Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The State of Horror Conventions in 2013

Excuse me while I let loose for a moment...

Horror conventions, and pop culture conventions in general, have long been a way for fans of a specific hobby to meet the celebrities whose work they adore, find cool, one of a kind or generally hard to find merch, and connect with like-minded people. These conventions have become a worldwide phenomenon. Ask anybody on the street if they've heard of San Diego Comic Con and I'll wager a bet that 3/4 of them have. That event is undoubtedly the biggest pop culture show in North America and the annual show is covered by major news outlets. The biggest names appear for a chance to meet, promote and often just have a good time like the rest of us. Tickets sell out months in advance and for four days San Diego is the center of not only every nerd's dreamland but many people who only have a passing interest in comics, horror, sci-fi, etc...

On a smaller scale, there is the horror convention, a weekend long show usually taking place in a hotel and featuring meet and greets with cast and crew members of films, author readings, film screenings, and dealer rooms that can get you to blow a year's salary in an hour. These shows are typically more regional, with each major city seemingly having its own show but for better or worse they're usually a blast in spite of extreme levels of competition just an hour away and commonly only weeks apart. You pay your $20-25 which allows you access to all parts of the show and hopefully you've brought a wad of cash besides that if you want to get some autographs or buy some shirts, DVDs or posters and toys. These things aren't cheap. I've known fans that save all year to attend a single show. As fans that attend these things anxiously await the promoter to announce the next guest, the next film screening update, any special deals or events. Social networking sites like Facebook have made it easy to keep up with this and even suggest (more often beg) for a certain person to be added to the show. The fan has a voice, and in this day and age, a face to go with it, when asking a promote to add someone special. In the months leading up to the show the promote announces names, hopefully in enough time for you to purchase your original Turkish Maniac Cop poster or whatever it is you want signed if the 8x10 at the table isn't your style. The weekend arrives, road trip. Whether it is around the corner or 3 hours in a hurricane, I've done both and the trip is always filled with excitement and an anxious feeling. You check in to the hotel if you're staying overnight or you just check in for your wristband and then a day or a weekend full of nerding out is ahead of you. And I hope you brought a wad of cash.

Horror conventions have been a huge thing for fans for as long as I've been alive. Fangoria brought Lucio Fulci to the states just months before his death to allow fans a once in a lifetime chance to meet the Italian gore slinger. It isn't unheard of to meet someone at these shows that has stood in line for upwards of 8 hours to meet names such as Bruce Campbell or Robert Englund. The fans are dedicated and without them the show fails. I went to my first convention in March of 2007, Horrorfind Weekend. It was finally time for a lifelong horror fan to make it to a convention. There was a Hellraiser reunion, among many other actors and directors in attendance that weekend and I had a blast. Horrorfind is a smaller convention, starting in the suburbs of Baltimore and currently residing in Gettysburg, PA. Back then Horrorfind ran 2 shows a year with August being their main show and March being smaller. I was hooked. I had a great time talking to various actors and scoring cool stuff in the dealer's room. I went back in August. And I've been to a bunch of conventions since and I've seen the landscape of these things change quite a bit.

It is now 2013, almost 6 years after my first convention and disenchantment is starting to rear its head. Conventions have, probably inevitably, turned into giant money making schemes. Of course, the idea of the show's promoter was always to make money, as well as the dealer charging for their wares, and the celebrity charging for their signature. That is how the world works and I have no problem with it. It just seemed more genuine back then. Don't get me wrong the celebrities who were genuine still are. Most of these people realize they aren't "A-list" and aren't being followed by paparazzi. There isn't a lot of ego there. Many of them have a lot of fun at these things but the business side of things has gotten out of hand. And really, only fans are to blame. Back when I started going to these things the standard was $20 for a signature, perhaps cheaper if you brought your own item to be signed and don't use one of their 8x10 pictures. Some people would sign multiple items for that price. Included in that price would be a picture with the guest. It was more than that however, it was a chance to talk and connect with these people whose work we so deeply admire. Many are genuinely interested in connecting and talking with fans and it was great. The $20 was a small price to pay. These days prices have jumped significantly. You may still find the $20 guest but prices are closer to $30 now and as each convention comes and goes the number of guests charging an additional $5 or $10 for a picture ON YOUR CAMERA is climbing. The days of discounting the price for signing your item are long gone.

