Friday, October 31, 2008

27. The People Under the Stairs

Schlocktoberfest #27: The People Under the Stairs

Wes Craven does it again, with a horrific fairy tale set in the ghetto. A young black kid named "Fool" lives in a slumlord's tenement, where his mom is dying of cancer; they don't have money for her treatment or the rent for that matter. The building is falling apart and the landlord won't do anything, and keeps raising the rent so he can evict everyone. Friend of the family Leroy (Ving Rhames) tells Fool that he knows where the slumlord lives; he runs the liquor store, and his creepy old house is rumored to have a treasure of gold coins. He talks Fool into coming to help him and his buddy Spenser to break in and steal it, and they head over to the creepiest house in the 'hood...

Fool (Brandon Adams) is a smart and likeable kid who acts naturally and makes the film. He's believable in the part, though his '90s fade is sort of funny today. He's mirrored by young Alice, a sheltered little white girl who lives under the cruel discipline of "Mom" and "Dad" the evil slumlords (played with relish by Everett McGill and Wendy Robie from "Twin Peaks"). Hers is a tragic life spent locked in her room. When Mom comes to make sure she ate her dinner, she discovers the fork is missing, and promises severe punishment; only we get to see a pale, clawed hand pass her the fork through a heating grate, and it's our first hint at the bizarre goings-on at the house.

Spenser poses as a meter reader and uses his wiles to get inside, but Leroy & Fool head in after him when he takes too long. Soon their worst fears are realized; there's not just a rottweiler to keep people OUT, but a steel door, locks, traps and contraptions meant to keep people IN! To escape the fangs of the guard dog and the bloodthirsty "Dad"'s shotgun, they escape into the basement and the very walls themselves, where they meet... the people under the stairs. Soon, Fool is all alone and has to live by his wits, with two murderous crazy white folk after his ass, and a basement full of creepies hungry for human flesh.

The hand we saw earlier belongs to Roach, the only denizen of the hell house who can move from the basement cages that Mom & Dad keep kidnapped children in. Alice alone is allowed to live among them, for she hasn't "spoken evil"... yet. Fool finds her and they team together to find the evil slumlords and free the children, but their road is long and bloody. Can Fool find the gold and save his mom? Can Alice escape their clutches and live like a normal child? Will the neighborhood survive their cruel plan to evict everyone and tear the buildings down?

The People Under the Stairs was missed by me because while it is horror, it is more of a kid movie, like The Gate. Certainly scarier than stuff like Monster Squad, but kids love scary stuff and this is so campy that you're never really horrified by it. There's cartoonish violence as Dad blows the walls up with his shotgun whilst running around in his Gimp suit, but I doubt any 12 year old is gonna get nightmares. Besides, it's always fun seeing the kids fight back, and this is nothing more than a Hansel and Gretel for the '90s.

Wes Craven jumped from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise to this endearing horror fairy tale and made an instant, if minor classic. "Fool" is no fool, and even the thieving Leroy isn't that bad a role model- he wants to fight back against evil. Grandpa Booker (played by the excellent Bill Cobbs, of The Brother from Another Planet and Night at the Museum) shows up later, but keeps the movie from being a 'hood parody, giving us real and likeable characters in a ridiculous but fitting allegory for the slumlord atrocities of the '80s. Give your inner child a treat and watch this sometime. When you're too old for Labyrinth and Monster Squad, there's The Gate, and The People Under the Stairs.

26. Hellraiser: Bloodline

Schlocktoberfest #26: Hellraiser: Bloodline! wtf?

I love the original Hellraiser, but the sequels, even Hellbound, are severely lacking and this is no exception. I'm told they only get worse. The director- Kevin Yaghee, who'd only done a "Tales from the Crypt" episode prior to being handed this feature- bowed out when they cut the gore, explanations of the story, and forced "Pinhead," as he's known, to show up as early as possible. The movie suffers incredibly due to this meddling, and the script was iffy to begin with. When a newb director decides to go the Alan Smithee route, perhaps you've got a piece of poo here.
Why the fuck am I in space?

