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03 April, 2010

Uni's Trip from the Crypt: HorrorHound, 2010

ARTICLE TITLE: Uni’s Trips from the Crypt: HORRORHOUND Indianapolis 2010

About three years ago I wrote a piece describing my trip to the Wonderfest convention in Louisville, Kentucky and subtitled it “A Unimonster in Paradise.” Perhaps I should subtitle this piece “Paradise Regained,” for that is truly how rejuvenated and refreshed I feel after having spent three days at HorrorHound magazine’s Indianapolis convention.

This is the fourth year I’ve attended HorrorHound, and it’s grown each year—this year to impressive, and I must say disconcerting, proportions. It’s not that I’m not pleased to see how healthy and vital our world of genre fandom is, especially in our current economic climate. The fact that so many people are willing—and able—to come out and support those artists and entrepreneurs who make it possible for us to carry tangible memories home is terrific.

But when the exhibit floor is so closely packed with people that movement is for practical purposes impossible, when the line of people waiting to enter that exhibit hall stretches the length of a football field, with an even longer line of people waiting to purchase their admission, it is obvious to anyone who’s used to conventioneering that this event, as it’s now organized, has completely outgrown it’s current home. Part of the problem is the combination of three events—HorrorHound, the HMA Mask-Fest, and the Dark Carnival Film Fest—under one umbrella. A great idea in theory, but the practice of it will require some effort be put forth to improve traffic flow and overcrowding.

Still, it isn’t my intention to write a complaint letter. Despite the hassles of the too-large crowds in the too-small space, I must say that the HorrorHound folks do know how to put a great convention together. There is a reason so many people came out to the Indianapolis Marriott East last weekend (26-28 March), and that reason is easy to see—big stars, big events, and, on this occasion, two of the biggest names in horror: George Romero and Clive Barker.

But they weren’t the only draws at this convention, as you’ll soon see. Join the Unimonster, accompanied at times by the Uni-Sister (the Crypt’s official photographer, by the way), the Uni-Niece, and the Uni-Nephew, for a day-by-day, no-holds-barred look inside—HorrorHound Indy!
[Ed. Note: There is one sad note to Friday’s events, one I was unaware of until the following Tuesday. John McGarr, a California-based actor-producer, was struck and killed by an alleged drunk driver on his way into the venue. McGarr, whose most recent project was the 2009 independent film HOUSE OF THE WOLF-MAN, was 45. We at the Crypt wish to extend our deepest sympathies to his loved ones.]

Day One—Friday:

The contingent from the Crypt arrived bright and early for the convention, just before 4pm local time. The getting checked-in process was a little rough, but soon we were inside the exhibit hall, checking out the dealer’s tables.

For those who’ve yet to experience a Horror convention in person, the dealer’s floor can best be described as a true horror fan’s Fantasyland. It’s like a Flea Market from Hell—but in a good way. Virtually any type of Horror memorabilia one can imagine, from T-Shirts and DVD’s to original works of art, can be found for sale on the dealer’s floor, most at very reasonable prices. It’s a monstrous, blood-and-gore-drenched version of Wal-Mart, only without the crappy Muzak. And the Unimonster’s group certainly did some shopping. Whether a new book for the Crypt’s library or a set of Monster-themed rubber ducks for the Uni-Niece’s collection, we did our share for the industry.

As much fun as buying from dealers at these conventions is meeting them, along with thousands of one’s fellow fans. The joy of ‘fitting in’, of being in the company of people who share your tastes and interests, who see nothing unusual in your own love of the Monsters and the genre, cannot be overestimated. When I say how refreshed I always am after a good convention, this is usually the reason for that refreshment.

Another great thing about these conventions is the opportunity to connect with new friends and reconnect with old ones. I’m always guaranteed to meet up with my good friend and former colleague at CreatureScape, Elizabeth Haney. Elizabeth typically wears many hats when attending conventions, whether assisting friends who are here as part of Mask-Fest, or helping out with the Universal Monster Army’s Rondo-nominated display of monster toys and Halloween costumes from the ‘50’s, ‘60’s, and ‘70’s. A tireless advocate for those who strive to put forth their own take on classic horror, as well as those whose efforts run towards the modern, Elizabeth is a important presence on the Chicago horror scene.

We had the opportunity to reunite with our former boss at CreatureScape, former editor Sean Kotz. Sean, now head of Horse Archer Productions, was here to screen his new documentary, which was previously reviewed here in the Crypt [DVD Review: VIRGINIA CREEPERS: THE HORROR HOST TRADITION OF THE OLD DOMINION, 6 March 2010]. Seeing the movie on the big (well, bigger than my TV, at least…) screen, with my fellow fans in attendance, only improved my enjoyment of the film. Another reason for that improved enjoyment was the fact that several of the hosts featured in that documentary were in attendance at the convention, most notably Count Gore De Vol of Creature Features: the Web Program, and Karlos Borloff, of Monster Madhouse.

