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Event Report: 2011 Texas Frightmare Weekend

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The Texas Frightmare Weekend ran this past April 29th-May 1st in Dallas, and as Dread Central’s only North Texas operative, it fell to me to bring you everything I could from the con. Unfortunately, for the past month I was held captive by an illicit donkey show south of the Border that’s also a front for a Satanic drug cult. Just the other day I managed to escape and file this report. Yes, I’m fine now — but please, don’t anyone call me ‘Sniffles’ or I might suffer a serious relapse.

Texas Frightmare Weekend is one of the biggest horror conventions in Texas; yet, somehow I’d managed to miss it every year I’ve lived here. This year I wasn’t going to let that happen, and my coverage started with live tweets all weekend long so feel free to add me at MrDarkDC on Twitter and read back to see what you missed! (Those tweets feature photos and content that will NOT be included here in the main coverage.)

The 2011 Texas Frightmare weekend kicked off on Thursday night, April 28th, with the Texas premiere of Lucky McKee’s controversial new film, The Woman. After a screening of Offspring, the film that comes before it in the series based on Jack Ketchum’s books of cannibals in the US Northeast, a brief red carpet was held for the filmmakers and stars of the film. Once things settled down, a packed house was treated to McKee’s comedy short “Blue Like You”, which stars The Woman co-star Carlee Baker. “Blue” and an amusingly disturbing short involving a talking burro cleansed our mental palates for the intensity that was to come.

Following the film was a Q&A with McKee and his troupe. This, combined with a short interview I was able to conduct with McKee at the con, will be posted at a later date here on Dread Central so stay tuned!

The con kicked off properly on Friday, April 29th. Early in the day I managed to get an interview with the legendary Sid Haig, which turned into what I feel is the most unique and compelling interview with the man in his 50th year of show business. Look for it soon right here on DC!

Friday afternoon the con officially opened with a red carpet parade of the guests through the lobby of the Sheraton Grand, the hotel hosting the show. Here, press and attendees were able to see the stars and take photos as they made their way down the press line doing interviews. I’ve never seen this done before at a con, and it really served to set the mood. The lobby was packed, the mood was intense, and the excitement was palpable. Con favorites like Robert Englund and Doug Bradley held court with the press while Human Centipede madmen Tom Six and Dieter Laser impressed everyone with their general insanity. I’m not exaggerating. Laser showed up to the red carpet in full costume from the film. Lab coat, sunglasses, the works. I overheard him telling one member of the press corps, “Laser is my name, and it is what I am! I AM A LASER BEAM!!!

Shortly after the exhibition and guest signing ballrooms opened, the con kicked off with a screening of the amazing Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (review here), followed by the Southwest US premiere of Helldriver (review here). Director Yoshihiro Nishimura and co-star Eihi Shiina were at the con signing on behalf of Japanese relief charities all weekend so they presented the screenings of Nishimura-san’s films.

It was Nishimura’s first con in the US, and Shiina’s first trip to the US, period! When introducing Helldriver, Miss Shiina said she had no idea her performance in Audition was so popular and well-known in the United States. The flood of people wanting her to sign Audition merchandise surprised her. Nishimura was asked how he came up with his bizarre creatures. He said he goes to his favorite bar and starts drinking. Eventually, he starts drawing. Then drinks some more. And repeat. (If you’ve seen a Nishimura film, this makes perfect sense.)

After the Helldriver screening, many attendees retired to the Helldriver Scaryoke event, which is just what it sounds like: karaoke at a horror convention with a bunch of drunken, festive fans, media, and guests belting out their favorite songs. I had an early morning the next day so only stayed for a few tunes and skipped the screening of Sharktopus that ended the night. Yes, I heard later that was a mistake, but that’s what DVD is for, right?

Saturday started early. Between 8:00 and 10:00 AM, a massive zombie walk happened down the outer road of the highway outside the hotel. With the con opening for business at 10:00 AM and the final event scheduled for midnight, Saturday would be a long, long day.

The show kicked off with the wonderful Angus Scrimm, Phantasm‘s Tall Man. At 85 years old, Scrimm is no longer as energetic as he once was, but he is an absolute gem. He began his appearance on stage by telling everyone that his favorite part of doing conventions was getting to meet people. He regretted only having a few moments when signing autographs to speak with everyone, and he encouraged everyone to come up and speak with him if they saw him around the hotel, even if he was dining. It sounds like such a simple thing, but it was so sincere that it literally brought tears to the eyes of some in the audience. Scrimm received at least three standing ovations during his appearance, such is the love for this great, warm man. He is absolutely loved here in Texas, and I’m very glad I got the chance to see him again.

Next, the director (Robert Hall) and cast of Chromeskull: Laid To Rest 2 took the stage with several new clips from the film and a Q&A session. I have to say, while I enjoyed the first film, this one looks incredibly interesting. It goes about as far from where you would expect it to go as you can imagine. It becomes clear from the clips that Chromeskull has an entire high-tech, well-trained support team. He isn’t your average slasher, to be sure. We’ve never seen a slasher like this before, and I’m very anxious to see where Hall and Co. take the franchise.