It begins in space. Yes, space. A descendant of the original builder of the infamous puzzle box is on a space station in 2127, using a robot to solve the box. But a military team is raiding his ship to stop him. Pinhead shows up, and we go into a flashback, to see the origins of the box which summons our prickly pals the cenobites. The space dude's predecessor is a toymaker commissioned by a de Sade-alike French nobleman, and does not know his creation was built to open a door to Hell. Even we don't know. The toymaker sees what he has made and tries to destroy it, but fails; the nobleman's consort Angelique, who is apparently a demon- whether she's summoned by the box or not I don't know- and tries to kill off the toymaker's bloodline to ensure the box's safety.

I'm... hooked on a feeling...

In the second movie we learned that "Pinhead" was a soldier of the Great War lured in by the box, but here he is an eternal being, and the film either doesn't care about what has gone before or doesn't know. We return to the present day and meet another member of the bloodline, who's a sculptor. They're all played by the same guy, of course. Angelique and Pinhead want to force him to keep the doorway to Hell open; she does so by seduction, and Pinhead through torture. He makes a new cenobite out of twin security guards by mashing them together, and he has a skinless monster dog called "Beast" to do his bidding. When the chains fly and the flesh is made the devil's plaything, the movie is quite good. It's just got a plot as confusing as the puzzle box itself, and seems to be missing a lot of scenes.
nice doggie?

The effects are great for the time, but the story is such a mess that you have to put it together yourself. If the entire future/space plot was culled, we'd have something. The movie shits on its predecessor by changing the box from a demonic lure to trap those seeking pleasures beyond imagination into a combination lock on the door to Hell. It suffers considerably, and if this is one of the "good" sequels, I'm going to avoid the rest. For example Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth, which has a cenobite who shoots compact discs out of his face like buzzsaw blades. That might be a good laugh, but what the hell were they thinking? Angels to some, CD players to others. We'll tear your music collection apart.
Her mind is an open book

On the other hand, I wanted to know the history of the puzzle box, so I'm to blame. It lured me in, and I let the movie sink its hooks into my face and pull me apart. Pinhead has some good lines in this one- "Do I look like a person who cares what God thinks?" but this is the Kingdom of Crystal Skull of the series. He never needed to go to space. Pinhead got raped as sure as Indy did. Jesus wept.
It does have demon boobies, however.

25. [•REC]

Schlocktoberfest #25: [REC]

There's a lot of buzz surrounding this one, but it is not available on DVD in the U.S. yet. It was remade as Quarantine, which dropped out of theaters faster than profits on Wall Street. Not sure why it wasn't released in the U.S., as The Orphanage and Pan's Labyrinth have shown that yes, Americans can read when foreigners are speaking their crazy moon-man language on the screen, and we will even pay to do so. I waited and waited for a DVD release, and then just gave up and watched it by other means. The "live camera" and zombie stories have both been done before, but here they are combined in an original and engaging manner that puts you in the victims' situation on an emotional and visceral level. I was totally drawn in, and can see why it's generated such strong responses.

I can understand changing the title; [Rec] stands for recording, and everything we see comes from a news reporter's camera as she and her cameraman do a late-night piece on a group of firemen. The reporter is a pretty-face talking head named Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) who primps a bit, but seems genuinely interested in her subjects, and isn't made to be the typical ladder-climbing journalist. That is one reason that foreign horror films have had such success; they don't seem to rely on character types like American scripts have for ages now. They also have the subtitles and foreign language actually working for them, since you have to concentrate more, and it draws you in. [Rec] begins with Ángela confessing that she hopes the firemen go on a call so they can follow, and she gets her wish; but as they say, be careful what you wish for. This is one ride-along that won't end pretty.

The call takes them to an apartment complex where a woman is trapped inside and needs medical attention. The firemen enjoy showing off for the camera, tempered with admirable shyness and humility; they find an old woman who obviously needs help, and when they try to provide it, things go terribly wrong. When they try to bring the woman to medical attention, they find that the building has been quarantined, and health inspectors won't let anyone out. The firemen are incredulous; one of their own needs a doctor too, and they are told to wait. The reporters decide to interview the rest of the people in the building. We meet an elderly couple, who have that endearing and humorous quality as they bicker gently; a woman and her child, who has tonsilitis; an older bachelor named Pablo who chuckles and poses for the camera.

