FANGORIA 2009, Weekend of Horrors in Chicago

Fangoria 2009 in Chicago

Fangoria 2009: March 6, 7 and 8. The first convention of the year for me: Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors in Chicago. And I was pumped. Italian horror panel, Herschel Gordon Lewis… and a last minute addition of Jeffrey Combs! I had been waiting two years to meet Combs, which is quite a while when you’re meeting as many genre icons as I do. Without further ado, here’s a run-down of the weekend. I made sure to take notes during question and answer panels to pass the knowledge of the stars on to you.

Herschell Gordon Lewis

Lewis, the Godfather of Gore, spoke on Friday evening. He was very charming and had a very witty and humorous attitute. He could have easily filled two hours. Lewis is a Chicago native, so the territory was not strange to him and the places he spoke about were familiar to many of the members in the audience. His original theater was the “Blood Shed”, and he has filmed some sequences in Chicago graveyards.

Lewis joked about Chicago building codes, and how easy it is to get around them with a little bribe money. We heard a story about getting kicked out of an apartment during the shooting of “Wizard of Gore”, where a goat was left behind. Lewis was too scared to go back and retrieve it… despite the fact it was supposed to be used for the film as a special effect where a person is torn to shreds (with the actual tearing being on the goat). In one scene, a woman has her tongue ripped out, and what was actually used was a sheep tongue. To off-set the taste (it had been sitting out too long), it was covered with keyopectate and Pine Sol. Not that this was any better.

Sadly, Lewis reported that he no longer has the rights to his films, but found out many years later that he has the musical rights, so as soon as he registered those with BMI, he began receiving royalty checks. Then Lewis led us all in a sing-a-long of the theme from “2000 Maniacs”, as long as we shouted “yee-haw”. We did.

Tom Towles

I caught up with Tom Towles (star of “Henry”, “Night of the Living Dead” and “House of 1000 Corpses”) at his booth. Very, very nice guy. I ended up talking with him longer than anyone else, and I didn’t even know I was a big fan (but now I am certain). Tom talked about how Rob Zombie and Sheri Moon are like a modern-day Ozzie and Harriet, very polite and refined people. I always found Rob to be a shy guy despite his rocker image, and Tom confirmed that he is a performer and loves to give, but also leads a private life. It used to be easy to find him at concerts, but now it’s hard to track down Zombie.

Gavin and Rob Zombie 2007

Throwback: Gavin and Rob Zombie, 2007

We discussed the realism of “Henry”, which Tom credited to not only the directing of John McNaughton and the visual effects, but also the synergy of the actors. He also said he considered it to be an honor to be called disturbing (such as in “Henry”) or an asshole (such as “Night of the Living Dead”), because that means he did his job right.

Tom sat down with me for an extended interview on Saturday… we discussed this and more.

Lloyd Kaufman

Lloyd Kaufman’s presentation was a bit different than it had been in 2006. He toned down his promotion of “Poultrygeist”, which is not surprising considering the movie is now out on DVD. He did, however, replay a video of Toxie in Iraq for no real reason. And he had with him two Tromettes, Dystopia and Pedophilia.

Mostly, Kaufman was pushing an agenda for independent cinema, as he has pushed for all his life. He railed against the MPAA and argued for Net Neutrality, using a video of him captured by a terrorist named “Rupert”. And he even had time to throw in a tasteless Heath Ledger joke.

Ashley Laurence

Ashley is an unusual horror celebrity. She doesn’t seem overly comfortable with the horror crowd, despite being in the business over twenty years. She enjoys talking about acting, but horror in general is not her forte. (Last March, I asked if she ever read “Hellbound Heart” and she said no. I asked her again this year and it was still a no.) She even says that as a child she drew creatures that her mother claimed had smiles to lure you in to pet them only to bite you, but the macabre in general was not her interest.

Ashley Laurence and Gavin 2008

Ashley Laurence and Gavin, 2008

She talked about how they tried to make the film “Hellraiser” look American, despite being English. The inclusion of an NY hat, for example. Also, she stressed the “fireplace difference” — rich Americans have fireplaces (for decoration mostly), whereas poor English have fireplaces (because they can’t afford central or furnace heat).

Interestingly, while in Romania she joined the Universal Life Church with John Finch and Paul Mantee, possibly during the filming of “Lurking Fear”. There was also a brief discussion of “Red” with Robert Englund and Lucky McKee, though I didn’t make note of it.

Italian Horror Panel

Let me say up front the Italian horror panel was a mess. Three guys who barely speak English, a translator with a thick Italian accent, and a moderator who is Scottish. On top of this, the audience didn’t have good questions. Either they didn’t know the people’s work (which seemed to be the case for some questions) or asked really vague questions that weren’t interesting. Last year, Ruggero Deodato was alone and his panel was amazingly interesting. Now with Lamberto Bava (a legend) and Sergio Stivaletti (who did great special effects work for Argento, Bava and Soavi) it just flopped.

Bava touted a new project he’s working on called “Room 213”, about a guy in a coma who turns out to be a serial killer. For the most part, though, they seemed to keep quiet on projects, not wishing bad luck upon themselves.

