Monthly Archives: September 2016

Horrorhound Indianapolis 2016

This was my first year attending a Horrorhound show, and it ranks as one of my top conventions along with Crypticon KC and Rock and Shock. There are bigger shows with more guests, but in my experience, bigger shows are less pleasant for the simple reason that one may end up waiting in line two hours to speak to a guest for all of 30 seconds, and paying $80 (or more) for a single autograph. Then, if you want a photo with a guest, the only option is paying another $100-250 for a professional photo op, in which one is herded through something resembling an assembly line process. Brutally efficient, but basically, one is paying more for less. Perhaps I’m being a bit of a curmudgeon here, because the fans I met at the bigger conventions felt that this was money well spent. If autograph collecting is your thing, and you have the cash, I won’t further besmirch your enjoyment of such venues.

My priorities are a bit different regarding what I look for in a convention experience. Perhaps I was spoiled by my first convention experiences, because I got to spend a significant amount of time with some of the guests, whom I now consider my friends due to our ongoing communication. While I do have a modest collection of autographs, I’m more interested in the various guests as people, and not just for their respective work products. What are autographs compared to getting advice from Andrew Divoff on learning foreign languages (he speaks eight), insight into Ted Raimi’s daily routines for maximal productivity, not to mention guests’ personal stories that are never discussed in interviews? Horrorhound Indianapolis was one of those rare conventions that was big enough to never become dull, but small enough that there were ample opportunities to have extended conversations with guests, several of whom interacted with fans at the hotel bar.

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With Ted Raimi

Aside from my friend Andrew Divoff’s appearance, an added bonus was the Wishmaster reunion, which included the film’s director and special effects artist Robert Kurtzman, lead actress Tammy Lauren (her first convention appearance), and supporting actors Tony Todd (best known for his role in Candyman), and Ted Raimi (also of Xena: Warrior Princess  and the second season of  Ash vs the Evil Dead ). This was my first time meeting Ted Raimi, who was one of the nicest guests I’ve met, but also quite intellectual and a fascinating conversationalist. Other personal highlights included meeting Bernard Rose, the director of Candyman and the criminally underrated Snuff Movie, a smart meta-critique of reality television and digital surveillance; and meeting Piper Laurie (Carrie and many other films), who now has her memoir Learning to Live Out Loud: A Memoir in print and audiobook edition.  While most conventions concentrate heavily on films and filmmakers, I was pleased to see many book vendors and authors at the event, including John Everson, author of the outstanding horror novel Nightwhere.

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Meeting Tammy Lauren of Wishmaster

As with all good conventions, there were ample activities aside from celebrity signings. I only attended two panels, both of which were outstanding. The Candyman panel featured some of the most thoughtful discussions of racism, classism, and other social divides. The Wishmaster panel not only had great behind-the-scenes story about that film, but also an odd and hilarious backstory about the casting of actual prostitutes as extras in Ted Raimi’s 1993 film Skinner [VHS]. There was also an ongoing film festival, most of which I missed. However, I made a point of seeing the new Kevin Smith film Yoga Hosers, which is a loose follow-up to his film Tusk. Yoga Hosers follows the two Colleens, who worked as clerks in Tusk. But as the film’ s effects artist Robert Kurtzman stated, despite a few horrific effects and monsters, Yoga Hosers isn’t a horror film at all, but rather more of a teen movie with a lot of smart one-liners. I think fans will enjoy Yoga Hosers if they keep that in mind; it wasn’t at all scary, but I don’t remember the last time I laughed so hard at a screening.

And, of course, there was also the convention-within-the-convention, Maskfest, which showcased an astounding array of masks and other costume accessories. I nearly went home with a set of Maleficent or Black Phillip-style horns, until I considered I have so few opportunities to wear such things.

Even though four days of sleep deprivation from these activities left me broken and beaten upon my return home, Horrorhound Indianapolis is a show I want to attend again!

Book Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill


Joe Hill’s work has matured greatly since early novels such as Heart-Shaped Box and even Horns: A Novel, both of which provoked a love-hate response in me. Both were clever, but wallowed self-consciously in their own cleverness. Heart-Shaped Box utilized every horror genre trope and cliche before inverting them, setting readers up for a multitude of “gotcha” moments. (For instance, a spirit uses a Ouija board to incessantly question the living protagonist.) In all fairness, Hill’s fiction is inevitably compared to his father Stephen King’s work, rather than appreciated exclusively for its own merits.

Then came NOS4A2: A Novel, which one could argue was Hill’s breakout work (and will be reviewed here later). NOS 4A2 was in many respects more nuanced and complex than his earlier novels, with greater character depth. This novel made some bold references to Stephen King’s fictional universe, and can easily stand alongside many of King’s novels.

The Fireman: A Novel continues the positive trends of NOS 4A2, and the central conceit of a contagious disease that causes the infected to spontaneously combust is deliriously creepy. However, this isn’t the novel’s scariest aspect. (Here’s where I warn for mild spoilers ahead.) The most disturbing scenes involve dysfunctional group dynamics, particularly those involving social control. The tribal mentality isn’t merely drawn along the lines of the infected vs. the uninfected, but even within the group of infected survivors who are already vulnerable to attacks from “cremation crews” as well as their own illness.

Here we have a story about an isolated and marginalized group that devolves into a murderous cult. The process is familiar to anyone who has read about real-life tragedies such as Jonestown and so many other cults. In The Fireman, an initially likable character creates an environment of of hope and trust, anchored to her own brand of religion. As the characters become more isolated from the outside world, the tone shifts to paranoia, and she grabs as much power and authority as possible. As with real life cases, it’s frustrating that so few characters call her out on her bullshit or hold her accountable. Naturally, the few dissenters are demonized through character assassination, and in some cases, subjected to physical abuse. And naturally, the followers are so desperate to maintain their in-group status that they blindly believe their leader’s lies. The protagonist’s character development arc is satisfying (even if I could have lived with fewer Mary Poppins references), because her previous relationship with  her gaslighting and manipulative ex-husband immunizes her to the cult members’ manipulation. Hill creates a believable transition from passive spouse to assertive hero. Another strength of the novel is how seamlessly Hill provides a biological explanation for the toxic group dynamics that dovetails with the mechanics of the disease itself.