They settle down and wait for authority to tell them what to do, and we get comfortable. We soon find there is good reason to quarantine the building, and the infection begins to spread. We know what has to happen, but it shocks us anyway; the screenplay and director expect us to know the zombie plot and use subtle tricks to get it to work on us. These are "fast zombies" and the infection is similar to the Rage virus from 28 Days Later and the zombies Dawn of the Dead (2004) without the jerky camera tricks to make them "scarier." Someone screaming and trying to bite chunks out of your face is scary enough!

The jerky camera was a lot easier to take than Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project; since it's a news crew, they get a steadycam and it helps with the motion sickness. The authorities want the camera off, but reporters are sneaky. [Rec] feels like embedded footage, full of palpable tension and peopled with smart, but panicked characters put in an impossible situation, where you must constantly act to survive. We get some explanation here and there, unlike Dawn but it is not dwelled upon. We don't come to see horror to hear monologues. With the cast trapped in one building, it resembles The Evil Dead minus the humor, and the inevitable ending is bleak but the only one that works. And how it works!

I hope this gets a U.S. DVD release soon so I can buy it and scare the living shit out of my friends. I enjoyed it greatly, and am disappointed that a remake was foisted on us instead. So if you see a strangely titled movie in your video store or on your cable guide called [•REC] -- don't think twice. Turn out the lights, make some tapas, and enjoy one of the best horror movies of recent vintage. Spain's movie industry has much more to offer than Almodovar's campy fun, and this proves it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

24. The Ghost Ship (1943)

Schlocktoberfest #24: The Ghost Ship

I have a soft spot for Val Lewton's horror movies of the '40s. It begins with Jacques Tourneur's Cat People, a masterpiece of psychological horror that took terror out of spooky castles and foreign locales and put it on the street. Mark Robson directed The Ghost Ship, and it is a weaker entry in the repertoire in some ways because it pulls a switcheroo; there aren't any ghosts. But there's plenty of atmosphere and suspense, which is what Lewton and his directors did astoundingly well on shoestring budgets.

The story begins with a blind man begging by the piers; he's an old salt himself, and he can tell a lot about you just from what he hears. When young sailor Tom Merriam meets him, he knows he's an officer from the suitcase he drops instead of a gunny sack. He gives the old man a coin and he wishes him well on his journey, and repeating for us that a sailor doesn't ask for luck, because he's supposed to live on his wits. And Third Officer Merriam is going to need all he's got to survive.

Before he even gets settled onto the ship, the first body is found; it's a dark night aboard, and an old sailor lies lifeless aboard, found after roll call. The pock-faced Finn the Mute gives us an internal monologue warning of the tragedy to come: "The man is dead. With his death, the waters of the sea are open to us. But there will be other deaths, and the agony of dying, before we come to land again." Finn comes off as a mystic, and he plays an important part in the story.

As Merriam settles in, he meets Captain Will Stone; a stern man who seems affable enough. Unfortunately we soon learn he does not tolerate any form of dissent, and the story becomes a mild fascist allegory. A smart-aleck sailor who the Cap'n dislikes finds himself locked in the chain room, as the anchor is hauled up. The noise drowns out his screams, and the simple terror of an industrial accent is made up close and personal. The massive anchor chain piles into the room like the coils of a boa constrictor, and when Merriam peeks through the door to check on the sailor, the look on his face is all we need to imagine the bloody crushing death inside.

He immediately confronts the Captain, filled with his youthful idealism and concept of justice. And he won't let it go. He approaches the First Mate, who suggests he forget it. When they make land, he tells a higher-up his concerns with the Captain's sanity, but crew all speak up for their leader. All except Finn of course, because he can't. On land he meets a woman who knows the Captain, and she tells him not to let the power of his position go to his head, as with Captain Stone. That would make him a ghost, and he'd be on a "ghost ship..." See what they did there? Sneaky.

