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THE LAST KNOCK presents: Monster Mania 2017

The Last Knock art by Greg Palko at Palko Designs

We recap the goings on at the recent Monster Mania convention in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. We’ll talk about who was there, who we met, what we did, how Jonny spent a gazillion dollars on DVDS, and how Billy almost stomped on the tail of a tyrannosaurus rex. You’ll find out what star got stuck waiting for an elevator that took forever, what star had to bail, and what one star told Billy about a disturbing naked role.

Besides the discussion of stars and vendors, we’ll tell you why PJ Soles and Sid Haig are so loved, and why David Hagan’s Monster Mania does it right.

To learn more about Monster Mania, follow them on Twitter and visit their website!

Monster Mania image from Monster Mania

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@MonsterManiaCon @OwenMcCuenQuest @palkodesigns @shriekfest @DeniseGossett @blunderground @inthenightdoc @DonRiemer @RonGizmo @RealJillyG @isaacrthorne @ThisIsHorror @PromoteHorror @ScreamHorrorMag @GuyRicketts @stevecourtney79 @WeAreGamerBorn @FadeGrips @MyGamingCareer @patriciadeddy @BleedingCritic @valkilmer @KateBeckinsale @Scott_Ian @J2thecarpenter @ActwithAlison @choptopmoseley @vhsps @SeverinFilms @VinegarSyndrome @diabolikdvd @ArrowFilmsVideo @CrownePlaza

(THE LAST KNOCK art from Palko Designs.)

Event Report: Monster Mania 36 by Jonny Numb

 

The long-running Monster-Mania Convention knows how to show horror fans a good time. For 3 days every March and August, genre stars and a wide variety of vendors descend upon Cherry Hill, New Jersey (just over the Ben Franklin Bridge) for a celebration of macabre delight.

Over the past decade, I’ve attended at least one MM con per year, and have never been disappointed. Between the guests (usually a mix of new blood and returning fan favorites) and the vendors spread across several rooms, this truly is a holiday for horror-hounds – a combination of celebrity wish-fulfillment and a cornucopia of dazzling material goodies awaiting discovery.

There are certain things that MM newbies should be cognizant of: Even if you get to the Crowne Plaza early, you may want to pack your walking shoes (or something that doesn’t lace up to the thigh). My best friend and I arrived at noon on Saturday, and were greeted by a mile-long backup of vehicles waiting to chance the packed parking lot. As veterans of the con, we had never seen MM this busy.

After an odd winter of wildly fluctuating temperatures (from balmy 60s to well below freezing), the day was a mix of sun and wind, the type of slap-you-in-the-face cold that Calvin’s dad would insist “builds character.” As we walked from our faraway parking spot, we speculated on the reason for the turnout (John Cusack being the headliner guest; our later arrival; the parking lot being taken up by out-of-towners in for the whole weekend) and stopped at a delicious* pit barbecue place for lunch.

Upon passing through the automatic lobby doors of the Crowne Plaza, we faced a scene of (mostly figurative) chaos: the extensive foyer/lounge area was packed with people. On first glance, it was overwhelming and obnoxious – a mass of bodies like something out of a Clive Barker novel – but my excitement over being there eventually trumped a sinking feeling of not enjoying the show on account of being unable to move.

The line for tickets moved with great efficiency (with at least 3 or 4 volunteers keeping on top of things), and good news for everyone whose favored ATMs were on the fritz prior to driving over (like me): the admission table does take credit cards. Following the acquisition of the much-coveted wristband, I progressed to the line for the lobby ATM. While a longer wait (maybe 15 minutes), those around me had a good sense of humor whenever somebody would sincerely ask, “Who are you in line for?”

Following my ATM adventure, I met my friend in the room where a majority of the celebrity guests were gathered. Forming a border along the wall, the center section was a swarm of fans looking to get up close and personal with stars as varied as Oscar winner Louise Fletcher, original “Buffy” Kristy Swanson, guys who played Jason Voorhees (Ted White and C.J. Graham), Lucas and “Toothless” from Stranger Things, and even con mainstay Doug “Pinhead” Bradley (whose line seemed permanently stretched halfway across the room).