These two hosts were at HorrorHound to take part in the largest assemblage of Horror-Hosts ever gathered in one spot. More than eighty of their number—Penny Dreadful, Joe Bob Briggs, Dr. Ghoulfinger, and the Bone Jangler among them—were in attendance, meeting old fans and making new ones.

The second film on the evening’s schedule, C. W. Prather’s EVERY OTHER DAY IS HALLOWEEN, examining the career of our favorite vampire Count Gore De Vol, was the one blemish on the first night’s festivities. This was not the fault of the movie itself [reviewed below], but rather the fact that technical difficulties kept it from being shown. A replacement copy was secured for the next day; unfortunately, the scheduling did not permit it to be screened.

Instead, we were treated to a recording of the 1986 Creature Features airing of THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, complete with a live introduction from Count Gore himself, (with an assist from Karlos Borloff). This is the broadcast that featured Forry Ackerman as Gore’s guest, and is one of the best from the storied archives of Count Gore. Not as much fun as seeing EVERY OTHER DAY IS HALLOWEEN would be, but still enjoyable.
The first day ended well, aside from the problems with Gore’s movie, and I left the convention hall with my appetite whetted for even better experiences to come.

Day Two—Saturday:

Saturday morning at HorrorHound began with a quick circuit of the exhibit floor, taking some photos and meeting and greeting people, including a personal high point for the Unimonster, Mr. “Drive-In Critic” himself, Joe Bob Briggs. Then, after a visit with Count Gore, the Crypt’s photographer and I wandered over to the Mask-Fest room to check out that portion of the convention. Sponsored by the Halloween Mask Association, Mask-Fest 2010 was a chance for those who follow in the legendary footsteps of Don Post to display their wares to the monster-loving masses. Dozens of artists and craftspeople were assembled to show off their work, much of it truly spectacular.

Also to be found in the Mask-Fest room was the Universal Monster Army exhibit. This traveling showcase of Monster toys and collectibles from the ‘50’s through the ‘70’s is a Rondo nominee for Best Fan Event, and is something that these tired old eyes of mine always delight in seeing. The display includes Halloween costumes, decorations, and novelties, as well as the monster toys, and for the Unimonster is like a trip into his own childhood. The UMA (Pvt. Unimonster, reporting as ordered) is dedicated to preserving the MonsterKid experience of the middle decades of the last century, when Baby Boomers were children, and monsters and Horror-Hosts were our idols. It’s a fantastic display, and should be on every monster-fan’s list of must-see events.

Located next to the UMA exhibit was the display set up by Cortlandt Hull, of the Witch’s Dungeon. Partly done in tribute to his uncle Henry Hull, star of THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON, this is an incredible display, and Cortlandt’s site is one of the best devoted to classic horror. Their latest project is a documentary exploring the wonderful history of the Aurora Monster models, trailers for which can be seen at the Witch’s Dungeon.
Saturday, at least for the Unimonster, was a day for soaking it all in—the feel, the sights and sounds, absorbing the essence of the convention. As Cathy stayed busy taking the fantastic photographs used to illustrate this article (Ed. Note: more of which can be viewed at my Facebook Photo Album), I meandered about, talking to people, checking out display tables, watching the comings and goings. Conventions are very organic entities—they have an ebb and flow, a pulsebeat, and one needs to step back a little to tune into it.

In addition, Saturday, as is typical for Horror conventions, was the busiest day of the weekend, a fact made clear by the early afternoon. As the exhibit hall filled up, a line was formed to get in to the area. Another line was going in to get autographs from George Romero, yet another for Clive Barker—all essentially motionless. Those already inside had no desire to leave, as they realized the difficulties they’d have getting back in. Those in line were determined to do what they had come to do, and between them, there was simply no breathing room.

By the end of the second day of HorrorHound, it was obvious that this was a successful convention. It had been a great day, if an exhausting one, and I left looking forward to what the next day’s events would bring.

Day Three—Sunday:

Her photographic work completed, the Uni-Sister skipped the final day of the convention, and I arrived ready for some serious networking—the primary objective of the third day. Part of the reason for anyone other than a casual fan to attend a convention is to connect with others in the world of fandom, and that’s certainly true of the Unimonster. One of the connections I was able to make early on in the convention was with the folks who run the Rondo-nominated web-site The Horror Society, Mitchell and Jessica Wells. This is an excellent site devoted to independent horror, and the Wells are great advocates for young filmmakers.

