Appropriately enough, the most terrifying thing to happen during the last weekend of March – a weekend I spent among grim reapers, zombies, stilt-Nazis, and filmmakers – was driving through Gary, Indiana. NOBODY has made a fiction that is as frightening as Gary, Indiana.
The driver of our adventure took us through the hell that doubles as both Chicago’s Toilet and Michael Jackson’s birthplace in his girlfriend’s Prius. The car was as out of place as a drag queen giving a lap dance to Bono at a tractor pull. When I made the mistake of cracking a window, the outside air swooped inside our climate-controlled sanctuary, shat itself, and then died. The Gary-Air belied a greater desperation which seeped into every inch of the landscape. Thankfully, the safer pastures of Indianapolis awaited, and the ghouls of HorrorHound Weekend made us forget about the devastation – well, at least until we had to drive back home.
* * *
One of the main reasons why I had decided to tag along with my friends and come to March’s HorrorHound Weekend was because of the adventures they had at the previous con during the past November. The big story from that weekend involved a crowd of people getting stuck in an elevator for an extended period of time. Some of them freaked out, while a few had a blast. My friends were in the latter camp.
Another elevator story came from that weekend, when a friend of mine ended up in an elevator with scream queen Linnea Quigley. This time there was no surrounding group, just him and her. Having been one of horror’s hottest babes in her prime, you’d think that he’d have been thrilled at the erotic possibilities, but as it turned out, she just mumbled a lot, laughed at random moments, and scared the crap out of him.
Yet the strangest thing to come out of November’s convention were the series of baffling texts I received from this same person, who kept telling me that James Duval was a cool guy. Duval, whom I’ve always knocked for coming off as an indie film version of Keanu Reeves, apparently took my pal under his wing and showed him his latest film, “The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond.” According to my friend, both the film and the actor were pretty alright.
The stories from that convention made me want to go to the next one. And I’m glad I did.
* * *
Still, we were stuck in Gary for much longer than we had hoped, however, and as a result we didn’t arrive on Friday’s scene until the day’s events were almost over. We received our blue wristbands and stuck our toes into the pool, not stopping at any one exhibit until we hit the mask room, where I conducted the night’s only interview.
Of course my first interview of the weekend would be with a guy who made a movie called “Incest Death Squad!” There just wasn’t any way around this glaring appropriateness. As I followed my group into the mask room, where a vast array of horror-themed costumes greeted the spectators, I found myself at a booth manned by Cory Udler, the film’s director. Eager to get the word out, he handed me a copy of “Incest Death Squad” after the interview was over, autographing it with the tagline: “Incest is best!”
* * *
Friday night was spent in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel, where we drank overpriced drinks and watched a crowd filled with podcasters, internet dignitaries, and the costumed. Among the ghoulish guys and scantily clad ladies were two characters of note: a woman with orange hair and turquoise skin, and a guy who came off as a recently-electrified green goblin. A few legends mingled among the masses, most notably the great horror propagandist Joe Bob Briggs and actor Sid Haig. My friends met old acquaintances made from previous conventions, and we stood around plotting our next move.
We met Lloyd Kaufman at the entrance of the hotel. Originally our plan was to go to a karaoke bar with a crowd of podcasters, but we decided that we didn’t want to shell out money for a drunk taxi and were returning to the bar. As we approached the Marriott’s revolving door, we saw Kaufman standing at the drop-off, holding a bag and looking around. We approached this titan of Bizarro cinema with reverent caution. While there were plenty of horror legends in attendance at HorrorHound Weekend – including George Romero of “Living Dead” fame, Clive Barker of “Hellraiser,” and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark – Kaufman was really the guy we had come to see. Yet he was incredibly gracious – a quality that I suppose comes in handy when encountering lines of hundreds of people who come bearing similar adulations. I told him that I was excited to see him in “Incest Death Squad,” and he agreed to do an interview for the next day. Kaufman soon made a quick exit, and my comrades and I went back to wandering.
Later on, I made a brief return to our scummy-ass motel across the street, and when I came back there was a leather-clad dandy behind a miniature piano in the corner of the bar.
“Dude,” one of my friends said, “that’s the first Jason Voorhees!”
Indeed he was. Ari Lehman, who played the child version of the hockey mask hacker in the first “Friday the 13th” movie, was ready to rock. He lit a candelabrum, placed it upon the piano, and proceeded to blow us away.
Following this performance came more waiting, more standing around. The crowd in the lobby was impatient for the next day to begin, but unwilling to sleep away the time between. It was late when the masses broke off and returned to their respective rooms, and even when we fell asleep to the televised whore-mongering monologues of Artie Lange, we were impatient.
* * *
We woke the next morning, ready to go. After a fast food breakfast and a few laps around the convention floor, I got to work. The floor was packed with sightseers and autograph seekers, so my first order of business was approaching all manner of prospective interviewees and putting out the vibe, asking them if they’d be interested in a few minutes of conversation once the crowds died down.
