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Horrorwood Babbles On: WonderFest – A Classic Monster-Fan’s Beast Fiend!

In the classic-horror world that Forry Ackerman left behind for us, some consider the Triple Crown of fan events to be: Monster Bash, Comic-Con and WonderFest.

The Bash is an easy, intimate gathering – like a down-home family picnic. Comic-Con is a juggernaut of bone crushing intensity – like the NY Stock Exchange of Cons. Ah, Wonderfest! – an oasis of camaraderie and something-for-everyone programming – the 2-day cruise ship of horror cons. For those of us happily cursed to be a part of the horror community, Wonderfest is THE Mecca of classic monster-fan’s cream of the crop.

Genre literati, artists, craftspeople and their admirers all gather to share secrets, ogle the latest creatures (in model form) and to catch up on general comings and goings. If you prefer dude-ish sports analogies, let’s just say WonderFest could be considered the NASCAR(E) of Horror events! The Kentucky Dirge(by)! The Spooker Bowl! The World Eeries! — GROAN! Say, “Uncle!” (Forry)

WonderFest - A Classic Monster-Fan's Beast Fiend!
Uncle Ack points the way! (photo by Terry Pace)

WonderFest - A Classic Monster-Fan's Beast Fiend!
Forrest and Alexandra Pace: The new genre-ation! (photo by Terry/Anita Pace)

WonderFest skitters into Louisville, Kentucky every year in mid-May. When it’s over, it leaves behind a legion of casualties: folks who have forever found a dependable place to express their macabre creativity, enjoy the product of the genre AND to visit with their beloved once-a-year family. This last fact can’t be overstated, as it is the singular most magical effect of WonderFest. Everyone who comes to embrace this Con, leaves feeling a part of something BIG that is both nurturing and sustaining for the other 363 days of the year leading up to the next WonderFest. And this is a well-planned magic trick, NO accident! Con organizers Dave Hodge, Dave Conover, Donnie Wadell, John Davis, Lee Staton and the whole crew really go to painstaking lengths in making this Con a family-friendly, chock-full-o’-monsters, Forry-esque delight, to be sure.

WonderFest - A Classic Monster-Fan's Beast Fiend!
Ray Meyers – Aurora Monster Model sculptor and his
‘Monster Kid Hall of Fame’ Rondo Award photo: Terry/Anita Pace)

The eclectic guest list is as diverse and seductive as a handful of wildflowers (for Frankenstein’s Monster to throw in a lake). This year’s roster of guests featured Ray Meyers – the sculptor of many iconic Aurora monster models including Godzilla and Bride of Frankenstein. It was a real joy to watch Ray soak up all the love and appreciation at his first-ever Con. Ray Jr. was talking to a circle of us after Ray Sr. had retired for the evening. He casually mentioned, “Well, I guess this was Dad’s one shot at fame and now it’s all over.” The whole group of us sputtered with laughter. We gently informed Ray Jr. that his dad was now a genre celebrity for life and that our community wouldn’t let him go unless he murdered us! Hope that was taken as a compliment and not a challenge …

WonderFest - A Classic Monster-Fan's Beast Fiend!
Frank Dietz, Bill Stout, James Karen and Linnea Quigley: The Return of the Living dead panel. (photo by Terry Pace)

Other guests included; Frank Dietz (incredible artist/illustrator), Anita, Forrest (Uncle Ack’s namesake) and Alexandra Pace, Bill Stout (Dinosaur artist, illustrator, production designer), Staffan Linder (CGI modeler – Let the Right One In), Linnea Quigley (Return of the Living Dead), Claudia Christian (“Babylon 5″) and many more. At dinner, I told Claudia that we’d met before. When she asked where and when, I reminded her that many years ago, when she was filming The Hidden, I walked by her on the way to work. She was laying on the sidewalk, below the Neptune Mannequin building, covered in blood and a plastic tarp. Her character had just taken a leap from the top of the building, splattered on the sidewalk and the crew was trying to get a dog to lick her so that the alien being within her could transfer to the unlucky animal. I smiled down at her. She smiled up at me (through layers of gore), and I went on my merry way.