My biggest mistake of the weekend immediately followed the Chromeskull presentation: I went to eat lunch. By the time I came back for the Robert Englund Q&A, the line to get in stretched out into the lobby. Let me make this clear: Englund is a ROCK STAR. There was no bigger celebrity at this show. His autograph table never cleared. People adore the man down here, and his Q&A audience was the only one I saw that was over capacity. Now, I could have pulled the “I’m press, buzz off” routine, but that’s not how we roll here at Dread Central. We’re fans just like you, and there was no way I was going to keep someone who had been waiting for over an hour in line from seeing Englund just so I could ask about Call of the Dead.

I used my suddenly free hour to peruse the vendor room. And by “peruse” I mean “fight my way through the aisles”. It’s a very good thing that Texas Frightmare is moving to much bigger digs next year because this year’s vendor and guest rooms were packed to the point of insanity at times on Saturday.

The variety and quality of vendors was, quite simply, the best I’ve ever seen at a con. I was shocked to find so many booths that appealed to women as much as men. Jewelers and clothiers mingled in with the action figure and t-shirt booths almost equally. Bonus points to the powers-that-be at Texas Frightmare for showing such care in balancing out the vendor room so well and keeping it interesting.

Closing out the night’s events for me was an appearance by the one and only Voltaire, who brought his entire body of stop-motion animation work to screen for us, including the premiere of his latest short film. I was unaware prior to this of Voltaire’s involvement with stop-motion work for the last 25 years. He’s been doing this work and teaching it at a college in New York City for decades now, along with his better-known musical and comic book work. It was a great presentation, an unexpected treat.

Those of you who have been to horror conventions know that Saturday night gets a little strange. It’s the one long day where almost every attendee is present, and by the end of the night the alcohol starts flowing.

That’s when things like THIS happen (be warned – this video is NOT safe for work):

What you’re looking at are the hotel pool, Yoshihiro Nishimura and his entourage wearing very revealing Japanese bathing gear, and Human Centipede star Dieter Laser, all coming together in a moment of madness the likes of which you probably will never see again. Words can’t describe it. It must be viewed.

In the meantime Saw series star Costas Mandylor (sing that theme with me, everyone) was closing the lobby bar, drinking beer after beer with attendees. In the cocktail lounge a suited Doug Bradley was holding court, drinking cocktails, and taking photos with folks. Out at the pool Laser and Six had to retire inside to perform live commentary to a screening of Human Centipede so Nishimura-san proceeded to flash his junk and do cannonballs. (There’s video of that out there as well, but I’m not linking it. You’re on your own.)

Now THAT is a convention, my friends.

Sunday morning was amusing, as it always is at cons. The hangover plague spread like wildfire. No one was immune, not even staff. I arrived in time for the 11:00 AM panel by author Stephen Romano as he was presenting a new novel he wrote with screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan of Saw, Feast and The Collector fame. The presentation room was closed and locked. 11:05 AM, and a small group has gathered. We begin chatting amongst ourselves, joking that everyone involved must be hung over. I suggested that perhaps they were waiting on the guest doing the Q&A to arrive. The fellow next to me says, “Can’t be. I’m the guest.” At that, I asked someone at the ‘help desk’ if the doors would be unlocked, and after a brief panic they were.

Romano’s book with Melton and Dunstan sounds very interesting. It’s a supernatural noir novel that they hope to spawn into a series and films. Black Light features the hard-boiled detective lingo you’d expect in a Dashiell Hammett novel, but with a supernatural spin as this detective deals with the afterlife. The chapter Romano read sounded great; I can’t wait to read the final product later this year.

Soon after that I was honored to spend some time with Voltaire and lead a group interview with him in the press room. I think I got some very personal and revealing answers about the man and his work, and you can look forward to reading them very soon here on DC!

At that point the con started to wind down. I was out of steam and had to hit an energy drink just to keep moving. When I started to nod off during a horror short being screened following the Don Coscarelli Q&A, I knew it was time to go.

What always strikes me as being so wonderful about conventions are the little moments. Things like seeing Malcolm McDowell and the beautiful Jill Schoelen sitting at her table eating lunch together. Seeing Shawnee Smith have a moment with a recently returned veteran of Iraq, expressing her shock that he’d find her dedication to home schooling her children impressive when, as she said, his dedication was so much more. Seeing Cary Elwes going out of his way in the halls to play around with the young child of a fan that he’d met in an elevator and called “his comedian” because the little boy had told him a joke.

That’s what made this con more than just a great show. By chance or design, all the guests just happened to be really cool people. Genuinely friendly, down to earth people. They seemed to be having as much fun being there as the attendees, which I can tell you from experience is not always the case. Maybe it’s the friendly Texas atmosphere, but it really seemed like a great time was had by everyone, not just the paying attendees.

I want to thank John Wildman and his entire staff at Forte Public Relations for making this reporter’s job much easier than it should have been, and of course Loyd and the fine staff at Texas Frightmare for putting on such an excellent show.

See you next year!

Texas Frightmare Weekend

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