God must hate horror conventions. I’ve been to shows where attendance was hindered by hurricanes, a tornado and now the first bad snowstorm of the season. It’s as if the Big Guy/Gal upstairs doesn’t want legions of horror fans to hobnob with their favorite celebrities. It’s as if horror fans were ill-fated to never meet Robin Curtis (“Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”), Mike Quinn (“Return of the Jedi”) or Chase Masterson (“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”). Or even J.R. Bookwalter (“The Dead Next Door”) for that matter!
And so it came to pass that Amy Lynn Best (“Severe Injuries”) and I braved the snowstorm, plummeting temperatures and Ohio itself to venture to Youngstown for the first annual Dark X-Mas horror convention. Amy was an official guest, and, as with most cons like this, I was her official lackey. (Hey, nobody’s coming to see me – who wants to see a weasely little journalist when there’s a hot chick behind the table?)
Opting to leave early to get a jump on the pending storm, it wasn’t the snow that prevented us from arriving at our destination, it was the directions. Apparently – and this was a common complaint over the course of the weekend – the address on the show’s official site was incorrect. In fact, the address on the hotel’s official site was incorrect. To make matters worse, the Youngstown Inn is hidden behind a Comfort Inn and is not visible from the street. We, like a dozen others, drove past the place three or four times before we finally found the place. Happily, the hotel was clean, well organized and staffed with friendly people. This latter is the most important. I’ve been at shows where the convention was at literal war with the staff and owners for the entire weekend.
We arrived just as the snow began to fall. It stopped around three AM Saturday morning. That didn’t stop the show from going on Friday, though. About two dozen courageous souls trooped out to the convention’s premiere. They were greeted warmly – it was about eighty degrees in those rooms.
Now, Amy has learned the benefits from arriving to shows early. Within minutes, she was swooped upon by Drago from Ask For It Productions – a prop-making coalition based out of Minnesota – who wanted to encase her in a corset. Immediately following that, Navarre from Pendragon Armor wanted to drape her in chain mail. Tight leather, heavy metal nightgown – such choices!
In terms of organization, Dark X-Mas suffered from many of the same problems as a lot of first-time cons: so many things come up at the last minute that there’s no way to anticipate them all. Questions like “how do I announce the Q&A sessions and screenings?” and “Where the hell did all this snow come from?” Coordinator Travis Bowen was immediately bombarded with requests, complaints, criticisms, suggestions and insults. Then I let someone else talk to him.
The biggest complaint seemed to be the lack of a bar. Well, there was a bar. There was just no alcohol in there. It was therefore bereft of bartender. I’m not sure what the deal was, though I’d heard it had something to do with insurance that the con couldn’t pay. Thanks to fine folks like the Hero Headquarters guys, it wasn’t a dry con, however, and there was a virtual wet bar beneath the “Project: Valkyrie” table. The room was being utilized for the Q&As and screenings, so it didn’t go to waste, per ce.
I carry a hip flask wherever I go. Aside from making me look like the coolest guy in the room (which it doesn’t), it helps with my claustrophobia. Far from being a convenient excuse, it’s a truth that I’m uncomfortable in large crowds. Thanks to the dry bar, however, for the first time in my convention history, I was the guy with the “good idea”, rather than the “drinking problem”. On the other hand, being perpetually buzzed means I run off at the mouth more than usual. I intentionally avoided “Star Trek” actress Barbara Luna, who insisted upon being called “Luna”. I knew that I would be unable to resist asking “Is that short for ‘lunatic’?” This is no reflection on her, I bore her no ill will. But I didn’t want it to happen anyway.
While Friday wasn’t exactly a wash, it became more of a “B-Movie Swap Meet”, as folks who’d only known each other online got to meet for the first time. It was a chance to hobnob with filmmaker Brett Kelly and his “Bonsetter” co-star Anne-Marie Frigon. It was a chance for Robyn Griggs to rub elbows (almost literally – man, that room was small) with Lynn Marz (“Creepy Tales”). It was a chance for Jeff Waltrowski (“Project: Valkyrie”) to make endless “Pon Far” references to Robin Curtis. It was an opportunity to see Lilith Stabs (“Bad Movie Police”) awake and moving around before 6pm (5:52 pm to be exact). And for me, it was an opportunity to drink in public. So everyone had their highlights.
There were only a few restaurants within sight of the Youngstown Inn. Burger King was closest, followed by Bob Evans across the street. It is very hard to get food at Bob Evans. For instance, they don’t carry bagels. Or cream cheese. And while it is possible to get milk and ice cream, you cannot purchase a milk shake, of which, the primary ingredients are milk and ice cream. The ancient combination of mixing these ingredients have been lost to the Bob Evans corporation.
But they have good breakfasts, so that’s what we got before returning to the room on Saturday to kick off the day’s bartering and badgering. With the snow done for the day, and the highways cleared, we were all anticipating a lovely convention.
First off, I’d like to say that Robin Curtis has a dirty mind. “Healthy,” she said. “I think it’s healthy to have a sexually-oriented mind.”
Sure, okay. When she arrived Saturday morning, Hero Headquarters wunderkind Jeff asked her how she was feeling. She replied, “Great. I got a little Bob Evans in me and now everything’s fine.”
“You might want to rephrase that, Robin,” I said.
“I meant his food, not his sperm!”
At which point, Jeff fell out of his chair and hit the floor hard. While Ms. Curtis, the “Sexy Saavik” of our adolescence, continued. “Yes, I had his sausage. Nice, thick, a little spicy…”
We begged her to stop.
