Category Archives: Personal life

Crypticon Kansas City 2017: Now in St. Joe, Missouri

Todd, Colleen, and I at Crypticon’s new venue.

Crypticon KC 2014 was the first convention I ever attended. This year, I  went on a road trip with my podcast cohost Todd and his wife Colleen. Oddly, Crypticon Kansas City was actually held in St. Joe, which is roughly an hour away from Kansas City itself. I assumed that the move from the Howard Johnson Plaza in KC to the St. Joe Civic Center was merely for economic reasons. I found out later that it was because of a very real-life horror story.

More on this later.

Andrew Divoff sweetly agreeing to have a phone chat with my mom.

For those of you who prefer your horror in film and culture, Crypticon did not disappoint. It was great seeing my friend Andrew Divoff (Wishmaster, Lost, Toy Soldiers), who sweetly agreed to chat with my mom on the phone before things got too busy. 

With Jeffrey Combs, who should be in every movie.

 

I also enjoyed seeing Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, Star Trek) again. He kicked off the convention Q&A session with several fascinating stories and a great sense of humor.

William B. David and Mitch Pileggi talk UFO’s

Another fun session was the panel with X-Files stars Mitch Pileggi and William B. Davis. The most interesting aspect of this panel was their discussion about paranormal activity and the existence of extraterrestrial life. Pileggi is a believer and Davis is not.

Dirk Benedict trumped us during a political discussion at his table!

Battlestar Galactica and A-Team star Dirk Benedict gave a lively talk about his personal life, past romantic relationships, political views, and love for his children. I didn’t always agree with his opinions (for example, he had many positive things to say about Donald Trump), but it was refreshing to listen to someone who was unafraid to share his unfiltered views.

We met a lot of new people too, a few of whom will be future podcast guests. African-American horror-fantasy author Crystal Connor shared a bracing story about a collision with a swastica-tattooed skinhead, only to be surprised that he was more concerned for her well-being. Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp) and Mark Patton (A Nightmare on Elm St. 2) have passionate opinions on depictions of gender and sexual orientation in horror films, and I can’t wait to talk to them further. Later, über-sweetheart David Naughton (An American Werewolf in London) chatted with us about his upcoming projects, Sharknado 5: Global Swarming and The Hatred.

Chatting with Andrew Divoff at the hotel.

On the final day, Andrew Divoff shared information about his upcoming charity pour and new hand-sculpted Djinn rings. We talked about the new convention venue, and he asked how it compared to the old one. I explained that I stayed in the Howard Johnson Plaza in Kansas City during Crypticon 2014, and while my room was clean, there were definite problems with the facility. One elevator bounced sickeningly before stopping at the correct floor, and another was broken entirely. I opted to take the stairs instead, and found the dismal concrete stairwell to be littered with broken glass and used needles. The convention hall itself looked decent, but occasionally I would notice a foul stench waft through, as though a particularly flatulent convention-goer had walked by and cropdusted the aisle. It turns out that the old plumbing system perpetually leaked sewer gas during the summer months. As unsavory as that was, I speculated that Crypticon simply moved because they found a cleaner, bigger, or cheaper venue.

But then, Andrew said, “No, it was closed down because of the bodies in the elevator shaft.”

The now defunct Howard Johnson Plaza/former Ramada Inn

Note the overgrown weed problem.

It was like American Horror Story: Hotel, minus the glamor. Maybe more like Bentley Little’s novel The Resort. This took me down a rabbit hole of research of the Howard Johnson Plaza/Ramada Inn, beginning with reviews from hotel guests who had far worse experiences than I did. (See select photos above from TripAdvisor.) There were tales of  mildewed coffee pots, filthy bedding, broken windows, televisions “ghetto-wired” directly into the electrical outlet, cockroach and rat infestations, bedbugs, and entire sections left abandoned, with unmade rooms potentially occupied by homeless people. It seems that the Howard Johnson Plaza was like a ghost town by September 2016 and abandoned entirely by December.

As for dead bodies, I found evidence of only one in the elevator shaft.  According to Fox 4 News and the Kansas City Star, a homeless man who frequently sheltered in the hotel reported to police that he had found  a body in one of the elevator shafts, and that it had been there for quite awhile. So long that it was not immediately obvious whether the body was male or female. While I have not found much follow-up information about this, it seems that the death was accidental. The victim was apparently stealing copper pipes and fell to his death.

Stay classy, KC.

