Tag Archives: John Carpenter

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.

Chronic Demonic Vomit: 666 from Billy Crash

 

 

Number of the Beast

I’ve had it. While watching a movie I’m not at liberty to name, the digital clock ramped up speed – and landed on 6:66 o’clock. I began to roll my eyes but stopped when acid shot into the back of my throat as I endured another horror train wreck. When it comes to the “Number of the Beast,” the only thing I want to hear is Steve Harris and company knock it out as Iron Maiden.

Since The Exorcist, films using demonic possession as a foundation have copied many a scene from William Friedkin’s much feared horror classic. The genre is loaded with bitter or ex-communicated or faithless priests taking on a young girl or woman possessed by a demon. Of course, she must be tied down spread-eagle to a bed, she must speak in a Cookie Monster-like devilish voice, and when the priest asks the demon’s name, she must say, “We are Legion” with a grimace before a splash of Holy water burns her flesh and really sets her off.

I certainly don’t mind demonic possession in film, but as many a sub-genre in horror, the idea has become cliché, and every new low-budget disaster is an even worse copy of the copy before it. Besides the priest, we either get a virgin child or teen, or a hot young mental patient who has survived on the streets but really has a heart of gold. I can’t recall the last time I saw a boy or man possessed in a film (except for 2014’s The Possession of Michael King), but when a woman’s bound and has a priest coming at her, it’s an exploitation fantasy from a third-rate porn mag where misogyny reigns supreme – or maybe viewers hope she’ll grab the cross and use it like Reagan’s stabbing phallus from The Exorcist. Usually, especially if the priest is young and survives the ordeal along with the possessed female soul he rescued from the clutches of the Devil, his eyes will linger on the now demure survivor for a moment. Yes, he loves her, but dammit, he’s a changed man with a higher purpose, and loves God more because his faith’s been re-established – even in the face of Roman Catholic bureaucracy that never thought the girl/woman was possessed in the first place. Our priest now reborn must engage his new mission to save other souls, and our survivor’s left to find some semblance of normalcy in her world.

And why Roman Catholics with the Vatican, the papacy, and church politics all the time? Other religious holy men answer the call of the damned and expunge demons. In 2012’s The Possession, though ultimately a disappointing movie, we find Tzadok, a rabbi’s son played by Matisyahu, who battles a dybbuk before it completely possesses a little girl. In Vikram Bhatt’s 1920, after his wife Lisa (Adah Sharma) becomes possessed by the spirit of a former occupant, Arjun (Rajneesh Duggal) regains his faith in his Hindu God, which may be enough to save his spouse.

The whole Roman Catholic element and its clandestine hierarchy has become a bore.

Daniel Stamm attempted to do something different with 2010’s found footage film, The Last Exorcism, which introduced Ashley Bell and Caleb Landry Jones to many. Groovy Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, and Necronomicon beasties rocked possession in a different, comedic, and gory fashion with The Evil Dead franchise, and now with the phenomenal television series, “Ash vs. Evil Dead.” (Yes, Ash had become possessed and even lost his hand in the demonic process, but unlike female characters, he was able to break free from the clutches of evil.) One of John Carpenter’s most under-appreciated horrors is the heady and unsettling Prince of Darkness from 1987 where possession is embraced from a skeptical scientific point of view, ironically at the behest of a priest (Don Pleasance) no less. In 2006, Hans-Christian Schmid’s in-depth look into the true story of Anneliese Michel in Requiem rips one’s heart out, while The Taking of Deborah Logan pulls one straight down into Creep City thanks to the brilliant acting of Jill Larson. For a thriller, don’t pass up Denzel Washington on the hunt for a leap-frogging demon in the under-respected Tinseltown story, Fallen from 1998. And although the Roman Catholic factor exists, and regardless of the narrative’s imperfections, The Vatican Tapes brings viewers something new in the third act many didn’t see coming.

616 Becomes 666

666 is certainly one number that lives in infamy, especially in Judeo-Christian-Muslim religious culture. But where the hell did it come from, and how does it have so much damn power? This “Number of the Beast” is in Revelation (never “Revelations”) chapter 13, verse 18.

