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Not many know this about me, but I sat through my first horror film, from start to finish, when I was 14. The film in question was THE RING, and it scared the crap out of me the night I watched it. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Over the years, I’ve continually found myself facing foreign terrain when it comes to experiences regarding the horror genre. I finished my first RESIDENT EVIL game at age 15—earlier attempts resulting in my returning the zombie epic to the local Game Stop—and found myself sneaking into theaters to witness the dawn of the “torture porn” era with SAW in 2004 and HOSTEL in 2005. Six years from that fateful night, I find myself feeding my morbid mind with such films as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, SALO, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM and A SERBIAN FILM. But it was only a matter of time before I found myself on a completely different threshold, and it all started with a 20th birthday gift from dear mother. I would be flying to Orlando, FL for Spooky Empire’s Ultimate Horror Weekend, a convention held on October 8-10 at the Wyndham Resort.
The 6-hour flight there hadn’t been that bad. Aside from an absent laptop, my nonexistent aisle seat, $8 in-flight movies and no peanuts, the trip was a smooth one. On arrival to Orlando, I found the ground transportation area easily enough and hopped onto a random bus which would-eventually—take me to the Wyndham Resort. As soon as I stepped off that bus at the hotel, I knew this was going to be a great weekend. The long lines, groups of zombies being herded along by teens holding mock rifles and the nearby McDonald’s confirmed this. Making my way, quickly, past a stumbling man with half of his face missing, I found the check-in table for VIP attendees and received my goody bag—complete with event booklet and T-shirt. Not long after, I made a brief trip to my hotel room and dropped all my bags off. Then, with the furor of a 5 year old opening presents on Christmas, I ripped open my event guide and found what I was looking for: The Freakshow Film Festival schedule. Bad news, the first short started in 25 minutes and I was on the other side of the hotel. It also didn’t help that I literally had to return to my room five times in a span of three minutes before I had everything I needed and could get further than twenty yards from my door.
The first film shown was a short titled CONTAINMENT, a beautiful little gem about a doctor afflicted with some kind of disease that slowly morphs him into a monster. Hint: when he dies, he comes back to “life” (wink, wink). This was followed by the artistic, yet brutal Australian feature EL MONSTRO DEL MAR. Three hours into the three-day film extravaganza, and I was already more amped than if I’d been locked in a candy store overnight—and anyone who knows me will tell you I love my candy.
I’ve always wanted to write and especially in the last six years I came to the conclusion that I wanted to write specifically horror. What better way to learn, than to attend the “Horror Writing 101” panel! Mitch Hyman (HITMEN IN PARADISE), Dwight Kemper (WHO FRAMED BORIS KARLOFF?), Owl Goingback (EVIL WHISPERS), and John Catapano were my tour guides in the world of the “do’s and don’t’s” of their expertise. Something they said that really helped me personally was, “Don’t be afraid to write about what interests you. Chances are if it interests you then it’s going to interest at least 10,000 others.” I also loved how intimate the panels and film screenings were. With the speakers practically in your face, it was an unforgettable experience having a face-to-face conversation with these men of literary significance.
I woke up about 9:30 a.m. the following morning, my Orange County laziness in full swing. I decided to check out the convention hall that morning, before heading over to the FreakShow Festival, mostly because I wanted to at least be able to say I didn’t spend the entire trip in a dark room. The convention hall itself consisted of several large rooms. In one you could purchase films, memorabilia, posters and movie props. I took this opportunity to purchase PHANTASM, a few other classics… and OK, a shot glass, but that was it! Regardless, the biggest money grab of the convention came in the room where all the guests were located. Danny Trejo? Check. Elvira? Check. Gary Busey? Check. Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon and John Carpenter? CHECK. I’ll be honest, if you’d asked me two, three years ago who these people were, I wouldn’t have had a clue. Usually I try to not get too excited about celebrities, but this being my first convention and all, of course I was stoked at being so close to these people! There wasn’t even a line to shake a lot these celebrity’s hands after the second day, so I could’ve sat down and talked with them for hours (OK, not really, but you get the idea).
I’m not lying when I tell you that the real treat came later that night when I received the opportunity to see the world premiere of AS NIGHT FALLS (cast & crew pictured). Now, while I have many things to say about the film itself, I think anyone who has attended the premiere of these kinds of films will agree that the best part is usually the audience. AS NIGHT FALLS was about 85 percent an editing nightmare and 5 percent technical difficulties, but you know what? The audience had fun. We all laughed together, shared the same confusion together and probably left with the same questions in mind. The point is, you don’t experience that kind of ambiance when you’re at home in your living room. AS NIGHT FALLS was a defining moment of the convention for me, and it passed with flying colors.
Waking up around 10 a.m., I found myself sad at the notion that this would be the last day I would be waking up to the Florida sun. Because my flight left early in the day—being a college student sucks—I made my last rounds through the convention hall and various rooms. The major highlight of the day had undoubtedly been meeting Carpenter. As mentioned before, I try not to get too excited about celebrities, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet the John Carpenter. And meet him, I did. It went a lot better than I thought it would; he didn’t ask me how many of his films I’d seen (only one) or how long I’d been a fan (three months).
It was only too soon that I was on a shuttle back to the airport, and then a plane back home. The return flight was still without in-flight movies and peanuts, but at least I was returning with a head full of unforgettable memories.
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