One thing I noticed throughout the day was the amount of people who wore (or occasionally sold) t-shirts with disturbing statements on them. It seemed that for those who didn’t come in full costume, a snarky message would suffice. The first person interviewed on Saturday was no exception to this idea. His message: “Dead Girls Do Anal.”
* * *
Following a goofed-up interview with film legend Tom Noonan, I decided to switch off journalist mode for a bit and wander the floor. I met assorted ghouls and monsters, a couple wearing hospital scrubs splattered with post-natal blood (with baby still attached), a ten foot tall gas-masked fascist type, and a pair of girls sporting facial road rashes. In the hallway, Elvira was flanked by an autograph line that ran as far as I could see, while in the men’s room, a giant guy in full Michael Myers costume was asked by another person if he had held him the year before. “I probably choked you,” Myers answered. “I don’t fuck around.”
I soon found myself back in the mask room, wandering around all manner of latex art. In the back aisle lurked some of the room’s best pieces: life sized statues, a raygun wielding Killer Klown, and exhibits from the “Hellraiser” films. All were magnificent works of art.
Returning to the main hall, I met Emil Hyde, director of “The Landlord.” My friend had already made the film’s acquaintance the previous night, when he was farted at by someone associated with the film while in the same bathroom where I met Michael Myers. “Consider that a gift from the Landlord!” the guy cackled.
Afterwards, I went to lurk in one of the hall’s back corners and saw some fine examples of humanity. There was a masked luchador hard at work on his laptop, a bald, eerie gnome lady, and a middle-aged guy with a beautiful, wavy mullet (which we decided to pronounce moo-lay in this case). When I met a lady dressed up as a fishnetted Ghostbuster, I knew I had found the hottest dame of the convention. Luckily, I have had no erotic dreams featuring Egon Spengler or Vigo the Carpathian as a result.
Amidst all this, a well-dressed man with tentacles growing out of his face spoke loudly for the cause of zombie rights. When I approached him in order to discuss his pet cause, he directed me to the masterminds behind the movement, a guy-girl duo wearing matching t-shirts that read: “Ban Headshots.”
Neil Autry has one of the best promotional schemes I’ve ever heard of. As we approached his booth, taking in its delightfully vulgar t-shirts – including instant classics like “Your mom swallows period blood” and the Breakfast Club/Cannibal Underdweller mashup of “C.H.U.D. Nelson” – we noticed a box on the table which was covered in black cloth. The sign above it read: “See Elvira’s Boobs free with any purchase!!” You better believe we paid up. Being that I didn’t have the money to buy one of his hilarious t-shirts, I bought a dollar pin featuring a shirtless Elvis punching a guy in the gut, and Autry took me to the Promised Land. And it was good.
* * *
Mister Hamilton had been at the top of the list of people I wanted to interview since I met him the night before. My group knew him the previous convention, and introduced me to the raconteur as he strolled through the hotel lobby. The first thing I thought was that he had one of the most bitchin’ curly-tipped mustaches I had ever seen. The thing could go toe to toe with the lip mane of Rollie Fingers and come out ahead.
Yet as I’d find out the next day, Mister Hamilton was much more than a set of well-groomed whiskers. In the corner adjoining the convention floor’s entrance doors sat a humble table of art, manned by a hefty guy with a denim vest and a two-toned Mohawk. The art depicted all manner of horror icons, set against leopard printed and/or fuzzy backgrounds which often used tops from soda cans as their hanging pieces. I knew that this was an art I wanted to know more about, but the guy was only the magician’s assistant and told me to come back later.
When I returned, there was Mister Hamilton, presiding over his artistic empire. He soon began to talk about putting his dick in a mousetrap. The man is amazing.
* * *
Of everyone I met and talked to over the course of HorrorHound Weekend, only one person was a dick. That person was Robert Z’Dar, star of the “Maniac Cop” series. As I walked past his booth it dawned on me who he was, and I asked if I could take a picture of him.
“You got ten bucks?” he asked.
I was taken aback. People with cameras were all over the place, taking pictures with or without the subject’s permission, and nobody asked for or received any compensation. “No,” I said, probably sneering a bit past polite, and I began to walk off.
“Hold up,” he said, pointing at me as though I had grossly insulted him by not throwing wads of cash on his table. “I’ll let you take one picture. One.”
Not caring at this point, I snapped a quick shot and disappeared. Worth every penny.
* * *
Someone whom I was much more excited to meet was a guy running the most unique booths at the convention, selling framed butterflies, spiders, and scorpions. The creatures were so stunningly colorful that I initially didn’t believe that they weren’t painted or otherwise modified. But as Matt Youngerman explained, that’s the beauty of nature.
Hare Krishna Zombie rules! We made the acquaintance of the “Dawn of the Dead” star early on in the day, and we saw him wandering about the floor from time to time, mostly mingling with horror and movie makeup legend Tom Savini, whom we were all far too chickenshit to talk to. When I finally made my way back to HKZ’s booth and conducted this interview, he dropped some knowledge on my friend and I, talking about the Rothchild family and the dangers of globalization. Talking conspiracy theories with a Hare Krishna Zombie is as awesome as it sounds.
