Horrorwood Babbles On: Forrest J Ackerman - Alive and Well in Fandom!
Finally, we take a breath, clear the cobwebs of mourning and peek out from beneath the shadows to find out how the late Forrest J Ackerman continues to do us good. At genre conventions from coast to coast, fans and friends pay tribute to the grand old man who made us monsters!
Ken-tucky? Yep, they Ken!
Any horror fan, young or old, who’s in it for the scare-making arts, crafts and monster makers, MUST experience Wonderfest. I flew over the cool greenery and picturesque graveyards of Louisville, Kentucky to attend the first Con I’ve been to without Uncle Forry by my side. While most travelers rushed to the baggage claim to pick up luggage and trot off to watch horses run some derby, I was there for the monsters!
In its 20th year, Wonderfest is a gathering place for modelers. Make that “Super-modelers.” Builders, sculptors, painters, collectors, you name it! Hot-rods to Spaceships. Gearshift-knobs to war dioramas. Resin kits to scratch-built Anime figures. And of course, PLENTY of monster models. They’re all here! The vintage Auroras as well as reissues and custom homage kits. I bought a Geometrics Design Blacula bust, sculpted by Joe Simon and a Polar Lights reissue of the original 60’s Aurora “Odd Job” (Goldfinger) snap-and-glue kit. Looks like I’m now a collector of ethnic genre figures! You can find casting compounds, paint, sculpting tools and even attend “how-to” workshops at Wonderfest.
In addition to the incredible buys and over-stimulating visuals, The Universal Monster Army was stationed at one end of the model contest room. These guys and gals put on a museum-quality display of Classic Horror toys and collectibles. I lent my pal Robert Taylor and the UMA some of my Forry-effects and they made a wonderful showing of them for fans. Beloved Bob & Kathy Burns are institutions at Wonderfest. Bob brought original Alien movie props as well as a fascinating slideshow-history of his infamous back (and front) yard Halloween attractions. In his usual unselfish spirit, Bob gave tribute to departed friend, Mike Minor, Star Trek designer and major contributor to the neighborhood shows. Cortlandt Hull and talented partner Dennis Vincent were also on hand with their display of full-sized horror figures from their Witches Dungeon Museum in Bristol, Connecticut.
No Gloom at the Inn
Bevare! Take care! Bevare! Out of place among the stacks of cookie-cutter hotel rooms at the Crowne Plaza, there is an elegant and mysterious room called The Old Dark Club House. There, horror luminaries and fans congregate. Gary Prange is the mad mastermind that themes, decorates and hosts this (not overly) exclusive hospitality suite. Imagine Halloween and every Retro-monster icon you can think of blanketing every square inch of a hotel room. That’s the Clubhouse! Our childhood dreams in the form of a kickback-lounge. Horror-heaven! This year’s theme was Captain Company - the mail order section of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Every toy and gadget was represented wall to wall. There was even an electric chair bonnet hovering over the toilet. So, I aimed extra carefully ... Wonderfest hosts Dave Conover, Donnie Wadell, Dave Hodge, John Davis, Lee Staton and crew are a powerful force in the preservation and promotion of our classic horror heritage and the memory of our common Uncle, mentor and friend Forrest J Ackerman. The folks at Wonderfest have created a BIG con with an intimate classic-horror-heart. Thank them by doing yourself a BIG favor - come to the next Wonderfest. Believe me, these guys deserve an award! Ooh, they got one!
And the creepy, misshapen statuette goes to…
Wonderfest was also host to this year’s Rondo Awards and winner of Classic Horror Con of the year! Named after the tragic, afflicted character actor Rondo Hatton, the Rondos top the list of the most prestigious nod within the genre as it’s presented to pros and fans that have contributed to the advancement of classic horror. Most importantly, the community nominates and votes the awards.
