Saturday, October 26, 2013

Shocktober Revisited: Documentaries - UnConventional

I've decided that it's best to keep this review short; otherwise, I'm going to feel like the Cap'n is kicking a dog when it's down. See, UnConventional may be the most unflattering document of any event I've seen on DVD.

Somewhere on the cover artwork, there's a statement along the lines of "Like Trekkies for Horror Fans", which I guess is technically true if you watched Trekkies the same way I did: as a collection of increasingly goofy people that make that one super-dork you know look cool by comparison. Which is what that movie is. Trekkies is a freak show disguised as a documentary about fandom, as is Ringers: The Lord of the Fans or whatever its called. You watch because you can't help but guffaw at these poor people, but you feel awful afterwards.

UnConventional is like that, but not entirely because of the subject matter. The film attempts to be about the 13th Annual Chiller Theater Convention in East Brunswick, New Jersey. Chiller Theater is, if you've read my review of American Scary, hosted by Zacherely the Cool Ghoul, one (if not) the first Horror Hosts on television.

While Zacherely appears in UnConventional periodically, the documentary focuses primarily on one person you've heard of, one you might kinda recognize the name of, and somebody the Cap'n had to look up to figure out what she'd been in. They are (in order): Gunnar "Leatherface" Hansen, 42nd Street Pete, and Tiffany Shepis.

This is not to say that there weren't many more recognizable names at the Chiller Theater Convention. Appearing briefly on camera are Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Linda Blair, David Carradine, Kane Hodder, Michael Jai White, Linda Blair, Cybill Danning, and Tom Savini. If you take the credits' word for it, apparently Bruce Campbell, Clint Howard, and Elvira, among others who don't appear on camera for one reason or the other.

Instead, we spend the lion's share of our time with Tiffany Shepis, who I had to look up on IMDB, and found was in Abominable and a number of Troma movies, plus LOTS of movies I've never heard of. Considering how much narration by 42nd Street Pete (who also appears in the film and, as far as I can tell, is responsible for this) and fan interaction revolves around how hot Shepis is, I'm gathering she's the sex appeal for the documentary. Mostly she drinks, complains about fans, and later in the film appears in various states of undress.

This all seems somehow tame compared to the lesser billed "star", Bob Gonzo. The producer, writer, director, and pimp employer of "Gonzo's Gorgeous Girls", Gonzo makes movies that would barely classify as "horror." Think of Fred Olen Ray crossed with the film Snuff and you have some idea. Bob Gonzo has a table at the convention to sell his sexploitation films (of which he's also the star) and to let attendees oogle his girls, who also show up. Sleazy doesn't begin to cover it.

Only Gunnar Hansen comes off looking good, mostly because he's such a genuinely likable guy in UnConventional. He's not really that attached to being Leatherface, but appreciates the fans and stays for the three day convention in order to make them happy. He doesn't get involved in the drunken parties that make up the Chiller Theater after-hours portion(s) of the doc, and is happy to sit down and talk about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and horror fandom during the movie.

In fact, I gather that the Chiller Theater Convention is actually a reasonably cool place to be. I don't know, because UnConventional is a documentary which seems to point the camera in all the least interesting directions - like 42nd Street Pete pretending to vomit in a trash can or the world's lamest Horror Auction - for 90 minutes.

It also doesn't help that the documentary feels so low rent. At times it feels more like a collection of home movies than an actual film, and none of it seems all that intriguing to people not directly involved in the convention. The Cap'n will admit that he turned UnConventional off a few times out of boredom, particularly when they seem to run out of things to do and send Shepis down to the laundry room of the hotel in a skimpy dress.

See? This is just getting mean. I don't know any of the people involved in UnConventional, and I don't have any reason to believe they'd ever read a review of their documentary from 2004, but I feel bad beating up on them. They were doing the best they could, and I guess they thought all of this footage was pretty cool. The problem is that it makes them look silly, the fans look idiotic, and the convention look cheap and uninteresting. All of that may not be the case, but UnConventional doesn't leave me with any other verdict.

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