Flashback Weekend: three days of horror-movie mayhem at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in beautiful Rosemont, Illinois. (For those unfamiliar with Rosemont: it’s the unofficial convention capital of the Chicago metropolitan area. I’m pretty sure the town entirely consists of one huge convention center, a bunch of hotels, at least one casino, a concert venue that I still insist on calling the Rosemont Horizon–where I saw my first concert at the age of 8: Billy Joel on his 1982 Nylon Curtain tour–and no actual private residences.)
This year, it was held across the long weekend of Friday, August 10 to Sunday, August 12. The Forced Viewing gang–myself, Jason, Jori and Zeb–were all in attendance for part of the duration of the con; I went on Friday and Saturday. This is my story.
I Like Griping
Don’t get me wrong–I had a great time. But there’s a few things I want to get off my chest. So, without further ado, I proudly present my gripe list:
First gripe. It’s held on the same weekend as Wizard World Chicago. (Wizard World Chicago–aka WWC, also aka Chicago Comicon–Chicago’s premier “let’s pretend we still focus on comic books” mega-con. It seems to have lost a good bit of luster over the past couple of years, partially because of butt-stupid guest-booking decisions–like Rod Blagejovich in 2010 and Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino this year–and partially because of the encroachment of C2E2. But it’s still massive.) And it’s held across the street from WWC.
I’m sure this is a good thing for Flashback from a management point of view, since there’s probably a lot of bleedover between the two cons. However, it also has a few negative effects for attendees: traffic is often bad (I did discover the key to avoiding traffic if you’re coming from south of Rosemont on I-294: exit at Balmoral Avenue, not River Road. The hotel parking lot and the Aloft parking garage–which is the beset place to park if hotel parking is full, which it will be–are most easily accessible from Balmoral, and I never hit traffic at that exit), parking is always worse, and restaurant wait times are Cthulhoid insane. We’ll pick this story up later.
Second gripe. The hotel closes its restaurant from 2pm to 5pm daily. You can get food at the bar during this time, but there’s less capacity and the layout of the bar is cramped. (The bar has a VIP room, but I never saw it open.) I tried to catch a late lunch on Saturday at 3pm and didn’t even get to sit down until 3:30.
Third gripe. It’s 90% buying stuff and meeting celebs.
Jason’s response to this gripe was that all cons are 90% buying stuff and meeting celebs, and I disagree with that. I’m more used to cons like Chicago TARDIS or Gen Con, where there are a lot of options in addition to the dealer room and celeb meet-and-greets, such as discussion panels and media rooms. At TARDIS, for example–at least when I used to attend during the mid- to late 2000s, at any given time there were at least two discussion panels and one media room in addition to the Q&A sessions and celebrity signings/photo ops.
The dealer room is massive, and about a third of it is given over to celebrity meet-and-greet. Q&As are only held on one day, in a four-and-a-half-hour block on Saturday. They’re usually no longer than 20 minutes per session (a few ran for 30 minutes, and John Carpenter, being the guest of honor, got 40 minutes). There didn’t seem to be anything I’d call a discussion panel (the two closest things were a filmmaking workshop hosted by 2001 Maniacs director Tim Sullivan, and two showings of videotaped panel discussions from 2005 featuring Sage Stallone), and very little in the way of special activities (the requisite cosplay contest, for example). Movie screenings are held at a multiplex (Muvico 18) about half a mile away from the hotel, and they don’t start until a couple of hours after con activities at the hotel are finished.
So at any given time there are no more than three choices as to what you can do, one of which is to stand in line for the photo-op with the guest of honor, and one of which is to wander the dealer room. The third option is to check out whatever’s going on in the ballroom, assuming that there was actually something going on there (there wasn’t on Friday) or that you didn’t have to pay for the activity (which was the case on Sunday).
Since I don’t tend to collect movies or collectibles, and don’t have much of an urge to meet celebs (partially because of social anxiety, partially because I don’t know or care who 80% of the guests are, and partially to avoid discovering that someone I admire is a bit of a jerk–such as what happened to Jori when she met Jeffrey Combs), I spent a lot of time following people around but not doing much.
Two things it would be cool to have at Flashback are a media room and discussion panels that are a bit less question-and-answer and less famous-personality-oriented. My template for the latter would be the sort of thing you get at TARDIS where you get two or three prominent fandom figures moderating a discussion on a certain topic, for example, the ethics of certain episodes of the series. It seems to me that if something could be similar could be arranged for Flashback–let’s say a couple of writers for Fango or Rue Morgue or even (hint hint!) bloggers leading a discussion about what’s going on in Scandinavian horror movies–that could be popular.