David Colton finds time from his day job as editor of some newspaper; U.S. something? It’ll come to me…USA Today, that’s it! Heard of it? Anyway, David puts on a great show that singles out genre contributors. Your own Joe Moe (that’s me) was honored with the Monster Kid of the Year award for my work in taking care of Forry. My pal Jovanka Vuckovic won an armload (4) of Rondo trophies for a variety of accomplishments related to she and her talented crew at Rue Morgue Magazine Rue Morgue Magazine. Horror literary heavyweights like Jim and Marion Clatterbaugh (Monsters from the Vault), Tim and Donna Lucas (Video Watchdog) and other notables received awards too. For great coverage and pics of the event PLUS the chance to participate in next year’s awards, visit the lively and informative Classic Horror Film Boards.
Con of 1000 (messed up) faces!
At last! A new horror Con crept into Burbank, California like a thick blanket of sinister fog. An early Anti-Christmas for us horror fans - MONSTERPALOOZA! Eliot Brodsky threw his hat into the ring (with his head still in it) and delivered an FX-makeup-heavy show that is sure to stick like The Blob to the West Coast. This intimate show was jam-packed with the best genre artists, sculpture and FX work you could ever hope to see up close and personal. The show was dedicated to Uncle Forry. James Warren was on hand to pay tribute to his old pal. In fact, Warren spent both of his 2 panels over the weekend talking almost exclusively about Forry. Sadly, Warren’s panels were under-attended. But Industrial rock-god Ogre (Skinny Puppy, Oghr, Repo: A Genetic Opera) stepped up to rouse the small crowd with a chant.
Artist and illustrator Frank Dietz was, as always, a comforting and friendly presence at the tables. Everybody’s favorite bunny, Frank – aka the talented James Duval (Donnie Darko, Independence Day, The Doom Generation) signed autographs and had as much fun as anyone in attendance. 18-year-old Forry-protégé Casey Wong premiered his hyper-realistic bust of our favorite Uncle. Artist Kevin Kirkpatrick (key makeup artist on my own feature Red Velvet – due for release 08/28/09 – plug, plug) debuted a bust of Simon Metz “Schlitzie” (Freaks) that drew “oohs” and “ahhs” from the appreciative crowd.
Renowned sculptor Russ Luckich featured his remarkable, life-sized Vincent Price figure, wearing hand-sewn Pit and the Pendulum costume, in the Museum section of the con. But the crown jewel of the show had to be the figure of Karloff in Jack Pierce’s Frankenstein makeup, perched in makeup chair, sipping tea. The figure was the masterwork of UK sculptor and FX artist Mike Hill. To stand next to this piece was worth the price of admission. The detail was breathtaking right down to the smudge of black lipstick on the rim of the teacup!
Of course, no monster-mask-centric show would be complete without the presence of Don Post Studios as represented by Don Post Jr. along with Verne Langdon, who was instrumental in bringing classic horror faces to us through Forry, Warren and the pages of Famous Monsters magazine in the 70’s. Speaking of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, at the FM booth I displayed more Forry-items, which I’m slowly but surely preserving and sharing with fandom. 2010 promises an even bigger and better MONSTERPALOOZA! The gauntlet has been cast. Everyone who didn’t attend wishes they had - and will definitely be there next year. Every FX artist will bring his or her best to try to outdo the stunning work that we ogled at this terrific show. Save your pennies and stir your silicone for 2010.
Cozy Classic Horror Home!
Monster Bash was one of Forry Ackerman’s favorite yearly events. He had a standing invitation to attend every single Bash from the first on and the remarkable Ron Adams and staff always treated Forry like the beloved Uncle he was. They always treated me as Forry’s son – and still do. This show is unique in that it’s family-oriented with a good helping of young Monster Grandkids. This Butler, PA Con is delightfully tunnelvisioned when it comes to its subject – classic horror. You’ll get about as far as the Hammer catalogue there. Any Friday the 13th fan will have set their time machine too far forward. Talk of 80’s slashers? Eyes glaze over - let the puzzled head scratching begin. But it’s a good thing and maybe the very reason Forry loved Monster Bash so much. Like him, it is obsessive about what it loves! These fans can discuss the subtext of a Lugosi film and quote Ernest Thesiger to rival any Klingon-spouting, episode-numbering Star Trek nut! They are immersed in a specific milieu and they will excavate their subject until the bones are picked clean. And these fans savor every nibble.