We both had clear ideas of who we wanted to meet, and began with the lovely Ashley Bell (from Carnage Park and The Last Exorcism, among others), who possessed an energy and enthusiasm that was infectious. MM 36 was her first proper convention, and she was elated to meet her fans. She had nothing but glowing things to say about her collaboration with director Mickey Keating and co-star Pat Healy in Carnage Park, and told me of Psychopaths’ (another Keating project) April premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. After graciously posing for a picture, she suggested making a phone call to Billy Crash (proprietor of this fine site!) and concluded by pointing me in the direction of Love and Bananas – an elephant documentary she’s involved with (also her Twitter handle). Though I committed a faux pas that I will take to my grave, Miss Bell embodied everything a fan could want in a convention guest – down to earth, energetic, and clearly passionate about the genre.

Years ago, my friend had a great alternative poster from John Carpenter’s The Thing, which was unfortunately damaged beyond repair in a house fire. Needless to say, he acquired a reprint for MM, which hosted a mini-reunion of the men of Outpost 36 – Thomas Waites (Windows); Peter Maloney (Bennings); con newcomer Wilford Brimley (Blair); and a nearly-missed Richard Masur (Clark).

In addition to first-time convention guests Bell and Brimley, cinematographer Dean Cundey (who shot Carpenter’s most well-remembered films) was also on hand. Keeping within the same universe, synth wizard Alan Howarth was there with a diverse selection of scores, and also closed out Saturday night with a free concert.

At the end of the day, my friend accumulated five signatures for his The Thing poster – not too shabby.

Nestled within the same corner of the room was the wonderful Barbara Crampton, who has worked in (Re-Animator; From Beyond; Castle Freak) and out (various daytime soap operas) of the genre over the years, and has been enjoying a career renaissance as of late, with efforts like You’re Next, We Are Still Here, and Sun Choke expanding her fan base even further. A line of about a dozen waited patiently for her to return from lunch; when she did, she paused to address the fans: “Thank you so much for waiting! I had to get something to eat!” (I suspect that Mrs. Crampton was really visiting the Fountain of Youth – we should all hope to look so amazing at 58.) When it was my turn, my photo choice was a no-brainer – a still from 2015’s Sun Choke, which I told her was her best performance, “Better than Emma Stone in La La Land,” to which she gave a good-natured (yet doubtful) laugh. Mrs. Crampton asked me what I did for a living as we posed for a photo, and revealed that her sister in Vermont was also a civil servant, to which she recited the line that led me to state government: “It’s a steady paycheck, and you get benefits.” ** It was a very human moment that recalled my meeting with Ashley Bell, and another testament to how down-to-earth genre stars can be.

With our usual approach of getting autographs out of the way, we engaged with Phase Two of our MM experience: slowing our pace to a zombie shuffle to be dazzled and lured by the varied wares in the vendors’ area. Everything from horror-based fridge magnets, original art prints, vintage posters, enamel pins, DVDs and Blu-rays, and custom apparel – among many other tempting items – were available in this extensive section.

One of the things I enjoy most about MM is that many vendors are mainstays, so there is a predictability to the layout that is comforting. Troma Films, for instance, takes up permanent residence at a corner table, complete with an alcove for photo ops with Toxie, Sgt. Kabukiman, and the Troma Girls.

After collecting some new pins and magnets, I picked up an out-of-print copy of Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (from a consistently reliable used-DVD & Blu-ray vendor), and dropped considerable coin at the Severin Films table (who were giving away free DVD copies of Richard Stanley’s Hardware with multi-disc purchases). My last stop was Vinegar Syndrome, where I complained about how abysmal Massage Parlor Murders is, and made humorous small talk with one of the slightly inebriated guys, who told me, “When the ATM runs out of money, it beams a signal to the guy who has to put money in the ATM” and – regarding his cell-phone’s cracked screen: “I threw it at a guy once, that’s why it’s cracked; you laugh – it’s true!” If the celebrities started my experience off on a high note, this encounter brought MM 36 to an entertaining close.