He knows that he can no longer sail with Stone after denouncing him, but when he helps a cheerful Trinidadian sailor out of a fight, he gets sucker punched out cold. To keep him out of trouble, the sailor brings him back to the ship- thus sealing his fate. Captain Stone isn't painted as a caricature; on land, he talks to a good friend and is concerned about his behavior. We haven't seen him kill; he just said that the dead sailor was no good because of his jokes and dissent. Is the young officer just confused about what it takes to lead? That's what makes the short movie compelling, how it keeps us wondering.

It all comes clear in the end, when Merriam conspires with the radio man to contact shore, against Stone's orders. Finn may not have been able to speak up, but when the time comes he stands up- and protects the helpless from a man drunk with power. It may not be the best of Lewton's run, but The Ghost Ship manages to be a compelling thriller, despite having a distinct lack of ghosts. I guess the title got bodies in the theaters. The movie is available now after 50 years, when it was kept from view due to a battle over plagiarism. It's worth seeing, especially if you like the other Lewton films.

23. The Funhouse

Schlocktoberfest #23: The Funhouse

Ah, the lure of the Carnival. Sleaze, sawdust and corn dogs. Where have they gone? Even in Nutley we had one visit every year, and while it only had rides and hawkers trying to get you to toss rings on bottles to get that awesome Motley Crue mirror, it felt like the slimy carnival from Something Wicked This Way Comes, where fortune tellers and freak shows lurked in the tents. The Funhouse by Tobe Hooper isn't as magical as Ray Bradbury's childhood tale, but it's a fun slasher fest with a sideshow freak monster designed by Rick Baker, so there's something to like.

The movie spends a lot of time setting up atmosphere; two teenage couples go to see the freaks and fun, and we follow them around the tents. There's the usual puke-inducing rides and wallet-cleansing games, but this is an old-timey carnival with a burlesque act and a sideshow tent. The boys peep through a hole in the tent and see the dirty old men ogling topless gals dancin' the cooch. The barkers and hawkers are appropriately stubbly and sleazy; Kevin Conway (the mailman from Funny Farm) plays the ringleader, looking like a depraved leprechaun.

When the kids go to the freak show, it is understated masterpiece of foreshadowing. It keeps everything in the bounds of reality. Like a real sideshow, all you see are some cows with birth defects- pretty ugly ones- like the infamous two-headed cow. Nothing makes the stomach twitch like something with two faces melded together. The cows look so good that I couldn't tell if ol' Tobe raided a dairy farm or if Rick Baker made them up. That's a fine compliment for an '80s film. Rick Baker's done everything from the apes in Greystoke to the bizarre werewolf in An American Werewolf in London, so you expect great things from him.As the kids sneak around, they eventually get to the fortune teller; they mock the old gypsy woman, which is never a good idea. She doesn't put a curse on them, she just curses at them, kicking them out of her trailer. She's performed for the royalty of Europe, damn it. They decide to spy on her through the roof of her trailer, and to their delight, a sideshow geek in a Frankstein mask comes in, trying to pay the woman for sex. Stifling snorts and chuckles, they watch as she rips him off, taking his $100 for a little rumpy-pumpy... but as you well know, never sexually torment an incoherent freak in a mask. They watch in horror as he strangles her, and then get caught trying to escape by Freako's father- who turns out to be the leader of the show.