 

What is it? It is Crispin Glover Live at Omaha’s Alamo Drafthouse!

Crispin Glover as ” Mr. World” in the Starz series American Gods

On June 16th and 17th at Alamo Drafthouse (Omaha ), I attended both nights of Crispin Glover’s appearance consisting of live performances, film screenings, Q&As, and book signings. And what a great time it was! Crispin Glover is one of the most wonderfully gracious, down-to-earth, and intelligent people I’ve met. His live performances films and should be experienced firsthand, because they defy easy description. But I’m going to try anyway.

Before I get to that, I want to foreground this review by saying that I didn’t know too much of what to expect from the event or from Crispin himself, and didn’t want to bias my opinion of the event by reading detailed reviews in advance. Aside from enjoying Crispin’s quirky performances in various films (including his recent role as “Mr. World” in the Starz series American Gods), I didn’t know much about him as a person, aside from media articles describing him as” eccentric” or even “crazy,” two terms that are neither equivalent nor interchangeable. Usually, the “evidence” for the “crazy” label consists of speculation about his cringe-inducing first appearance on Letterman in the late 1980s, or the fact that he used to collect antique medical equipment (a fun-sounding hobby that mostly makes me feel envious). As I discussed in an earlier post, “crazy” is a nebulous label, a sloppy blanket term for a range of behaviors and attitudes that don’t necessarily indicate actual mental illness. I’m not just carping about the descriptor “crazy” merely because Crispin Glover clearly isn’t.  I also find it egregious because it’s an intellectually lazy way to dismiss someone whose ideas or behaviors are merely inconvenient, outside the status-quo, or fail to support one’s own agenda. More on this later.

An unexpected reference to bestiality in “Rat Catching”

This isn’t to say that Crispin’s artistic output isn’t eccentric or massively weird, because it is. If you have the opportunity to attend both nights, do so. There is some overlap in content but not so much as to be overly redundant. Both nights began with variations of “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show,” in which Crispin crawled out from somewhere beneath the stage (literally) and then presented dramatic reading of several of his books accompanied by a powerpoint presentation of the book text and illustrations. Most of Crispin’s books consist of Victorian-era texts and illustrations, which have been redacted, recombined, and annotated in ways that transform the narrative entirely, usually making it funny or into absolute nightmare fuel. For example, “Rat Catching” contains a surprise reference to bestiality. Other books, such as “Round My House,” consisted of Crispin’s original text, reprinted from his own handwriting. This was my favorite among the books available for purchase at the event and on his website. The others were out of print or never printed for distribution in the first place. My favorite among these was “The Backward Swing.” Crispin’s dramatic reading style most often further mutated or obfuscated the meaning of the text, because he would often read with an emotion that didn’t seem to fit the text, or would read in a counter-intuitive cadence or put emphasis on atypical words. I enjoy the books themselves, but would argue that they are best experienced when performed by Crispin himself.

Poster for It is Fine! Everything is Fine

Following the Big Slide Show on night one was a screening of It is Fine! Everything is Fine, which is directed by Crispin as part two if the “IT” trilogy. Part one, What is It? was screened the second night. In retrospect, I think I understand his reasoning for screening his films out of order. It is Fine! is a good way to warm up audience members who attended both nights, because of the two films, it is more palatable for mainstream audiences. Moreover, it’s in some ways helpful to learn about the screenwriter and lead actor Steven C. Stewart before seeing the first film. Steven C. Stewart, who had a severe case of cerebral palsy, portrays a serial killer who has a fetish for women with long hair. I won’t spoil this film for readers as I tend to do. While there are several taboo elements in It is Fine!, it’s a film with a coherent, linear plot.

Promotional still for What is It?

That said, the oddities of the Big Slide Show and It is Fine! did not adequately prepare me for seeing part one of the “IT” trilogy, What is It?, which Crispin describes as, “Being the adventures of a young man whose principle interests are snails, salt, a pipe, and how to get home. As tormented by an hubristic, racist inner psyche” ( the racist inner psyche is portrayed by Crispin himself). In his Q&A afterward (as in interviews which can be read online), he states that one controversial element was the fact that the cast of What is It? consisted almost entirely of actors who had Down syndrome portraying characters who do not necessarily have Down syndrome. That’s really only one of many controversial aspects of the film. I would go so far to say that there is something potentially offensive or disturbing for every viewer. Some of those things include excessive use of Nazi swasticas, screaming snails, and unsimulated sex scenes involving women in animal masks. In multiple interviews, Crispin said his goal in making What is It?  is for audience members to ask themselves, “Is this right what I’m watching? Is this wrong what I’m watching? Should I be here? Should the filmmaker have done this? What is it?” It worked. Among the things that pushed my personal buttons were gratuitous scenes of snail-killing and some…unique soundtrack choices that included Johnny Rebel’s rendition of “Some N*ggers Never Die (They Just Smell That Way)”  and selected songs by Charles Manson. To clarify, these songs were played in the main character’s subconscious by the aforementioned “hubristic, racist inner psyche,” which didn’t prevent me from dying a little on the inside anyway. 