Saturday was a bit more involved. Amy sold a number of pictures and promoted “Severe Injuries”, which got a decent reception at its screening. Most of the time, I was ordered from the table so that the more timid of the fan boys wouldn’t be afraid to approach to buy things. I did enjoy hanging out at the “Valkyrie” table, where the boys had a tv/vcr set up for screening the movie. I was having a great time watching the effect the endless trailer loop for “Project: Valkyrie” was having on Michael Sheard (Admiral Ozzel, “The Empire Strikes Back”).
Sheard himself was actually pretty entertaining. He was a proper English gentleman with a booming voice who called everyone “Mate”. At one point he begged Jeff and producer Nic Pesante to actually put the movie on. “I’ve watched the bloody trailer enough!” So we alternated between “Valkyrie” and “Severe Injuries”. We didn’t alternate too often, though.
Later, Sheard ran a Q&A panel with Robyn, Amy and actress Stacy Sparks. I have no idea what they all have in common, so feel free to make a guess. After the panel, Amy invited Michael to stay for the “Severe Injuries” screening. He declined. “Not again! Not bloody again!”
To which I replied, “Gee, thanks, Mike. I’ve seen your movie a hundred times!”
Our crowning torture of Sheard culminated later that evening. A fan wanted a picture with him. Sheard’s table was crammed between Robin Curtis’ and four B-9 robot replicas from “Lost in Space”, so he didn’t have a lot of room. As he stood, he announced to the milling crowd, “Right! Ladies and gentlemen, I’m coming out!”
I couldn’t resist: “That’s so brave of you, Michael! That’s wonderful!” Amy began the spontaneous applause that spread through the room.
Sheard tried to take it in stride. “Perhaps someone should tell my wife.”
“Shouldn’t she have been the first to know?” I asked.
Oddly, Sheard did not invite me out for drinks once the show ended.
At many shows, parties are held in one room or another, but for some reason, Dark X-Mas was more subdued. I had expected Lilith to be shooting footage for her “Boys Gone Wild” series, but the pickings were slim among the attendees and the paying customers. It just wasn’t worth conning most guys into doffing their pants. I know there was something of a drunken nature going on in the room shared by the heads of World Parody Productions, the geniuses behind “Scream for Christmas”. I know this because director Rob Avery was found staggering just outside my room, giggling and clutching a power strip. “We’re watching movies and stuff if you guys wanna come.”
Strangely, we opted out, fearful of what the “stuff” might be. Instead, we went down to the lounge, where Chase Masterson, “Leeta the Dabo Girl” from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” was singing. She did a couple of “Star Trek” parody numbers (“Latinum is a Girl’s Best Friend” was a standout) and a few smoking jazz songs. During one, she yanked comic artist Jacob Ross up to the center of the room and took his shirt off. She almost had his pants down as well, but I think he was willing them on. During this number, Jacob experienced every conceivable emotion known to man.
After this particular number, a spike went out throughout the collective unconscious of “Star Trek” fans that stated “One of us has become a man!”
Following that, we hung out at the home of J.J. Zetts, one of the partners of Schotten Filmworks, and watched rough edits of the upcoming Super-8 zombie movie, “The Dead Life”, written and directed by Bill Schotten himself. And now I want to see the rest of it. Zombie fans: this will be a terrific movie!
Sundays are always the worst for conventions. Those who aren’t hung over are tired of being in the room, waiting for someone to come by and buy something. It was slow for a Sunday, too, so there were few people paying for things. It became a swap meet again.
What made this particular Sunday feel even more tedious was the fact that the hours were allegedly 11am to 8pm. I don’t think there’s a bookie in the world that would take the odds of anyone staying past 3pm. To our credit, we made it to four. The last actual customer was out the door around two.
Again, blame was placed on the weather. Not being from Youngstown, I have no idea what kind of advertising Travis did. I know there was a signing at a local Hollywood Video a few months prior, and an article came out in that Friday’s weekender section of the paper. But to paraphrase Yogi Berra, “If people don’t wanna come to the con, you can’t stop ‘em.”
But far from being disappointed, I left the show feeling upbeat, like I’d hung out with good friends all weekend and made new ones, which, of course, I did. Money was made, contacts were made, fun was had by… well, I had fun, anyway.
The flip side of this – you could put on the most perfect convention ever seen on the planet and people will still complain. If you ever go mad and decide to put on your own show, know that you cannot and will not please everyone. And you will be personally responsible for the amount of money people don’t make. If they get rich, you’ll see none of it. If they take a bath, you’ll hear about it. If you did your best, got the news out there to one and all, and God decides to shower the Earth with more snow than has been seen here in fifty years… okay, it’s still your fault.
But I, for one, went home content in the knowledge that Robin Curtis has a dirty mind.
Special thanks go out to Frances, Jay and Lisa, for all their hard work and help.
Mike Watt attempts to explore all the things that make Geek culture great, as well as pointing out all the things that make Geeks genetically superior to all other humans. During the course of this exploration, he may undoubtedly have to reveal horrid truths about Hollywood and Mainstream Cinema, as they compare to the riches of independent filmmaking. Ultimately, he hopes to bring higher awareness of and respect to Geek Culture, as well as secure a hefty book deal and the accolades of his (richer) peers. Feel free to lavish him with affection (or bitch at him) at firstname.lastname@example.org.