This past weekend, I hopped on a red-eye Greyhound to attend the Frightmare in the Falls horror convention in lovely Niagara Falls, Ontario, which featured the stars of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Cujo, Reanimator, and Return of the Living Dead (as well as punk rocker Marky Ramone)
After scanning my very dog-eared paper ticket, I walked into the convention hall and was immediately greeted by a collection of grisly creations by the Butcher Shop FX Studio.
“The Butcher Shop Monster Museum” included life-sized recreations of Candyman, Jason Voorhees, the chest-bursting Alien, and the most disturbing depiction of Chucky I’ve ever seen.
Locked in the Cellar Creations also had some wicked displays, including a Pet Sematary-inspired haunted graveyard and recreations of the living rooms from Stranger Things and Evil Dead.
My favourite, however, was their gurgling “Toxic Zen Fountain:”
Quiet Room Bears – Film Screening and Lee Howard Q&A
Checking out the booths that first morning, I found myself disturbed and impressed by the Quiet Room Bears, a collection of monstrous doll/teddy bear hybrids assembled by artist Lee Howard. And when I saw that the disgusting creatures were the subject of their own short movie being screened that day, I had to check it out.
The bears’ cinematic showcase felt like a visit to a Build-A-Bear workshop run by serial killers. And Howard, who was on-hand to take questions after the film, has plenty of ideas for full-length follow-up.
Howard created his first Quiet Room Bear for a Rosemary’s Baby-themed Halloween party, and the visceral reactions of his friends inspired him to make more. The disturbing dolls found an unlikely champion in horror actor Mark Patton (best known for his starring role in Nightmare on Elm Street 2), who befriended Howard at a convention and gave him advice on how to price and market them.
The Quiet Room Bears have since become a sought-after collector’s item among horror fans, and put Howard into contact with some of his favorite filmmakers. “These bears have opened a lot of doors for me,” he said, advising fellow artists to pursue even their most eccentric passions.
“Do the art you love. Even if your family says, ‘Don’t make those bears, that’s weird,’ don’t listen to them!” he concluded, adding wryly: “Follow your dreams!”
That said, the bears have caused Howard some awkward moments at the US border, as well as at the checkout counter of his local Value Village. He said he’s taken to bringing along business cards to explain his bulk purchases of used teddy bears and deconstructed Barbie dolls.
Marilyn Manson also found them pretty weird. After being presented with a customized bear after a concert in Oshawa, the shock rocker supposedly said something along the lines of, “Whoever made this is really fucked up” – which, coming from him, is likely the highest of compliments.
The Women of Horror: Linnea Quigley, Barbara Crampton, & Dee Wallace Q&A
Next, I checked out a women in horror panel featuring Return of the Living Dead actress Linnea Quigley; Barbara Crampton of Re-Animator, Lords of Salem, and goth nun dramedy Little Sister; and Cujo and E.T. star Dee Wallace.
Wallace, who started her career with “a religious film…and then segued right into The Hills Have Eyes,” talked about how the horror genre in the eighties allowed actresses to play “big emotional roles” – even if they were often relatively powerless characters.
“We got to explore a lot of important issues, but we got to do it as victims,” she acknowledged, suggested that the “strong” roles more readily available to women nowadays (think steely cops and detectives) don’t allow for that same range.
Crampton, for her part, is heartened by the shift towards empowered female characters, noting that female heroes of older films like Terminator and Alien “represented as male.”
“It’s really in right now, in society, to want women to be strong and capable,” she said. “There’s [been] a bit of a shift, and I think that’s good for us.”
On the topic of working with mostly male directors, the actresses all reported mostly positive experiences, even if they occasionally had to push back on scenes they deemed exploitative or not true to their characters. Quigley (who landed one of her early roles after the original actress refused to do nudity) successfully fought to tone down a particularly vicious assault scene in one film. And Wallace resisted Steven Spielberg when he wanted her to appear topless – in E.T. of all films. “To his benefit, he listened.”