We hear him berating the poor freak, who resembles Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in being a babbling mutant freak version of Lenny from Of Mice and Men, and learn that this ain't the first time he's killed. Usually it's some mark in one of the towns they pass through, but this time he's killed family. So to clean up his mess, Dad tells him he has to kill the witnesses. The kids are conveniently caught in the Fun House of the title, so it shouldn't be too hard...The rest of the film plays out like a typical slasher, with the Monster- actually named Gunther- unmasked and hunting down his prey. When Daddy tears the mask off, we see li'l Gunther is an albino with some interesting facial features. I can barely describe them. At first glance he looks like one of the "two-headed" cows, where two faces have melded, but now that I look at stills, he barely looks human. As much as I admire Rick Baker, the design really falls flat. In a human freakshow with deformed fetuses in jars, my expectation was for a bizarre deformity, but "Gunther" almost looks alien. In fact, he reminded me of the Zandozan from The Last Starfighter. This is unfortunate, for he sticks out like a sore thumb. The X-Files episode set at a traveling sideshow may have cribbed from Basket Case but it was more fitting a critter than this one turns out to be.
After this letdown, the movie never really worked for me. Tobe uses some good twists inside the funhouse as the bad guys cut down the kids, with trap doors and nooses from above, and making them attack each other in the dark. There's no hall of mirrors and most of the scares are the animatronic haunted house tricks popping out on them. One thing I did like was that Gunther isn't superhuman. Sure, he's got fangs like a Wookelar, but he never uses them; he just sort of screams and throws people around. Of course in a slasher, there's always one survivor- this time the girl isn't plucky, just lucky. The movie is bookended with the girl running into a crazy old lady, telling her that "God is watching." I bet He'd think Mr. Hooper could do better, too.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

22. The Midnight Meat Train

Schlocktoberfest #22: The Midnight Meat Train

Who wants to ride the Midnight Meat Train? I know Clive Barker is gay, but was this story title his way of announcing it to moviegoers? Not since Rob Halford of Judas Priest penned "Hell Bent for Leather" has there been such an urgent declaration of one's sexual orientation. The movie itself is decent slasher fare, and feels like a "Masters of Horror episode dragged out for 90 minutes; it entertains in spots, but it mostly panders to the bloodthirsty.
We want to see people cut up like hogs, and it provides, with a little bit of style. It's a short story expanded to movie length, and sometimes you feel every minute. In a nameless City- which turns out to be Los Angeles, which actually does have trains- a photographer tries to capture the gritty "heart of the city." He's rebuffed by a gallery owner who wants to see the real nasty shit, which is apparently supposed to be "deep," even though Weegee's heyday is many decades past.

Our hero Leon is played by Bradley Cooper of "Alias" and The Wedding Crashers, and really should stick to TV. He wanders the subways and takes pictures of a woman about to be raped; he stops the thugs by pointing out the security camera, it's okay. But hey, the audience paud to see people cut up, so she gets on The Midnight Meat Train. That's the MM Express to Canarsie, in case you wondered. He catches a glimpse of her getting on, then a splash of red as she is dispatched to the meat locker. His photos wow the art dealer, so he hunts down the train the next night.

Eventually he sees Vinnie Jones, a butcher in full apron, riding the train with a huge fuck-off tenderizing mallet. More people go missing; our photog friend becomes obsessed with the train, to the detriment of his health and relationship, as the story goes. He has a sexy girlfriend (Leslie Bibb) but of course he's too tired and distracted to screw, to the late-night cable viewer's lament. Me & Milky watched this on FEARnet, the on-demand Comcast station, which puts horrible commercials at points. So let me get this straight: Fuck you, FEARnet. I don't pay $120 a month for cable to deal with commercials, and your shitty logo, and little ads across the bottom. It ruins the atmosphere of a movie.

Leon takes his time getting on the train, mostly to give us a better body count; he hunts down The Butcher at his job- a meat packing plant, of course- but nothing comes of it. We see Vinnie at his apartment, readying his butcher tools in a medicine bag, and cutting bizarre barnacle-like sores off his chest with a scalpel. He puts them in a little jar. Nothing comes of this; and sadly it was one of the more interesting parts of the film. A creepy reveal often works well in a short story, but the secret of the Midnight Meat Train is anticlimactic; this is one time where less is less.

This is not the first story to posit that the "heart of a city" is a dark beast that must be fed, and that our lives are based on the murder and suffering of others. There's a cocktease of a scene where Leon dreams that he is hanging from meathooks in the train, while a grimy tentacle gives him a taste-test; I imagined that Vinnie was slaughtering the commuter cutlets to feed a bizarre, Cthulhu-like growth in the underground, but when we get to the end of the line, we just see some monster-humanoids come out for a nosh. The train's conductor monologues at the end- explaining just what Leon has stumbled into- but it's brief and unsatisfying, not conveying any message or the true horror of the situation. I was let down.