The remarkable Harry Knowles and his ultra-cool wife Patricia were also guests. I have known of Harry since the beginning of his industry-shaking website; Ain’t It Cool News, but I’d never had the incredible pleasure of sitting down with him and chatting. We waxed Ackerman long into the night and I felt I’d found a long lost brother. Young Harry is the best connection between classic horror and modern fare. He truly understands the heart of our genre and the need to welcome newcomers into it. Harry loved Forry even more than I could ever imagine and is following in the Ackermonster’s boot prints to an extreme. Harry and his dad’s memorabilia collection may rival Forry’s one day. Harry’s generosity of spirit is already in the running. Harry participated in several panels including an insider’s look at the new Predators flick providing close to an hour-long phone Q&A with maverick director Robert Rodriguez.

WonderFest - A Classic Monster-Fan's Beast Fiend!
Cortlandt Hull, Bill Diamond, Forry puppet, Donnie Wadell, David Colton, Harry Knowles, Me and Terry Pace. (photo: Anita Pace)

On Saturday, there was the “Forrest J Ackerman Shall not Die!” Panel. Con organizer (and dead-on Forry impressionist) Donnie Wadell moderated. The panel consisted of Harry Knowles, David Colton (USA Today front-page editor and Rondo Awards Administrator), Terry Pace (Journalist, Professor and historian), Cortlandt Hull (Filmmaker, curator of The Witches Dungeon) and Bill Diamond (Puppeteer, artist) and ME! Everyone involved absolutely exuded profound love for Forry – of the sort I’m never prepared for. I usually feel that my affection for the ol’ guy is so great that I have no critical faculty. But all of my fellow panelists expressed such gratitude for Forry’s presence in their lives and described the life-shaping impact that he and his Famous Monsters magazine had on them. Well, it really felt like a family reunion. The hour flew by and then overflowed for another 20 minutes. No time even for Q&A. At the end of the panel, Cortlandt Hull and Bill Diamond unveiled a new Forry puppet that will be featured in Bill’s episodic, MonsterTV horror-themed show!

The Rondo Awards scaremony was held Saturday as well! Among the lucky winners? Our own Uncle Creepy Dread Central for best website and ME for the Fan Event of the Year – the Forrest J Ackerman tribute.

Thanks to a monumental assist from Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs) and Dan Madigan (See No Evil) Thanks, guys!) Look for my very next installment on these incredibly prestigious horror trophies voted by fandom and given out by horror-hero David Colton and his Classic Horror Film Board.

Long-time Forry pal and neighbor, James Karen (Return of the Living Dead, Poltergeist and every TV show ever shot) was also a guest of the con. James has worked with everyone from Buster Keaton to Steven Spielberg. Back in LA, he was a constant presence in Forry’s life, often taking him to lunch and always checking in on the Ackermonster to make sure he was happy and well. James immediately impressed every fan he met with his warm and welcoming ways. That man is a warm hug of a person and nobody who encounters him ever leaves without feeling that he’s really taken an interest in them – because he has! Even at 87, this iconic actor had to leave the show early Sunday to fly home to Horrorwood for work!

WonderFest - A Classic Monster-Fan's Beast Fiend!
Sweet Suite of horror! The Old Dark Club House!

