[POST-MORTEM] Summer Camp for Horror Nerds: HorrorHound Weekend

Photo by Joshua Hoffine

HorrorHound Weekend -- recently held in Indianapolis -- is like summer camp for horror nerds: thousands of terror aficionados congregate to meet creepy celebrities like Joe Bob Briggs or Ted White (who played Jason in Friday the 13th Part 4), buy a shitload of hard-to-find movie memoribilia, and discus obscure rubber monster movies with people dressed like Freddy Krueger and giant robots until 4:30 in the morning. As far as I'm concerned, this is heaven. I arrived on Friday afternoon and left 48 hours later, sleeping a mere eight hours to cram in as much awesomeness as I possibly could.

What kind of awesomeness, you ask? Sit back, boils and ghouls - I'll take you on a trip to the dark reaches of horror geekdom. In the words of Pinhead: "I have such sights to show you." (That seems like an appropriately nerdy quote to kick things off.)

1. Vincent Price Movies on Super 8

Vincent Price is one of the most important figures in horror history. His legendary career spanned 52 years and included 183 films and TV shows, including The Tingler, The Fly (the original), The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and his marvelous swan song as Edward's creator in Edward Scissorhands. Price's magnificent voice is synonymous with horror, and in his lifetime he was a household name - even for those who never saw him on screen.

Price died in 1993, and May 27 would be his 100th birthday (although judging from his macabre resume I'm not convinced he's really dead). Fans can celebrate his faux-birthday during the Vincentennial, a 10-day elebration of Vinnie's life and art featuring film screenings, discussions, lectures, and memorabilia. This sounds like freakish fun, but there's only one problem for many of us: it takes place in St. Louis, Price's hometown.

But the Vincentennial has our backs. They arranged a special event at HorrorHound: Super-8 versions of some of his best movies!

You can watch a movie anywhere these days: your phone, Xbox, iPad, iPod, and whatever Steve Jobs decides the next iProduct should be (iPants get my vote - hip yet functional). But despite all the advances in movie-watching technology, there's nothing quite like good old-fashioned Super-8 film. The click-click-click of the projector, the saturation of the colors, the occasionally muted sound - this was a nostalgia trip for a room full of movie buffs. The movies were edited from their full-length versions to shorts that were about 10 minutes long (or at least I think they were, I wasn't checking the clock), and it was really neat to see "greatest hits" versions of movies like The Pit and The Pendulum, The Conqueror Worm, and Bud Abbot and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein. The highlights were a 3-D screening of The Mad Magician complete with red-and-blue glasses, and the Tim Burton short "Vincent," both of which were met with thunderous applause. This was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and I'm grateful that I was able to see it.

2. The Mask-eteers

Every horror convention I've been to is full of incredibly talented artists, but 2011's HorrorHound was really something. In addition to the multiduinous painters and T-shirt creators, HMA (the Halloween Mask Association) Mask-Fest showcased so many mask-making maestros that they nearly filled a a large conference room with hand-made visages of Frankenstein's monster, Killer Klowns, wolfmen, and other creepy concoctions. The scent of latex and silicone - the raw materials from which masks are made - permeated the place. I now know what heaven smells like.

The attention to detail in each mask was astounding. Case in point: a meticulously made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mask from Xtreme Design FX that looked just like one from the live-action movies. I mentioned how impressed I was to creator Lance Coulter and he told me about he painstaking work involved, such as using a pen cap to make each individual bump on the amphibian's skin. He's also made a fully functional bodysuit to match the amphibious mask-terpiece (viewable on his Web site), and it looks so cool that I want to buy it and kick some bad-guy ass. Lance, if you want your suit back come find me in the Boston sewer system - I'll be sitting near a barrel of toxic waste, sharing pizza with a talking rat.

3. The Art of Scaring the Shit Out of You

Scaring people is hard. So often it comes off as cheesy or cliched; cool, but not as terrifying as it could be. Now there's nothing wrong with that - if there was then I wouldn't like 90 percent of the horror movies in existence - but something that genuinely creeps you out is special. And I haven't found many photographs that are more terrifying and unsettling than Joshua Hoffine's.

Hoffine combines moody lighting and practical special effects to capture a perfectly chosen moment in time, where something horrible is just about to happen or has just occurred: a terrified child hides from a monster under her bed; a girl screams, about to be ripped to shreds by a drooling wolf; a snake hisses, jaws open, seconds away from attacking a helpless baby. If these images sound nightmarish, that's because they are. Hoffine dares to go to dark, horrifying places, often using young children to convey our most basic, primal fears. His photos give me chills, and I don't scare that easily. I bought one of his photographs - one of the creepiest clown pictures I've ever seen - and it has a special place next to my Friday the 13th posters, Creepshow paintings, and autographed picture of the Crypt Keeper.

4. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

HorrorHound has a history of screening up-and-coming horror films. Past years have included [REC], Let the Right One In, and the brutal-icious Martyrs. This year they had another highly anticipated horror flick: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.

I first read about this movie a year ago in Film Threat, a leading source for the latest and most anticipated indie films. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a clever twist on the psychotic hillbilly formula - you know, a bunch of college kids go into the woods and get raped and/or killed by rednecks like those in Deliverance or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In this case, the hillbillies are the heroes and the college kids are the villains. This comedy of errors has had some incredible buzz over the past year, and I've been dying to see it. You'd think that a movie with this much good press would show up on DVD or a limited theatrical run, but it didn't. I'm not sure why, and I - like many others in the horror community - was beginning to wonder if I'd ever get to see it for myself.

So when I heard that HorrorHound was showing this film, I started counting down the months, days, and hours until the screening - and judging from the large audience, I wasn't the only one. But when a HorrorHound staff member stepped forward to introduce the film, our anticipation took a nose-dive:

"We are only able to show a work print of this film. That means that many of the special effects, sound effects, and music are missing. You'll have to imagine them. Sorry."

"What? Are you kidding me? Nooooooo . . ."

My friends and I looked at each other, crestfallen. To come so close and then have it taken away.

"Oh well, I guess we'll give it a shot."

Within five minutes, we were hooked. This movie fucking rules. The gore that we saw was great, and even though much of the splatter was missing it just didn't matter. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is so much fun that we didn't care that a smokin' hot victim had a computer-generated black bar in her chest where an axe should be, or that a shootout had the sounds of guns clicking instead of the barrage of bullets that we expected to hear. Their absence was overcome by sheer entertainment value: brilliant performances, clever screenwriting, and a fresh idea that's executed well from start to finish. And, most importantly, this move is hilarious; I haven't laughed this hard since Borat. It was so outrageously, darkly riotous that I couldn't hear half of the jokes over the audiences' hysterics. The concept is so creative, so original, and so well-executed (pun intended) - everyone was talking about this film for the rest of the weekend. Despite all that was missing, this film is so incredible that I would recommend this work print to anyone. And I can not wait for the DVD release.

This screening perfectly exemplifies the magic of a horror convention: sharing a rare treat of horror cinema with like-minded people. And then discussing it - and a hundred other movies - over beers until 4:30 in the morning. Paradise, baby. Paradise.

 Michael Neel is the co-creator of anthology-horror-film Drive-In Horrorshow and animated web series Infinite Santa 8000. He can be reached at:
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