From Texas To Hell: Bill Moseley Q&A
The best story of the convention came from Devil’s Rejects/Three From Hell star Bill Moseley, recounting how he landed his signature role in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
Moseley was a freelance writer working at a dude ranch in the 1980s when one of his colleagues, suffering from a combination of heat stroke and over-consumption of sugar, blurted out a word salad that included the phrase “Texas Chainsaw Manicure.”
Inspired, Moseley wrote and appeared in a short film about a nail salon patron who falls asleep in the chair and dreams of being attacked by Leatherface. The final scenes show the victim waking up from her nightmare, admiring her new manicure, and exiting the salon to be picked up by her husband: Moseley, playing the Hitchhiker from the original film.
Texas Chainsaw Manicure eventually made its way into the hands of original Massacre director Tobe Hooper, who enjoyed it and was especially impressed by Moseley’s performance. Two years later, Moseley (who was not, at that point, a professional actor) got the call to play Leatherface’s even crazier brother Chop Top in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
Moseley was paid scale for the role, which was nonetheless much more than he was making as a writer, and his ad-hoc agent even negotiated a $5000 bonus in return for him shaving his head.
The character, a murderous hippie with a Sonny Bono wig covering the metal plate in his head, became a fan favourite. Years later, Chop Top was revived in an unreleased short film called All-American Massacre, directed by Hooper’s son Tony. (The film, which Moseley described as a “backyard” effort meant to bolster Hooper’s creative portfolio, co-starred cult guitar hero Buckethead as Leatherface).
While All-American Massacre didn’t really go anywhere, the production put Moseley in touch with a make-up artist who could effectively recreate the Chop Top look, allowing him to play the character at a horror industry awards show. As fate would have it, he ended up presenting an award to heavy metal musician Rob Zombie, who would later cast him as Otis in his debut film House of 1000 Corpses.
The rest is horror history.
Fear and Loathing in the Haunted House
On Day 2, I checked out the Bizarro’s Factory of Fear Pop-Up Haunt, which managed to pack a lot of disturbing into a very small space.
Full disclosure: despite my love of all things horror, I am a complete chicken when it comes to haunted houses. Especially when live actors are involved. (Who am I kidding? I was freaked out in the Louis Tussaud’s Wax Museum).
Nonetheless, I thought, how scary could this be, a little tent in the corner of a brightly lit convention hall?
And so, I ventured inside to find myself face-to-fade with a pig man and a scary doctor wielding a set of rusted pliers. “Are you accredited?” I blurted out, before I fled screaming from the tent.
The Saw Is Family: John Dugan and R.A. Milhailoff Q&A
My first panel of Day 2 was The Saw Is Family, featuring John Dugan, who played Grandpa Sawyer in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and R.A. Mihailoff, who took over as Leatherface sixteen years later for Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. (Amusingly, the two are the same age).
Both actors had plenty of interesting stories to tell, particularly Milhailoff, who has also worked as a wrestler and a ghost hunter. (One fun fact: he trained at the same wrestling school as John Cena, and claimed that a friend of his — who was also briefly cast as Leatherface in one of the remakes before being unceremoniously replaced due to injury – gave Cena one of his early gimmicks.)
Dugan and Milhailoff had dramatically different filming experiences in their time with the franchise. Thanks to the strict labour standards of the Screen Actors Guild, working conditions on Massacre III were a lot more pleasant than on the low-budget, non-union original.
“The Screen Actors Guild would have had us shut down,” Dugan stated, in response to my question about the gruelling shoot.
The cast, he said, were all young actors eager to do whatever it took to get the shot – particularly co-star Marilyn Burns, who had her finger sliced open for real in one scene. She also had a wooden broom handle broken over her back and was accidentally conked in the head with the solid end of a prop hammer. (If you re-watch the scene where Grandpa hits her with a sledgehammer, Dugan said, you can see the fresh wound below her hairline).
“What a trooper!”
I Wanna Be Sedated: Marky Ramone Q&A
As a punk fan, one of the coolest moments of the weekend was getting to see iconic drummer Marky Ramone.