As a child, I took it to heart that 666 was the spawn of Satan’s number, and The Omen reaffirmed that for me, though the actual three-digit number appearing on a child born on 6/6/66 seemed downright silly. Even so, interpretations of the number and its origins have led to many an argument and have found their ways into many a book. What blew my mind many moons ago, however, is the discovery of Papyrus 115. Irenaeus, who’s responsible for the attacks on Gnosticism in the second century AD, decreed that the beastly number was indeed 666, when he knew of the original number as 616. This numerical difference found confirmation in 2005 when a 1,700-year-old fragment of Papyrus 115, which had been discovered at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, turned up in Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum.

Now, if the number was originally 616, why the change? The answer can be found in Hebrew numerology, gematria to be precise, as well as Greek isopsephy where every letter in the alphabet has a matching number. In this case, 616 is the “numerical name” so to speak of Caligula, the whacked out Roman Emperor who declared that his horse was a senator (among other weirdness and genuine horror whether sponsored by Bob Guccione or not). After the assassination of “Little Boots,” Nero took the helm, and his name as number is 666. This would indicate that redactors (editors) altered the number to reflect the true beast to Jesus Christ and fledgling Christianity in general: The Roman Empire and its main man. The number code would protect the small group of Christians hunkering down for survival since Romans wouldn’t know what the numbers meant, and the horrific warnings from the Book of Revelation would prevent Christians from giving up this newborn religion out of fear. (Please conduct your due diligence and check all this out for yourself. It’s pretty wild.)

The Possession Sub-genre in Horror

With the aforementioned in mind, let’s keep 666 on the shelf, in a jar, locked in a box, and forgotten – unless you’re doing something with the number that we’ve never seen before. Storytellers have used 666 as a cheap device to strike fear into the hearts of audiences by letting them know the Devil is afoot – or ahoof. But this trope has been so overused and misused that it’s become comical. It’s just as bad as hearing that demonic voice state, “We are Legion” before her open sores leak and stain the bedsheets.

Yawn.

And the next time you have some young woman tied to a bed as she’s being exorcised, don’t do this: If she can move objects, imitate voices, make the bed rise, vomit pea soup, adjust room temperature, launch objects, and project hallucinations, I’m sure that bound demon has the power to untie its human host and run amok.

If Satan, Mephistopheles, Old Nick, Old Scratch, or whatever you want to call him – or her – come calling in your story, take a page from Al Pacino as the Prince of Lies in The Devil’s Advocate: make it so we never see him coming. Unleash the beast in a way that will surprise and rock audiences, but leave the overused numbers, rituals, and “The body of Christ compels you!” chanting out of it. Think of demonic possession in a new way, shape, and form to bring a different angle to horror audiences craving something different and shocking. Hell, it isn’t horror if you’re not making readers or audience members gasp.

Now run to the hills, blast some Iron Maiden, and don’t call me in the morning – especially at 6:66 AM.

Billy Crash (aka William D. Prystauk) loves great storytelling in horror, and likes to see heads roll, but if you kill a dog on screen he’ll cry like a baby. Billy co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on Twitter, LinkedIn, IMDb, Amazon, and his professional website.

(Photo of Al Pacino getting his Satan on in The Devil’s Advocate from AV Club.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Dead on Arrival: Halloween

The Last Knock

Happy Halloween! Hey…

“Wait a minute, you’re saying John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic is overrated?!”

Yup. We take a look at Carpenter’s renowned Halloween film that launched Jamie Lee Curtis’s career, helped solidify the writer/director as a burgeoning horror icon, and added another bloody feather to the amazing cinematographer, Dean Cundey’s cap. Now, don’t think we’re stabbing you in the heart – or stomach – because we both have a ton of creepy love for The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and more from the master of the macabre. Yet, just because Halloween‘s loved by many doesn’t mean it’s free of scrutiny – or flaws.

Join us as we go beneath the William Shatner mask of Michael Myers to find out what’s wrong…

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@dixiefairy @isaacrthorne @MelanieMcCurdie @machinemeannow @flcamera @AnnThraxx @XcentricModels @LianeMoonRaven @LoudGreenBird @FriscoKidTX @RealJillyG @RonGizmo @Talk2Cleo @BleedingCritic @d_m_elms @RSBrzoska @corybrin and Paul J. Williams on Facebook.