As I mentioned in last year’s Wonderfest report, nestled in the heart of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, like a Raven’s nest, sits the Old Dark Clubhouse. An effort fear-headed by the gracious and talented Gary Prangue. Each year, this hotel suite is transformed into a virtual Neverland for classic horror fans. Step through the doors and be transported to an environment cobbled together from the back pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine. The Captain Company catalog comes to life on the walls of the Clubhouse. Barely an inch of blank space exists. Every imaginable poster, trinket and novelty is here. Most importantly, all of the best folks gather there to discuss the minutiae of our collective obsession – Monsters and Horror! At any hour, you’ll not only find guests of the con relaxing, but you’re likely to find Tim and Donna Lucas (Video Watch Dog) spinning yarns and comparing notes. Lou Ferrigno (“The Hulk”) might drop buy and pour you a (way too big) tumbler of Scotch. Also, treasured WonderFest regulars Max The Drunken Severed Head Cheney, Terry Ingram and Raymond Castile (of the UMA), Larry “Dr. Gangrene” Underwood and the lovely and madcap Linda “Nurse Moan-eek” Wylie. And of course the whole Pace family is always nearby to make you feel like you’re at a perpetual family day! My pal and Forry-fave Robert “Bobbo” Taylor was in the house too!

WonderFest - A Classic Monster-Fan's Beast Fiend!
An Electric-chair commode? Aim well!

The Universal Monster Army (UMA) boils and ghouls outdid themselves again this year. Aside from their always-impeccable display of classic horror toys (so extensive Harry Knowles said he saw a few pieces HE didn’t have!) the UMA presented a cool newsstand filled to capacity with the cover art of Con guest Ken Kelly. All the Warren covers from Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella and FM filled the shelves. Castle of Frankenstein was featured too, plus a couple of covers from Skywalds! This addition to the UMA display was the brainchild of my dear pal and foremost female fan Elizabeth Haney! With the support of her UMA brothers Mike Scott, Bill Sharp and Jeff Carlson, handyman husband Dave Kitz and the talented guys at Acme Design, Clint Borucki, Dean Millermon and Jon Olimb, this quirky-kiosk from the past was a real hit. Ken Kelly was visibly touched by the tribute. Way to go UMA!

WonderFest - A Classic Monster-Fan's Beast Fiend!
The Universal Monster Army’s latest display: A tribute to Ken Kelly and a bunch of his terrific magazine covers.

When all is said and done, WonderFest is a toy and model show. You can pick up any monster model, old or new, you’ve been coveting as well as state-of-the-art painting, sanding and sculpting materials. Attend detailed “how-to” workshops. Look at brilliant examples of built kits. Even meet some of the artists responsible for your favorites! The model contest fills a whole ballroom and the work is consistently breathtaking. I wouldn’t want to be a judge. Forget it, yes I would! The latest kits are extremely whimsical and inventive. I saw more original designs this year. My purchases were a War Of The Worlds snap-together kit, an “Astro Boy” DVD to remind me of my childhood, a “Milton the Monster” DVD for my pal John Goss and a copy of the great Frogs issue of FM to have cover artist Ken Kelly sign for my pal Ogre. I meant to pick up a copy of Cortlandt Hull’s brand new doc on the Aurora Monster model hobby, but didn’t get to him in time! Don’t miss it, friends! A truly graphic, kitchen-sink trip through the world of models, their makers and admirers.

Model Contest Entrants:

WonderFest - A Classic Monster-Fan's Beast Fiend!

WonderFest - A Classic Monster-Fan's Beast Fiend!

WonderFest - A Classic Monster-Fan's Beast Fiend!

WonderFest - A Classic Monster-Fan's Beast Fiend!

WonderFest - A Classic Monster-Fan's Beast Fiend!

WonderFest - A Classic Monster-Fan's Beast Fiend!

The spirit of Forry lives on at WonderFest and the organizers intend to make sure it continues to live on. Over time, I have been invited to many cons with Forry and recently (sadly) without him. But WonderFest is the first show to invite me as a formal guest and I am ever grateful for that privilege. As I mentioned at the Forry panel, one of the biggest challenges for us classic horror fans is to give the young people and newcomers a context for the “old stuff” we love. Forry was always able to do this by sharing with passion and entertaining with glee. One sure way to accomplish this today is to invite kids into a world that is incredibly fun, creative and populated by caring people who will nurture all the timeless lessons that our golden-age monsters have taught us. WonderFest is that classroom. In 2011, consider enrolling your kids in this school of hard shocks!

Coming up next: The Rondo Awards – our genre Oscares!

Joe Moe

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