MONSTER-MANIA 14, March 12-14
The End of Days is Well Nigh
Waking up that Friday morning of Monster-Mania 14, I was convinced the End of Days was here. The skies had opened in truly Biblical form the night before, and as I drove into work, it felt as if the world were going to perish in the flood. I got soaked going out to the bank during my lunch break, and the deluge showed no signs of stopping as I headed to Mike Cucinotta’s. I was going on my first convention trip with my friend and founder of Icons of Fright, and had been looking forward to meeting up with old friends when I got to Cherry Hill, NJ. As I sat in the passenger seat and we drove through the downpour, I figured if the Apocalypse really were here, at least I’d have some cool company to spend my last several hours with. Hell, if Renee, Behr, Nicole, Jonathan, Will Bozarth, Chad, Dom and Mike himself were with me, maybe I wouldn’t even mind if the world ended before the breakfast buffet at the Old Country Buffet began.
Perhaps my peculiar take on the storm was the result of having seen two movies recently about the collapse of the world; after all, BOOK OF ELI and THE CRAZIES could set my mind to thinking of the disintegration of the social structure, especially with my reverence for zombie movies. Or perhaps I was just a little spooked by the howling wind and driving rain. Or maybe it was Mike’s fault. After all, he kept commenting on his Facebook about how Gary Busey was going to destroy South Jersey. Yes. Gary Busey. Who was going to be in South Jersey. At the convention. All three days. Perhaps now you understand my take on things.
After the long drive through the demonic storm (the classic comedy of Don Rickles and Rodney Dangerfield kept us alive), we finally arrived at the hotel around 8:30 Friday night. Our room number was just another signpost of the chaos; while every other room in the hotel had professionally made numbers outside the door, our had what looked like the scrawlings of a maniac. Icons of Fright was covering the room, and I was just happy to have shelter, so I wasn’t complaining. After we dropped off our stuff, we went down to get our wrist bands for the weekend, which our beloved website was also covering. Let me be honest; it’s a definite nicety when my hard work and writings get me free ins on stuff. But I digress. As it was already nearly 9 pm, I really had no energy for the convention itself, unfortunately. Sure, I peeked around in the dealer’s room, where I introduced Mike to my dear friend Gary Streiner from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. And I gave the guest rooms a look, just to confirm who had shown. But beyond that, I had no intentions of doing anything.
In fact, this was historically the laziest I’ve ever been at a con, and that would be a theme throughout the weekend. Every time I remarked to myself, “I should really get that autograph…” my slow reply would be, “Ahh, I can do that later.” Get an interview for Icons? “Well, I can always do that tomorrow.” Was it the weather that had sapped my desire to do just about anything at the show? Maybe. I would’ve pondered it as I was in the hotel, but that would’ve taken far too much energy.
With Friday quite literally a wash, I took my time catching up with those friends I mentioned earlier. As I don’t live anywhere near the Philly area, and this might be the only time I would see them for another year, I took great joy in their company. And here’s where MM stands apart from every other con I’ve attended the last six years. It’s not really about Monster-Mania at all, but about getting together and hanging out. The vibe is more party than convention, and I’m convinced many of those who attend use the show as an excuse for one long weekend of reveling and debauchery. If the End of Days was coming, these people were going to party to the Apocalypse. Rock on, I say.
I hung out with them as they drank, but booze isn’t my thing. Peach covered waffles, now that’s my thing. I’d hyped them to some of my friends on Facebook, and apparently I’d built up enough cache to where a whole horde of people swore they would join me the next day at the OCB the next morning. But hey, that was before the drinking and carousing had hit full swing. Funny how a bunch of hung over horror fans have no desire to get up and travel through driving rain less than a half mile to a buffet. The texts and calls continued all morning, each one dropping another friend from my breakfast company. I’ve never felt so neglected in my life. Fortunately, my stalwart companion Mike offered to share his company and his ride to the buffet. He was impressed with the food, which I counted as a small victory.
Stuffed beyond all good reason and drenched to the bone, we returned to the hotel. My insomnia had been in
overdrive for days, in anticipation of the trip I’m sure. So much of Saturday is a blur. As Mike watched Polanski’s A KNIFE IN THE WATER, dear beautiful Renee stopped by, assuring me she wasn’t neglecting me. After that, everything is kind of scattershot. I remember snippets of the day: Mike getting Mark Patton’s autograph on a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2 8×10, and Patton saying “He’s inside me!” is his favorite line; Will Bozarth sitting behind Gary Streiner’s table with Jim Cirronella, as if he’d become part of the NOTLD/ AUTOPSY OF THE DEAD team; my mild frustration at Fright Rags, my favorite horror shirt vendor, not having their new THE HOWLING shirt, but smiling as I bought the splinter-through-Olga’s-eye shirt from ZOMBIE; out into the hellacious rain again, as Mike made a booze run; ending up with two dinners; ending up all over the place Saturday night, as I tried to hang out with all those friends. Does any of this make sense? Because it doesn’t to me.
