude!” and Timm’s photo with “Flame on, dude!”). He comes across as an aging hippie. Reggie was more than happy to tell a long story, even when his line was getting backed up across the room. He talked about “Phantasm V” and how he’s frustrated that “Phantasm” and “Phantasm III” are available, but whoever has the rights to the second film is just sitting on it. Understandably, fans are frustrated, too. Reggie also had to be careful when signing DVDs, because (according to him) Angus Scrimm doesn’t like it when you sign over the top of his face.
Jewel, the other “Return of the Living Dead” star to be present (Beverly Randolph backed out), is a little flaky. She doesn’t shy away from her modeling past. Her photo album includes lots of nudity, she was selling videos of herself in the nude. And Timm was encouraged to grab her breasts (as you can see in the photo). He had a nude jungle photo signed. I considered having her sign my “Return” alongside Linnea, but for whatever reason I ended up passing on the opportunity. If there’s a next time, I’ll catch her… even though now I have a photo of us she could sign instead. Oh well.
Savini (who looks great for a man in his 60s) seemed burned out on the whole convention thing — almost like he was going through the motions, not doing much personalizing on his signed items. Which is understandable. He likely does numerous conventions year after year and can only be asked the same questions and tell the same stories so many times. Saturday he seemed to be in a better mood, so we returned to have our photos taken then (we did almost all our signings and photos on Friday, as you may notice by our clothing). Savini is a handsome, swarthy guy… even at his age, keep him away from your girlfriend!
We didn’t talk to Ellen until Saturday. This actually worked out well for Timm, since Friday he had his Phantasm shirt on and Saturday he had Evil Dead, which she seemed to appreciate. She was very friendly and fun (and we found out later how good she was at telling jokes). I got my “Evil Dead” signed real cheap without even having to ask. She just seemed more happy to be there than trying to sell anything, which is awesome. I wish i had talked to her more, asked her about “My Name is Bruce” or something… but at the moment all thoughts escaped me.
I spent about a half hour sitting with Raine at her table… with people (for some reason) taking pictures of me. She is so wonderful, as were the others at her table (the producer, director and special effects artist for “Psycho Holocaust”). I was able to conduct an interview with her, which is available on Killer Reviews’ website. I will likely be running into Raine again at Flashback Weekend in June… and I look forward to this.
Friday Night Summary
After dinner at Four Seasons (see Deodato, above), we returned to the Marriott to enjoy the bar. The service was less than adequate, but for those looking to catch stars in a more natural environment, this was the place to be. Doug Bradley, Simon Bamford and Barbie Wilde shared a table with a few lucky guests. Tom Savini had a private table. Brian O’Halloran stopped in briefly. And even Danny Trejo, who arrived on a late flight, had a drink and posed for photos with a few lucky fans.
Amazingly, even with the horror fans overflowing from the bar into the lobby… causing aloud raucous and even HULA-HOOPING past one in the morning, the staff was very patient and made no effort to stop the party.
How the other booked convention (a group of veterans from the VFW and the ladies’ auxiliary) felt about this, one could only assume.
Films and Panels
The following films and panels were attended… not many could be seen, of course, due to the films running at the same time as the convention. Some day when I’ve finally met everyone I’ll find time to catch more screenings.
The weekend’s theme was “Hellraiser”. The cenobites were reunited, the Eric Fischer museum was in the hotel (featuring the original costumes and props), and Saturday night’s costume contest had a special prize for best Hellraiser outfit. Not surprisingly, the Hellraiser panel was the most popular of the weekend and had to be moved into a larger room. The session was taped for possible inclusion on a future DVD, most likely a special feature for the 20th anniversary of “Hellraiser II”. So, look for me on that DVD.
Doug had run into a fan who asked him about last year’s Fangoria convention where he retold the plot to “Killer Tongue”. Another fan showed up at the panel to ask him to tell it yet again… which he did. And hearing this story doesn’t get old… poodles, cross-dressing, Robert Englund. It’s quite the film.
There was a lot of talk from the cenobites about how the costumes and makeup made them completely blind and deaf, leaving their acting directions to be “stand here”. Ashley Laurence talked about the maggot dumped on her. Normally stored in sawdust, they don’t like to leave your skin when you’re all sweaty. The Chatterer tells of a scene where he gets a hook in his mouth, and he really was hooked (the chains in the film were all real).
There was much talk of the remake, causing Barbie Wilde to exclaim “there is a disease in Hollywood, an ebola of the imagination… it’s called remakes.” I asked my question, “When did each of you read ‘Hellbound Heart’?” Doug had read it while it was still in manuscript form… both Barbie and Ashley admitted they never read it. Doug teased Ashley a bit because she had been signing copies at her table all day (and I believe she even wrote an introduction).
Brutal Massacre: A Comedy Panel
We were shown 20 minutes of “Brutal Massacre: a Comedy”, starring Ellen Sandweiss, Brian O’Halloran, Ken Foree and Gunnar Hansen. Sandweiss and O’Halloran then took questions, almost none of which related to the film.
The movie, I must say, looked good. Gunnar was the highlight of the clips, showing a really good sense of comedic timing. Also funny were the fake movies within the movie: “Bowel Movement” (about a killer who force-feeds victims gunpowder), “Untrained Surgeon”, “Sasquatch at the Mall” (based off the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album), and a kiddie horror film where stuffed animals attack kids who don’t eat their vegetables.