One of the important features about HorrorHound Indy is the close proximity to Chicago, and it’s active indie-horror scene. One of the up-and-coming players on that scene is Dean Millermon, of Acme Design, Inc. Dean has a short film that he directed, and a copy of which I was asked to review. That short film is GARGALESE: THE TICKLE MONSTER, and a weirder seventeen minutes of film you’ll seldom see. It’s also an enjoyable, entertaining seventeen minutes, and I love the wackiness of the concept. You will get a full review of it in May, but it definitely gets a YES vote from the Unimonster. It may not be great filmmaking, but it is more enjoyable than most of what Hollywood churns out year after year.

Another Chicago filmmaker who’s also making a name for himself is Emil Hyde, of Massive Ego Productions. The company’s latest venture, THE LANDLORD, is an original, entertaining Horror-Comedy on the order of SHAUN OF THE DEAD or BUBBA HO-TEP. While not the equal of those films in quality, it is an enthusiastic, fun little movie that never takes itself too seriously. THE LANDLORD is scheduled for a widespread release on the Tempe Video label, with a drop date of 25 May, and as with GARGALESE, a full review will be posted for the May update.
An Indiana filmmaker who was taking advantage of the opportunity to promote his project close to home is Marv Blauvelt, producer / writer / cast member of SCULPTURE. Distributed by Screamkings Productions, directed by Pete Jacelone, and starring Raine Brown, Misty Mundae, and Dustin Kerns, SCULPTURE is currently in release, and will be reviewed in the near future.

But movies weren’t all that were on my mind on this weekend—not when I had the equivalent of Michael Myers’ yard sale to pick through. First, the guys from Kitley’s Krypt are always near the top of my list of dealers to visit, and this year was no exception. A fair portion of the Crypt’s library has come from Kitley’s, including this year’s acquisition of The Films of Boris Karloff. It always pays to check out their table, if non-fiction books on the genre are on your shopping list.

Another type of item that ranks high on my list of needful things is the ubiquitous horror tee. I love my Monster T-shirts, and never pass up an opportunity to add to the collection. I looked at a lot of great shirts this weekend, and finally settled on a beautiful Sir Graves Ghastly Tee. The product of Benjamin Harley’s The Screen Printing Factory, it features a stylized image of the host with the words, “I Dig Graves.” I could’ve taken another twenty shirts home easily, and would have, if not for the fact that the Unimonster’s not a wealthy man.

Then of course are all the fantastic masks and props on display as part of Mask-Fest 2010. As a child, some of the first things I can remember lusting after were the masks that Captain Company offered in the back of Famous Monsters magazine. One in particular, the Mummy, was the object of as much desire as a ten-year-old Unimonster was capable of mustering. Captain Company may be long gone, but it’s legacy lives on in the person of hundreds of skilled, talented artists, men and women who like me were inspired by their childhood love of the monsters. Unlike me, however, they have the talent to create the masterpieces in latex and resin that I saw on display. Among the dozens of mask-makers assembled for the show, several stood out among their fellows.

One of the best of these was Monte Ward’s Masks and Monsters. That table featured several spectacular examples of the mask-maker’s art, and I immediately felt the rekindling of that old love of monster masks. Also notable were the works of Kreation X, Trick or Treat Studios, and Safari Anomalous. Some of these are less masks than wearable sculptures, and are truly impressive.

As the final day’s events were winding down, I was privileged to witness the highlight of the convention, a truly historic moment in horror fandom. The occasion was a memorial service for Vampira, and all the great horror-hosts who have passed on. As images of those departed hosts flashed on the screen, accompanied by a funereal dirge, a slow candlelight procession of horror-hosts made their way to the stage, extinguished their flames, then took their seats. The master of ceremonies, Dan Roebuck’s Dr. Shocker, led the assemblage in a very fitting, very well deserved tribute to Vampira, and her alter ego Malia Nurmi. At the ceremonies conclusion, the gathered hosts formed up on stage for a group photo, which captured 83 horror-hosts in one place at one time, easily setting a record for such an occurrence.

As the convention drew to a close, I said my farewells, gathered my loot, and exited the hall. The convention itself had been exhausting, that is true. But as always, such events have a regenerative effect on me.
Anything can become tiresome, even something that you love. Conventions such as HorrorHound, however, serve to remind one of just what they love about the genre, and why they love it. For me personally, it’s a reaffirmation of the purpose served by the Crypt, which is to promote and foster a love for and understanding of the Cinema Fantastica—the movies with which I’ve had a forty-year love affair.

From Edison’s FRANKENSTEIN of 1910, to 2010’s THE CRAZIES, our genre is rich with macabre beauty and morbid wonder. Occasionally, even the Unimonster needs to be reminded of that.

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