Should you bend over for the Midnight Meat Train? It's an enjoyable ride for horror slasher fans, but there's little else else. Director Ryuhei Kitamura is new to the genre, and seems to be having fun with CG blood effects; he did Azumi, one of the better "ninja teenager" movies, and Godzilla: Final Wars, but other than some silly shots like the POV of a woman whose head's knocked clean off by a mallet, he didn't bring much to the table here. There's another shot of a bullet going through a Guardian Angel's head (played with delight by UFC champ "Rampage" Jackson) that was kind of fun, and a few mallet-happy face-smashings to make you flinch, but it's all CG and never really looks like more than slasher porn.

However, with a movie named Midnight Meat Train I can't complain about the porn aspect. I knew what I was getting into.

21. Scanners

Schlocktoberfest #21: Scanners

The exploding head scene from Scanners has become an internet staple. The movie itself was a cult hit in the '80s, a creepy tale of powerful psychics among us, with hints of corporate overlordship and allusions toward prescription drugs affected unborn children, like Thalidomide. Helmed by captain creepy David Cronenberg, it uses plenty of gore, but keeps a consistent tone of disorientation and dread throughout.

So, what's a scanner? A mind-reader, we'd assume. We meet our protagonist as a woozy hobo in a mall, as he is captured. He seems disoriented, and the high pitched drones on the soundtrack infer that he's undergoing sensory overload. Throughout the film, low-bass hums and other noise cues will be used when "scanning" is going on, and it works like psychological warfare of a sort, setting us on edge. The "hobo" is Cameron, who is brought to the bearded Dr. Ruth (not Westheimer, though the cries of "Doctor Ruth" got a little comical to us who remember her). He's a paranormal researcher and wants to use Cameron to hunt down other scanners. Played by "The Prisoner" veteran Patrick MacGoohan, he's a welcome bit of sweater and tweed, elbow-patched jacket reality.

However, there's another scanner hunter out there. Darryl Revok, played to evil perfection by Michael Ironside, appears at a psychic demonstration. He volunteers from the audience to have his mind scanned... and we all know the explosive consequences. He allows himself to be captured by armed agents, and escapes with ease later on, by making the men kill each other. His effortless power is frightening, and there's no need to chew the scenery. He just struts through a scene with his sardonic grin, like the love child of Oliver Stone and Satan himself, controlling the minds of others at will. Why is he killing other scanners? Is this like his later, unfortunate role in Highlander 2: The Quickening, where there can be only one? Or does he have a higher purpose?

Cameron is set loose to seek out other scanners, to protect them from Revok and whoever he's working for; but shotgun-toting assassins are always one step behind him, slaughtering every psychic in their wake. Prognostication is not one of their mind powers, apparently. A memorably visual scene comes when Cameron tracks down a sculptor who may be a scanner, and there's a duel between psychics and shotguns in his studio, full of Cronenberg-style, disturbing body sculptures, including a cyclopean human head lying on its ear. But despite this, it is not an action film. Most of it is low-level suspense, as Cameron seeks out his origins, and his destiny.

Unfortunately the ending is anticlimactic, and the original, bloodier one was never filmed. I would have loved to see another head explosion. Or more Ironside. The effects however, are stunning for the time. Some of the best latex work I've seen. The final battle may fizzle, but Cronenberg's obsession with mutilating the human form is perfectly realized, as we see inner power trying to burst out. He should be directing the live-action Akira, if it must be made at all. I loved Eastern Promises and A History of Violence, but I hope he's got another Videodrome or Dead Ringers in him.