(Or maybe not: when I described the idea to a friend of mine, I used the TARDIS comparison, but made the mistake of naming actual people instead of specifying the more generic “prominent fandom figures.” And he kept getting hung up on that: he thought the point of the panel was the “celebrity” moderators, and asked “But what if I don’t want to meet the guy who published the About Time series?” Eventually he figured out that the point wasn’t to meet “celebrities,” it was to have a discussion, and he ended up admitted he didn’t find that very interesting.)
As for the media room, I don’t know how feasible that would be, but again, it would be something neat to have. There was this one backyard production company that had produced a short film called Get Off My Porch. (Their name escapes me, but I’m pretty sure Jason or Jori got an interview with them when I wasn’t around.) I saw flyers for it and thinking, this is a great flyer, but I’d love to actually see it.
On the other hand, the con seems to have a fantastic turnout, so clearly lots of people are getting exactly what they want from it.
I sat in on two interviews. (From what Jason told me afterwards, it sounds like the majority of the interviews–and there were a lot of them–were scored on Sunday, the day I didn’t attend.) I’m not going to go too much into the content, but here’s my overall impression of the experience.
The first interview, on Friday, was Kevin Strange. He’s best known in horror fandom as the guy behind Hack Movies, a series of nine or so backyard horror-comedies (I’m under the impression that they’ve got a bit of a Troma-style vibe; I have not actually seen them). Jason and Jori are huge fans, and we’re run reviews of two Hack offerings: Colonel Kill Motherfuckers and Dead Shit.
Sometime in the fall of 2010 (right around the time we launched Forced Viewing, in fact, although I believe that’s just a coincidence), Kevin released what is to date the final Hack movie and decided to take some time out to figure out what he wanted to do creatively. Within a few months, he’d turned his hand to writing short stories; he ended up founding an indie print-on-demand imprint called StrangeHouse Books, as a vehicle for not only his own work but that of other authors as well. So far Kevin has curated an anthology entitled Strange Sex and published two books by D.F. Noble: Beer Run of the Dead (a novel) and Scary Fucking Stories (a collection). Each of the books includes a list of other books planned for 2012, all of them by Strange, Noble, or someone named Kyle Noble, with titles such as Face-Melting Pizza Freaks, Grownups Must Die, Last Action President and (my personal favorite here) Apocalypse Meow.
Kevin was selling all three books, signed (by both him and D.F. Noble, who was also present at the con), plus additional swag, for $25 total. The way I figure it, three books for $25 is a sweet deal any day of the week, so I sprang for ’em.
The discussion with Kevin ended up lasting about an hour, and we mostly talked about what led him to horror filmmaking–he’s got a couple of great stories, and I’m going to try to push Jori (hi Jori!) to get his interview out early. He’s also the first person I’ve met in fifteen years who’s heard of W.H. Pugmire, so I was impressed by that. Nice guy. Knows his stuff.
The second interview I sat in on was an actress who was part of the Full Moon party. I didn’t catch her name at first, and when I asked Jason who she was, I thought his response was “Ginger Deadman,” which initially struck me as a bit of a stupid stage-name…eventually I realized that what Jason meant was that she’d been in the Gingerdead Man series. Her name’s Robin Sydney, and it turned out that I’d seen her in a couple of things: Evil Bong a long time ago, and last year in the Masters of Horror episode “Right to Die” (in fact, I panned her performance in my review…Robin, if you’re reading this, sorry).
Robin is very enthusiastic about being a horror fan, not to mention being very energetic and bouncy in general. Charming young lass. To date, she’s the only interviewee to turn the tables on us when it comes to our signature interview question: “What’s your favorite breakfast cereal?” (In case you’re wondering–until recently it was Corn Flakes when it came to non-sweetened and chocolate rice cereals such as Cocoa Pebbles when it came to sweetened. But as of late I’ve been favoring hot cereals such as Cream of Wheat and Quaker oatmeal.)
Other Celebrity Encounters
Got a photo with Ken Foree (Peter from the original Dawn of the Dead). A few years ago, Ken did Flashback, and a guy I don’t talk to anymore (long story) got me a signed photo. (It’s the “action shot” where the four principals are holding guns. Hopefully, the other three will do local cons so I can collect the set. This is probably wishful thinking as far as Gaylen Ross is concerned.) So I didn’t really need another one.
