A TALE OF TWO WEEKENDS: FLASHBACK AND TWISTED NIGHTMARE Image

Twisted Nightmare Weekend is the brainchild of our friends and Severe Injuries costars, Robyn Griggs and Keith Kline. As the past two years have proven, it’s more of a family party than a full-blown convention. The indie filmmakers invariably outnumber the “big” celebrities, and they consist primarily of our friends and colleagues. This year had been promising to outshine the previous years thanks to the attendance of Guest of Honor Bruce Campbell. It was well-known that Robyn was killing herself to keep the pending chaos in control.

Three weeks before opening day, Bruce Campbell cancelled his appearance.

Because the indie community is so tight-knit, with everyone talking to everyone, we all knew as soon as it happened, but not a single story resembled another. Campbell’s story on his site that “there were security issues” that couldn’t be rectified to adequately protect him “as a guest and you as a fan”. So that wasn’t telling us anything. Robyn’s word on the Twisted Nightmare site was that “we have decided not to have Bruce Campbell as a guest”. And that didn’t tell us anything. With only three weeks to go and now hit with this bombshell, Robyn and Keith were scrambling to do damage control, so it was impossible to get in touch with them. Distilling all the random bits of information through my own experience and bullshit filter, I came to the conclusion that Bruce’s cancellation probably had more to do with the demands of the publishers and less to do with Robyn/Bruce tribulations. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Bruce Campbell wasn’t coming; the rest of the “Evil Dead” folks were; Linda Blair was the new Guest of Honor. The whys and hows weren’t important.

This simple fact didn’t stop the grumbling though. Proving that there are some people who not only cannot be satisfied but actually hope people will fail. When these people are also your vendors makes the situation shittier. Robyn had her hands full on Friday putting out fires and quelling the concerns of those setting up their merchandise. On the other hand, Bruce or no Bruce, she’d be doing that anyway.

Twisted is a much more comfortable show, at least for me. We have a complete support system there, what with being surrounded by indie friends like Henrique Couto (“Faces of Schlock”), Nic Pesante (“Project: Valkyrie”), not to mention Lilith Stabs, Brinke Stevens and Debbie Rochon and almost the entire Low Budget Pictures crew. It’s like a summer family barbecue, with a few famous aunts and uncles (“The Ladies of the Evil Dead”, Ted Raimi, Tom Sullivan, Robert Kurtzman) thrown in for good measure.

Now, our journey had begun a little weird this time around. After loading up our car with our merchandise and clothes (and food, and booze) to last us three days, then adding our three dogs to be dropped off with Amy’s sister in Pittsburgh, we backed out of our driveway—and immediately hit our well cap, puncturing our rear tire in two places.

So we pull across the road, unload the dogs, unload the car, unpack our spare—and discover our jack is stripped.

So we call AAA, Amy takes my car, runs down to the stables to feed our horses, comes back just as the tow truck arrives, throws the bad tire into my trunk and takes off with the dogs to get a new tire at the garage fifteen miles away.

AAA puts on the doughnut, I repack the car and speed off to meet her at the garage. We drop $80 on the service, leave my car in the parking lot of our friend’s restaurant (The Phoenix Steakhouse, Waynesburg Exit 14 off 79 South), and finally get on the road… to drop off the dogs. Then we’re on the road. Thankfully, Cleveland is only eighty-minutes from Pittsburgh, but the giddy chaos remained with us in spirit for the rest of the day.

As I said, Twisted Nightmare, at least for me, is more about socializing than it is about commerce. After establishing where we’d be for the weekend, we hooked up with my friend Don Baumgarner from Cleveland FX, his girlfriend Megan and their friend Al, and hit the Denny’s across the street for some much-needed relaxing lunch. Again, Don is a helluva talented f/x artist I met years ago when I worked for a video store called Incredibly Strange and I don’t get to see him that often. Twisted Nightmare gave us the proper excuse to hang out. With a more laid-back weekend, there’s a better chance to reconnect with folks you don’t see that often—even if you had just seen them the week before.

Besides, where else would you get the chance to see Bob Kurtzman, Amy Lynn Best, Lilith Stabs, Debbie Rochon and Ted Raimi all at the same bar? Mix in a couple of hard-core fans and you have every level of the entertainment world all tipping one back together! Ah, A-list and B-List living together in harmony (with some of us representing the “Who? List”).

