Texas Frightmare Aftermath (Part Deux)

Ok, It’s late Saturday afternoon at Texas Frightmare, and I wake up from a powernap just in time to find out that the con ends at 6pm for the day. They have the VIP party to get ready for. (Mirthquake note to self: Next year, splurge for the VIP ticket.)

So Casher and I retreat to the hotel’s sports bar to grab a burger and brew, and figure out what to do next. Would we venture into Deep Ellum to see Ghoultown? Brave our better judgement and go catch the Elm Street remake? Stick around ’til 10 and watch the screening of the remastered Dark Night of the Scarecrow, a film I knew naught about other than Fright-Rags thought it was cool enough to do a shirt of ?

Well, who would be sitting next to us in the bar but Jim Cirronella, the producer of Autopsy of the Dead, a behind-the-scenes documentary about the original Night of the Living Dead, Gary Streiner, the sound man and a featured extra in NOTLD as well as the force of nature behind the Living Dead Fest in Evans City, PA, and (OMG!) Judith Ridley!
Judy Ridley in
Judy actually coming to a convention was the reason I went ahead and do TFW. Of the still living major cast members, she was to my knowledge the only one who had never done a con before! And let me tell you right here and now true believers, she *still* looks amazing!

Mind you Casher and I knew who they were, but neither of us were going to geek out on them. They are just people too, and welcome to their privacy. So we were making plans for the rest of the night, when suddenly Judy turns to us and sweetly asks “I don’t mean to interrupt, but can I ask you two a question? Should I be here?” referring to the entire TFW convention.

Sweet, unassuming Judy Ridley wasn’t aware of her place in horror cinema iconography, which literally made her all the more charming. Cash and I assured her that indeed, not only did she belong at a horror movie convention for the “little film” she worked on over 40 years ago, but if it weren’t for her, horror conventions like TFW might not even exist.

This was the beginning of a two and a half hour conversation, that spanned from the death of the old guard in horror, how Psycho and Night of the Living Dead changed the face of the horror film, and much more. We heard behind the scenes stories that hadn’t even been on the DVD commentary! Judy, for example, learning professional make up techniques for Image 10 (because everyone has many jobs in independent film), needed someone to make-up for her final… and Jack Russo ended up with the makeover of a lifetime!

(I’m not going to tell ALL the stories. Gary had some doozies that I’m not going to share… one because I don’t want to steal his thunder on any upcoming projects, and two, some things are better told in person!)

Suffice it to say, THIS was the best bit of TFW for me. How often do you get a chance to spend hours talking with people who made independent cinema history? And THEY asked US?!

From Left to Right: Mirthy, Judy Ridley, Gary Streiner, and Casher O' Neill
That’s us in the bar, taken by Jim on my crappy cell phone… because I didn’t think anyone would believe us without photographic proof.

I now realize that it was a three day con… so this should be a three part post. Next time, meeting icons, contact from Krypton, and imaginary fruity drinks!

Texas Frightmare Aftermath (Part One!)

“I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults.” — Mary Tyler “Molly” Ivins

The reception on the Cell Phone was staticky, with a peculiar whistling in the background. The voice was urgent though… it was my wife, the lovely Realitychick. She was on the turnpike to a nearby town to hear my daughter’s vocal recital. But she didn’t sound happy at all.

“You want to go to this convention tomorrow,” snarled the voice on the other end of the phone “You’d better call a glass place NOW. The Windshield is coming out of the van!”

And thus started my adventure called “The Texas Frightmare Weekend” or “Casher and Mirth’s Phantasmagorical Peregrination”.

Let me catch you up. One of my things on my “Mirth List” to do for this year was to attend a big media convention. Partly for fun, of course, but my main reason was to pick up more work for my day job at Wirewaves, some freelance illustration work for me, and network with potential guests for CathARTic shows. My original plan was to attend the Indianapolis Horrorhound show with filmmakers Leif Jonker and Gary Miller, and Horror Host “Gunther Dedmund” from The Basement Sublet of Horror , but alas time and money wouldn’t quite sync with that trip.

So when I put out the word that I would be attending TFW, my buddy Tim (a.k.a. T.E. Pouncey, a.k.a. Casher O’Neill) said he’d be up for the challenge. After all it had been about 20 years since the last con we had attended. He and I used to be the Hunter Thompson and Ralph Steadman of our college paper, but wives, families and real life got in the way of us being able to collaborate on a regular, post-academic basis.