Talked to Tyler Mane a couple of times. I had no idea who he was–turned out he was the Shape in Rob Zombie’s Halloween remakes, and was also in the X-Men movies. I have a great story about Tyler, but you’ll have to wait for it.
For some reason I’m still not clear on, we spent a lot of time hovering around Tim Sullivan’s table. Also had a brief chat with Full Moon writer/producer/director/el jefe Charles Band and producer Richard Band.
Friday Night Dinner
Herein lies a tale.
Friday night had one slate of screenings: a few shorts, The Thing introduced by John Carpenter, and Nailbiter, and the program started at 9pm. At around 7:10pm I decided to grab a bite before the screenings started. The hotel restaurant had a 45 minute wait, but I knew the Muvico complex included a restaurant (Bogart’s Bar and Grill), so I figured I’d head there. I sauntered in at around 7:30, was seated immediately and placed my order.
At about 8:20 the server, who’d been regularly visiting me, refilling my soda and water glasses and telling me my order should be coming any moment now, profusely apologized and asked if I’d been visited by the manager yet. I hadn’t, and said so.
From that point on, the server stopped by just about every five minutes, checking that I still hadn’t been visited by the manager (nope), implying that I’d probably get comped for the meal, wondering if I was there for a movie (indeed I was there to see The Thing, starting in around half an hour now!) and promising that my order would be arriving very, very soon.
My meal arrived at 8:45pm.
I did not get comped for it.
The server was kind enough to offer me a free desert, which I declined, on the grounds that I had to be down at theater 3 in like five minutes. I reassured the server that, yes, I totally understand, considering that two pop-culture conventions–one large, one goddamn huge–are being held just down the street, and that I was not going to yell at him. In fact, I tipped him generously, because I am a fool.
As a consolation prize, the waiter told me that he thought John Carpenter was dining on the other side of the restaurant, and would be more than happy to point him out to me if I wanted to talk to him?
I did have the server point Carpenter out to me, but I didn’t talk to him. Let the man eat his food in peace.
Friday Night Screenings
I got in line for the screenings right at 9pm, and ended up being waaaaaay in the back. Initially I thought I wouldn’t get in, that the theater would be full, but they ended up opening a second auditorium for screenings. And that turned out to be to my advantage: it was damn near empty, maybe 50 people in total, so I wasn’t crowded.
Unfortunately, in my row there was a group of about five or six people–the youngest probably in his early or mid-teens, the oldest in his mid-twenties or maybe pushing thirty. They all had skateboards. And they didn’t seem to understand the idea of respectfully, and quietly, sitting back and watching a movie in a theater. They didn’t talk constantly throughout the movies, but particularly during The Thing, they made comments during a lot of the film’s big scenes. After Carpenter introduced the film, they shouted “E.T. sucks!“–Carpenter didn’t seem amused. They weren’t wearing Flashback multi-day badges and they didn’t seem to be wearing wristbands, and they kept talking about “meeting Superman,” so I’m wondering if they were Wizard World attendees?
Anyway, saw two films. The first was a short called The Zombie Factor, which may or may not be the first in a planned series. The premise is that the characters are contestants on a reality competition show where the challenges involve dealing with zombies. I didn’t really like it, because (once again) I didn’t buy the characters–too stereotypical, even by the standards of short film. However, Jason rightly points out that they are stereotypical reality show contestants, so the weak characterization is almost certainly part of the point of the film; I probably don’t appreciate it properly because I have not watched reality competition shows since the first season of Survivor. In fact, I’ve actively avoided those kinds of shows (I still haven’t forgiven Jori for making me sit through an episode of Ru-Paul’s Drag Race). So I’ll give it a mixed, because I’m pretty sure it’ll work for its target audience.
The Thing is still The Thing. It is still my favorite John Carpenter horror movie. It is still one of the best horror movies of its decade, its era, and of all fuckin’ time. It still gets a very enthusiastic pro from me. If you want details, I wrote it up last year, so go read it.
There were two other shorts on the bill: Slasher’s Holiday and Black Waters of Echo’s Pond. I didn’t see either of those. Maybe they were screened in the other theater, but they weren’t in mine. It sounded like there was going to be a quick break and then Nailbiter would be screened. I really wanted to see Nailbiter, but I was tired and sore and annoyed with the kids who had met Superman, so I decided to head home.