Scanners may not be in the league of those two masterpieces, but it is a solid supernatural thriller with psychics, and it is much better than Brian De Palma's campy attempt, The Fury. In that one, we get to see John Cassavetes entire body explode, but sometimes you should quit while you're ahead.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Chiller Theater Expo

I won't deny that I'm a geek. I'm a cranky sysadmin. Have been for over a decade. The Weezer song "In the Garage" could be my high school anthem. I believe I'm past that to a degree. Other than blogging and an occasional die-rolling escapade. I don't even play computer games anymore. So why the fuck was I at the Chiller Expo? It's a horror con held twice a year, the big one being in October, since Halloween is the holiday for all things horror. Well, I wanted to meet Ace Frehley. And my friends Darth Milk and The World's Tallest Man (Dross) were engaging in what they call Costumed Aggression.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 9: Hrrrm

Milky put together a great Rorschach costume, and Dross had become a perfect representation of Darth Revan. They both looked great. The first step in any nerd costume is not being fat (one reason why I don't do it). Because then they wouldn't be Rorschach and Darth Revan, they'd be Fat Rorschach and Lardbutt Revan. You've seen such things on the interwebs, I'm sure. Fat Tron Guy. Fattie Darth Maul kid. To my everlasting horror I've seen fat guys dressed as Sailor Moon, female coyotes, Fat Mad Max, Indiana Fats and the Beer Gut of Doom, and so on. Just don't do it. If you can spend $800 on a fucking Stormtrooper costume, you can spend $300 on Nutrisystem for 6 months before the science fiction convention your life revolves around. But on the other hand, without you fanboys devoid of that human trait we like to call dignity, the internet would be a far less funny place. So don't let me tinkle in your Count Chocula; have a ball. And please, keep LARPing (more on that in a future post).

Hail to the King baby

Chiller Expo is run by a bunch of idiots who keep getting kicked out of hotels. This was my first one, and having to wait 2 hours in the rain to get in, I would not have done it if Milky wasn't depending on me for a ride home in the Blue Meeny, and he hadn't promised a hotel room party afterward. That party was not to be, due to a Nerd Wedding happening somewhere at the hotel; we met some cool folks but Old Man Tommy was not about to endure a fucking wedding at a horror convention. I've seen things you people wouldn't believe, and one of them was a "hand fasting" of people dressed up like Inigo Montoya in Seinfeld's Frilly Shirt. My retinas have enough scars without seeing a vampire wedding, or a zombie wedding, or whatever horrors lay in store for us that night.
Snake Plissken? I thought you were dead.

The wait was worth it, however, because like Dross said- nothing makes you feel better about yourself than going to a convention like this. If you ever sit on your couch and wonder if you're living a good life, do yourself a favor and do to a Comicon, or a Chiller Expo. If you are contemplating suicide because you feel like a complete waste of flesh, go to a Furry Convention. Then again, that might drive you to suicide, like a Lovecraftian beastie too terrible to behold, because those people fuck plush animals and dress up like fuzzy bunnies. Chiller is several magnitudes better in the Geek Hierarchy, and these people look like they have lives. Of a sort. There's large biker contingent, a subset of guys with 6 inch or longer goatees, and a smaller Gwar! fan faction.
Zombie Attack!

The first thing you hit is the dealer room. Here if there's any sort of horror movie DVD, movie poster, or expensive, delicate figurine you can imagine, you will find it. Obscure horror movie you and 3 friends on myspace have seen? They have a t-shirt. I myself wore my Evil Dead: The Musical! t-shirt, so I could rise above the unwashed masses (and how true that phrase was) with a Broadway show t-shirt. I could have bought a huge diorama of Bruce Campbell as Ash the chainsaw-wielding slayer of the undead, but I'd have to sell some of my collection of scary pointy weapons to make room for it. And no, I don't have any of those cheap Made-in-China Renn Fest weapons littering my man-cave. My tastes run toward the custom-made Bowie knives by American Bladesmith Society Master Smiths. If a burglar trips in my home, I won't need to call the police. He'll be a pincushion.
Emperor Popetine

Rorschach was a huge hit at the convention. The Watchmen movie is coming out next spring, and there's a lot of hype for it. Perhaps you saw the trailer before Dark Knight. Every Nerd, Dick and Harry wanted a photo with 'Shack, so I was a busy man with the camera. Another thing about conventions is that every has-been of movies, music and televisions goes there to sell photos and autographs for beer money. $20 or $30 worth of beer money. I had a few names on my list- Ace Frehley, formerly of KISS; Linda Hamilton of Terminator fame, but known to nerds for that '80s TV show "Beauty and the Beast"; George Kennedy, from Cool Hand Luke, but more importantly the Naked Gun Trilogy; and Ernest Borgnine, who's.... Ernest fucking Borgnine, dammit!
Nerds like the obscure ones

