Well, this marked the third adventure to the New Jersey Horror Con and Film Festival, and now writing for The Horror Times, the third different publication in 3-years, and the second time at the Renaissance Hotel in Iselin, NJ. I made it to the event one day early for two reasons, first to beat a major storm rolling on late Friday and then best to get organize a day in advance. By looking on their well-designed website I saw much to do in a short period of time, and it becomes a double-edged sword for a journalist, as one wants to cover everything, but must decide where to go, who to meet, and what to see. Now, this event had a reunion of Wishmaster, Leatherface, and Victor Crowley (minus Kane Hodder), although Night of the Living Dead (1968) John Russo and Russ Streiner were on hand as were stars from the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Therefore, one day in advance I finalized my own private program of things to get accomplished, charge the camera batteries and made for all the gear prep for the first day.
Friday, March 2, 2018
The day started with reports of the Nor’easter rolling into New Jersey and pounding the hell out of Pennsylvania, which hindered some of the vendors, by showtime of 5p, the lines stretched through the lobby and looped up to the lounge, while the storm winds pounded the doors. The sound echoed throughout the area, and usually the rule for the vendors to be set up early, abandoned because the weather hindered the load-in, everyone from staff of the venue to the attendees, fans and even the Renaissance Hotel Staff all worked together and thoroughly understanding of the situation. I was the first in line to get my press pass thanks again to Ryan Scott Weber (a filmmaker [Witches Blood (2014)] and event creator), more on him a bit later, it was then time for the first decision, spend the time to the vendor room and meeting the guests early. Knowing Saturday would have more fans in attendance, wanting them to have that special one-on-one greets, without press hogging the time. I’m always thinking of the fans and guests, wanting everyone to have a good time. This decision sadly meant missing the first early block of short films, but the first of many sacrifices that both press and fans make at any convention or fest.
The opening short block #1 started with Goodnight Gracie (2017) a 4-minute short film from director and writer Stellan Kendrick involving a devout Catholic child fighting to avoid becoming a slice and dice, hacked display just like her mother. The block contains 6-films followed by feature film 3 Dead Trick or Treaters (2016) directed and written by Torin Langen, these films showed the promise of filmmakers experimenting with new styles while others harkened by gothic horror traits.
First, stop Rob, owner of Wild Eye Releasing to discuss the newest batch of horror films, trends of directors and even more importantly his company, namely a feature entitled Cruel Summer. Most horror fans and for that matter filmmakers and industry insiders know the trends, what’s hot now may not be in 6-months, however in the horror genre, the arena seems big enough for everyone. Wild Eye, no different branching off and developing a new line of films, knowing everyone’s taste matures, face it there’s time for the insanity of Bonejangles and other moments wanting something more meaningful.
Then time to venture to see the stars, Danielle Harris (Halloween 4; Ghost of Goodnight Lane) whose table already swamped as she was next to Adam Green and the fanfare of the ridiculously fun Victor Crowley flick, but first to meet with P.J. Soles, star if you didn’t know of Halloween (1978) and Carrie (1976), so course needed to see her. I asked her to sign my Turkish Carrie poster, which she commented she never saw before, and we discussed at length the tidbits of items we both collected, learning about her mementos incredibly fascinating. Then over to Amanda Bearse of Fright Night fame, with a special Half Sheet poster, again another great moment discussing the film, and namely about Roddy McDowall, his personality and talent, about Holland and I informed her how many fans in attendance expressed an interest in having Fright Night reunion.
I stopped by E.L. Books table, an author of the numerous books called What Do You Fear, who gave me one of his books at the first NJ Horror Con and since then I truly found them enjoyable to read, he noted a new book coming later in the year, changing gears massively. Again, there was a reoccurring theme, the ever-evolving horror genre, maturing with taste and quality, while still having a focus on blood and guts, but more so on that coming from within each artist. Also met with Neil A. Cohen
author of Exit Zero – the Zombie Apocalypse novels set in New Jersey, someone I wanted to meet for a while, learning about the evolution and basis of the books, the characters more/less based on his life experiences and family. He followed the rules of writing of what you know, and expanded greatly from it, in the future I will take the time to review his novels, especially now that final installment comes available in June of 2018, called Zombie Democracy. Many joke that in the state that houses the Toxic Avenger and Jason Voorhees along with an abundance of toxic waste sites, which can cause the state to glow, numerous teases from films and a zombie apocalypse highly likely to occur here, but unsure how many would actually recognize it.