The convention itself seemed to do brisk business Saturday. I’d been to cons where weather held back the fans and hurt attendance (see my Rock and Shock review), but that clearly wasn’t the case here. In fact, despite the hellstorm outside, the numbers seemed way up from last year. I was surprised, because the two major reunions this time around were NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and the original MY BLOODY VALENTINE. Don’t get me wrong. I actually dig both movies, and think they’re underrated. But to build a con around them? And to have it work? Certainly a sign that the planet was about to meet its doom.
Further proof? I refer you to Dario Argento’s line. Dario rarely does conventions, and back in June, when he was at Fango and was only signing for a limited time, I’d passed on him. On Saturday, as I saw a long line in the hotel lobby, I asked a staffer if it were for Argento, expecting a “yes.” But I was wrong. It was for Gary Busey. The conclusion was evident: these fans were going with spectacle over legacy. They were taking the “Celebrity Rehab” guy with the massive head injury over the horror legend behind SUSPIRIA and partly responsible for DAWN OF THE DEAD. I was even more shocked when, on Sunday morning, I was able to walk right up to Argento’s table and get an autograph some 30 seconds later, as people waited in a long line that wound its way upstairs for Scout Taylor I can never remember her full name, from HALLOWEEN II. The HALLOWEEN II that every horror fan I knew hated. I started to think at this point that Mike had been right all along, and that Busey was just waiting for his chance…
Of course, Busey had already struck at the ice cream social on Friday night, but that story isn’t mine, sadly. Nor can I tell you about the Corey Haim tribute or the Charles Band Full Moon Road Show, both of which scored insanely high fan attendance, but weren’t up my alley. I was more entertained by people watching in the bar, where I met Heather Buckley’s friend Scooter McCrae, director of low budget zombie opus SHATTER DEAD. Scooter found it hard to believe that I had two books on zombie films that had long discourses on his film, and that Mike and I had been watching it on Netflix in our hotel room. Watching Mike interact with the people in the bar, including RE-ANIMATOR star Bruce Abbott, was as entertaining as could be. I often tell Mike that he has a lot of peculiarities, and that I love him for every one of them. Out in the lobby, Mike met budding film director J. D. Lifshitz, still in high school, by way of John Torrani and Ted Geoghegan. Fascinated by the lad, Mike engaged him in conversation about their common acquaintance Tim Sullivan. But I wasn’t in the mood for ingénues, not when there were good people and beautiful women around.
As the bar closed, I came out to find a horde of people waiting for the elevator, alongside a half dozen firemen. Just another omen, several convention goers were stuck in an elevator between floors. This seemed right in line with an incident earlier, as one of the MY BLOODY VALENTINE cast had fainted and needed medical assistance. Once the elevator chaos died down, so did the lobby. I’d been to MMs before where people would hang out in the lobby until sunrise, but this time around, it seemed everyone shared my lethargy and was too tired to party beyond closing time.
Another sleepless night for this insomniac, and then an early rise. I headed down as the convention started, and now there was no stalling. If I wanted to accomplish anything for the website, I had to move on it, and quick. As the guest rooms opened, I made my way to interview Bruce Abbott, of RE-ANIMATOR. Bruce was a gracious guy, and very happy to my questions.
I headed back to the room to grab my bags for checkout, and Mike gave a new wrinkle to the trip: we would be giving his ingénue a ride home, as J. D. was a fellow Long Islander. Mike and I finally met Argento, and I also got an autograph from Tom Atkins, who had a few interesting things to say about George Romero and John Carpenter. We then ventured out into the still-raging
storm for lunch at Chili’s. They make a decent shrimp taco, and their devil’s food cake with the molten fudge inside made for a quality dessert. Not a bad last meal, if this was the end.
Returning to the show, I made my way to Thom Mathews of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 6 for my second interview. As with Bruce Abbott, Thom was gracious and gave a nice interview. They’ll both be posted in audio format soon on the site.
As soon as I finished the interview, Mike and the kid director were ready to go. I said a quick good-bye to Nicole as she waited to meet Gary Busey, and was out again to face the hell storm. Conversation passed the time as we reached a devastated Long Island, with downed trees and closed streets everywhere. Mike’s dad had already called to tell him they had no electricity at the Cucinotta house. I fully expected Romero zombies to roam the streets of Nassau County, as Roland Emmerich directed tidal waves to wipe out Manhattan. The world was never going to make it Monday.
Outside it’s raining again, but it’s not near the storm it was that weekend of MM 14. At two weeks distance, I’m still alive, and so is the world. Somehow, the convention came to an end, but not the End of Days. As for the show itself, MM will never be my favorite show. The guest list is medium in size, and as this show proved, tailored to fans of select movies. But going by its dedicated fan base, the show was a major success. They partied hard and jumped on the guest list, most of all Busey, who forgot he had starred in GINGERDEAD MAN. Proof that perhaps the Apocalypse isn’t so far off after all…
Photos contributed kindly by Will Bozarth, Nicole Fiss, Dominic Mancini, Jonathan Yuhas, Chris Behringer and Renee Schramm