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Event Report: Crypticon 2011

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This past Memorial Day, members of The Night Crew podcast were invited to act as panelists and moderators for the annual horror media convention known as Crypticon Seattle.

Held in the SeaTac Hilton and lasting three days, this multi-media event has always delivered the goods as far as vendors, guests, and programming is concerned and this year was no exception. What follows is a day-by-day, hour-by-hour diary of sorts of the events… at least the ones I was involved in.

Friday:
The day is an atypically warm one in Seattle as I arrived at the convention with my crew. We check into the hotel and immediately head out to get our badges. Walking into the exhibition hall, there is already a line of ticket-holders waiting to get in, dressed in the usual horror convention attire of jeans, horror-themed tee-shirts, and costume. We get our badges and I meet up with my Night Crew compatriots, Sean “The Butcher” Smithson (Fangoria, Twitchfilm) and renowned horror writer and journalist Phillip Nutman (Fangoria, and the novel, Wet Work). This is my first time meeting Phillip face-to-face (I’d only spoken with him over the phone, in email, or via Skype) and I immediately like him. He’s smart, funny, and just acerbic enough to make me feel right at home.

Checking my watch, I excuse myself and head out to my first panel: “We Love Them, We Hate Them, But What Horror Films are the Best?” I arrived at the conference room and find Rotten comic writer, Mark Rahner, already there. There’s a good crowd gathered, considering that it’s late Friday afternoon and many attendees are still making their way here from work. The conversation runs the gamut, first defining what “best” means and how that might run up against “favorite.” Mark and I rattle off a list of favorite films in each sub-genre and I notice more than a few people taking notes.

As soon as the panel ends, I run off to my next scheduled talk. My assistant and I look over my schedule and she shows me a spreadsheet of what lays ahead for the weekend. Sure enough, the next few days are packed with either discussion groups or celebrity interviews with only an hour here and there unspoken for. I do a quick count and end up something like twenty panels in three days. Yup… this is going to be fun.

I enter the room for the panel and notice that it’s already full. My Night Crew partner, Smithson, is already there. We talk for a bit and I notice a beautiful, dark-haired woman come into the room. Immediately, I recognize her as Suspiria’s Barbara Magnolfi.

Introductions are made and the three of us take the stage along with 19 Nocturn Boulevard podcast host, Julie Hoverson. I brought along a bottle of J&B scotch which, as anyone who knows gaillos knows, is a staple of the genre. I put it on the table and threats of actually opening it get bandied about (we don’t). The panel begins with some general talk about the Italian sub-genre and its influence on such things as Poliziotteschi and slasher films, but given that Ms. Magnolfi is here, the direction of the panel soon shifts to focus on her, her career, and what she has planned for the future. Barbara is funny, insightful and delivers some great stories about working with the likes of Dario Argento, Sergio Martino, and Ruggero Deodato.

As the hour winds down, she drops two bombs on the crowd. One is that she is planning a singing career. The other is that she once screen-tested for a role as Vampirella. Sean and I completely geek out at this and the crowd eats it up.

Photos with Barbara are taken and I quickly run off to my next talk, the subject of which is fiction writing and where ideas come from. I meet the other panelists – newcomer Crystal Connor and longtime gaming/fiction guru, SatyrPhil Brucato – and we get started. It’s good to see SatyrPhil, having met him months earlier at a show in Seattle. I liked him then… and like him even more now that we’ve had a chance to actually talk without music thumping overhead. The panel is scheduled for two hours, but there’s enough ground to cover and we manage to keep the audience interested.

Next is our final panel of the day. I meet up with Sean and we make our way to the conference room. The hour is scheduled to be a “Roundtable discussion on horror,” but with Phil having to beg off of the talk, Sean and I decide to just chat with the crowd and talk movies. I remember the J&B bottle and pull it from my bag. Without hesitating, Sean breaks the seal and the drinking commences. A fun and somehow fitting end to our first day at Crypticon.

Saturday:
The day begins relatively early (for me, anyway) at noon and I arrive at my first panel to find that my first celebrity interview (Bloodsport subject, Frank Dux) is a no-show. Since Mr. Dux obviously had better things to do, I do the panel solo and talk martial arts, MMA, and the UFC.

Next up, Sean and I are scheduled to talk Return Of The Living Dead with stars Linnea Quigley and Jewel Shephard. Walking into the room, I see Quigley, but no Shephard. I hear rumblings that Jewel won’t be making it and I don’t ask questions. Linnea sits down and we jump into an hour of fun and informative questioning in which she talks about being in bands in LA, rehearsing in a space next to the Go-Gos, almost becoming a police officer, making ROTLD, and we take her through the majority of her filmography. She is smart, funny, and the crowd loves her.