Some cons champion quantity over quality, but insofar as personality is concerned, MM has the consistent feeling of a curated exhibition – by fans, for fans. Despite the added stress of an overcrowded hotel this time around, even that tension was fleeting in the name of the wonderful community that descended on Cherry Hill for yet another horrifically satisfying weekend.

 

(* = Billy Crash can attest to this.)

(** = CC: Karen “Plate of Shrimp” Rice-Young)

(Photos of Barbara Crampton and Ashley Bell via Twitter.)

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) only plays favorites when it comes to review sites like Crash Palace Productions and loudgreenbird.com. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on Twitter and Letterboxd.

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Monster Mania

The Last Knock

This March, we traveled to Monster Mania at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill, NJ. We share the stories of our horror filled excursion from vendors to guests, and why this convention for fans of the genre is one of the very best on the east coast. And yes, we talk about food, cosplayers, and even the trouble with bootleg DVDs. Take a monster walk on the mania side and find out what you missed…

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS:
@RealJillyG  @SmartMouthGirl  @MortalRemains  @FriscoKidTX  @SiaraTyr  @TheRealZoeBell  @CrypticPictures  @MelanieMcCurdie  @nicolemalonso  @slicknick52  @charmag10550469   @sarahsweets83  @theadman40  @jsenhaji13  @svbell  @MatthewLillard  @BleedingCritic @CrownePlaza  @theResidents  @shadream  @stuartbedlam  @mjathols  @OklahomaWard  @Tammysdragonfly  @machinemeannow  @IamMelanieWise  @wholehogcafebbq  @Jedowdle @Artemis_FF  @vhsps  @MonsterManiaCon  @ktanimara  and Paul J. Williams

Crash Reports: Parafest 2013

Kootation

Parafest held their very first convention on September 6-8 at the Sands in Bethlehem, PA. I decided to go on a Friday because it began early, and hoped to have a good time. Instead, I had a great one.

Like most, I waited patiently for the doors to open at noon, but as with any first opening, there was a bit of a delay (thirty minutes), that came with the apologies of show organizers. But the diehard fans of all things paranormal and horror maintained their smiles and stood tall. That allowed me to discuss the goings-on with Shannon, a new friend and legal eagle who had driven up from Edgar Allan Poe’s Baltimore to take part. For once, I only had to drive a half-hour, and that felt pretty damn good.

When the doors opened at the Sands Convention Center, on the site of what was once Bethlehem Steel, we poured in from the shadows of the now silent blast furnaces and entered the massive building where paranormal and horror rubbed other-worldly elbows. In short order, I walked by vendors selling everything from EVP equipment, to make-up kits, to comic books. Psychics read cards and palms, horror authors offered their self-published books, and paranormal researchers offered their expertise.

Since most fans were still lost in 9-to-5 drudgery, and wouldn’t arrive until later, the venue felt intimate. If anything, it seemed as if I had paid for a coveted pre-show pass. Here’s who I met, and what they had to say:

STAN GORDON: If you don’t know Gordon, then you probably haven’t heard about Pennsylvania’s Kecksburg UFO incident. On December 9, 1965, townsfolk saw something strange and bell shaped come down in the woods outside their community – only to have it whisked away by the military. Gordon was a witness to the event, and he’s investigated what had transpired there ever since, as well as other sightings. A skeptical man, Gordon does his best to use science to find answers to everything from UFOs to bigfoot.

DAVE TANGO, BRUCE TANGO, and STEVE GONSALVES: Stars of the hit show “Ghost Hunters,” turned out to be the paranormal investigators one would expect: A group of great guys to hang out with and indulge in conversation. Tango and Steve were cool and welcoming, though Bruce admitted that his son, Dave is their to keep him out of trouble, which got a laugh from everyone in earshot. (I tried to say hi to Grant Wilson, but he was speaking to several people every time I walked by the booth. Like everyone else at TAPS, he was engaging and spent quality time with fans.)

