Rants and Raves: Weekend of Horrors
Bruce Campbell and Jeffrey Combs Deliver the Goods
Monday, October 18, 2010
Creation Entertainment recently took over LA's horror convention from Fangoria. I have gone to two of Creation's Weekend of Horrors (WOH) and while individual panels have been great the Convention organizing could use some improvement. My biggest complaint is that the schedule takes so long to go up. Both this past weekend's schedule and the one for the event in May went up the Friday the Convention started. That's tough for people trying to purchase tickets for specific guests or event, or for those of us coming from out of town. And because the event schedule goes up so late I always hesitate to buy tickets early for fear that guests (like Asia Argento) will not show. I understand the difficulties of running a Convention but even posting such meager information as what time the Convention opens and closes each day is helpful for us out of towners. It was ironic, though, that on their Facebook page they were bragging about getting a jump on next year's Weekend of Horrors so that things would run more smoothly yet at that point in time they still had failed to post a schedule for the current even they were working on.
Creation also sells Gold and Preferred tickets that allow attendees to reserve a seat at events. That's cool if you want to spend the money but the down side for guests and panelists is that if the reserved seating does not sell well, the venue looks empty. Ten or more rows of seats go empty if Gold and Preferred seating does not sell out. Bruce Campbell faced a bunch of empty seats in the front rows because of this seating policy. The back of the house, where the lowly regular, non-reserved seating attendees have to sit was packed but at least a third of the front row seats were empty.
This wasn't really a problem for the panels but it was downright embarrassing for the special one-man show of "Nevermore" featuring Jeffrey Combs as Edgar Allen Poe. This was a great addition to the Convention program and it should have been hyped and the theater packed. But Creation did a poor job of promoting it. My brother who lives in LA and is a horror fan like myself didn't even know it was playing and then had a hard time finding out if a non-attendee could purchase tickets to just the play.
At the single performance of "Nevermore," only about a hundred people showed up (if that and that filled what looked like less than a quarter of the house). The Creation staff then seemed to panic about the small turnout and urged everyone to move forward to fill the front of the house. When I asked what happens if the people with Gold Passes show up, the staffer just shrugged his shoulders and said they wanted the front rows filled. So, being the third person in line, I dutifully sat in the front row. Meanwhile another staffer called out for Gold pass holders and only four people raised their hands. That's a pretty sad turnout from the high end ticket holders.
Then about ten minutes AFTER the show was supposed to start a pair of Gold Pass holders came to kick us out of our seats. Now I perfectly understand their point of view, if I had paid $250 I would want my seats but I have an issue with Creation for handling the whole thing badly and then having to move my friends and I out of the seats that they told us to sit in. The unexpected perk was that the new seats were on the side of the house that Combs totally played to the entire evening. In fact at one point he even grabbed the person in front of me and was close enough to touch so I definitely ended up with prime seats.
If you are a longtime San Diego resident you might have seen Combs perform at the Old Globe Theater (I saw him as Dromio in "The Comedy of Errors), and he did do his Poe here in town earlier this year. His performance Saturday night was amazing. He read such classic Poe works as "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Raven," and then provided some insights into Poe the man. Director Stuart Gordon (who steered him to fine performances in the films "Re-Animator" and "From Beyond") was on hand to oversee the show. Maybe the two will also collaborate on a one-man show of H.P. Lovecraft. Hint, hint.
Aside from Combs, the other highlight of the show was Bruce Campbell. Campbell -- the star of "The Evil Dead" Trilogy and of the current cable show "Burn Notice" -- is phenomenal. He knows how to work a crowd better than anyone in Vegas. He appeared in a white tuxedo and showed why his fans are so devoted to him. He is witty, fast on his feet, and savvy about what his fans what to hear. He manages a delicate balancing act of appreciating his devoted following and poking fun at them for their stalker-like obsession with him. One woman even came up to the stage to touch the scar on his famous chin. But on the flip side, he can poke fun at himself as well as some of his film choices (dare I mention "Congo" or "Alien Apocalypse"?) He even played a fun game where he'd turn his back to the crowd and they would shout out the name of the films they thought were bad and wanted a refund for.