As two o’clock rolls around, it’s another writing panel for me. Sean and Phil go off to their other assignments and I head off to “Writing Short Stories vs. Writing Novels.” Upon arrival, I learn that no other panelist can make it (for a variety of reasons). I talk for a bit on writing and the focus of the panel waivers from its stated topic to my book, my writing process, and how to get your work noticed by the media.

Afterward, Sean and I once again meet up in the hallway and we beat feet over to a scheduled presentation on the hundredth birthday of horror icon, Vincent Price. Sean’s planned a special presentation and we do a quick introduction of an exclusive piece of video that Hollywood historian David Del Valle has given us. The tape is of Del Valle interviewing Price several years before his death and I’m tempted to stick around, but I need to check on a few things before I’m scheduled back for my next celebrity interview.

Shortly thereafter, I walk into Ballroom C and I’m introduced to PJ Soles of Halloween, Stripes, and Rock-n-Roll High School fame. PJ is a warm personality with an easy smile and Sean and I spend the next hour discussing her life, films, and what she’s been up to as of late. What strikes me about PJ is how normal she is. I mean, it’s easy to imagine this woman driving a minivan and picking her kids up at soccer practice. We cover a lot of ground and only a small bit of it is genre related.

Soles leaves and the next hour is to be spent with two of my favorite people – Smithson and Phillip Nutman. We’re here to discuss “The Best Era in Horror Ever,” but we quickly decide that the topic is bullshit and we once again just talk movies. All three of us are friends and major cinephiles and we begin to tell stories about how we got into film, where our personal preferences lie, and how cinema has affected our lives and work over the years. It’s an eye-opening hour for me as I learn more about the background of people I thought I’d known.

The next panel comes soon enough and I’ll admit it… I am pretty nervous about this one. The topic is “Horror and Kids” and the panelists and me and my two children. Both now in their twenties, my kids were raised around horror and genre conventions, and cut their teeth on names like Fulci, Grau, Argento, and Romero. The audience senses my nervousness and seems to get a kick out of watching “Dad” squirm. As the audience asks questions, I find my kids to be natural public speakers and we settle into our main message – if a parent is smart and discerning, horror can be a positive influence on kids’ lives. Several couples are there with their kids in tow and I think we did a lot to show that – contrary to what certain media groups would have you believe – the genre can be something to be shared and enjoyed without negative blowback.

I take a break and check out the dealers’ room and find a lot of cool stuff – particularly the photography of Nicole Valentine. I’d seen some of her work before, but this new stuff she’s creating is breathtaking. Nicole is an artist who fully understands that an image can be both beautiful and horrific, unnerving and calming, all at the same time.

I check my watch and realize it’s time for one of the con’s main events. I quickly run through the dealers’ room and make my way over to an as-yet-unused ballroom. The room is big and every seat in the place is filled. Sean waves me over and we both mount the stage to introduce the man who will be the focus of our inquiry for the next ninety minutes and change – Bill Moseley. Sean and I have done this sort of extended interview with an audience before with George Romero at last year’s ZomBCon. The gist is a kind of Inside The Horror Actor’s Studio. In other words, we are here to take a deep look into the life and career of a notable genre celebrity where we unearth little known facts about him before a live audience. It’s something that the crowd and celebrity both enjoy. After an hour and forty minutes, we get the high sign that we need to wrap things up. What’s funny is… we could easily have gone on for another hour. Later, Moseley is overheard saying that it was one of the best interviews he’s ever done. Sculptor William J. Bivens is called to the stage and he awards Moseley with the Crypt-icon Award. Bivens hands Bill a beautiful sculpture he’s made and Bill is visibly touched. He thanks the crowd and, as the audience disperses, we talk a bit before heading out.

By now, the hour is getting late and I can think of nothing more I’d like to do than hang out, but I check my schedule and realize that I still have two more panels scheduled, the first of which has to do with the medical truths of zombies. I rejoin Rotten’s Mark Rahner again as well KISW’s Reverend En Fuego. Together, the three of us go over zombie anatomy and how the living might deal with the living dead. The audience is well-informed and excited about the subject and some very insightful exchanges take place. It’s a fun time and the hour slips by all too quickly.