This has happened as horror themed programs have hit it huge on TV. True Blood, Vampire Diaries, and The Walking Dead are huge hit series with many cast members from each becoming regulars on teh convention circuit. Walking Dead guests have climbed in price with each cnovention since the series began and they're up to a staggering amount. Many are now charging $30 for a posed photo alone! This is essentially a cattle call where you're ushered through, stand next to the person while they look like a cardboard cutout and wait for your photo to print. Professional? Debatable. Annoying? Yes. But again, only the fans are to blame. If fans keep shelling out $20, 30, 40, 50 for a signature and decide that another $30 for a shitty photo are worth it? More power to them. I won't pay it. Give me a picture with them at their table and a conversation and a memory. It is becoming more of a headache to be a convention goer than it is worth, and its bullshit. These things were always supposed to be for the fans. There will always be money to be made but I'm sorry charging $200 for a VIP ticket to meet a character from The Walking Dead is bullshit. Charging $300 for a ticket to meet Princess Leia is bullshit. Charging $30 for a fucking professional photo-op with anyone that is already charging that much for write their name on something is fucking bullshit. Is Michael Rooker really worth $40 or $50 just because he's now a cast member of The Walking Dead when just a year or two ago he was half that? Is some actress that has been in nothing notable really worth $50 or a $200 VIP ticket just because she's Michonne in The Walking Dead? Or some asshat that was in True Blood... is he worth $40? Plus the cost of a photo?

Come on. This shit is getting out of hand. Can we please go back to the days where we at least felt good about handing over our cash for these things? Yea, overall they're still fun but the cost is getting prohibitive. When will conventions outprice themselves so that nobody can attend? When are they going to make us bend over before we leave the show to stick their collective dick in our ass because of how hard we're getting fucked. But like I said, if the fans pay it, they'll charge it. I hope a return to the good old days isn't too far off.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Serena: An Adult Fairy Tale (DVD review)

Directed By: Fred J. Lincoln
Written by: Daniel Webster
Starring: Serena, China Leigh, Jamie Gillis
Color/69 Minutes/Not Rated

The Film
I've never reviewed a porno before but I guess there is a first time for everything.

Cindy's stepfather has sold her in to prostitution and her new master forces her to cook, clean and perform all sorts of sexual acts. You know, just the normal household chores. Cindy dreams of a naked woman that helps her out and has sex with her. Cindy's master informs her that they will be throwing a party for the prince and Cindy has to help prepare. That includes more of the same chores and bathing a few of her master's closest friends. Cindy's dream girl visits her that she can "fuck and suck" all she wants at the party but has to be home by midnight. The prince takes a liking to Serena at the party and spends his time having sex with her while the rest of the party has an orgy. At midnight Serena has to go, leaving the prince with one of her high heeled shoes, which he finds fits her the next morning. "And they lived happily ever after".

I was expecting this to be an edgier softcore, but it didn't take long to realize that this was a full fledged fuckfest. I have no problems with porn, and find it, especially in the era SERENA was made, to be a totally valid art form. This was made in the days when porn had heart and soul and wasn't mindless fucking with some plastic broad. The story, as you can tell, is a spoof of Cinderella and it works. The sex is definitely the star of the show and its pretty standard porno sex. There is nothing here that will ahem... blow your mind but if this is your type of thing or you're looking for some adult entertainment that is different than the majority of the shit you're looking at on the internet SERENA: AN ADULT FAIRY TALE is worth a look.

The Video
The full screen 1.33:1 transfer shows its age with a print full of grain, debris and wear. Colors are still solid despite this not being a gorgeous transfer.  A few wobbles in the picture also occur. This is not a terrible presentation despite that it was obviously not stored in ideal conditions over the years and probably doesn't look to different than it did back in XXX theaters of the 70s and 80.

The Audio
As far as the audio goes, we get a serviceable 2 channel track. There is a low but consistent buzz throughout most of the film but it isn't overly distracting. Dialogue and all of the moans and groans are clear and with a steady level. There are a few other instances of popping and crackling.

The Extras
Bare bones.

