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Ambush Bug survives Fango's Weekend of Horrors Chicago+DVD reviews:DWARVES, DRUGS, CREMATORS, DEVILS & FAST ZOMBIES WITH GUNS!

Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. Usually I’m tooling about over at AICN Comics, but last weekend (March 6th – 8th) I had a chance to feed the horror goblin in my brainpan and attend FANGORIA’S WEEKEND OF HORRORS CHICAGO. I wish I could give a shot by shot synopsis of the famous horror con, but my schedule only allowed me to attend Saturday’s festivities. For a rundown of the whole show, check out Fango’s website. But I made the best of my visit on Saturday though and hung out all day at the Wyndham O’Hare Hotel just North of Chicago. Since this was my very first Fango Weekend of Horror’s experience, I thought I’d do a rundown of some of the more pertinent observations of my con experience. Later, I’m going to take a look at some of the stuff that I picked up at the con.

Observation #1: Although there were more people at some of the other comic book conventions I have attended, chicks at the Weekend of Horrors are more abundant and hotter. Maybe it’s my fondness for goth girls, but there were quite a few lovely ghouls…I mean, gals that distracted me from the actual booths and stars in attendance.
Observation #2: Fangoria Comics are alive and kicking! Now known as FANGORIA GRAPHIX, titles like BUMP, DEATH WALKS THE STREETS, STRANGELAND, and BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE RAGE now have a place to call home. I’m planning on covering a few of these titles in an upcoming AICN Comics, but upon initial inspection, these books seem to bring all of the blood, guts, and violence into graphic form in grotesquely beautiful ways. I’m just happy that these titles are coming back after their brief stint under the now defunct SCREAM FACTORY imprint. Now that they are under the watchful eye of Executive Editor Scott Licina and the rest of the crew at Fango Graphix, the books seem to be in the right hands.
Observation #3: The attendees at the FANGORIA WEEKEND OF HORRORS is not that different from those that attend some of the comic cons in the past. This didn’t really surprise me, but it is worth noting.
Observation #4: I could have waited in line to see George Romero. I could have stood for an hour in order to get a few choice moments with the zombie guru. But in the end, I decided against it. And I didn’t do it for the same reason I don’t stand in lines at the comic cons I’ve attended--I just feel like I’m wasting valuable time checking out the merchandise, people watching, and of course, checking out hot goth girls. I doubt if I met Mr. Romero I would have come up with anything memorable to say, so I decided not to Chris Farley it up and spend more time on the floor.
Observation #5: Ashley (HELLRAISER) Laurence is absolutely stunning in person. There were quite a few stars in attendance at the show. I only got to see them briefly as they walked briskly through the halls to grab beverages or to move from the main floor to the area where fans can snap photos of themselves with the stars for their Myspace profiles. I saw Tom Savini who looks like he could still kick everyone’s ass in the room. Tom Towles from HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER was there. So was Bill Moseley, who presents as the exact opposite of his characters Chop-Top from TCM2 and Otis Driftwood from DEVIL’S REJECTS. I also chatted for a tiny bit with George Kosana, a guy who you may not know his name, but you immediately know his face. Despite the years, Kosana still looks like the gruff sheriff from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD who said the famous line, “Yeah, they’re dead. They’re all messed up.” I know this because he recited the line to me. Seemed like a sweet old guy and it was one of those cool meets that you can only get at one of these cons. But to repeat for those in the cheap seats, Ashley Laurence is just damn gorgeous.
Observation #6: Joel Robinson is a damn cool guy. Joel’s best known for his cover art on Bluewater Comics’ VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS books. He had a damn cool display and does beautiful portraits of horror icons. Check out Joel’s website to see what I mean. Joel’s going to be a big name in comics and I’m glad I had a chance to chat with him.
Observation #7: I want a tattoo. I never got one and the entire back half of the convention was scattered with tat salons buzzing away at people’s flesh. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the money this time around. I guess it was just the thought of Ashley Laurence hearing me scream like a little girl that made me wait till next time.
Observation #8: There were some cool costumes at this one and me without my camera. Hopefully, I can find a link to some of the cool costumes of this year’s con or someone can provide one in the TBs. Best Costume I saw was the Gwar-ish demon lord who was walking around quite nimbly on stilts and was wearing a fake head and shoulders over his head to make him stand at about 7 feet tall. The whole damn costume was amazing and was a huge hit with the crowd. I saw more than one person shit their britches when they caught a look at this guy unexpectedly. Which leads me to the next observation...
Observation #9:Conventions held in hotels are awesome! I love it that these conventions are held in places where people not going to them get to see them. There’s just something perversely awesome seeing an old lady react in disgust to a guy wearing Captain Spaulding clown make-up. Train ticket to the convention: $2.25 Ticket for Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors: $25.00 Seeing a guy in a business suit go out of his way to try to ignore a kid dressed up like Jason Voorhees sitting next to him in the hotel lobby: Priceless.
Observation #10: I need to go back to this thing next year and spend the entire weekend. There was just too much to see and too little time for me to see it in the time I gave myself this time around. FANGORIA’S WEEKEND OF HORRORS is a must for those who laugh when they get scared and appreciate horror for all that it is and can be.