To say What is It? is disturbing is an understatement. More specifically, I actually found it more disturbing than one of my perennial favorite movies, A Serbian Film, and as least as disturbing as my friend Andrey Iskanov’s Unit 731 quasi-documentary film Philosophy of a Knife. I don’t mean this in a disparaging way at all. In contrast to a lot of big-budget dreck that is entertaining in the moment but which leaves you without a thought in your head, What is It?, like the other disturbing films I mentioned above, is not necessarily pleasant to watch , but is something to be appreciated in the long term precisely because it is thought-provoking.

Which brings us to the Q&A sessions, which were an oasis of calm rationality after the strangeness of the dramatic readings and the films themselves. In response to each question, Crispin gave thorough, intellectual answers that reminded me of my favorite professors’ lectures in film theory classes and from subsequent graduate school behavioral science courses. Although each night’s roughly two-hour Q&A had a different overall focus, one unifying theme was Crispin’s argument that corporately-funded films function as a type of propaganda because they discourage audience members from asking questions of any kind. Another observation was, and I hope I am paraphrasing this appropriately, that corporate films are intended for the eyes of children, because anything that could make an audience member uncomfortable is excised. I very much appreciated his in-depth insights and discussions in this subject, in part because I have a similar perception of such films. For over a decade, I’ve believed that most mainstream, corporately-funded films force the filmmaker to take a “No Child Left Behind” approach to storytelling, insofar that even if a film has subject matter deemed not suitable for children, that film is ultimately scripted and edited in such a way so that even the most intoxicated or least intelligent test screening audience member can understand it. Additionally, it seems that the budget of a film is inversely related to how taboo it is “allowed” to be. While that isn’t a terrible thing for every type of film, it’s obviously deleterious for horror films and any other type of film that by nature needs to convey things that are disturbing or controversial.

Crispin Glover as the screaming hair fetishist “The Thin Man” in Charlie’s Angels

Since What is It? was a reaction to corporate straightjacketing, it’s not entirely without irony that a significant a percent of Crispin’s acting work is in corporately funded and distributed films. However, that doesn’t indicate that Crispin’s views on corporate propaganda are somehow inauthentic, but rather that corporate control over the U.S. entertainment industry is so ubiquitous that it’s virtually impossible for an artist to detach entirely from the system. Crispin states that he used income from Charlie’s Angels and other corporately-funded films to cover the cost of making his independent films What is It? and It is Fine! Which brings me back to the issue of some journalists labeling Crispin as “crazy” or some variant on the term. On one level, it may just be an attempt to entertain celebrity gossip junkies or reflective of a common difficulty in separating an artist from his work product, but on another, more insidious level, it is also an easy way to dismiss Crispin’s more subversive views about the U.S. entertainment industry.

Crispin’s Q&A sessions weren’t restricted to professor-like discussions about corporate propaganda and relevant works by  Noam Chomsky and Edward Bernays. He also discussed the influence of the Surrealist movement on his own work and shared several humorous personal anecdotes, including his intent behind his first appearance on Letterman. (I won’t reveal the answer here.) The fact that he openly answers questions in his Q&A sessions that he will not answer in typical media interviews is yet another reason to attend his live performances and film screenings. 

Finally meeting Crispin at his book signing Friday night

 

After the Q&A sessions concluded, both evenings ended with a book signing. While it was a long wait to meet Crispin (I didn’t make it home until 2 a.m. on Friday and 1 a.m. on Saturday), I’m glad I did, and appreciated the opportunity to speak with him one-on-one. A staff member at Alamo Drafthouse told me that they had recommended that he spend only two minutes with each guest, but he generously spent quite a bit more time with those who wanted to talk. As I mentioned earlier, he was very gracious and grounded, and also genuinely interested in each guest and in hearing their feedback about his presentations and films. Even though I intended to not bring up weird or inappropriate topics, my conversation with Crispin started benignly and then evolved to an academic discussion about paraphilias. Fortunately, he seemed unfazed.

