Saturday, September 17, 2011

Horror Realm Con (Friday)

Horror has a history here in the zombie capital of the world, the City of the Living Dead, where the modern zombie first rose from the grave in George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, the movie that breathed new life into the zombie genre and awakened a new generation of horror fans. In spite of this, and my horror fandom, until today I had never attended a horror convention. But yesterday (and not a moment too soon) I found out about the Horror Realm Con, being held this weekend close enough (and cheap enough) for me to attend.

But the thing that clinched it, that gave me the motivation to get my butt out there, was seeing Kyra Schon's name on the guest list: Kyra Schon, the ghoul next door herself, who played Karen Cooper in the original Night of the Living Dead, the little girl zombie whose face is on the poster - a visual icon of zombie horror. I don't know if I've ever said this before, but I've always wanted to hang one of those NotLD posters on my wall. So I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to get an autographed copy!

When I got to the con, the first thing I did was head for the Dealer's Room, to look for a NotLD poster, or t-shirt, or anything with the iconic image of the zombie girl on it that I could get signed the moment I ran into Kyra Schon. It turns out she was in there, with a booth set up, all ready to sell autographed prints (and posters, and t-shirts). So I ended up getting an iconic print, with a personalized autograph from Kyra herself, who was very sweet and friendly. I was so excited (and also afraid of the print getting bent in my backpack), that I immediately walked over to the arts & crafts store nearby to put it in a frame. :3

But since I had made it out to the con, I was determined to stick around and see what other creepy fun it had to offer me. If I had the money to spare, I could have spent tons on the DVDs available in the Dealer's Room - all kinds of horror and exploitation flicks, including many hard-to-find cult classics. Also lots of posters and prints (signed and not), and plenty of homemade crafts like the stuff you find in the Artist's Alley of the anime cons I'm more familiar with. But, of course, with a horror theme, and a particular emphasis on zombies!

I stopped by the panel room to sit in on the Ladies of Horror Panel, featuring a discussion with four scream queens - Linnea Quigley (the girl who danced naked on a tombstone in Return of the Living Dead!), Tiffany Shepis, Amy Lynn Best, and Sarah French. One thing I discovered is that in spite of my enthusiasm for the genre, my fandom is not so developed, or obsessed, to recognize all the important names and titles that come up. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to hear these ladies talk about their experiences being in horror films, and what's it like being a woman in the industry. (Apparently, it's not as hard as the feminists would have you believe. But then, horror has always been unusually appreciative of its female icons. If you can get beyond the whole "sex and violence is degrading!" mindset.)

After that panel, I stuck around to hear author Jack Ketchum answer questions about his life's work. You might (as I did) recognize him as the man who wrote The Girl Next Door, inspired by a horrific true story, which was adapted twice to film, one of those based on Jack Ketchum's novel (the other one an independent retelling of the true story, and, incidentally, starring Ellen Page). It's tempting to view horror writers as sick, depraved people, but that's a far too easy stereotype to fall into. Hearing Jack Ketchum talk about his work was very illuminating. Apparently, his 'hook' was to translate the sensationalistic violence he was seeing in the cinema back into literature, where it wasn't being represented; instead, authors were in the habit of utilizing too much restraint. I know a lot of people outside the horror fandom would recoil in disgust at that notion, but hey, that's what horror's about. It's not about fluffy bunnies hopping through dewy sunlit meadows. It's about blood and guts and terror.

After nightfall, and coming towards the end of the night, some girls were advertising "half-naked fire-breathing" out in the parking lot. Can you guess which direction I headed? I overheard some talk of the girls dancing on top of a zombified van parked nearby, but unfortunately that did not come to pass (that would have been fun to watch). However, the half-naked fire-breathing did go on as advertised, and that in itself was exciting. I think it's just fantastic that I can say I went to a horror convention and got to see half-naked girls breathing fire. What have I been waiting for all these years?

On a related note, I didn't see a whole lot of full-on costumes at the con, especially compared to what I see at the anime convention I regularly go to. (But there is an '80s horror costume contest planned for tomorrow night). Then again, I did see a lot of people dressed in some pretty groovy gothic fashions. The people overall were very friendly, which to me is not surprising, but might shock you if you believe the stereotype that horror fans are violent, antisocial folk. The fan community may have been skewed toward a male audience, but there was actually a pretty good proportion of females in attendance - especially taking all the actresses into account. There were even a few kids there (more girls than boys!), and though they appeared to be in tow of the celebrities or other con-goers they were related to, they seemed enthusiastic about the atmosphere. (When I picked up my badge at the registration desk, two girls came running up bragging about the candy they were carrying, and we all had a friendly laugh about them "taking candy from strangers").

Friday's programming culminated with the Horror Cabaret, that ran until just before midnight. Four acts performed, starting with Evenings in Quarantine: The Zombie Opera, adapted for the convention. It was, as billed, a zombie opera, featuring music and [some very impressive] vocal performances (plus some really cool on-the-fly arm-severing fx). I don't know if the fact that you can hear the zombie apocalypse story told in opera form reflects the ubiquitousness of zombies in popular culture, or if it speaks to the obsessive quirkiness of zombie fans. Either way, it's a shame the story has become so cliched, because it truly is a good one. But I suppose that even if you beat the story to death, it will just keep coming back again and again, because people love it.

Also performing at the cabaret was the ElectroBelly & Friends Dance Troupe. I have mixed feelings about belly dancing. On the one hand, belly dancers are known for their curves, and I tend to be be attracted to thinner body types. But on the other hand, it's a very sensual dance form. I am impressed that these dancers can get up in front of a crowd and dance so sensually, seemingly without self-consciousness. I could have just been imagining it, but I sensed that some of the guys in the audience were embarrassed to be seen watching too closely (I wasn't - I figured they weren't dancing just to be ignored). Meanwhile, the few people I noticed who were staring intently were female! I also love that, in spite of how sensual it is, belly dancing is considered a legitimate dance form that can be performed in festivals and conventions, and not restricted to seedy bars and back alleys, like "adult" performances are.

The other two cabaret acts were less in tune with my interests, and so they inspired less enthusiasm from me. One of them was mentalist & magician Chris Handa. I'm a skeptic, and I'm not really into "audience interaction" performances, but he wasn't bad. He certainly did a convincing job of "magically" selecting the hottest girl in the audience to come up front for a demonstration. We all know "magic" is just a series of tricks, but a performance like this is all about showmanship, and this guy put on a pretty entertaining show. The other act was a comedian/musician named Weird Paul, who sang a bunch of silly songs with funny lyrics. Amusing, certainly, but not really my preferred style of entertainment.

Stay tuned for Saturday at the con!

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