While there are numerous horror fan conventions taking place around the country these days it’s hard to think of what they were like when it all began. The newest shows are mega-productions featuring the most recognizable stars from the hottest shows and movie around. That means that for horror fans they either feature casts from THE WALKING DEAD or AN AMERICAN HORROR STORY. The sad thing is most of those stars are busy filming and many cancel at the last minute not to mention the fact that they’re riding the wave of popularity at present rather than having established a long list of credentials when it comes to being dedicated to the genre. Not all but many. So what does the die-hard horror fan do when they want to join in with like-minded people with a love of horror?
I’ve had the chance to visit two different horror fan conventions. One that falls into the above category was my least favorite but okay. The best thing about it was the fact that I was finally able to take a vacation with my wife where it was just the two of us. That made it special. As for the show itself it was Scarefest and while they claim to be the best convention in the country I would say they flatter themselves. It was a huge event and by huge I’m talking about the size of the area it was held. It made getting from one place to another a LONG walk and at my age and with back problems it made the show more miserable for me than anything else. It also wasn’t dedicated to just horror fans but the paranormal crowd as well. This ended up being our reason for going since my wife is a dedicated GHOST HUNTERS fan. We had the chance to meet Steve, Dave, Adam and Grant and all were absolutely wonderful to talk with. I also got to meet up again with Ken Foree of DAWN OF THE DEAD. But the rest of the event wasn’t that enjoyable. A party was held in the hotel bar which means that hundreds of people were crammed into a space meant for a tenth of who showed. More attention was paid to cosplay folks than celebrities. And the vendor tables were less oriented towards horror fans and more geared towards things like mystic crystals, incense, psychic readings, vacation trips to haunted locations and the ilk. I think there was 1 table of DVDs for sale and maybe 2 tables with shirts (go Joel Robinson!). Comparing this convention to the other I’d attended I felt it was soulless and geared more towards the mainstream. It felt hollow and I found no connection with the event, those putting it on and others in attendance.
The same can’t be said for Cinema Wasteland.
I just returned from my latest venture into Wasteland and can say that after a ten year gap from my last visit, things have remained fan oriented and fun. I certainly have grown older and perhaps not as involved as in the past, but seeing horror fans connect this way made it enjoyable for me. Not only that, but while I wasn’t as involved with each and every one, you felt like family there.
A lot of this has to do with Ken Kish. I first met Ken while attending Wizard World in Chicago YEARS ago. He was selling T-shirts and videos my son was looking for and mentioned he held his own small convention in Cleveland. With that knowledge my son and I went to the next one there and since then I’ve been several times and my son had missed very few of the twice a year events. And it all boiled down to that first meeting with Ken and his wife Pam. They were both congenial, friendly and you could tell loved what they were doing. And that shows in the Cinema Wasteland events put on in April and October.
Let me give you a small rundown of how it works. The event takes place in a Holiday Inn in Strongsville, OH. While you might think the smaller venue would hurt the event it doesn’t at all (Scarefest in comparison took place in a huge convention hall that felt empty and devoid of life). It brings it in close for fans and celebs alike. You don’t feel crowded (unless you go to a panel that everyone wants to see) and you can walk the aisles of vendors and celeb signings with ease. Once you get your tickets, you walk through the doors into the main hall which is jammed packed with horror fan items. Everything from Living Dead Dolls to T-shirts with horror icons to DVDs (rare and popular) to movie posters and more. At the back end of the hall you’ll find numerous tables set up for the celebs with posters behind them touting their accomplishments. I have yet to meet a celeb at a Wasteland show that wasn’t friendly as could be and took the time to become involved with those there who loved their efforts. This is a convention where they are approachable as opposed to having numerous guards around them. They become part of the group.