Finally, I close the night with an “Over 18 years of age” discussion on the relationship between Sex and Horror. This is a favorite topic of mine and one which the audience is interested in from the start. I’m joined by local podcaster Tori McDonough, who offers a woman’s perspective to the topic. We cover everything from the inherent sexuality of the vampire myth to the transformative aspects of the werewolf legend, from man’s innate fear of the female genitalia to the “power exchange” of the alien abduction scenario. It’s an interesting hour and one the crowd seems to get into.

Afterward, it’s time to gather and celebrate Sean “The Butcher” Smithson’s birthday. Time is split between the birthday party in Sean’s room to the full bar dance party in the main ballroom. I vaguely remember making it back to my room in the wee hours of the morning.

Event Report: Crypticon 2011

Sunday
The sun rises all too quickly and I greet the day with a bit of a hangover. A group of us meet in the lobby restaurant for breakfast. After a gallon of coffee and a bagel or two, I’m feeling the worse for wear as I stumble through the hotel to the first panel of the day. I meet up with film historians Paul Malleck and Ian Bracken for the “Ultra Low Budget Horror Film” talk and we are soon joined by Mail Order Zombie’s Derek Koch. The crowd is sparse, but the discussion is lively and instructive. Luckily, my co-panelists bring the pain while I hide behind sunglasses and nurse a Venom energy drink.

I rejoin Sean Smithson, Paul Malleck, and Derek Koch along with Kandar drummer Patrick Fiorentino for my next panel, “Best Horror Film Music, and Horror-Inspired Music” which is a group discussion on horror film soundtracks and the influence horror films have on popular music. A lot of names get bandied about and, once again, this is an informed and illuminating talk by some very knowledgeable people.

A quick trip through the Dealer’s Room and it’s on to Emerald Ballroom C where Sean and I meet back up with Phillip Nutman for a panel on Genre Journalism. Due to a misprint in the catalog, it’s pretty much the three of us finally getting a chance to hang out together (without drinks in our hands) and talk about how we each got involved in genre journalism. I’ve known these guys for some time now and this is the first opportunity I’ve had a chance to really learn how each of them got into this game. Con attendees drift into the room and all too soon we have an audience.

When the Journalism chat is over, I’m left alone for something I’d been both excited about and afraid of – Ask An Embalmer. As a graduate of the San Francisco College of Mortuary Science, I worked in the funeral business on-and-off for more than a decade. Since this is a horror convention, I offered to do this panel to shed a little reality on the proceedings. So much of the horror genre has to do with death and dying and yet so little attention is paid to the aftermath of death; to the funeral and to those who are left behind.

It is my intention to remind people of that. I begin by saying that I would answer any and all questions openly and honestly. I also say that if I got too descriptive or cut too close to the bone, any audience member could hold their hand up and tap out. I begin by explaining what embalming was – how it was done, its history, and why it is an important (some might say) aspect of the funeral experience.

Soon though, questions start coming from the audience and things quickly veer away from the scientific and move toward the philosophical and emotional. I’ll be honest here… as I was telling one particular story, I felt myself unexpectedly welling up and coming very close to tears. By panel’s end, several people (men and women alike) are wiping tears away, some are openly weeping. The stories themselves are killers, I must admit. They broke my heart when I lived them, they appear to be having the same effect on those hearing them. All in all, the panel is a success and I get some very gracious feedback at the end of it. Some thank me for being so frank, others for making a death in their own lives somehow more manageable.

It is this panel that I am most proud of this weekend.

Finally, the long weekend comes to a close with a “Getting Published” panel with the delightful Lorelei Shannon, Timothy W. Long, and Crystal Connors. The talk is well attended and there are two distinct factions amongst the panelists. On one side is Long and Connors, who advocate a more traditional route to the marketplace. On the other… Lorelei Shannon and I – who promote a route that advocates the abandonment of the old paradigm and the use of things like Print On Demand, Social Media, and alternative avenues to the market. Both sides make salient points and the crowd remarks afterward that they learned a lot.

And then, just as suddenly as it began, Crypticon Seattle 2011 is over. All that’s left is to pack up our bags, collect unclaimed swag from the Free Tables, and check out of the hotel. All in all, the convention was (for me) a fun and informative experience. Yes, there were logistical challenges and missteps along the way, but given the con’s scope and size, those are to be expected. As my crew is heading toward the elevator, I see Eric Morgret (panel organizer and wizard at making the impossible possible). I thank him for the opportunity and he is grateful for all the hard work that was put in. Some final pictures get taken and I shake his hand before heading off to my car.

At the elevator, I turn around and shout out over the crowd to Eric, “Next year?”

He smiles and raises a “thumbs up.”

I can hardly wait!

Event Report: Crypticon 2011

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