Crispin is currently writing a book about propaganda (I can’t wait for it to be released) and completing an untitled film starring his father, Bruce Glover. Visit crispinglover.com to sign up for his newsletter, buy his books, and get information about his tour dates.

 

Hanging out with suspension artists at the KC Villain Arts Tattoo Convention

The Enigma pulls off a blindfolded stunt with a live chainsaw. (Photo from www.theenigmalive.com).

I’m going to preface this post by saying that I normally would not have considered going to a tattoo convention. Although I enjoy well-executed tattoos on other people, I have zero tattoos and have no intention of getting any. Likewise, I am minimally pierced with no plans to get additional piercings. That said, I’m glad I went to the 3rd Annual Kansas City Tattoo Convention by Villain Arts.

A victim of the volcanic eruption at Pompeii: The Exhibit.

What made this trip great for me was the quality of live performances, along with local sightseeing. Because I seek out morbid attractions, I attended Pompeii: The Exhibition at the Union Station. Of course the fate of the the ancient city was gruesome, but the glimpse into the daily lives of Pompeii’s inhabitants was fascinating and more technologically advanced than one would expect. Although the exhibit is no longer in Kansas City, I highly recommend seeing it at its next location.

At the tattoo convention itself, it was very cool to meet The Enigma, whom I immediately recognized from a popular episode of The X-Files. The Enigma’s live performance combined stand-up comedy with gross-out stunts, along with sideshow staples such as sword-swallowing. He best describes his own act by observing that stage magicians make the audience ask “how?,” whereas sideshow artists like himself make audiences ask “why?'”. I should also mention that he is an utter sweetheart in person.

Burlesque artist Marlo Marquise. Photo by Gary Heller.

But the most shocking things happened during the late night performances, starting with burlesque artist Marlo Marquise, who combined a striptease act with stunts similar to those performed by The Enigma earlier in the day. But then she went a few steps beyond his performance by balancing on machetes and piercing her own skin with metal skewers. Her other acts include fire-eating,  a “burlesque on hooks” suspension act, and balancing on a staircase of machetes. You can watch clips of her performances at her website (NSFW).

After Marlo’s performance, there was a series of “suspension acts,” by three different women, one of whom had never tried it before. Although I had seen videos of suspension on TV, it was entirely different seeing such performances live. I’m not ordinarily a squeamish person. After all, I’ve assisted in dozens of autopsies, served victims of violent crime in emergency rooms, and once worked for a funeral home. But for some reason, I initially found seeing these women hanging from hooks in their skin to be disturbing. I feared their skin would rip, causing them to fall from a significant height. It also looked incredibly painful. Yet, the performers appeared to be having fun.

Marlo balances on a staircase of machetes, from her Youtube page.

The following day, I talked to some of the performers about what it is like to be suspended, and their answers made me more comfortable with the idea of trying it someday myself. But don’t take my word for it. I’m happy to announce that our next podcast guest will be Marlo Marquise herself! She will be discussing her unique stage performance and clearing up misconceptions about suspension art. In the meantime, read this article from The Atlantic to learn more about the 5,000-year-old art.

 

El Paso Comic Con with Camille Keaton, and horrific sight-seeing

I’m back from my weekend with Camille Keaton of I Spit On Your Grave at El Paso Comic Con, and what a fun trip it was! Camille is a true friend, and it was great to see her again after a three years.

I’m also pleased to announce that Camille will be our special guest on the next My Horrific Life Podcast, where she will discuss her early film career in Italy, behind-the-scenes info about I Spit on Your Grave, and everything she’s allowed to tell us about the official direct sequel, called I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu (now in post-production). Just the fact that an official sequel has been made, not to mention the existence of a remake and its franchise, is proof that the Law of Attraction and vision boards really work. Because I’ve been trying to manifest these movies through sheer mental energy for at least the last 15 years.

With Camille at her El Paso Comic Con booth

This was actually my first Comic Con. The comic book world is not exactly my forte, but I was pleased to see other horror genre guests, including Kevin Grevioux (Underworld) and Nicholas Brendon (Buffy), and some cool vendors such as a reptile rescue/mobile petting zoo called Island of Misfit Morphs.

