2005 was a bitch. Not a snap-at-your-balls bitch the way 2004 was; more like an angry Sensei determined to teach you if it has to kill you. A lot of mice and men laid down their best plans to see them shatter and crumbled before them last year, myself among them. I watched three film projects die on the vine, and saw two professional gigs turn on me like rabid pitbulls, devouring my celebrations with sharp and angry teeth. And I saw more of the country than ever before, if you count hotel rooms, lobbies and ballrooms as part of the sites of the greater U.S.

Between September and November, I attended a half-dozen conventions with my wife, Amy Lynn Best, as we drove up and down the East Coast, boxes of DVDs and magazines in tow. In mid-November, we thoroughly lost our minds and held one of our own, but more about that later.

At the beginning of the year, we’d discussed doing only three shows in 2005. Somehow, that number grew to fifteen by the end. I believe that the only major one we skipped was Chiller Theater, simply because we couldn’t bear to make the six-hour trip back to New Jersey after so many other trips thither and yon.

Our mad crush started somewhere around mid-September, when we flew down to Tampa, Florida, to join our friends Debbie Rochon and Brinke Stevens at the Halloween Horror Picture Show, run by my editor-in-chief at Sirens of Cinema, Rick Danford. The fourth guest of the show was Denice Duff, a lovely lady with whom I was familiar, but had never met. While it was a fun time, it turned out to have a sparse attendance, due largely to its being held on a college campus and promoted by students who obviously couldn’t give a s**t about a horror film festival, despite their film department’s begging Rick to do the promotion themselves. Rick was the perfect host, and a needlessly apologetic one. All in all, once we got used to the ridiculously-oppressive heat, it was a pretty good time. And it’s always fun to hang out with your friends at these things, even if you do have to resort to bizarre methods of self-entertainment. I like to play “force paying customers to admit they don’t know who you are”. It’s a riot, lemme tell ya!

Wracking my memory, the strangest thing I can recall is that Tampa Airport has Icarus as one of its mural mascots. (Look him up; Google “Icarus” and discover for yourself why this is an odd choice of heroes for an international airport.)

From there—and I may be misremembering the event-order—we went to New York for the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors. Despite meeting James Gunn (“Slither”) through Debbie, and watching Michael Rooker cheerfully molest Amy, Fango turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. There were terrific guests—I got to meet John Landis, Charles Band and James “Frankenhooker” Lorinz, and got to see Clive Barker speak live in a half-capacity ball-room. We hung with Scooter 16 Tongues McCrae and made friends with the guys from Ramster Films (“Chosen”), who I affectionately referred to as “Bob and Not-Bob”. I got to see old friends like Bill Hellfire and his lovely escort, Zoe Moonshine; Paige Davis and my bestest and oldest(est) friend Justin (“Skin Crawl”) Wingenfeld; the inimitable Brett Kelly (The Bonesetter); artists Amarynth and Jeremiah. But there was a strange aura about the show, a palpable tension that finally broke when local hero 42nd Street Pete (UnConventional) got jumped in the hallway by folks formerly from a rival convention. I don’t know the details, but saw Pete’s broken nose just minutes after the ambush a*s-kicking. It kinda brought us all down. The show’s inexplicable low attendance had most of the vendors snarling and gnashing their teeth as well. (Inexplicable because, again, there were just amazing guests there! How do you not fill a room where Clive Barker is talking?)

Begging off Chiller turned out to be a good decision on our parts. Not because we don’t enjoy Chiller—it’s the best party con on the East Coast—but because we were thoroughly wiped out by the time we arrived home from Fangoria. While we spent time doing our normal pimping of our Happy Cloud product, we were also trying to score vendors for our Genghis Con, PA, which was set to go on the 18th of November. It was about this time when I started to question whether doing our own convention was a smart thing. As I’ve written ad nauseum, conventions are not easy things to organize. So what made us think that we could do one of our own? Perhaps “thinking” never entered into it. Like everything else we do, Genghis Con, PA, was inspired by our usual “bumblebee principal”—if you’re not aware that you can’t do something, you usually succeed.

But we still had over a month to worry about it.

At the end of October, we attended our favorite show: Cinema Wasteland. Held twice a year in Cleveland, Wasteland usually provides the highlights for our year. Organized by Ken and Pam Kish, who have become our convention fairy godparents, Wasteland is the show that feels more like a family reunion than anything else—and a family reunion attended only by those relatives you like. I’ve had more fun at Wasteland than I have in Disneyworld (my honeymoon excluded). For one thing, people at Wasteland tend to like me. I don’t worry about running into rivals or dredging up old grudges. Usually, I’m afforded the opportunity to relax and have a good time. And since we live so close to Cleveland—okay, two hours or so, but that’s a heck of a lot closer than New York—we don’t have to worry about making that much money in order to break even.

And Wasteland just has a nice atmosphere, which can be primarily attributed to Ken and Pam and their easy-going personalities. “A convention should be a reflection of you,” Ken told me during one of my frequent pre-Genghis panic attacks. “If you’re a shitty person, you’ll put on a shitty show. If you’re a good person, you’ll want to put on a fun show. People will give you a break because they know it’s your first one and they’ll generally help you out even if you don’t ask.” Ken and Pam are good people. They put on a good show that inspires me to lend a hand, even if they don’t ask.