MIKE ZOHN: Co-host of “Oddities” and owner of New York’s Obscura store, Mike’s a soft spoken baritone. When I asked him what his house looked like, he let out a hearty laugh. Currently, he’s in the midst of a move, and his collection of the unique and bizarre is in storage. And as expected, he finds a hard time selling some of his rare collectibles in the shop because he’d rather keep them for himself. But the man needs to eat, so he does what he must.

TONY GOWELL: Though Tony has appeared in several television shows and big screen movies, most fans know him as a zombie from both ZOMBIELAND and “The Walking Dead.” When asked if he foresees more “family friendly” horror films like WORLD WAR Z, his response was “Definitely.” And knowing that WWZ has earned over a half-billion to date, I have no doubt Hollywood will bring us bigger if not watered down horror. My only awkward moment came when he asked if I liked “The Walking Dead.” I said that I tried but couldn’t because the show is like a soap opera. His eyes lit up and he exclaimed, “It is a soap opera!” It was great to have that confirmed.

VINCENT M. WARD: The big guy from “The Walking Dead” is a gentle giant who doesn’t seem like he’d hurt a fly – or a zombie. But I wouldn’t chance it. Regardless, he engaged fans with a great smile and many a kind word. What an engaging gentleman. I think he was having more fun than his nervous fans.

WILLIAM SANDERSON: Though the renowned character actor may be best known for his recent work on “True Blood,” diehard fans know him from “Deadwood” and as the ill-fated designer from the amazing BLADE RUNNER. Sanderson was with his lovely wife, and said that working on “Deadwood” allowed him to afford a home. He also enjoyed being with Harrison Ford and a young Daryl Hannah on BLADE RUNNER, and had no qualms working with director Ridley Scott.

MICHAEL BERRYMAN: Being with him was like hanging out with one of the guys. We talked about everything from politics (along with another fan and new friend named Tom) to his fourteen projects in the making (one of which is with Tony Todd). When it comes to fans, Berryman’s a sweetheart and never minds popping out of his chair to have his photo taken.

TONY TODD: In his movies, Todd has a commanding presence, and he does so in person. At six-foot-five, he’s hard to ignore when he enters a room. Among his pictures for autographing, he has a small black chest, dripping with blood, and the words “Candyman” inscribed on the side. After an autograph, the Candyman offers a sweet treat to the fan. When I mentioned his impassioned performance in the science-fiction tale, THE MAN FROM EARTH, he was grateful. It was clear he loved that film.

While waiting for Mr. Todd, I had the pleasure of meeting one of Parafest’s volunteers, a young woman named Maria, who is an empath and psychic. I understand if one’s skeptical and has their misgivings about such things, but Maria was sincere. She works with police departments and families to help solve cold cases. From her field experience, it’s clear she’s had to deal with a lot of grief. Still, she uses her gift to help others, and presses on.

As conventions go, Parafest is a truly intriguing experience. I’m not used to seeing a mix of horror and paranormal, but it was a great venture, and I indulged in some great conversations.  I had a wonderful time and look forward to next year’s event.

My only recommendations to the show organizers: Start later. Although noon on a Friday is fantastic, most people are working, which means celebrities and vendors have to sit around and do a lot of waiting. Consequently, $25 for a ticket is fine, but to pay an additional $8 in service fees at the door is ridiculous. I know it’s a horror convention, but why do you need to involve the always satanic Ticketmaster? Granted, organizers need a return on their investment, however, nickel and diming fans will only keep them away since there are other conventions in the area to attend. And no one wants that.

All in all, I had a blast. Parafest served as the kickoff to fall and Halloween, and that’s a great thing indeed. I have no doubt Parafest will be bigger and better next year, and I’m looking forward to indulging once more.

