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By Mike Watt | January 10, 2005

One of the biggest problems with being a journalist in these ultra-modern times is that you’re constantly in the shadow of Hunter S. Thompson. If you go anywhere to cover anything, you’re hoping by the end to rush back to your laptop and write something that by-God will define some sub-culture of your generation. More often than not, what you wind up with is little more than a chronicle of adventures interesting to no one but yourself. Or worse, you wind up with a handful of anecdotes that you cannot in good conscience relate in writing – not if you want to keep friends or continue working in your chosen field.

I would love nothing more than to be able to write: “At Baltimore’s Horrorfind, I bore witness to what will be pinpointed in the future as the ultimate decline of civilization. What’s more, I participated in the decadence that sparked the downward spiral…”

But I can’t. For obvious reasons – first and foremost being that civilization has been declining for decades longer than I’ve been alive, and began spiraling downward from a point quite separate from a mere horror convention.

Looking back, much of my year has been spent behind a table stacked with DVDs, as I sat silently willing those on the other side to buy my meager wares, while to my immediate right, Amy Lynn Best smiled at her random fans, laughed at their jokes, and signed her name a dozen times an hour. I’ve traveled miles up and down the East Coast, seeing the country by highway and hotel room. I’ve met most of my childhood idols, trading money for goods and drinks for cool stories. For the annual three day weekend life-span of most of these shows, I’ve played the part of world-weary journalist and integrity-rich filmmaker, while others around me have done the same.

For days following a show, I still suffer from the hotel equivalent of kennel cough one develops from too much circulated air, too much alcohol and too much second-hand smoke. For days following a show I struggle to catch up on the sleep I didn’t get and I just reel at the stack of indie DVDs that were thrust into my admittedly eager hands throughout the weekend. I feel wiped out, burned out, and thoroughly exhausted. But there’s still a buzz – that buzz of sheer “cool” that tends to linger long after the dust from the road has settled.

The end of my year consisted of Horrorfind, Twisted Nightmare Weekend, Chiller and, the denouement to the season for us, Dark X-Mas.

Horrorfind was born four years ago and shows no sign of stopping. Affectionately referred to by almost several as “the Search Engine Convention”, it began with a blast and has only gotten better. This year the mind-boggling list of guests of honor included George Romero (do I have to list his credits?), Jeffrey Combs (“Re-Animator”, a bunch of things that aren’t “Re-Animator” – what? I like “Re-Animator”!), Adrienne Barbeau, Greg Nicotero (the “N” from KNB, as Amy likes to call him), Tony Todd (“Candyman”), Bill Moseley (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”), a near-complete reunion of the casts of “Night of the Living Dead”, “Dawn of the Dead” and “Day of the Dead”, Joe Lansdale (“Two-Bear Mambo”, “Bubba Ho-Tep”)… I could go on. Seriously, there were that many guests.

While neither Amy nor I were guests, per ce, we were certainly treated as such. We had a prime space in the downstairs dealer’s room, with plenty of traffic flowing by us. And we were pretty much surrounded by our friends. Upon arriving, we began what I like to call the “Hello Gauntlet”. Having done so many shows this year, I could scarcely move more than a couple of feet at a time without running into someone I’d either known for years, or met recently. Horror folks are friendly folks too; there were lots of hugs involved.

As a vendor or attendee, my first stop – if he’s there – is always Tom Sullivan’s “Evil Dead” museum. It’s like mecca for a horror fan, as far as I’m concerned. If you don’t get a little shiver looking at the very book used to beat in Bruce Campbell’s face so many years ago, you’re just not a true fanatic.

The nicest surprise we got this year was running into Reggie Bannister (“Phantasm”). Not set up as a guest, Reggie paid his own way to hang out with his friends at October Guitars, who put out the “Reggie Bannister” signature guitar a few years back. As it turned out, October Guitars was set up right down the aisle from us, and every so often throughout the weekend, a few licks would cut through the din and serenade us when we least expected it.

If you haven’t yet partaken of Horrorfind, I’ll see if I can do the crowd justice. Think of the bigger shows – WizardWorld, Chiller, MotorCity – something inherently busy. Now compress that into a smaller hotel. It’s not quite a*s-to-elbow as Chiller, but at times the throngs can be overwhelming. Sometimes, it’s best not to think that the only thing separating you from what amounts to the cast of extras from a Cecil B. DeMille production is little more than at 6×3 plank of plywood and a handful of DVDs.

Because of its scale, and because of the crowds, however, it was difficult to leave the table for any amount of time. This isn’t a complaint – certainly not from a vendor standpoint – but if you’re also there as a fan, it makes socializing difficult. Often, I was sending Amy’s co-owner and fellow Film Threat scribe Heidi Martinuzzi unto the brink to do my socializing for me.

The highlights of this show – when I had time to experience them – was meeting Jimmy O and April Burril, there promoting their upcoming film, Chainsaw Sally, which co-stars Gunnar Hansen (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre” – the good one). They also produced a really cool and fun little movie called Silver Scream. I also got to meet someone I’ve respected for a couple of years now: filmmaker Alan Rowe Kelly, who did “I’ll Bury You Tomorrow” and was there with his co-star, Zoe Chlanda, to support his new distributors, Heretic Films. Another highlight: Getting faked out by my good friend Michael Felsher, whose final episode of “The Ultimate Film Fanatic” had not yet aired. “I just wish I’d done better,” he told us. (Which made watching the final episode that much more suspenseful for us. ‘Aw, no, he’s gonna lose to THAT guy??’ When, of course, he won, became the Ultimate Film Fanatic and is now able to pay his bills.)

Amy’s favorite? The shouting match between Jeffrey Combs and Joe Pilato. For the uninitiated: in “Day of the Dead”, Pilato plays a very loud, megalomaniacal soldier named “Rhodes”. Fans love for Pilato to recite his dialogue from this film, which he would do at the top of his lungs. Across the room, Mr. Combs would answer back – also at the top of his lungs. At one point, Pilato told Combs to “whip it out and prove you got one!” Mr. Combs then leapt upon his table and proceeded to unbuckle his belt. That’s when Amy managed to snap her picture.

My best moment? When Greg Nicotero introduced me as a “friend from Pittsburgh”. For me, that was winning the Miss America Pagent without stooping to a bikini!

But as great a show as it was – and my hat is off to Mike Rodin and company for pulling it off yet again – it was still a blur of faces and noise. It’s the nature of the beast and not a complaint.

The memories continue in part two of THE GEEKS SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH: THE 2004 CON SEASON – A MEMOIR>>>

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