This October’s Wasteland was filled to the brim with both “friends” and “con friends”, all of which add up to “family”. The primary difference comes down to those people you see outside of shows and those you only party with once a month or so. You might be closer to “friends”, but that doesn’t lessen the affection you have for the “con friends”. (Not sure if that makes any sense, but I feel the need to move on now.) We arrived and found ourselves set up right inside the door, between Art Ettinger, Alana Sleeth and Scott Gabbey from Ultraviolent Magazine and Pam and Ken’s tables. My first thought was that Ken decided to put us on suicide watch, seeing as how it was less than a month before Genghis was to kick off. I couldn’t have been more grateful for the location, though.

October’s guests included Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Michael Berryman and Steve Railsback from The Devil’s Rejects, which, at that point, was my favorite movie of the year. The first two we can chalk up in the “con friends” category, while the second two are just nice guys I wish I knew better. Cattycorner to the “Rejects” were artist Stanlee Houston and all-around (insert adjective here) guy Tom Savini. Tom’s always been good to us, so it was nice to see him back in the dealer’s room, as it were. Kyra Schon, the Toe-Tag Pictures crew, Don and Jerry from Synapse, Damien and Ed of Living Dead Dolls fame, Joanne Ellen (“Rummblestrips”) Mutch, Tom Sullivan, and Jill from Lix Online rounded out the rest of the “con friends” roster. For the first time that season, I felt completely relaxed and in my element. It was even unnecessary to drink heavily (fun, yes, but not necessary). We were aided in our efforts by friends-friends, Nic Pesante, Tim Gross and Roger Beckett, who were invaluable right hands throughout the pre-Genghis agonies. All three promoted and championed our upcoming show with Ken and Pam’s blessings. We managed to score a good number of vendors by the end of the weekend.

Wasteland was immediately followed by Dark X-Mas a week later. Dark X-Mas, in previous years, has not been my favorite show. I usually love the guest line-up and the after-hours parties generally kick-a*s, but in the past the show has been under-promoted, resulting in a low attendance. This year, however, was a different story. Jeremy Caughey joined the team as a new partner, and as I’ve known from prior experience, Jeremy is a stand-up guy. He and his girlfriend, Meredith, are top-notch human beings, among my favorite on the planet, and I knew the man had some tricks up his sleeve. Like taking out advertising in Rue Morgue and, you know, generally telling people that the show was happening.

The advertising worked and Dark X-Mas pulled in a respectable number of attendees, there to see Sid Haig and Leslie Easterbrook, Tiffany Shepis (“The Hazing”), Savini, Debbie and a host of others. But since we had only a week to go before Genghis, we found it hard to relax and just go with things.

Fortunately, people helped. Tiffany got the ball rolling by purchasing a round of drinks for us down at the bar. Having met her briefly at past shows, this was the first time we’d had the chance to hang out with her socially. She usually came off as obnoxious on the usual Troma DVDs, but in person… okay, she’s still obnoxious, but it comes with a real dose of charm and originality when it’s face-to-face. What I liked best about her is that she spoke her mind, without hesitation. Sitting with the Tromaniacs inside the guest room, she, Debbie and Diana Silvio had to put up with a couple of mini-divas (who I dubbed “the Tro-Hos” without affection) from one of the new movies. Neither of these lollypop-shaped Lolitas were ever at the table for more than a minute, and when they were present, they usually had cell phones glued to their ears. To my knowledge, they made no attempt at promoting anything even remotely Troma, and the burden fell to Diana and her Kiss-of-Death-Productions folks. At the end of the weekend, I heard Tiffany say to one of them, “You should tell your friend to lose her attitude. She’s not that hot to get away with it.” To which the girl replied, “God, do I have to apologize for her to you, too?” And the look Ms. Shepis gave her was priceless—old time Barbara Stanwyk “f**k you” without saying so.

Writer Joe Knetter (“Zombie Bukakke”) and his wife, Nicole, have become good friends of ours. At a recent show, Joe got the idea to raise some money for victims of Hurricane Katrina. So Sid, Bill Moseley, Jeffrey Combs, Andrew Divoff and a few others chipped in and inspired others to give in order to get Joe’s face tattooed on his own a*s. The proceeds went to the victims and now Joe has a really creepy tattoo to go with the rest of his creepy self. During every reading, Joe figures out a way to strip down to a thong. You’ll never catch Tom Wolfe doing that! For Dark X-Mas, Joe had a whole new act worked out. Dressed as Santa Claus, he read one story, passing a bottle of rum around to the audience. He then turned on a massive television where, through the miracle of Photoshop and Premiere, his a*s tattoo read the next story. Joe’s stories are the epitome of splatter punk, usually involving some creative means of castrating the narrator. He writes the tales that make the whole world cringe and I don’t think anyone does it better. The only thing that marred the presentation was a couple of rude and drunken a******s in the back who insisted in having a very loud conversation while he read. (At one point, Sid stood up and said, “No offense to anyone, but could you shut the f**k up?”)

Like the rest of the year, the weekend was a blur. We did get to see our friend and “Spicy Sister”, Stacey Sparks (“Satanic Yuppies”), our partner, Bill Homan, came down to hang out with Gwendolyn Kiste (“Outside of Nowhere”), and more of the Happy Cloud crew—Nic Pesante, Tim Gross, Charlie Fleming—arrived to further harass the masses. Nic’s new partner, Henrique Couto (Faces of Schlock) was on hand to promote “Faces of Schlock 2”. Overall, it was just a nice, moderately easy-going weekend.

Which is exactly what we needed. Because just four days later, it was our turn at the wheel.


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