Unbelievable how the time flew, and the lines still generated more visitors to event, even though Mother Nature is pounding the outside with snow, hail and powerful winds, none of it stops the passion of fans and guests, especially since we had Father Evil protecting us. I hurried along to catch two very cool panels,
first at 8pm Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw 3, which featured actors R.A. Mihailoff, Toni Hudson, Kate Hodge, and director Jeff Burr. It was a fascinating discussion. One needs to know the importance of attending a panel, first no embarrassment for asking a question, if nervous rehearse it, a great time to get insight to a flick, learning of techniques from the director and actors. The questions drifted from the starring roles, to hardest scene (not many just the typical conditions on low-budget films), and a controversial movie trailer, for those uniformed or unaware the trailer filmed before the actual movie started production or even had a script. However, it went further with actor Mihailoff (who portrays often mad butchers) noting that no one knows who played Leatherface in the trailer, this talk expanded at his table in the guest room (more on that in a moment). Jeff Burr noted New Line Cinema took on the rights to the film in 89/90 about four years after the last flick, a rocky production proceeded including his firing and rehiring, and numerous MPAA cuts and editing down by someone.
As it was now time for the 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre panel, featuring the John Dugan (Grandpa) and Teri McMinn, who also sat next to each other in the Sapphire Room, filled with the filmmakers of many other flicks. Mr. Dugan truly stole the show for the longest time, and noted the incredible duration for applying the makeup, but that he also worked to stir up the chickens and later catching them all off screen, extremely humorous retelling and his antics during with his occasional f-bombs dotting the way for all to enjoy. Many in attendance knew of Dugan, a friendly actor on the fest circuit, working in the industry for a long time (face it a few duds like All Sinner’s Night) and always willing to give direct answers. However, Teri related the tales of running and falling down repeatedly the constant pain and bruising and then her infamous meat hook scene. This item truly captures the attention of the crowd on hand, especially how they filmed it and so many people gathered around for it, the biggest thing both actors stated the constant arguments of how the hook penetrates Teri’s character, of which it wasn’t just their mind playing a trick on them.
After both panels I ventured back to the vendor rooms, namely to see the guests, namely first Mihailoff I asked him about the trailer of Leatherface which led to a discussion concerning the Trivia post on the IMDb that Kane Hodder portrayed the character leatherface in the trailer. However, this lead to further confusion although R.A. stated he needed to speak with Kane (who incidentally also served as stunt coordinator and a double for him). This matter likely to remain unsolved until confirmed or denied by Mr. Hodder. Then next to converse with was Burr, which was a fascinating chat on the genre of horror, not focusing on just on his movie but the entire spectrum of the industry and agreeing that the best likely came from 60s through 70s.
Before the vendor and guest rooms closed, I finally succeeded in the opportunity to meet Russell Streiner, known for his work on both Night of the Living Dead films (1968/1990) and had him sign my original NOTLD (1990) poster. The original design assisted in talking about the film and how George (Romero) was supposed to play the role the sheriff McCelland hence reprises the same line in from the first flick, “Yeah, they’re dead. They’re all messed up”. He chuckled about the production of the hinting Russo might have more to say about it, another reason to check on the Q&A on Sunday after his film, My Uncle John is a Zombie.
Ryan Scott Weber, the founder and creator of the NJ Horror Con (and Rob Bruce) constantly worked the event, making sure everyone enjoyed themselves, solving problems that always happen, and yet made sure to remind individuals both fans and press of events happening around the con. He understands the feel of a con, as a filmmaker he’s entered many film festivals and a fan of the genre makes him knowledgeable of the situations occurring at any time.
The midnight movie 100 Acres of Hell (2018) from screenwriters and horror fans Jason L. Koerner, Ed McKeever and Gene Sniskey, et al finally showed their long-awaited debut of this major production, in a twisted slasher flick all occurring on a ‘Bro’s Weekend’ which becomes a f-up trip. The flick plays homage to Friday the 13th (1980) and a tinge to Psycho (1960), combining a lengthy wrestling fighting sequence that appears to involve fighting a backwoods hulking man and thoughts of Predator (1987) comes stomping across the film. I won’t spoil much with this flick, the others mentioned in this article as many starting the fest circuit, and seeking distribution deals, besides you want to discover these treasures for yourselves. Lastly, a thanks to Jason for giving me a shout out on stage and this film won the Audience Award of the Spring 2018 NJ Horror Con.
Saturday, March 3, 2018
Saturday, rolled in fast, no sooner got to bed at 3am (after a private after-party finished up) a bright sky unleashed and quickly mounting line of fans stretching through the lobby, all standing polite, no shoving or pushing, respectful to each other, those in wheelchairs and to the other patrons staying at the hotel. The staff equally supportive of event and understanding more about the fans and cosplayers some freaked out and others getting to the theme of the convention. Once again Father Evil stalked the line interacting with the fans, blessing the sinners and freaking out others.