Granted, it wasn’t all sweetness and light. With that many filmmakers in the room, there was a fair amount of sniping and back-handed compliments. One associate of mine was taking great delight in trying to get me worked up about another indie who had apparently been mocking my films, my company and my recent script sale to The Asylum. “You should hear what he’s saying about you, man,” my acquaintance told me repeatedly. But, honestly, I couldn’t care less. If I was to give in and confront every person who has ever insulted me, I’d have to give out numbers like a deli counter.

I wasn’t the only target, of course. Jealousy runs rampant in the indie realm for some reason. As if there is only a single pie and everyone wants the biggest piece for themselves. The truth of the matter is: there is no pie. We’re all competing for what will ultimately amount to very little. So any sense of competition is ludicrous. “My serial killer movie is better than yours!” “My zombie movie is better than yours!” “Any note you can sing, I can sing higher!” And on and on and on. Which is why the idea of any sort of “community” is becoming more and more a lost cause every day.

Case in point: we were extremely bored on Sunday. Not just us, but everyone. Sundays are usually the slowest of the con weekend, but for a while, it seemed like the vendors were the only folks in the room. To alleviate this, my partner, Bill Homan, Amy and I decided to shoot some quick promos for our upcoming convention, Genghis Con. We hauled out our Necro-Phil puppet and started to record a couple mini interviews with Brinke Stevens, Lilith Stabs and the crew of Low Budget Pictures. As soon as the camera came out, a group of filmmakers a row over decided they had to turn their music up. To the pain threshold, it seemed, in order to drown us out. Until that moment, there had been no music at all. Others were making snide “hand up the a*s” comments directed at the puppet. Now we’ve done this schtick before at other conventions and never had a problem. Why this show invited the animosity, I’m not sure.

But that seemed to be the culmination of the tension that had begun to build on Friday. A number of vendors, most I’d never run into before, were grousing about the attendance, about Campbell’s cancellation, about their location in the room—basically, whatever they could find to grouse about. Robyn and Keith scurried back and forth between the room and the front desk, putting out fires as they flared up. As usual, the old tenet “Nobody is ever happy” came into full swing.

The highlight for most people came on Saturday night when “Scarioke” was held in the bar. Now, the hotel bar was built to accommodate a fair amount of people, but there were almost two hundred of us down there that night, warbling with the odd collection of karaoke selections (who has Rob Zombie songs in a karaoke collection?) and trying desperately to seize our share of the oxygen.

But the anarchy spread towards the end of the night. A fight broke out at the bar—started by a group of softball players who had come down to “f**k with the horror nerds” as they were heard to say later. Punches were thrown—Ariauna Albright was elbowed in the head. (Word to the wise: if you value your life, don’t bean Ariauna Albright in a crowded bar. She doesn’t like it. And she’s very dangerous.) While security arrived promptly to break up the ruckus and escort the muscled miscreants from the premises, the altercations didn’t end there. Keith and his father, Bruce (one of the tallest men in the world), broke up a number of fights until about three am, all started by the mainstream sports fans. Make whatever you’d like to out of this. I found it a bit ironic that the mundanes were picking on a group of people whose passion in life is the celebration of murder and mayhem. For some of the “horror nerds” in our circle, making movies is just practice.

By the time Sunday rolled around, we were all uniformly exhausted and ready to call it a night. Henrique and I had grown bored of torturing Gwendolyn Kiste (“Outside of Nowhere”), having seen Ted Raimi and Tom Sullivan at Flashback the weekend before, we’d run out of banter. Folks started to pack up about two pm. We stuck it out until four, by which time we were just hanging out with friends.

The ironic thing about cons: there are literally hundreds of them across the country, with new ones popping up every day, but they’re draining and can be enormous financial risks, both for promoters and for vendors. Everyone is betting against the odds that they will make back their cost at the very least and that doesn’t always happen. Many conventions send their promoters into bankruptcy. Some, like Chiller or Horrorfind, become gold mines (or runaway trains) and last forever. Without diligence and a good sense for marketing, it’s more likely for disaster to strike than fortune. But the attempt should always be applauded.

Over the next few months, Amy and I will travel to the wilds of Baltimore, Tampa, New Jersey and back to Cleveland. As usual, we will see America from the highways and experience the cities’ cultures through hotel lobbies. We’ll visit with our convention families and try to spread the word about our individual projects. Deals will be made and broken, the phrase “we should seriously do a project together” will be uttered as casually—but with as much earnest—as a drunken “I love you, man!” Movies will be planned and more will be sold. And only the tiniest cross-section of society will be aware of any of this. Because this, more than anything else, is the world we live in.

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