We were to leave about 9 am on Thursday, April 29th… getting into Dallas early enough to check in and clean up to go see Romero’s Survival Of The Dead and the World Premiere of Tim Sullivan’s wacky 2001 Maniacs. Well, Cash had a work meeting he couldn’t get out of, and now I had a Windshield to get replaced, so the 9 AM start ended up being a Noon departure. And save for the 40 MPH headwinds all the way there, It was a good trip. Never let it be said that journalists can’t make for good conversations!

We arrived at the hotel too late to get to the movies, but who do we see coming out as we go to check in? WIlliam Katt, he of The Greatest American Hero, Carrie, and Pippin! We exchanged brief pleasantries, and I was briefly *just* a bit star struck. This would change quickly as soon there were “celebrities” everywhere we turned. That first night I shared an elevator with Sid Haig of Spider Baby fame, and I think I freaked out Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson (who is probably sick of seeing “Elvira” as her middle name) just a little with my unfortunate natural friendliness.

Oh, I didn’t completely fanboy out on her. I just did my chipper “Good Morning” bit… at 9PM. Well it *is* morning… within 12 hours anyway.

Cassandra and her trainer had just come in from a BBQ joint called Hard Eight which amazed them! They suggested we try it, but we never did get the opportunity to… maybe next year!

Over the next few days, we made all kinds of friends. Finally met Brandon Slagle, and Frederick Doss (who was one of the Soccent guys running the screens we designed for the first Transformers) who I knew through Facebook; filmmaker Mel House and his lovely wife Melanie who had worked with Shannon Lark on Walking Distance; Matt (who could be a young Matthew Broderick) and his buddy, Eric from St. Louis; Mike, the Oklahoma restauranteur; Lauren (who could be a young Ally Sheedy. If only we could have found a young Dabney Coleman!) and her boyfriend Jeremie; Amanda “Elbows Out!” the TFW staff member that was running the John Carpenter line; Leslie from Pennsylvania, whom I call “the Queen of the Ottoman Empire” because she had guys lining up to be her footstool… so many cool people, and I know I’m forgetting a bunch.

I met two of my top five living directors, John Carpenter and George Romero (the latter of which, I got to see through his eyes!). I got face time with Jason Mellon and The Virgin Connie Swayle (Keith Gordon and Alexandra Paul — and yes, McGee, I told them you said “Hi.”), talked cyberstalkers with Debbie Rochon, shared fruity drinks* with Terry Alexander and Jarlath Conroy of the original Day of the Dead, talked F-Troop with James Naughton, chatted with Halloween‘s Charles Cyphers and Martin‘s John Amplas, learned basic Pittsburghese from Buffy‘s Camden Toy, cut up with Kane Hodder, strolled down Rue Morgue, and hung with members of Ghoultown a band that is this amazing amalgam of Rob Zombie and Johnny Cash. I would have gone to see them in concert Saturday night, if it weren’t for something that literally made the entire trip for us.

But that, my friends, is a story for another blog.

*The bar didn’t do fruity enough drinks, so I’m fixing it in post. Pictures soon!

Memoir of Fear: “Day of the Dead” Through the Eyes of a Child by Jamie D Jenkins

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Day of the Dead opened to a limited release and lukewarm reviews in the Summer of 1985 but has since gained recognition as one of the better Romero films. Romero himself has stated that it was his favorite of the original trilogy. While the version we are all familiar with is not the epic tale he conceived, it’s budget was cut in half, it still leaves a mark. For fans having witnessed the likes of Dawn of the Dead just a few years before, Day seemed much darker in tone.

But of course it was darker. These were darker times after all. The living dead had all but completely populated the planet reducing the remaining survivors to living underground, at least the ones we know. This film is also a direct reflection of the political upheavals taking place in the mid-eighties in the midst of nuclear threats and the fear of the end as we teetered on the edge of self destruction.

Children of the Cold War were introduced to many phrases over the years that would become staples of our vocabulary as well as our nightmares. Terms such as Nuclear Winter, duck and cover (for those old enough to remember those drills) , fallout shelter, and radiation sickness were woven into the fabric of our everyday lives.