The Island of Misfit Morphs offers “reptile parties.”

Of course, there’s no point in traveling if you can’t see local points of interest. On some level, I wanted to visit Juarez, Mexico, as I had studied the hundreds of femicides that had occurred there since the 1990s, but due to the explosion of violence in Juarez within the last decade, it simply wasn’t safe to go. I asked several El Paso locals what they thought of Trump’s proposed border wall, given that they share the border with Juarez. They all said that the wall simply isn’t necessary for El Paso due to the strong military presence nearby and the fact that virtually everyone has a concealed carry permit. Apparently the drug dealers and violent criminals from Juarez avoid causing trouble in El Paso, because they know that the people of El Paso won’t put up with their shit. In fact, El Paso was rated the safest city in the U.S. for the fourth year in a row.

The text on the mountain advises the residents of Juarez, “The Bible is the truth. Read it.”

The downtown area has a number of interesting art galleries and museum, including the El Paso Holocaust Museum, which ended up being my first stop. This museum is excellent, with interactive exhibits and mini-documentaries in each room. As expected it is also emotionally grueling, especially the death camp exhibits. The tour ends on an uplifting note, with a series of resistance and survivor stories. Visit their website for more images from their exhibits, as well as information about the museum founder, Henry Kellen, who was himself a Holocaust survivor.

Anti-Semitic propaganda published by the Nazi Party.

A Tree of Life sculpture in the Survivor Stories room

Other museums had moments of gruesomeness in otherwise benign exhibits. One example being the death mask of Pancho Villa on display at the El Paso History Museum.

The death mask of Pancho Villa

Special thanks to J’sin and Eva for their hospitality and for showing us around the town. I recommend visiting Deadbeach Brewery and shopping at Dreadful Things, a horror boutique, tattoo parlor, art gallery, and reading room.

A 1920s sideshow banner hand painted by Fred J. Johnson

One of several original art pieces on display at Dreadful Things

Dreadful Things has an element of visual overload

A few of the goodies available for purchase. I picked the Cheshire Cat purse.

That’s all for now! Be sure to come back soon for our podcast interview with Camille Keaton, and a special focus on Hammer films for the month of May.

 

 

 

 

My Horrific Weekend: Joe Bob Briggs, Get Out, and Vagina Monologues

I’ve been slow to write new posts because I had an overly long and horrific weekend. The most horrific event being seeing a live performance of the Vagina Monologues for the first time. Don’t get me wrong; the performers did a good job, but I didn’t relate to the source material…at all, although I did like the part where one woman states she viewed her vagina as a black hole, randomly sucking up random particles in its orbit. Perhaps the most disappointing part of the Vagina Monologues is the fact that no vaginas actually talk. I suppose this makes me a bad feminist. Even after over a decade of working with rape survivors, I’m tragically uncool for not “getting” the Vagina Monologues, and in general for not wanting to hear other women talk about their vaginas.

Before this horrific end to my horrific weekend, my podcast cohost Todd and I recorded an episode about sadomasochism in horror movies and why BDSM is boring in real life.  Then we went to see Jordan Peele’s new film Get Out . This is by far the best theatrical release movie I have seen in months. Todd and I will be discussing this film at length in our next podcast, so I won’t spoil too much here. That said, we went to our town’s opening night screening which had an unusually mixed race audience for a horror film in Nebraska. Based on the raucous cheering during the film’s final act, I can conclude that everyone enjoys seeing shitty white characters die. It goes to show that even white people are sick of white people’s bullshit. This movie may be the first step in healing the racial divide that is tearing our country apart. Take a look at the trailer below, and then get thyself to thy local multiplex immediately.

The highlight of my weekend was meeting Joe Bob Briggs, who had a guest appearance at the Alamo Drafthouse in La Vista, Nebraska for a special screening of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet Blu-ray Blue Velvet. I’ve loved Joe Bob since the 1990’s, when I discovered him on TNT’s Monstervision and then read his books. Many horror fans are familiar with Monstervision and Joe Bob’s column, compiled in Joe Bob Goes To the Drive-In, and with his tendency to anger people on the right and the left. Many people have been snowed by his redneck persona and don’t know that he has an Ivy League education. And many people didn’t appreciate the underlying intellectual approach to examining films other critics would prefer to ignore. I suspect that only hardcore fans are familiar with his work to expose fraudulent TV evangelists as a member of the Trinity Foundation and the Daily Show’s segment God Stuff.  The same goes for his “serious” nonfiction works written as John Bloom, most recently Eccentric Orbits: The Iridium Story.