(Photo from Kootation.)

Crash Reports: Chiller Theatre Spring 2013 (Part Two)

Due to my own personal financial crunch, whenever I visit Chiller Theatre, I choose a but a few horror, science fiction and cult personalities to secure an autograph from, so breaking down the guests list isn’t easy. This year, I had no doubt who I would run to:

 

Jeffrey Combs   CombsS

A horror favorite, thanks to his portrayal of Herbert West in the RE-ANIMATOR series, Combs attracts fans from all over the globe. Born in Oxnard, California in 1954, he went on to study at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. Whether on television or the silver screen, from THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1991) to THE FRIGHTENERS (1986), or one of his other 115 projects, Combs usually portrays characters with an aura of self-assurance. In 1986’s FROM BEYOND, however, the stoicism crumbles when he brings us Crawford Tillinghast and his ill-fated experiment. The collapse of Crawford’s mental state and seemingly steadfast façade is fabulous, and Combs only adds to one fantastic horror from Stuart Gordon, based on a classic HP Lovecraft tale. When asked what it was like on set, Combs pointed to the picture he autographed and said, “Thirty days! At least we were in Rome.”

 

Lloyd Kaufman   KaufmanS

At 68, Kaufman may be the hardest working man in show business. After all, the independent filmmaker maestro has eighteen films in the works – eighteen! The man behind all things Troma has delivered some great genre fun over the decades, including CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH (1986), and the successful TOXIC AVENGER franchise, while wowing us with the anthology CHILLERS (1987), and the intriguing TROMEO AND JULIET (1996). Whether actor, director, producer, writer, or whatever else Kaufman needs to do, he throws himself into his work with abandon. After attending Chiller for fifteen years, I finally had a chance to meet the man in person, and we had a great conversation about teaching writing, and his filmmaking workload. Even during our chat, it seemed that Kaufman could take off at any second to run the New York Marathon, go a few rounds with Jake LaMotta, or clean up Congress. I don’t think the man sleeps. Toxie hung out nearby to clean up any mess left behind from over-zealous Troma fans.

 

Udo Kier   KierS

It’s hard to recall when I first saw Kier, but he left an impression: chiseled face, burning eyes, and a soft voice that could reign like a hammer. And at 69, his eyes still captivate, and his face remains just as sharp. Born in Cologne, Germany at the end of World War II, he traveled to the UK at eighteen and studied acting. To date, Kier has appeared in over 200 movies (four more are on the way), including many horrors. My favorites: ANDY WARHOL’S DRACULA (1974), and the phenomenal – and severely under-rated – LOVE OBJECT (2003). After watching him vomit the blood of tainted women in DRACULA, I asked if his nearly unending convulsions had made him sick. Not at all. Kier was soft-spoken, matter of fact, and a perfect gentleman. He was the driving force for me to make it to Chiller this year. As soon as I saw him on the guest list, I had to attend.

 

Will MacMillan   McMillanS

Originally from Steubenville, Ohio, the sixty-nine-year-old actor has appeared in television, as well as short and feature films. You’ll see him in THE ENFORCER (1976) and SALVADOR (1986), but watch out for him in George A. Romero’s outstanding THE CRAZIES (1973). Unlike the remake, the original has a realistic sense of grit that unleashes a perpetual sense of dread. MacMillan’s performance as a friend on the edge only adds to the suspense. Playing the role of David, we watch the man rise and fall as a manmade virus torments civilians in Evans City, Pennsylvania. Throughout the film, MacMillan brings us a character in slow disintegration of mind and spirit, with exceptional facial expressions that showcase the breakdown. His work is not to be missed. When asked if he enjoyed working on THE CRAZIES, he stated it was one of his top three best film experiences.

All of the celebrities were wonderful, engaging, and took a moment to talk, which I greatly appreciated. Once again, Chiller Theatre, and the guests that keep the convention alive, proved worthwhile. To meet these four men made a wonderful Saturday far better than expected.