I had the opportunity to slip into the convention early, to grab a few quick interviews with the vendors, as many on hand early to setup for the biggest shopping day at all conventions, SATURDAY, it’s the longest day, the most activities, contests, awards, parties, and simply the most fun! Having attended more than 25 conventions and festivals, and half of them on a press pass, I know the tempo, pattern and love for the event grows with anticipation, memorizing the layout, the program guides all pluses, and bringing lunch, just make sure your gear bag equally packed!
First, I stopped by a very knowledgeable and cool vendor, Skull Island,with a great insight to the horror/ sci-fi genre, we discussed the collectors’ market and what some fans sought as opposed to others, normally falling into the age groups. However, I took the moment at his table, and thumbing through boxes of items, located two great items a 1-shot Universal Monsters comic of Creature of the Black Lagoon and Deep Red Magazine issue #1 by famed editor Chas Balun.
Next making stops at the talented Dave’s Dark Realm a table filled with lifelike body parts, noting to self to pick up an extra hand next time I see this table. The makeup artist and special effects creator Dave Nagy is an incredible designer, very detailed work, this is not Spirit Halloween. The limbs, toes and hands with nails, veins bulging and he as a chained zombie stalking the con, made this a must visit table. Strolling the wonderful rows on vendors, each with unique items displaying their craft, from Scott Pensak’s Man Eating Plants (Little Shop of Horrors) to his Slimer rendition, then passing by Vinegar Syndrome (a name you should know), Troma always on hand with an extremely large display near actor David Naughton. HD Halloween caught my attention, with their masks, in talking to the vendor a fairly newer company, while their display definitely lures one, their website still working out the kinks, however, they had licensed items of Tunneler and Blade of Puppet Masters and hinted to making Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee masks. As been my custom to check out many of the artists from start up comic books to designers and of course, artist Joel Robinson, and this time acquiring drawings of Psycho house and Friday the 13th Part 2 (Jason), most know of his work from Scream Factory cover art.
I quickly made my way upstairs to catch the Short Film Block 3 the first of Saturday the first movie which got my attention was entitled Knit (someone placed many of their postcards out on various tables). The flick from Killerbeam Entertainment by directors Andy Kumpon and Gary Malick present a tale in about 12 minutes, involving an urban myth and broadcasting video app, all done in a gory pleasing manner. Another notable entry and quite hilarious short (which won Best Screenplay), Death Lives about the Grim Reaper (Erick Hellwig, also the creator of the production) tired of his job quits, finds someone new to replace him and becomes human, all of it amusing especially the interactions with his father (God). The block segment concluded with the animated film The Funhouse Waltz, from director Carvin Knowles, that takes place in a carnival while sinners doomed to relive the secrets and crimes forever. The film reminds one of a bit of Edward Gorey creations and Aurelio Voltaire’s DemiUrge Emesis (2010) yet is relied more on visuals and colorful design and the music motivated, without words. These films do play to a very full room, of aspiring filmmakers and sometimes the filmmakers themselves, sadly though to the disappointment of some those in attendance don’t get a Q&A.
During a short break I took the time to talk to the fans, asking who they would like to see at future events and/or reunions they prefer, and the list included obvious choices and other surprises. As for the crew/cast unions Halloween/ Halloween II (1978/ 1981), The Howling, The Thing (1982), Evil Dead (1982), Return of the Living Dead, and Sleepaway Camp (1983). The guest request some hope for a composer such as Alan Howarth or special effects wizard Rick Baker, others sought Tony Moran, Sid Haig, Linda Blair, and of course Dee Wallace.
Everyone on hand looked forward to the comedic throwback flick Violence 2, but an unexpected treat the filmmakers Eric D. and David Wilkinson were on hand again (just like last year) but this time they played part 1 and then part 2 along with a great and very amusing Q&A. The flick featured continuity, technical and special effect issues, as filmed in the eighties with a VHS camera and included the risky act of fighting on a wet second story roof. WOW! This film was great treat! Next up came the fun flick 10/31 hosted by Zane Hershberger (who many recalled from The Barn (2016), which played at the fest in September 2017, this time a collection of short tales, he personally did the segment called Trespassers. Without giving away too much this definitely makes another anthology to own, it truly shows new aspiring filmmakers with new skills in storytelling and clearly showing the genre’s new blood ready to smear on the walls and splatter on everyone in a theater enriching them dark macabre tales of woe. The final film before the live awards show, was a mysterious arthouse meets experimental movie from director James Quinn, which showed insects, sexual acts of all manner (some that likely to dissuade male viewers) and damnation of religious sects, conveying the scene death. Now unsure if that actually occurs as this film truly contains no middle ground, its either love or hate, nothing in between therefore choose wisely, but least have an open mind.