Based on the sarcasm and caustic humor in his books and television persona, I expected Joe Bob to be the type of celebrity guest who roasts his fans. Actually, he was one of the nicest people I’ve met. Of course, I had to drag along copies of his books to be autographed. Joe Bob opened with facts about Blue Velvet, and followed the screening with a Q&A session. Blue Velvet was awesome on the big screen, but no one asked about it or wanted to debate the meaning of the film during the Q&A. Everyone had questions about Joe Bob’s career and which movies he found personally influential. One of the best pieces of advise was for reviewers and bloggers to move away from shallow write-ups of films and toward “curating” films instead. As he states in a recent interview, “You can watch even a horrible movie if you know enough about it in advance. A terrible movie, when it’s curated, can be fun. Certain things, if you keep them in the back of your mind, it changes your experience of the film, hopefully in a good way.”

 

We decided to make Valentine’s Day a second Halloween

Last night, My Horrific Life podcast cohost and I decided to make Valentine’s Day into a second Halloween, thanks to a Vampire Ball at the Rococo Theatre in Lincoln, Nebraska. This was the first event of its type in Lincoln, and the Rococo Theatre was the perfect venue, given its somewhat gothic interior. So Todd, his wife Colleen, a few other friends and I donned our fangs and black formalwear for a night of dancing and ghoulish fun.

Todd decided to sport some sickly makeup for the event.

The cover band looked the part and gave a solid performance, but my one gripe about the evening is why, why, why did they focus exclusively on recent Top 40 hits, instead of covering goth rock and punk hits?

Colleen and I showing off our custom fangs.

Top 40 pop hits aside, I hope this will become an annual event, to liven up this drab holiday with some unconventional fun.

Love is Dead, and so is 2016

After a mild illness and a whole lot of work, I’m back! We will be bringing you reviews of Christmas-themed horror films and novels (be sure to check out our recent podcast) as the holidays draw near. But also, since 2016 is almost dead, it seems fitting to feature discussion of all things related to necrophilia. OK, it’s a bit self-serving as the book to which I contributed, Understanding Necrophilia: A Global Multidisciplinary Approach, is now in print.

Come back tomorrow for a review of that book, but in the meantime, do you remember that time Alice Cooper and Ann Landers had an argument about his song “Cold Ethyl,” with Landers titling her column with the rebuke, “Necrophilia not funny, Alice”?

…Let’s agree to disagree, Ann.

Landers issues her complaint a few years after “Cold Ethyl” appeared on Cooper’s solo debut Welcome To My Nightmare. And it was not the first time Cooper recorded a song about necrophilia. “I Love the Dead” (performed live in the video below) was featured in the band’s 1973 album Billion Dollar Babies.

Understanding Necrophilia now in print!

 I am pleased to announce that the book to which I contributed original research, Understanding Necrophilia: A Global Multidisciplinary Approach, is finally in print! This is the first time my work has been published in print, and I wasn’t prepared for the grueling (yet fun and challenging) process it would be. The creator of this meme below has the right idea.

manuscript-accepted-meme

Looking ahead, December at My Horrific Life will be both a month of creepy Christmas cheer and a month of necrophilia, as I’ll be posting a review of Understanding Necrophilia (as soon as my contributor copy arrives) and reviews of complementary books. Stay tuned for our December podcast episodes as Todd and I discuss my research and our favorite Christmas-themed horror entertainment.

These American Horror Story-Themed Dresses Completed Me

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Meeting Piper Laurie at Horrorhound

For a long time, I sensed a void in my life. Everything thing seemed meaningless and without purpose. Just as I had given up hope, a ray of sunlight struck the window of the local Hot Topic and what I saw gave me a reason to live. There was a hole in my soul shaped like an American Horror Story-inspired party dress covered in surgical tool print.

As it turns out, Midnight Hour created five dresses for Hot Topic, each dress inspired by each season of American Horror Story. I nabbed the Asylum Doctor dress (above) and the Freak Show dress (below).

freakshow-dress

Freak Show dress as shown on the Hot Topic website.

Other clothes in the series include a Murder House maid dress, a Hotel bellhop dress, and a Coven dress coat. All of these are still currently available on the Hot Topic website.

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!