* * *
So here’s one person I didn’t expect to meet at a horror convention. Early in the afternoon, someone got on the loudspeaker and made yet another of the day’s proclamations. “Would everybody please welcome – Catherine Mary Stewart!” As usually followed such announcements, pockets of people politely cheered and then went about their business. But I was stunned. The star of “The Apple” was here.
For those who haven’t heard of this titan of Bizarro cinema, “The Apple” is simply amazing. It’s Rocky Horror set to disco. It’s the Book of Genesis and the Book of Revelations in one. And it has one of the most insane, mind-blowing endings in any movie, ever. Holy shit, I thought, I had to talk to her. And she ended up being one of my favorite people at HorrorHound, even though I’m still not sure why she was there. Then again, “The Apple” has been confusing me for years, so that’s fitting.
* * *
Soon after this point, another voice boomed over the loudspeaker. This time it wasn’t announcing the arrival of another celebrity or issuing dire warnings against parking in fast-food lots, but stating that the convention halls were closing in 15 minutes. Shit. I still had work left to do. I looked around for Lloyd Kaufman and Joe Bob Briggs, but the former was still knuckle-deep in fans at the Troma Line and the latter was already being interviewed. So I decided to do a series of quick interviews with people I had already met.
Eventually, Ari Lehman was free to talk. He gestured wildly and spoke in exaggerated tones, lending no doubt to the idea that he really enjoyed being a part of horror movie history. At least in the context of HorrorHound Weekend and other such conventions, people such as Lehman and Hare Krishna Zombie have turned relatively small movie parts into big notoriety. Yet having played the first Jason Voorhees, the malformed kid who leaps out of Crystal Lake in the first “Friday the 13th” film, Lehman seems to have taken it further, making his hot minute of film lore into a huge part of his life.
The voice on the loudspeaker quickly returned and announced the end. The convention hall was now closed. Joe Bob Briggs was still being interviewed, so I figured that my chances of getting to talk to him were a wash. I walked back to the center of the room, hoping to find Lloyd Kaufman and get an education on things Bizarro. The line at the Troma booth was fading, and after he spent a few minutes talking to Catherine Mary Stewart, he was ready to talk.
As could be guessed from the many movie introductions he’s produced for Troma, Kaufman likes to get other people into the act. Well, that, and he’s a hilarious ham. While we were getting ready to start, he saw Louise Robey, star of the “Friday the 13th” television series, and pulled her into our conversation. Later on, Joe Bob Briggs himself walked past us, and Lloyd roped him into our circle of madness as well.
What followed was a work of joyous chaos. It made no sense. There were no points made. No ideas were being advanced. But it was without a doubt the best way I could have ended HorrorHound Weekend.
* * *
And with that, I left the Marriott and returned to my crappy motel across the street, satisfied. I spent the next few hours transferring all these interviews to my computer, watching TV movies in the meantime. After that, I went to a liquor store, filled a Burger King cup with screwdrivers that were half vodka, and got triumphantly drunk.
I left my motel room and began walking back to the Marriott when I saw someone I recognized outside a room opposite mine. It was the frazzled green goblin I had seen the night before, hanging outside with his face paint (almost) scrubbed off. Introducing himself as Freakshow, he invited me into his room, and together with his partner, by day a fetish-dressed lady named June “The Meat” Cleaver, we talked about the convention. They were in town covering the event for Madison Horror.
“Hey, do you want to do an interview with us?” Freakshow asked.
I swayed on my feet, for some reason unwilling to sit down, but barely able to stand up. “I think I’m done,” I said.
* * *
The Marriott remained in high spirits when I came back some time later. My cohorts were lurking around the lobby, but I heard tell of a mass hula-hoop demonstration in the depths of the hotel, so my friend and I ditched the entrance. We weren’t disappointed. The giant hallway was packed with people spinning rings around their waists, while Mister Hamilton looked on and performed a trick or two. I briefly spotted Ari Lehman in the mass, but my focus fell on a girl whose butt was turning purple from a violent spanking she was receiving at the hands of another girl. I tried my hand (and hips) at hula-hoop, but I was as inept as I’d always been.
The night wore on and the crowd wore out, and soon I was one of the last people in the halls. At this point I looked out into the hotel courtyard, where amidst a sudden rainstorm, a luminous fountain cascaded water down a giant staircase. I had to climb it. Stripping down to my underwear, I ignored the rain and leaped into the pond, climbed up the stairs and bellowed like King Kong. Pleased with myself, I soon decided to head back to my room, and I walked across the street, barefoot in the rain.
The ultimate result? I was very, very sick for two weeks. But I regret nothing!
* * *
We cleared out of the motel early the next morning, having decided that the long drive ahead didn’t leave us with any time to take in Sunday’s festivities. We had seen all that we needed to see. The drive home was one of contented fulfillment – well, until we had to drive through Gary again.
Oh, the horror of Gary.