I was only a child of eleven when I first saw Day of the Dead in the theater. It would seem that one so young could not possibly grasp the implications set forth by a film such as this. To a child, the zombies should have been the scariest part but they were not. By the time 1985 rolled around, I was already terrified that The Bomb would land in my backyard at any moment. Television movies like The Day After (1983), books like After the Bomb (though later, 1987) in which a teen attempts to seek medical help for his mother after an attack, and the news all contributed to the mounting fear that the Soviet Union would launch a nuclear attack. And of course we would launch one in return. The consensus was that if either of the leaders “made the call” or “pressed the button”, it would be the end of life as we knew it. We would either die a fiery death at the initial drop or be forced to seek shelter and pray that we were able to avoid the monstrosities of fallout and Nuclear Winter. But hope in that case did not abound. At least in my eyes, the world I knew could be gone in a flash. Television and film had already warned me of what I could expect if that day ever came.

It was not unusual for me to huddle under my bedclothes with only my eyes uncovered to stare into the night sky from the relative safety of my bedroom. I was watching for the bomb. I was waiting to see it break the atmosphere as it hurdled to Earth with complete destruction being its only goal. I would cry myself to sleep in terror of the fate that everyone around me said was coming. I would pray that if The Bomb did come, it would land directly on my head. My worst fear was that I would be a survivor left to deal with the horrors of the aftermath as Society attempted to piece itself back together or at the very least keep itself from falling apart. The adults around me never knew how I felt. I never let them in on the fact that their discussions were so traumatic to my increasingly imaginative mind. They would only dismiss my concerns and tell me not to worry as adults have the habit of doing.

The release of Day of the Dead personified my anxiety. The advancing hordes of the walking dead were representative of the looming dangers that surrounded us. The newspaper headline “The Dead Walk” may as well have read “The Bomb’s Dropped.”

The release of Day of the Dead personified my anxiety. The advancing hordes of the walking dead were representative of the looming dangers that surrounded us. The newspaper headline “The Dead Walk” may as well have read “The Bomb’s Dropped.” Once again I was reduced to listening in the dark for sounds of doom. I listened because I was afraid to watch. I did not want to witness the ghouls on the hunt. This time the sounds were moans, helicopter blades and gunfire in the distance. I would sleep with the radio on in case of a bulletin. The cold, institutional bunker was precisely how I pictured living after such an event, that is assuming I were among the few that survived. The scientists, military and smattering of civilians wrapped in conflict were what I imagined we would be. And to my mind, the worst of it all would not be the bomb itself but dealing with each other when the dust cleared. For even at such a tender age, I already had my doubts about humans as a species. I had seen too many examples of how we treat one another and how we usually err in favor of ourselves over those who might need our help. Now Day of the Dead offered a visual example of us tearing each other apart in vivid color.

Now that the Cold War is over and those fears seem so distant, it’s difficult to try and regain those feelings. It’s not so easy to take myself back to those terrifying moments spent staring out my window in search of my coming death. It almost seems ludicrous now that so many years of my childhood were spent crouching in the dark, afraid of something I could not control. Even with the activity of recent years I have never felt so alone and conquered by fear as I did all those years ago.

I said it was difficult to bring back those feelings, but not impossible. They still ring true whenever I view Day of the Dead. With every frame I am reminded of exactly why the zombie apocalypse is perhaps the most frightening scenario imaginable. In such a case, we are the monsters from every angle. The zombie “we” feeds off the living and the remaining “we” feeds off of our comrades. Just as during those old threats of nuclear war, whether you are taken down with the initial attack or survive, you will be forced into constant battle with those you once called neighbors.

Adulthood gives us the luxury of seeing threats for what they are. As we grow older we come to understand the meaning of words such as “sensationalism,” “irrational” and “unlikely.” If I had possessed an adult brain at the time, perhaps I could have worked out for myself that the dropping of such a destructive tool would likely not be taken as lightly as I was led to believe. Though the threat was real, as palpable as any other, surely they all knew that once one launched an attack, the domino effect would come into play. A ploy such as that would only be suicide. And now as I watch the world today I have a completely different view of these menaces. I decided long ago that I would never again live in fear of something that I cannot control.

What remains is the hope that we have learned something, anything from all those decades of apprehension. For if we have not then woe to us as a species. And in the meantime Romero is the author of my personal survival guide. From him I have learned a valuable lesson. The only thing that will save us in our darkest hour is the willingness to cooperate when the threads holding us together are bare. Compassion and charity, humanity and heart: these will be our saving graces.

To quote Shaun (of the Dead) who quoted Bertrand Russell, “the only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.”