O’Halloran and the audience told a lot of ass-to-mouth jokes, with O’Halloran finally saying that the ass-to-mouth would be at 11:00 in room 249. I presumed this was Ellen Sandweiss’ room (more on this later). We also learned of O’Halloran’s love to sing karaoke at townie bars in Pennsylvania… especially Men Without Hats’ “The Safety Dance”.
Sandweiss attempted some tree humor, based off the rape scene from “Evil Dead”. (Saying she “went out on a limb” for the tree, but he didn’t return calls,she got pregnant and named the kid “bud”, etc.) It was actually fairly clever.
The only movie-related question was, “Does Gunnar kill anyone?” After trying not to answer, Sandweiss breaks down and says, “It’s Gunnar Hansen — what do you think?”
Italian Horror Panel
The “Italian Horror Panel” was supposed to be a question and answer period with Ruggero Deodato and John Morghen. Somehow, Morghen got sidelined, only saying about five words the entire time (helping Deodato with English words he didn’t know). As long as John didn’t mind, though, this may have been for the best — everyone listened intently to Deodato’s stories and the panel could have gone on another hour. While his understanding of English was a bit skewed — leading to answers and long stories that didn’t really address the concerns of the people’s queries — he was great at captivating everyone with his insights and unique story-telling.
Deodato told us how when he first made his cannibal films, all the critics wanted to “kill” him (how serious he means “kill” is unknown), but now they love him and both Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino call him “maestro”. He once went to a party in Bogotá, Colombia, and after two hours when his host revealed who he was the guests wanted to “kill” him there.
Deodato tried to address the legend of his feud with Umberto Lenzi, who made “Cannibal Ferox”. But rather than say if the feud really happened, he just said the two men met up in 2005 or 2006 and shook hands.
Apparently, the natives in Brazil are easy to direct, but Malaysians (featured in “The Last Cannibal World”) don’t understand directions well. Even simple things like “run faster” were challenging for the Malaysians to understand, even with visual cues.
Deodato says Eli Roth is a really nice guy. Roth showed up at his hotel to ask him to be in “Hostel 2”. When Deodato arrived in Prague for filming, 120 crew members all had “Cannibal Holocaust” shirts on. Deodato cried and then refused to be paid for his brief role in the film.
An audience member asked who Deodato’s “maestro” is. He said that was easy to answer: Roberto Rossellini. Deodato grew up i nthe same building as Rossellini, and was friends with his son Renzo, who was two years his junior. When Renzo was 16, he took his father’s car. Deodato, then 18, was driving it when they were caught by Rossellini. Deodato tried to turn it around and said, “look how great I park.” He was immediately offered a job helping on the movie sets, becoming an assistant director. Deodato says he also took photographs for Ingrid Bergman.
Asked if he saw any movies that he felt were in bad taste or went too far, he said he’s seen many. Then he spoke about the media, and it was somewhat broken due to a translation issue. He complained of beheadings shown on the evening news at 8:00 when children could be watching. He also then wondered why critics get upset by pigs dying in films, but yet we kill them off-screen every day to eat. He says it’s because once upon a time, kids watched farmers kill pigs but now this is hidden. It was made taboo arbitrarily. He says the animals killed in his films — even monkeys — were eaten by the natives, so no animals were harmed that wouldn’t have been killed anyway.
When asked about remakes and sequels, Deodato said flatly: “Cannibal Holocaust” cannot be remade. It is what it is. He said that he is considering shooting a film in October, but it wouldn’t be a sequel. It would have people going to the jungle and finding nothing wrong. Then, when they return to the city, they realize the dangerous place to live is where they already are.
Black Devil Doll
I did not end up seeing “Black Devil Doll”, which looked promising. At the last minute, it was switched with the Spanish film “Rec”, which I was not nearly as intrigued by.
Saturday night was the costume contest, which we did not attend (instead dining at the quality-driven restaurant known as Wendy’s). Actually, this worked out for the best — the contest and music afterwards were $25, but people were admitted free after the contest. So, for all those who did pay — you were ripped off. We saw all the costumes in the lobby and still enjoyed the rocking show.
Timm and I met some Indiana boys outside the hotel, and we discussed the differing liquor and cigarette laws between Wisconsin and Indiana. In Wisconsin, we sell liquor until 9 and Indiana does until 1 (but not on Sunday). Smoking is banned in most public places in both states, with Wisconsin’s cigarette taxes being higher (but Indiana’s sales tax is higher). And, in Wisconsin, it is very rare to go more than a block without seeing at least one tavern. Indiana, on the other hand… well, you have to actually look a little bit to find one.
Reggie’s band played, and then were very good. It was what could be called “acoustic classic rock”. For a man who looks and talks like an aging hippie, this really isn’t very surprising. He played the theme from “Phantasm”, which seemed to be popular with the crowd.
Above, I mentioned Brian O’Halloran’s talk about ass-to-mouth in Room 249 at 11:00. Well, I went to room 249 at 11:00 and there was no ass-to-mouth. So I confronted him in the lobby and he told me that after he finished his panel, some girl came up to him and complained that her room was 249. She was allegedly very tan with bright red hair. He told me to find her. Whether he was joking or not (he assured me he wasn’t), I never found the ass-to-mouth girl.
The Drive Up
I can sum the drive home up in one word: smog. There was really nothing memorable besides the thick, gray smog of Chicago. Oh, the joy of getting home and realizing how nice it is not living in a big city.