The coolest thing about going to these cons is the swag you end up with at the end of the day. I’ll be reviewing some of the comics I picked up in an upcoming AICN Comics column, so I won’t go into that batch here. I did get to snag up a few choice DVDs. One of the coolest things you can do at these cons is check out some of the cool and obscure films out there in horrorland; the kind of stuff you’re not going to find at your local Blockbuster/Hollywood Video store. Although I wanted to check out more, here are a few flicks I was able to pick up and add to my horror DVD collection.


Cinema Edge Productions

First up is a pair of short films from Cinema Edge Productions. ABSENT is a short about a couple in search of an ultimate high and finding something a whole lot more terrifying. This is a pretty low budget flick which runs about 15 minutes long. It’s got a few good scares in it (mostly of the loud noise out of the blue variety) and a whole lot of blood and torture. The director (Daniel McLemore Stanton) has a subliminal scare technique that I found to be pretty fun, where a frightening random image pops out of the blue for just a second during some of the more quiet scenes. This made for an uneasy viewing experience where you didn’t know when the scares were going to come. The whip to the face torture scene is something inspired, but the rough editing and stilted dialog kept me from getting completely into this one. ABSENT was just the prologue to the real treat I picked up from Cinema Edge Productions; LEGION OF THE LIAR.
When I passed the Cinema Edge Productions table, the guy behind the desk asked, “Do you like exorcism stories?” to which I replied “Who doesn’t?” But exorcism stories are like movies about sharks, they have to be either damn good or damn original to work, otherwise it’s been done before and done better than anyone can ever dream of doing it, so why bother. I gave LEGION OF THE LIAR a chance and I’m glad I did. This 60 minute flick took me back to my youth; back when I was running around with my video camera trying to make the next great horror film. No matter where you grow up, everyone has a run-down, abandoned hospital in their home town. As a youth, I braved infection of all sorts to trudge through the peeled paint and gathered dust of the old hospital in the woods at the other end of town. It was the right setting, but alas, my youthful enthusiasm was greater than my attention span and what started out as a moody use of swerving cameras and amateur trick photography always spiraled into my buddies and me video taping each other as we chugged beer and lit farts. Ahh, kindergarten…
Daniel McLemore Stanton has a much keener eye and longer attention span than I ever did and shows it well in LEGION OF THE LIAR. This is a surreal trip using one of those abandoned hospitals and a creepy cello soundtrack to set the mood following a reverend attempting to save a young girl who has been possessed. Stanton abandons a straight-forward narrative structure in favor of random images of a decaying hospital, a spooky Sid Haig-lookin’ guy in doctors scrubs covered in blood, a freaky dead girl bleeding from the mouth, a pair of emo Goths drinking blood from a broken chalice, and of course, maggots. It’s all tied together with a voiceover of said exorcism with all of the swears, screams, grunts, and roars that usually accompany those types of rituals. It’s not necessarily original, but the presentation is awfully moody and the constant screams ended up making me creeped-out through the whole thing. Stanton does a great job of scaring the shit out of you over and over in this one (I fell for it every time); where he focuses on a quiet scene, then quickly cuts to someone running towards the screen right at you, which caused me to sink back into my chair again and again. I really liked the constant barrage of unusual images (this would actually be a damn cool DVD to play at a bar while music is playing), all of which were both unnerving and provocative.


Severin Films

I learned a new word at this year’s WEEKEND OF HORRORS; Dwarfsploitation. Not sure what it is? Check out THE SINFUL DWARF, a wicked little film about a dinky deviant living in an inn with his equally cracked mother. The duo trap innocent girls, drug them up, then pimp them out to strangers. This is exploitative horror to the maximum degree and I must admit, some of the scenes had me squirming. There’s an overall ickyness to this film. The dwarf, who’s real name is Torben and whose profession before this film was that of a host of a Danish children’s show, is just about as sleazy as you can get. Looking like a mini Jack Black, Torben sweats profusely, contorts his face into a wide smile, and shakes uncontrollably during the more disturbing scenes. More ickyness ensues as Torben lures young women to his attic with dirty mechanical toys, then pricks them with bent needles full of drugs. When a young couple comes to stay at the inn, Torben and his mother see a new victim in their midst.
This film was made in 1974, but this is the first time it has been released in the USA. It’s definitely got that grimy Grindhouse quality with mad synthesizer riffs and tons of sex and violence. The gore is at a minimum. Most of the horror comes from the torment the dwarf’s captives endure and the bizarre actions of the dwarf himself. One of the most disturbing scenes has Torben acting out sexual acts with his toys while his mother watches! Just freakin gross. Its seventies exploitative horror at its most disturbing and sure to offend just about anyone who takes the time to watch it. This is definitely not one I will play at Christmastime when the family comes over, but the moments of psychological terror and the hilarious use of a dummy as a stunt double for the dwarf, plus the disturbing performance from Torben make this obscure reel of celluloid something to remember (whether I want to or not).