The last surviving member of The Ramones, he’s also played with seminal bands such as The Voidoids (“where the Sex Pistols got their image,” he notes) and The Misfits, and had lots of awesome stories about the punk scene in the seventies and beyond.
Marky seems to have avoided much of the music industry infighting, and had kind words to say about pretty much everyone he’d ever worked with (except for Sting, who he says pissed off the band by mocking their American flag pins).
“Clash were the best,” he concluded. “Clash were the nicest people – we had a great time. Sid [Vicious] was the most fun though.”
This being a horror convention, Marky was also asked about recording the theme song for Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, which was the first Ramones song he played on after a four-year hiatus.
Other than getting lost in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery after filming the music video, he said, it was an enjoyable experience. King, a huge Ramones fan, treated the band to an enjoyable dinner in his Maine basement, after which bassist Dee Dee Ramone wrote the song in about thirty minutes. “You can do that when you’re a great songwriter, like he was.”
Ironically, Pet Sematary doesn’t rank among Marky’s favourite horror films. “I give it about a seven,” he said bluntly.
Ramone quickly outed himself as an avid fan of vintage horror and science fiction, going on a long tangent about the evolution of Japanese kaiju films. (The early ones, like Rodan and the original Godzilla, had intelligent messages, he explained; they got stupid after the monsters were dumbed down for children).
His other faves include The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein, and “anything with Ray Harryhausen,” as well as The Exorcist. “I took my friend and he dropped two tabs of acid when he saw The Exorcist,” Marky recounted. “I don’t recommend it.”
This was even before they re-added the infamous “crab-walk” scene to the movie, which was a blessing in his friend’s case: “I woulda had to take him to the hospital.”
During the Q&A, I asked him about bonding with Johnny Ramone over horror movies; I barely had the chance to blurt out, “Johnny Ramone was also a huge horror fan,” before Marky burst into tales of memorabilia-hunting with the late guitarist. He and Johnny used to seek out collectables stores in every town they played (which in those days, meant poring through the phone books at gas stations) and buy up old movie posters. He still has an impressive collection, he says, but Johnny’s was bigger. (Marky also provided some good advice on the importance of framing or mounting posters to prevent damage).
Camp Crystal Lake Revisited: Kane Hodder, Ari Lehman, Lar Park Lincoln and Terry Kiser Q&A
The most popular event of the weekend seemed to be the Friday the 13th panel, which featured a wide-ranging conversation about stunt work, ghost-hunting, playing dead, and what it felt like to wear the Nightmare on Elm Street glove.
In addition to prolific Jason performer and stuntman Kane Hodder (who’s played the character in four films), the panel included the first-ever Jason: Ari Lehman, who was just fifteen when he debuted the character in the shocking final scene of the first film. (Now a musician, Lehman started attending horror cons after he found out that fraudsters were forging his autograph on Friday merch). Rounding out the Q&A were Friday the 13th Part VII co-stars Lar Park Lincoln and Terry Kiser (also known as the titular character in Weekend and Bernie’s).
Hodder and Kiser are still perplexed at why Part VII – initially conceived as “a gore film” – had most of its gorier scenes edited out prior to release. “Every kill scene was cut,” Hodder said regretfully.
Asked if an uncut edition could ever emerge, Hodder explained that while the original footage still exists, none of it was ever colour-corrected and the quality would be too poor for re-use.
Hodder also revealed that he beat out Greg Nicotero and other crew members for the honour of donning Freddy Krueger’s glove in the final scene of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday: “All the effects guys wanted to do it.
Marketplace of Evil
On the convention floor, there was no shortage of vendors selling their eclectic wares, ranging from horror movies and memorabilia (pictured: Black Fawn Distribution, producers of fine Canadian horror flicks like Bed of the Dead and The Heretics) to masks, taxidermy, and Buffalo Bill lotion dispensers.
All in all, this was an excellent, well-run convention. Hope to see something like this in Ottawa soon.