Someone asked what made American horror different from Italian horror. Stivaletti said that American films are more humorous and tongue-in-cheek, whereas Italian films aren’t. Bava said the budget is different, and Italian horror is dying in Italy. The big names are vanishing with no new ones coming along. Deodato said Italians will go where Americans fear to go, such as the jungle.

Someone asked Ruggero Deodato if “The Blair Witch Project” copied his style from “Cannibal Holocaust”. He said yes, but it was a good thing because it brought new attention to his film for the first time in 19 years. The director of “Blair Witch Project”, for the record, maintains that he didn’t see “Cannibal Holocaust” until after his film was released. This seems plausible, as the films bear only a faint resemblance.

Someone asked what made them get into film. Stivaletti said “Star Wars”, Ray Harryhausen and Dario Argento. Bava said his father and grandfather (of course). Deodato relayed the story of growing up with Roberto Rossellini. Stivaletti also said the best advice he ever received was from Argento — “Golden bridges to people leaving.” If someone wants to go, it’s better to let them than to keep them around… they will just be frustrated on the set.

The films of the men on stage are not often shown in Italy. “Demons” cannot be shown on Italian TV, and “Cannibal Holocaust” is of course banned. Deodato alleges, however, that it has been downloaded 1,400,000 times in Italy alone.

Doug Bradley

I didn’t catch a lot of Doug Bradley because I had to duck out for a scheduled interview. (I was lucky to get a question off him later.) Basically, he was promoting two films: “Tamora Gamble”, starring Angela Bettis (“May”) in the title role. Doug plays God in human form, who is stuck in human form because he lost a bet with the devil. Unfortunately, claiming you’re a human and a god usually gets you into trouble.

The other film is called “Umbrage”, and he brought a teaser trailer with him (allegedly never viewed before). It looks amazing. It’s a vampire cowboy film set in England, which actually makes sense in the trailer. Doug plays a father who is a bit too friendly with his stepdaughter… and he also happens to have Lilith and the devil fighting each other in his barn. If you can check out this trailer, do it. I was blown away.

Ari Lehman

Mysteriously, Ari Lehman (Jason in the original “Friday the 13th”) showed up, too, even though he wasn’t part of the show. I will likely be catching a show with his band First Jason in Neenah in a week or so.

Tony Wash

I also met up with Tony Wash, director of “It’s My Party and I’ll Die if I Want To”, and drank some Chinese booze before heading back to the room for some Domino’s pizza (the only pizza place that delivers to Rosemont).

George A. Romero

Romero talked about being a Canadian citizen, and how he’d love to work with Tom Savini again, but getting him to Canada would be a trick. He also said he doesn’t feel trapped by doing zombie films, as they let him do satire and say things he can’t say directly. His biggest concern? Tribalism, which he thinks is the world’s biggest problem.

The most memorable thing about Romero was the long line to get his signature… well over an hour and a half.

Jeffrey Combs

I love Jeffrey Combs, so when I heard he was added to the line-up at the last minute to replace Tobe Hooper, I was more than just a little excited. As such, I took extensive notes.

Combs was talking up three new projects: (1) “Parasomnia”, about a girl who is awake only one hour during the day and thus lives in a dream world. (2) “Dunwich Horror”, a remake of the film of the same name. Combs says it is much closer to the story this time, and once again stars Dean Stockwell. When Combs asked Stockwell what it was like making the original, he didn’t recall — he said he was too busy getting high with Dennis Hopper and Neil Young, helping Young write songs on a hill. (3) “Dark House”, a haunted house story where the house turns out to be really haunted.

There will be no fourth “Re-Animator”. IMDB over the years has kept “House of Re-Animator” alive, even with an alleged cast, but Combs says it’s an urban legend. He does suspect there will be a remake “with all the bells and whistles” that sucks, however.

Regarding “The Frighteners”, Combs recalled auditioning for the role against Joe Mantegna and running into Michael J. Fox in the waiting room, where it turned out Mantegna and Fox were friends. Combs, of course, still got the part. He also talked of picking out his character’s hairstyle by looking at photos of Adolf Hitler as a young man.

Combs says his four favorite films to work on were: “Re-Animator”, “The Frighteners”, “The Black Cat” and “Love at 45”.

Charles Band “is an interesting cat.” And William Malone “comes up with visual images that stick with you.”

In the film “From Beyond”, Combs had to eat a brain… so he was miming it. Stuart Gordon didn’t like this, so he put the one pink thing he could find in the brain — Fixodent. Combs was unable to speak his lines with a mouth full of Fixodent, though, and once Gordon tried it himself, they went back to plan A — miming it.

Combs bullshitted his way through the “Re-Animator” audition. When asked if he had read Lovecraft, he said he had, despite not really knowing who Lovecraft was. Stuart Gordon’s camera style, particularly in “Re-Animator”, is borrowed from Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s baby”, constantly keeping the camera behind the lead actor, following them.

Combs claims the Herbert West character in the “Army of Darkness v. Re-Animator” comics looks nothing like him, or else they’d have to talk to his lawyer.

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