Djinn’s Hellabrew at the 7th Annual Lake Arrowhead Brewfest

Andrew Divoff returned with his Djinn’s Hellabrew to the Lake Arrowhead Brewfest earlier this August. This batch of Hellabrew amped up the heat factor with the habernero pepper notes at the forefront, but still refreshing enough to win over those with an aversion to spiciness. This was the last collaboration between Andrew and Wicks Brewing Co. to produce the Hellabrew, due to Wicks entering a contract to produce another client’s beer for large-scale distribution.

Andrew Divoff and Ryan Wicks of Wicks Brewing Co.

Andrew Divoff and Ryan Wicks of Wicks Brewing Co.

As with last year, it was a special experience for me to assist Andrew at the Brewfest. Andrew is one of the nicest people I know, and he has a genuine care for his community.

Andrew and I before the start of Brewfest chaos.

This year was special, because Andrew raised money at the pour and on his website for a new scholarship benefitting two Rim High School students who wish to pursue a career in the arts. By the end of the Brewfest, Andrew raised more than double his  original fundraising goal, which will allow each student to receive $1,000. As a pleasant surprise, Andrew was recognized by California state senator Mike Morrell for his work benefitting the surrounding mountain communities.

Andrew with Senator Mike Morrell

For updates about the Djinn’s Hellabrew and upcoming pours, visit his Three Marm Brewing page on Facebook.

Spend the Night with Alice Cooper 2016 VIP Experience

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As a young person, I grew up in churches that viewed all rock music as inherently satanic, filled with subliminal messages intended to tempt unsuspecting youth into the occult and unspeakable debauchery. With his reputation for onstage chicken-killing (now debunked), sexual ambiguity, and distain for authority, Alice Cooper was considered one of the most disgusting examples of the supposed evils of the genre. The “satanic panic” pervading evangelical Christian culture was one of the most idiotic things I encountered in my youth. So there was a delicious sense of irony when I found out that Cooper is himself a born-again Christian who regularly teaches Bible Study at his church and runs a faith-based nonprofit. If anything, that made his stage persona seem even weirder.

A month ago, I had the opportunity to get a VIP pass for Alice Cooper’s show in Peoria. And thanks to the generosity of a fellow member in the Fans for Solid Rock Facebook page, I was gifted a nearly-front-row ticket. It was already an item on my “bucket list” to meet Alice Cooper. Imagine my surprise when I had the good luck to win the chance to be onstage with him! I was assigned the task of throwing oversize balloons into the audience during “School’s Out.” As cool as the experience was, I had a moment of terror in which I questioned my competence to throw balloons into the crowd. Looking out into the audience was a very different perspective! (Below are pictures of me wrangling an errant balloon and later skipping offstage with a crew member at the end of the song.)

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As cool as winning the balloon throw was, I found the regular perks of the VIP pass to be entirely worth the money. (I admit, I was a bit scared when I saw the price online.) The VIP pass itself came with some fun swag, including a personalized “certificate of insanity,” tote bag, T-shirt, and a voucher for the online shop.

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A couple hours before the show, VIP passholders were welcomed by members of Alice’s road crew and given a pre-show tour, which included a look at the stage and props. I couldn’t wait to get my head in the guillotine and see up close how the decapitation illusion works. As a bonus, we were introduced to Alice’s boa constrictor, Julius Squeezer, and given a detailed explanation of how those animals are cared for. The road crew were all incredibly gracious and had a lot of great stories about being on tour.

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The concert itself was outstanding, filling a solid 90 minutes with both classic hits and lesser-played songs. Alice gave an energetic and captivating performance, but the surprise show-stealer was Alice’s wife Sheryl, who first emerged as the victimized woman in “Only Women Bleed,” in a bloody pink dress complete with massive shackles and a wind-up key protruding from her back. She later reappeared as the demonic nurse who torments Alice in “The Ballad of Dwight Fry.” Creepy costuming aside, it was her perverse and twitchy performance that was profoundly disturbing.

After the show, we were escorted to a room backstage where Alice met us after changing clothes. If I hadn’t already seen several of his interviews, the fact that he was sweet and soft-spoken may have been a surprising contrast to his stage persona. After signing some records from my collection we chatted about horror films for a few minutes, and he shared stories about how difficult it was to keep from laughing  during the “serious” scenes on the films in which he appeared.

For anyone who wants to meet Alice and see “behind the scenes” aspects of his show, I highly recommend the VIP experience.