It took me forty-five minutes to get my car out of the parking garage. Whoever owns that garage hides the pay-stations. Grrr.
Q&As were on Saturday, and were conducted by local radio host/film critic Nick DiGilio (whom my mother used to have a crush on) and a guy named Steve Prokopy, who writes for Ain’t It Cool News under the name “Capone.” I only attended the Ken Foree and John Carpenter sessions. I meant to attend a couple of others, such as the Jeffrey Combs/Barbara Crampton one, but at that point I think I was standing in front of Tim Sullivan’s table for no apparent reason, and could not motivate myself to walk down to the ballroom.
Ken Foree talked a bit about the new movie he’s got coming out, which is called Lords of Salem, is directed by Rob Zombie, and stars everyone that Rob Zombie always puts in his movies: Sherry Moon-Zombie, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Dee Wallace, Michael Berryman. It will also star Billy Drago, Meg Foster, Udo Kier, Barbara Crampton, Clint Howard, Camille Keaton, Bruce Davison, Maria Conchita Alonso, Christopher Knight (yes, that Christopher Knight) and the guy who played Arnzt, I mean Arzt, on Lost. Look, you’ve got Arnzt on you.
He also talked a lot about working with Zombie on Halloween II, and had a great story about a fight scene with Tyler Mane that I cannot do justice to here. DiGilio made sure to bring up Knightriders. Not a lot about Dawn of the Dead, but quite a bit about From Beyond.
He complained several times about only having 20 minutes in his session. I agreed totally. I could have sat there and listened to him talk for two hours–he’s a natural storyteller.
John Carpenter was very dry and deadpan. He wasn’t really crotchety or ill-tempered, but one gets the idea that he doesn’t really enjoy doing publicity. He didn’t really tell stories, even when asked to do so, and if someone asked him a question that had a simple answer, he’d deliver that simple answer and not elaborate. (To one question–I don’t remember what it was–he simply answered “no” and left it at that.)
A few highlights: some great reminisces about working with Donald Pleasance, some technical stuff for film geeks, some comments on why he composed his own film scores (budget reasons) and whether he’ll do any more (not unless he has to). What’s keeping Carpenter from making a movie with Jeff Bridges, Kurt Russell and Rowdy Roddy Piper? Ego. Was Escape from Earth ever seriously developed? No. Nothing but praise for Norman Reedus (who starred in “Cigarette Burns”) and Keith Gordon (who starred in Christine and has gone on to become a respected director himself).
What does he think of Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies? It’s clear he doesn’t agree with the direction that Zombie took, painstakingly comparing the two approaches (Zombie gives Michael Myers a backstory, but Carpenter strips everything away to make him a “force of evil”), but he refuses to outright admit to liking or not liking them. (My guess is the latter.)
One of the audience members had once read an article claiming that the reason Carpenter had so many cars demolished during the production of Christine was because he hated the design of that car. (Those cars actually weren’t ’58 Furies–they were Belvederes and Savoys.) Carpenter’s response: “What the fuck are you talking about?”
DiGilio apparently really likes The Ward. I don’t, but then again, it’s not me up there conducting the Q&A.
I decided not to stay for the Saturday screenings, which included a lost Charles Band film from the late ’80s: The Evil Clergyman, based on the Lovecraft story, and starring Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton and David Warner. I was too damn tired, there was nothing to do during the three-hour gap between the close of the con and the beginning of the screenings, and Jason and Jori (neither of whom–especially Jason–were feeling good that day) were heading home.
Again, I want to stress that despite all my griping I had a very good time, and I have a better idea of how to maximize my enjoyment if I go next year. (Don’t head over very early on Saturday, schedule rest time, figure out activities if there are large chunks of dead time, and leave some sandwiches in the car.)
Before I sign off, I’d like to give a shout-out to two celebs who went above and beyond the call of duty. First is Tyler Mane, who, at Jori’s request, signed a photo with a message in Tagalog and recorded a video greeting for one of her relatives in the Philippines. The other is Robin Sydney, who made sure we got a quick chat with Charles and Richard Band to arrange post-con interviews. You guys rock.
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Anyway, that’s it for now. I’ll be attending the horror-movie panels at Gen Con later in the week, and next month I’ll be at the next Terror in the Aisles (hopefully with Drudgie and Hunter in tow), checking out Iron Sky, Frankenhooker and The Stuff. Seeya later!