Sunday, October 27, 2013

Shocktober Revisited: Documentaries - Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors

  (Originally posted in July of 2011.)

 Many of you may not know this, but 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of the VHS release of Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors, a sixty minute documentary about the first ever Fangoria convention. Held in 1985, the first Weekend of Horrors was a gathering point in Los Angeles for horror enthusiasts, short film makers, and aspiring make up effects artists. Unlike UnConventional, a film I reviewed last year, the Weekend of Horrors doesn't feel sleazy or exploitative, despite promoting Fangoria throughout (it's co-director, Kerry O'Quinn, is actually the creator of Fangoria, along with Starlog).

 Compared to 2004's Unconventional, Weekend of Horrors feels relatively quaint: the enthusiasm of the fans is infectious, with many effusively gushing about their favorite monsters and why they're attracted to horror films. While there are merchandise tables - the site of a surprise appearance by Star Trek's Walter Koenig, wandering around the convention with his son - most of the tables that appear in the film are designed to showcase amateur makeup, monster, and effects work by fans of the genre.

 Like UnConventional, there is also an auction and a costume contest, but the costumes are all homemade and shall we say, less slutty. Instead of auctioning off Tiffany Shepis' underwear, the Fangoria fans bid on a shooting script for John Carpenter's Halloween, and judging by how little other items were going for, I'd be willing to bet someone went home with it on less than twenty dollars.

The main attraction of Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors is the guests of the convention, who range from Wes Craven and Robert Englund (there to support A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Craven-less Part 2: Freddy's Revenge) to a beardless Rick Baker, who brought along some ape effects from Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. Tom Savini appears briefly during a montage; Elvira answers questions from the audience (Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was apparently the worst Movie Macabre film she ever aired); John Carl Buechler does a Q&A for Troll; Steve Miner and William Katt talk about House; Dan O'Bannon talks about Return of the Living Dead; Tobe Hooper appears to talk a bit about his films but also to preside over the Cinemagic Short Film Search Festival, where fans are awarded for their 8 and 16mm films.

With a magazine like Fangoria behind the event, it's no surprise that the emphasis is on special effects makeup, and many of the montages are devoted to masks from films like Friday the 13th and Creepshow (as well as a certain monster Tales from the Darkside fans will recognize immediately). Makeup effects artist Craig Reardon (Altered States, Poltergeist) gives People Magazine reporter Tony Lawrence a quick monster makeover in time for the costume contest. Special attention should also be given to Nora Salisbury, a fan who made her own Freddy Kreuger costume (with full head piece and glove) that's pretty impressive.

 For a sixty minute film, Weekend of Horrors does at time lean too heavily on scenes from films mentioned by guests (I still don't understand why the entire trailer for The Toxic Avenger needs to be there) and it takes a curious detour into promotional territory when Tobe Hooper finishes with the short film competition and begins talking about his remake of Invaders from Mars. There's a lengthy section devoted to behind the scenes footage, which does admittedly find a way to include Stan Winston in the film, but it's a jarring shift in the movie that sticks out when O'Quinn and Mike Hadley cut back to Dick Miller. Why this breaks up the previous montage, which includes interviews with Clu Gulager (Return of the Living Dead, Feast), producer Alex Gordon (Voodoo Woman, The Atomic Submarine), and composer Albert Glasser (The Cyclops, The Amazing Colossal Man), who talk, in part, about Roger Corman, is unclear.

 There's a bit of a "home movie" feel to Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors, but in a good way; it feels like a tape made to share the good time had by people there instead of a document of the lurid side of horror conventions (okay, I'll stop beating up on UnConventional), and I have to say it sure seemed like a great place to be in the summer(?) of 1985. People came from all around the country to share their enthusiasm for horror films, to show off what they could do, and to meet their heroes. I give O'Quinn and Hadley a lot of credit for conveying that sense of joy in such a concise package.

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