Dark Sky Films

The most interesting villains to me are the ones who think that their acts of villainy are actually the right thing to do. Such is the case with the subject of this film. Karl Kopfrkingl works at the top crematorium in Prague. He is unbelievably proud of what he does and can’t help but pontificate about the importance of cremation, reincarnation, and all things death at family gatherings, church services, Christmas toasts, and wherever he finds a crowd gathering. Actor Rudolf Hrusinsky’s Karl, a morbid, Addams Family-ish chap with a wicked comb-over, does a great job of letting the viewer understand how passionate he is about death and cremation. Hrusinsky develops one of the more believable villains I’ve seen on film in quite some time. The level of dedication to his occupation is admirable, even if it is morbid as hell.
The film is one of those descent into madness stories that I can’t get enough of. Making a believable evolution from somewhat skewed sanity to insanity has always been an interest of mine and it’s done so masterfully in THE CREMATOR. There’s one particular moment while Karl is having an exclusive dinner with leaders of the Nazi party where you see his mindset shift; where madness becomes much too appealing than living the rest of his life as a mere cremator. Being accustomed to the center of attention by his doting family, Karl soaks in the acknowledgement the Nazis give him and he buys into their methodology ever so easily after that, even though his half-Jewish wife objects. The quick spiral into insanity that follows is both logical and mesmerizing.
First released in 1968, THE CREMATOR has never been available in the US until now. Director Juraj Hertz is adapting a story by Ladislav Fuks here. Hertz direction is subtle when it comes to the horror. Those of you who are used to Hollywood’s version of scares may be a bit bored with this one. But Hertz chooses to let us creep through that slimy comb-over and into the head of Karl. It’s not a fun place, but the stylized flashes of disturbing imagery overlaying the beautiful scenery and ornate furnishings of his eloquent home make for a wonderfully disturbing trip. The horror here is more in knowing that nothing good will come from a man this obsessed with death and getting to know this horrible man leaves you with a sense of unease that few movies can accomplish.


A Film by Bennie Woodell Jiang Hu Productions

This movie had me at the title. There’s something unbelievably interesting about the words FAST ZOMBIES WITH GUNS put together in that particular order. And pretty much, that’s what you get with this release from director Bennie Woodell; zombies…running really fast…with guns…
Now I don’t want to oversell this one. It’s a very low budget movie, but there’s a lot of fun to be had with this flick. It tries to be a lot bigger than it really is. It aims for the stars and sometimes misses when the actors are asked to perform way beyond their ability. But occasionally there are moments of true inspiration as Woodell tries to cram just about every zombie attacking human with guns scenario into this hour and a half flick. The film only lags when it slows down to bother with a plot (something about the murder of a mob informant and a couple on the run), which sounds like a complaint, but really it only means that the scenes of zombie carnage were so much fun that I was wishing there were more of them.
Woodell doesn’t shy away from using the wet stuff. Arteries are chewed open, causing a geyser of gore. Bullets splatter through adult and child zombie alike. Tossing in the element of firearms to the mix adds something new and refreshing as the bullet hits erupt in fountains of blood. Sure there are hints of 28 DAYS LATER throughout this one, as well as nods to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and just about any other zombie apocalypse movie you can think of. Woodell even gets his Tarantino on with the hitman couple on the run motif. But the true selling point of this one is in its title. Like peanut butter and jelly or dead hookers and car trunks, FAST ZOMBIES WITH GUNS is a winning combination.

There was a lot of fun to be had at FANGORIA’S WEEKEND OF HORRORS CHICAGO this year. I hear that Friday night’s Shock-N-Roll Spooktacular featuring bands Mushroomhead and Fashion Bomb was a pretty amazing show. If you are a fan of horror, this was definitely the place for you last weekend. Again, my @$$ hurts from kicking myself for not being able to attend the whole event, but the parts I did see guarantee that I’ll be back for more gore next year.

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for over seven years. Check out previews to his short comic book fiction here and here published in MUSCLES & FIGHTS 3 and MUSCLES & FRIGHTS on his ComicSpace page. Bug was interviewed here and here at Cream City Comics. Look for more comics from the Bug in 2009 from Bluewater Productions, including the just-announced sequel to THE TINGLER for their VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS ongoing series.
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