The Bottom Line
Impulse Pictures gives SERENA: AN ADULT FAIRY TALE a respectable and rather unexpected DVD release that will please vintage porno fans while giving any curious viewers a chance to see it.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Directed By: Walter Boos
Written By: Gunther Heller
Starring: Puppa Armbruster, Sandra Atia, Ulrich Beiger
Color/91 Minutes/Not Rated

The Film
The German sexploitation series continues with the 9th entry subtitled MATURE BEFORE GRADUATION. The "sex-report" films are exploitative versions of sex-ed videos that audiences ate up during the 70s. What was being passed off as, just barely, as an educational look into the sexual mind of a modern day teens and young adults was actually a reason to watch attractive young people prance around naked for an hour and a half with their sexual exploits on full display, though not in a hardcore XXX manner, with a small plot holding the whole thing together. This entry is held together by the plot of a couple cars full of teens leaving a wild house party the morning after and drunk driving and racing until they smash into a tree. Luckily for everyone involved no one is seriously hurt but they may be in trouble with the law. The film takes us back through several of the girls' stories in the events leading up to their arrival at the party and the subsequent accident. Everything from a girl, barely 18, getting married and subsequently divorced when married life isn't all its cracked up to be going to the party with her new ex-husband, to a girl being impregnated by her stepfather after he catches her experimenting with lesbianism.

As expected, there is plenty of eye candy on display. There is also some genuine laughs to be had, such as the scene where a father coming home to find a house full of passed out naked bodies strewn across his home and the group being drunk in the police station. The stories in this entry aren't as entertaining as they were in Vol 8 though. A couple are tedious and offer little payoff in the way off humor or T&A. SCHOOLGIRL REPORT 9 may not be the best entry of the series but fans of the series will find plenty here to enjoy.

The Video
SCHOOLGIRL REPORT 9 is brought to us on DVD from the Synapse Films imprint Impulse Pictures, just as the previous 8 installments were. The film was obviously culled from different sources with varying degrees of wear and tear. While the film largely looks good with moderate grain and dirt there are times where the print was obviously in worse shape and is dirtier and washed out. These show evidence that it may have been taken from a VHS copy but I can't be sure. The film never becomes unwatchable and the good outweighs the bad. The anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) presentation receives a passing grade. 

The Audio
The audio track is solid, with a steady mix and no instances of cracking or hissing. The track is in German with optional English subtitles which are properly timed and translated.

The Extras

The Bottom Line
Fans of this classic sexploitation series will be pleased to add  this disc to their collection while newcomers to the series will find enough to pique their interest into checking out the previous discs.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Scorpion With Two Tails (1982)

Sergio Martino is a director who has made dozens of wild and entertaining films across many genres including horror, western, sci-fi and crime. While many of his films could fit in Euro-trash or Euro-sleaze category it hasn't stopped the man from being a damn fine director. There may be no better example of this than the third act of his excellent giallo TORSO. SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS is something else entirely.

Arthur Barnard (John Saxon, ENTER THE DRAGON, TENEBRE) is an archaeologist working on a dig at an ancient Etruscan tomb while his wife Joan (Elvire Audray) is suffering from nightmares of the tomb and sacrificial rites of the Etruscan's while at home in New York. Joan foresees her husband's death, having his head twisted around backwards, just as the Etruscans did to their victims. The local police theory of thieves doesn't sit well with Joan so she travels to Italy to investigate the murder of her husband, bringing along Mike, Arthur's partner who stayed behind in New York on the dig. Joan finds confusing notes in Arthur's journal that she uses to uncover her father's role in an international drug ring that may have played a role in Arthur's death. As the investigation continues more and more people end up dead with their head twisted just as Joan had seen in her nightmarish visions.

When Joan finally gets inside of the tombs she realizes that those dreams had actually shown her the inside of the tomb. She begins to become more in tune with the Etruscan rituals and weird things start happening with characters coming in and out of suspect for the murders that continue to mount. The ancient rituals come to a climax just as intentions are revealed for one last murder.

Where to begin with this one... SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS is a messy, messy film. What starts out as an Italian horror flick, steeped in creepy atmosphere and locations turns into a murder mystery crime ordeal and then becomes some sort of muddy mix of the two. The best way to look at it would be one of Fulci's lesser horror flicks from the 80s meets a giallo without being able to really meld them together. There is a bit of a water meets oil situation going on in this film. Sergio Martino's direction isn't bad but it is far from his best, it is full of many cliches from both types of film present here. The red herrings of the giallo and the maggot infested nightmares of Italian horror both show up more than once. The cast is rather wooden through the entire thing but get the job done without really pushing themselves too much, including a role from Hollywood vet Van Johnson. Fabio Frizzi delivers the original music that suits the film fine but probably won't be remembered as his finest work.

SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS, aka MURDER IN AN ETRUSCAN CEMETERY, was originally meant to be a TV miniseries which is probably the main culprit behind the lack of sex and violence. Martino was never shy about either of those two components and with very little nudity to speak of and the violence mainly muddled by fog and other techniques and bloodless it makes sense that the television censors were on his mind. This is a strange film to review in that everything I've written has sounded rather negative but I assure you I did enjoy the flick despite its issues. While it is a shame that side plots rule so much of this movie because this could have been another great collaboration between Martino and writer Ernesto Gastaldi. As it stands it is probably more of a weird novelty that you should enter with tempered expectations and you might come out of it enjoying it as I did for being a completely bipolar, schizophrenic supernatural horror crime mashup.


Friday, January 11, 2013

The Boogens (1981)

 THE BOOGENS is a horror film I've known about for many years having never seen it until this viewing. It was never one of the more notorious titles that a young horror fan would hear about but it had a consistent following, even into the last couple of years when I would read message board threads asking "which horror film are you waiting for on DVD" and THE BOOGENS would always get brought up at least once. Well with a recent DVD and Blu-ray release, this underrated 80s gem can finally gain a wider audience.

Mark and Roger are two guys fresh out of college who take a job in the Rocky Mountain mining town of Silver City where they work with their two bosses to re-open a mine that was closed in 1912 after a collapse and apparent attack. Roger (Jeff Harlan) has his girlfriend Jessica (Anne-Marie Martin) and her friend Trish (Rebecca Balding) move to the area with them with the intention that Mark (Fred McCarren) and Trish might hit it off. The guys arrive a day earlier to begin their work in blasting open the mine. When the girls arrive in town that evening Jessica and Roger go straight to the sex they've both been obsessing about while Mark and Trish quietly and shyly introduce themselves over beers while being annoyed by Jessica's bastard dog. Shortly after a sheriff arrives asking if the group has seen the landlord, a young woman who disappeared the night before.

When the group goes into town for dinner and shoot pool Roger leaves early to get some sleep for a midnight run to Denver to pick up materials for their job and is suddenly attacked in the house. Over the next day, while the remaining crew is working in the mine, and Trish is busy working on a journalism story about the mine, Jessica is attacked by the unknown assailant which would only be the beginning of the trouble for everyone involved with the mine crew. Piles of bones are found within the mine, vandals try to board up the entrance and warn the crew of the dangers, and secret passageways are found leading from the mine to houses, all the while something is attacking people.

THE BOOGENS, directed by James L. Conway, who has since had a successful career in TV, plays out very similar to a typical 80s slasher, without a knife or axe wielding maniac behind the deaths. It is interesting that Charles E. Sellier Jr. who directed the infamous Christmas slasher Silent Night Deadly Night, was a producer on this film. Many of the stereotypical slasher film characters and stereotypes are present, including the sex-crazed couple, the shy and quiet yet attractive blind dates, and the crazy old man local who knows all about what is happening. The difference here is that every single character is extremely likable. We don't have a snotty douchebag teenager that we are cheering for as they get ripped apart limb from limb. Instead we have a group of young adults who act like decent human beings that we can all relate with and hope they survive, with the exception of that fucking dog. This is an important part of the film that relies more on building some tension and suspense rather than in your face violence and gore. The actual horror of the film doesn't really start until well after the 50 minute mark and there isn't much gore to speak of outside of some blood and bones. When we finally see the creatures, long after they're introduced, we're presented with a blend of spiders, a Lovecraftian tentacle monster and the creatures from The Deadly Spawn.

This is a film that has been in the back of my mind for quite some time, and the ability to finally see it, in high-def no less, was a thrill. The positive review Stephen King gave it back when it was originally released certainly helped its cult status but even today it should please most horror fans that are checking it out for the first time.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Bloody Work: A Nonfiction Film

Ah, the first post of 2013. I hope everyone had a fun and safe New Year's Eve and is recovered from their parties. Hopefully the start of the year is treating you all well. The first review of the year will be up in a few short days but first, I wanted to bring everyone's attention to a very cool project that needs some help to reach its full potential. A friend of mine brought my attention to it recently and asked that I share the information and seeing as that I'm very intrigued by it, I had to oblige.

One of the more obscure crimes in American history, the Servant Girl Annihilator murders took place in Austin, Texas, throughout 1885, three years before Jack the Ripper terrorized London. Never before has there been an authoritative, scholarly or popular history released about these murders until now. Filmmaker Martin Wagner will cut through the myths to determine, as best as possible, the facts behind the crimes that changed the face of an emerging American city poised between Reconstruction and the oncoming 20th century.

Donations can be made for the production of the film at its Kickstarter page with various gifts for each amount pledged. Please help out by donating or spreading the word. Thank you.