During the day much goes on as well as the main room. There are 2 screening rooms, one for video the other for 16mm films, that will show everything from shorts to Three Stooges to classic horror and exploitation films to intermission loops to the movie being featured for that particular show. This time around it was DAY OF THE DEAD. While they didn’t do a panel during the movie this time (they normally present cast members doing a voice over to the celebrated film) they did have a panel discussion for the movie featuring almost the entire cast. The room was packed to the gills and while the sound system was a bit low it offered them a chance to talk about making the movie and to answer questions from the host of the panel and some from the crowd. One thing that happened (and that always happens here) was that the panel recognized the fans in the crowd for their support in coming out and for making them feel like people were actually interested in them and loving their efforts after all these years. It has been 30 years since the film came out. But these celebs said that this was one show where they felt like they were a part of the crowd, like they were being treated like family and loved it. And it’s true. You’re as likely to see one of the celebs out front smoking a cigarette with the crowd as you are to see them at the restaurant inside. There is no pretentious atmosphere here.
Other events are held during the weekend as well. Various horror hosts have special shows they put on. For instance Son of Ghoul of Cleveland hosted his annual Three Stooges fest that ended with a rare 16mm print of a 3-D short they made. He even handed out the once famous red/green lens glasses for all to enjoy the film. On Saturday night there was the annual A. Ghastlee Ghoul show featuring the horror host from Dayton, OH. You never know what to expect here. One time there was a talent show that ended up having a guy playing punk rockers The Ramones songs on a banjo. This time around Ghastlee and his wife Suspira offered a few songs to rock out, a game show that gave contestants the choice of a prize of taking instead what was in Ghastlee’s underwear (he put a second pair on over his clothes and they had to reach in for a different often goofy prize), Sally the Zombie Cheerleader had a game where contestants were blindfolded and had to eat various items the crowd groaned over, a choice of games thought up by Ghastlee and Joe the regular Wasteland door staff and more. It was a bit raunchy, a lot of fun and well attended. Perhaps the only fault with this event was that taking place at night some of the crowd were a bit too inebriated to attend. Their constant heckling and yelling out things that were funny only to them became a distraction that drove some folks out. In the end it was all fun and much free stuff was handed to the crowd. It was all good.
Are you getting the picture yet? Are you seeing that this is not your usual convention? There is so much more involvement here, so much more fun, so much more closeness. And while this may feature the largest collection of tattoos, body piercings and black T-shirts this side of a biker bar the group that makes up the crowd feels like the complete opposite. These are the most congenial, the most friendly, the most accepting group of people you are likely to meet. When you leave at the end of the show chances are you will have made several new friends. If you run into them anywhere, including online, you are suddenly a part of the group. You are family. And that’s the main thing that makes this show better and different than any other.
It’s not about the autographs (which by the way Ken insists on keeping the prices reasonable as opposed to what those other shows are charging. Expect them to be much higher). It’s not about the screenings. It’s not about the shows. It’s not about the parties or the hanging out with friends in front of the hotel. It’s about becoming a part of the bigger picture. It’s a combination of people that ranges from DVD company owners, fans, celebs, vendors, artists and more who will join together for a love of horror and exploitation films, who will stand around together discussing which movies they love or hate, who will share a drink or a smoke and a phone number because they are a part of the “family” now.
So if you decide you want to visit a convention you have two options. Go to the boring only-for-profit’s-sake shows where you will likely stand in line for an hour to pay $40-50 for an autograph and never see the celeb anywhere but their table all weekend while never making a friend of anyone else there…or…you can go to Cinema Wasteland where if you are willing everyone is your friend, the celebs mingle with the crowd, an autograph doesn’t go over $20 (at least not that I saw) and the odds of getting enough sleep are rare due to your involvement with the whole group. While once the weekend was over I turned to my friend who went along and quoted Danny Glover by telling him I was getting to old for this shit, I did have a good friend. I made some new friends. I saw some old ones. I adopted each of my son’s friends as my own. And I knew that if I had to choose one convention to go to, this would be it.
If you’re interested in Cinema Wasteland here is a link to their web site. While they haven’t posted the details on the next show (come on, give Ken and Pam a chance to recover from this one!), I can tell you that the October show will be celebrating the third movie in the franchise, LEATHERFACE: CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3. Members of the cast and crew are scheduled to be there. So check the web site frequently and start making plans. October will be here sooner than you think.
Click here to visit the Cinema Wasteland site.
Click here to visit the Cinema Wasteland site.