 

 

 

 

Haunted locale: Hummel Park

IMG_3411In future posts, I’ll be exploring various haunted locales I’ve visited. Recently, I tried some trail hiking at Hummel Park near Omaha, NE. Generally, being alone in undeveloped natural spaces is a calming a serene experience. Hummel Park is not one of those places. While I didn’t observe any paranormal activity during my time there, the ambiance was unsettling enough that I truncated my intended day hike to a mere hour. It felt safer to drive the area rather than walk alone.

IMG_3408The atmosphere at Hummel park is so unsettling that it gave rise to various legends, including that the park had been a Native American burial ground, the site of Satanic and occult rituals, and alleged lynchings. I don’t believe that these stories have been verified, but the park has been the site of at least two murders or body disposal attempts.

I may return to Hummel park at some point in the future, preferably accompanied by the local ghost hunting group. For example, I didn’t stay long enough to walk the legendary”morphing stairs.’ Allegedly, visitors claim that the stairs change and that they are unable to get a consistent count of the number of stairs on the trail leading toward the park shelter.IMG_3409

Featured Artist: Rob Whitus of Drink With the Living Dead

 

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One wonderful thing about horror conventions–aside from meeting my favorite filmmakers–is the opportunity to form friendships with many other excellent people. One such person is Robert Whitus, sole proprietor of Drink With the Living Dead. I met Rob when I first met Andrew Divoff, and Rob had etched custom glassware to promote Andrew’s appearance at the event. Needless to say, I purchased some of his glasses at that event and at subsequent conventions.
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[Pictured above: Rob showing off his glassware at Texas Frightmare Weekend; front and 10407786_861692163872002_3051188219104631080_nback images of limited edition barware adapted from art by Mirthquake and based on the film Wishmaster. Pictured left:limited edition barware adapted from art by Mirthquake and inspired by the films of George Romero.]

 

 

 

 

IMG_3461Rob has collaborated with other artists and brands, including Olivia De Berardinis, Metallica, Rob Zombie, Rue Morgue Magazine, and many others. However, his work isn’t confined to the horror genre and its artists. Rob will also take custom orders and will personalize glassware to suit his customer’s needs, making his work ideal for wedding gifts and other special occasions.

Another thing I like about Rob’s work-aside from the quality of the etching and the glassware itself-is the fact that Rob does EVERY aspect of his business  by himself. Meaning he is the sole proprietor of Drink With the Living Dead, and he is solely responsible for etching his glasses and fulfilling orders. In a culture that is cluttered with corporate jargon about “teamwork” and other equally nauseating metaphors, or that outsources production at the expense of quality, artists such as Rob are a proverbial breath of fresh air.

The official Drink With the Living Dead website is under construction, but you can see other examples of Rob’s work and contact him at his Facebook Page.

Beer Review: Djinn’s Hellabrew

The Djinn’s Hellabrew is a unique beer developed by film actor Andrew Divoff, and named for his malevolent character in the first two Wishmaster movies.

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I first met Andrew at a charity event last year. What an all-around great guy! Andrew is a genuinely kind person who likes to “pay it forward” by fundraising for a variety of good causes. It was a delight to volunteer his second pour of his Hellabrew at the 6th Annual Lake Arrowhead Brewfest. Proceeds benefitted Operation Provider.

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I was fortunate enough to experience both the original Djinn’s Hellabrew (poured at Rock and Shock 2014 near Boston) and the new, modified recipe. While I found the original Hellabrew quite enjoyable, the heat from the habanero peppers could be too intense for some beer enthusiasts. The new beer (served on August 8, 2015) dialed back the heat somewhat, allowing more subtle flavors to come forward. The result is an unique Belgian strong golden ale with a mildly spicy aroma, Persian lime flavor, and a habanero finish that warms the throat, yet dissipates quickly enough to remain refreshing. This pleasantly complex ale can also be served as a “bloody beer” with the addition of a spicy Bloody Mary mix.

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The Hellabrew was a huge success with those in attendance, with many people coming back for multiple refills and stating that it was their favorite beer at the festival. Word of mouth generated so much interest that the kegs were tapped out an hour before the end of the Brewfest. Fingers crossed that this awesome beer gets widespread distribution soon. For information about future distribution of the Djinn’s Hellabrew and future pours, contact Three Marm Brewing, or contact Andrew at his Facebook page.