We worked our way through the maze of hotel hallways leading to the Space Ace, and it felt like the Copacabana scene in Goodfellas, except with the dregs of nerd-dom surrounding us instead of New York glitterati. At the end of our long journey, we were greeted by an empty room full of police tape making a makeshift set of velvet ropes leading to the rock 'n roll star. An unhelpful goon proffered post-KISS Ace wares, since the make-up is now owned and trademarked by KISS entrepreneurs Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, who will sell you a KISS coffin if you like; and they'll let someone else play the Space Ace on stage now, too. They've become The Phantom of the Park, while Ace has stuck to principles.
I look high because the goon didn't say 'smile'

Ace looks like Keith Richards' younger brother; years of rocking hard have taken their toll, but he is a friendly and happy guy. Some stars get surly, but he was all smiles. Of course, we just paid $30 to get a picture taken with him, by a fat bodyguard who takes a shitty photo. I'd be smiling too. I wish he had copies of his solo album there; I had dreams of finding a 180 gram vinyl limited-edition and getting it signed in a flourish of silver paint marker. But the reality is that KISS is long behind him. He had the best of the solo albums, and his cover of "Back in the New York Groove" made the song a U.S. hit. I never liked KISS much once he left, but that's another story. It was great getting a photo with him.
Boba Fett and Darth Kabuki

After seeing has-been star power drain my wallet, I decided to forgo dropping any more money to pose next to the likes of Angie Dickinson, or even my teenage crush Linda Hamilton. I'd rather remember her as Sarah Connor. In the lobby we met more followers of Costumed Aggression, including a kick-ass Boba Fett costume and another Sith Lord named Darth Childmower or something. Others included a nurse from the games/movie Silent Hill; a guy dressed as the Burger King with the creepy mask, who engorged the loins of every nerd in the house by bringing his girlfriend dressed as Princess Leia in slave gear from Return of the Jedi. There were plenty of Jabbas to slobber over her.

Fredwina Krueger and waif

Some of my faves were more obscure, being the snooty sort of ex-nerd that I am. A couple dressed as Frank (Dennis Hopper) and Dorothy (Isabella Rosellini) from Blue Velvet; a great Snake Plissken costume from the Escape from New York/L.A. movies, who actually looked like young Kurt Russell; the gorilla with a space helmet from Robot Monster; and a kid wearing a giant milk carton with her face sticking out under the "missing child" logo.
Silent Hill

The costume contest had plenty of more typical, but excellent ideas- a guy dressed as a zombie cop attacking a woman, complete with his guts falling out and throwing a severed head at her. That won "scariest costume" and looked professional. There were a trio of Ghostbusters, with proton packs; a decent Godzilla costume, missing the tail. Maybe he'll have a tail next year, but he could stomp Tokyo and get away with it. The funniest one, which won "most creative," was Emperor Popetine. Pope Joe Ratzenberger just kinda looks like the evil Emperor from Star Wars.
Who you gonna call? Three nerds!

Unfortunately for Milky, there was also another Rorschach. Milky's costume was better, and he better resembled the scrappy vigilante in size too. They got a photo together for another fan. We spent the rest of the night photographing the nerdiest people we could find; I'll end with them here, so you can feel better about yourself. Now, I've got to review 9 more horror movies before Halloween, so I'm going to watch stuff like The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?, which isn't nerdy at all. Nope nope.
Fat Star Wars guy

Robot Monster

Heineken? Fuck that shit!

Where losers win!

Dueling Rorschachs

Not sure if he just likes kilts or if he's in a costume.

Godzilla and his terrible grimace

And finally, a guy dressed as Batman with underoos.
Wow, I feel GREAT about myself now.

disclaimers of legal bull shitte

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