If you have seen Campbell at Comic-Con, some of his material may be starting to feel like schtick (like his assessment of his roles in "Spider-man"). But even if you have heard some of his stories before, he's still entertaining. He revealed that his favorite horror film is Roman Polanski's "The Tenant," and that films like "Saw" and other torture porn should not be supported. He correctly scolded his fans for being the ones to typecast him more than Hollywood and not being willing to support him in non-horror roles like "Sky High" and "Cloudy with a Chance for Meatballs." He also held an impromptu tattoo contest to highlight all the folks who have inked themselves with "Evil Dead" images. The winner had the poster art from the first "Evil Dead" across his chest and for that he took home a whopping $3 prize. Campbell said it was to help finance the rest of the tattoo work. The dollar amount may be small but it was from the hand of Bruce Campbell himself so that made it very special.
The thing you walk away with from Campbell is that he is a consummate professional. He came to this convention, put on a great show, did everything that was demanded of him, put up with us loony and adoring fans, and made himself available for photos and autographs (for a fee though). He also explained his no-nonsense approach to acting, which is very much in line with Spencer Tracy's mantra of memorize your lines and don't bump into the furniture. Campbell told the crowd how he even moved to his mark on the set once while talking to someone after shooting had stopped. That's the kind of pro he is.
And for his fans, Campbell followed up on the Comic-Con announcement of a prequel Sam Axe movie. Axe is the supporting character he plays in "Burn Notice." But this prequel film will highlight Axe and provide a back story for his character. Shooting, Campbell says, will begin next year in Columbia.
Another solid panel was one featuring make up and effects artist Greg Nicotero. He has worked with George Romero and Sam Raimi, and his work will be on display in the AMC series "The Walking Dead." He handled his panel well, providing video clips of the series and of behind the scenes work on the zombie make up. He also gave us nice tidbits of info like the fact that it was so hot on the set in Atlanta that fake blood heated up, crystalized and turned to candy. The clips of "The Walking Dead" reveal a show that looks to have phenomenal effects yet the human actors seem less convincing. The show is based on the graphic novel by Robert Kirkman, and despite all the claims that the series was made like a "movie," it has a certain cable TV look and feel to it -- at least in the clips shown so far. "The Walking Dead" debuts on AMC on Halloween night.
Because WOH is a relatively small convention (I say this using Comic-Con and Wonder Con as comparison) one thing I found really awkward and uncomfortable were the celebrities with tables to sell autographs. It was like the scene from "The Wrestler." The vendors' room was mostly aging celebrities like Sybil Danning, Fred Williamson, and the ladies of Argento charging $20 to $40 to sign a photo or poster. Walking through the room sometimes felt like passing homeless people on the street: you don't want to make eye contact because you start to feel sorry for them and you can't afford to give them all money. Some were more energetic than others. Like Ken Foree (of Romero zombie fame). He was at least quite gregarious and vigorous, and willing to let fans snap photos at no cost. But then he also had a panel and that seemed to make him more actively involved in the Convention.
The vendors were not an impressive lot this time. Last May seemed to have more diversity. My friend ended up buying some DVDs from indie filmmakers (I'll have a separate post about these "gems"!) that proved quite painful to watch but sometimes it's hard to avoid the sale pitch of a sexy leading lady pushing her wares and her breasts in your face. But there was a table with fascinating steam punk accessories and props and then some others with killer jewelry, impressive masks, and one even selling Halloween contact lenses (you know dragon eyes or ones that glow under black light).
I did get to see Lamberto Bava's "Demons" in the screening room. The room was better than the one in May but it's still far from decent. The doors are left open with light streaming onto the screen and voices from the dealer's room sometimes competing with the dialogue on screen. There were all of three people in the room with us but none of this detracted from Bava's gory fun.
All in all, WOH was worth the trip. But I wish they would improve the way they run their events. The emphasis seems to be on how they and/or the celebrities can make money (the price list for getting autographs and photo opps always goes up immediately on the site) and not on providing great programming and getting info out to attendees in a clear and efficient manner. I hope they figure out a way to fine tune the reserved seating (maybe have a Gold Seating area rather than precise assigned seats) so that panelists and performers don't look out into an empty house. I also hope that someone from Creation listens to these kinds of comments that are coming from more than just myself, and improves WOH because I don't want to see any horror convention go away.