Tiffany Shepis, a horror icon, who first starred in Tromeo and Juliet (1996) at the age of 16, who worked on Debbie Rochon’s Model Hunger hosted the awards show, with a dash of insanity, and did it in stride, no prepping, just winging it, and it became a riotous fun show, her assistants from the Podcast show Space Monkeys (who later performed). Unlike the those shows of pomp and style, this one comes in the form of NJ Punk meeting Horror, cracking jokes and teasing fun, all to keep the crowd engaged and ready for a night of partying. The two films dominated the awards with both winning twice and not airing until Sunday first I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday for Best Special Effects and nailed the Best Picture while The Hatred claim Best Cinematography and John Law earned the Best Director. In addition, Special Honorable Awards won by Adam Green for Avenger Award, Peter Criss for Icon Award (a green color with his iconic stripe makeup on it), and Danielle Harris for Horror Queen Award. After the award show ended it quickly moved into Space Monkeys comedic routine, though nothing seemed off limits, not politically correct, however great stories about some odd fans the celebrities they meet, which later had Adam Green, Laura Ortiz, Parry Shen and Derek Mears on stage. What happened during that show can’t an easily describe, best to look for audio and video commentary, however none of it planned, prearrange or even orchestrated correctly, yet extremely funny!
By the time of 11:15p rolled around the bands insisted to play, why not everyone left wanted the music portion so first was
Doc Rotten taking control of the room, while the NJ Con event personnel cleared the room of chairs, preparing for the chaotic event. Then came Tony Goggles’ band Pissed which sounded like a cross between Black Flag and Agent Orange and then closing out and down the show, The Vansaders
and the crowd perhaps lessen in size but nowhere near the letdown in intensity of the audience’s enthusiastic antics especially from the band Doc Rotten. The insanity from the crowd came from cosplayers Deadpool and a Ghostbusters Captain Jack Sparrow, which included a congo line mingling in the room. If you missed it, so sorry the parties got CRAZY!
Sunday, March 4, 2018
The crowd still flowed into the fest, which ideally is very good, as a Sunday winds down extremely fast, after all its really 10a to 5p, 7-hours though a few good deals always available in the vendor rooms. However, to me I spent the last day in the Film Festival room watching the final short film block and three feature films.
The highlight film in this block obviously was none other than I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday, a downright creepy, dark apocalyptic story dealing with someone hardcore elements, a sizable crowd on hand as it claimed awards the night before, and director Mike Lombardo in the audience. The summary of the story involves a mother and her 8-year-old son trying to survive in bomb shelter after an unmentioned devastation occurred leaving the landscape destroyed and covered in white snow. This movie really pulls at your heartstrings and makes one wonder how they cope with low stock of supplies and then try explaining it all to a child. I look forward to reviewing this film, but for now, see if you can locate it, discover the excellent storytelling of the Mike’s flick and think about what you do with your little ones.
John A. Russo’s film My Uncle John is a Zombie, the second to last, a comedy-horror flick, which a zombie is kept hidden by his niece and nephew becomes famous and markets all types of products while zombie hunters seek to eliminate the wretched creature all for sport. While the film had some entertainment his Q&A actually becomes the draw for the audience, especially as he spoke about George Romero and later Tom Savini’s version, once again reinforcing the reason to attended Q&As. The final film of the day and festival, came from director Adrian Esposito, a full documentary about Lloyd Kaufman and how Tromaville started, the ups and downs, the loyal fans supporting them and interesting insights from Kaufman himself. All in all, a fine conclusion to the festival highlighting the efforts of one the favorite independent filmmakers and to many a hero to the cause of anything goes in cinema.
As some noticed, I didn’t cover all the films, but honestly, it’s impossible to do that, and not showcase all the guests, if I did the article likely tally over 5,000 words, perhaps in the future I’ll do a fuller summary of the features and the short block shows. Nevertheless, one thing I did realize many of the fans left with backpacks and recycle once empty overfilled, a gleaming smile from meeting the stars, and basically everyone thoroughly enjoying themselves.
A festival and convention, truly run themselves like a film production, the scripting of the event, locking down the dates and location, arrange for pre-production, obtaining the cast (the guests), acquiring one’s crew and so much more, a checklist of a binder proportion needed. The production, or filming runs on a limited time, long days, and unexpected issues, concerns and if you have a solid crew and great leadership the showmanship excels and shines through just as it did for the NJ Horror Con and Film Festival #3. When finished one can’t wait for the next chapter in the growing saga of this new stellar performance, well that comes in September, one can only imagine the delights, shrieks, and incredible guests for that spectacular event.