This year my good pals Ron and Linda Chaney made a great showing (Ron was actually in full Wolfman makeup by Ron Chamberlain) The Chaney daughters were present at this, only their second Con and fairly overwhelmed by all the attention aimed at them (well, they are Chaneys AND drop-dead gorgeous like their Mom). The remaining cast members of our favorite Universal movies like Ricou Browning (The Creature From the Black Lagoon), Donnie Dunagan (Ghost of Frankenstein) never lose our interest or their passion. Other Monster Bash guests included Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk). My Scarlet magazine pals premiered their new issue #3 featuring a gorgeous memorial to Forry, which they kindly allowed me to contribute to. There are also fascinating articles about Christianity in horror and a touching remembrance of Bob Quarry, which I also proudly contributed to along with Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs, Driftwood, 2001 Maniacs 2).
Max Cheney cobbled together a magnificent Frankenstein toy display (with an assist from my monster-sis Elizabeth Haney and Jane Considine) that gave the fans a chance to see hundreds of examples of “merchandise of the monster.” I displayed a few key pieces of Forry memorabilia which fans could spend quality time examining and enjoying. The Forry-stories I was able to share visibly comforted fans that wondered how the end was. The conversations also uplifted me immeasurably.
At midnight Saturday, in the main theater, a group of us got up on stage in front of a full house and silently read our first issues of FM in tribute to Forry. Next a photo-montage and audio interview was played. Yet another emotional time at a Bash that unabashedly credits Forry with starting it all! Then Ron Adams gave out his version of the Forry Awards to guests who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to promote the legacy of classic horror. Terrific makeup artist Ron Chamberlain, Monsters from the Vault publisher Jim Clatterbaugh and long-time pal and Bash staffer Barb Heiss were recipients. Ron Adams was surprised to be awarded a special Rondo by his own staff! If anyone deserves to be handed their own copy of the award they give out, it’s Ron!
Later there was an outdoor, drive-in screening of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein interrupted by Ron Chaney’s Wolfman and Mike Thomas’s Dracula as well as a couple of dead-on A&C impersonators. Real bats buzzed the outdoor screen! I think you’re getting the idea of just how immersed in the past an event can be. And how much FUN it is! Come and get your retro-horror freak on. If you have little monsters you’d like to share your obscure hobby with, Monster Bash is surely the place to gently and positively do it.
All over the country, in every corner of every venue I’ve attended, Forry-fans come out of the weirdwork to tell me just how much he’s helped them. Not just “pleased” them but actually HELPED them. Make-up artists tell me of how Ack’s forrywarding of their fan mail to heroes like Dick Smith and John Chambers (who replied to them) sealed their fate as artists and put their goals within sight. Movie makers and actors relate how they remember Forry, ever accessible, sitting with them and tirelessly telling his stories - more importantly, listening to THEIR stories. Artists rave about Forry hooking them up with patrons who nurtured and launched their careers. With every foot of hotel carpet I hike in every dealer room and corridor, I meet people who credit their happy beginnings in fandom, filmdom, high-art and lifelong friendship to one Forrest J Ackerman. I nod and smile in knowing agreement. It seems Forry was the secret handshake that got us past the door and into a fantastic future.
To the classic horror fan I’d say, thanks for making these events an incredible oasis full of great people and wonderful “stuff.” To the uninitiated I’d suggest traveling to one or all of these shows. You’ll feel the years, worries and the weight of the world drop from your shoulders. You’ll meet friends you never knew you had and see wonders you thought you’d left behind, way back in your childhood. These Cons are the sanctuaries where misunderstood monsters get together to understand each other. You’ll never imagine the new meanings your fellow fans are mining from 100-year-old material. These fans run deep. You might find out what brand of cigar Lugosi smoked or what flavor of tea Karloff favored. Did Vincent Price have a trick-knee or Tod Browning a pet skunk? What did James Whale eat for breakfast? Who cut Jack Pierce’s hair?
Forrest J Ackerman dreamt of a Utopia. In the classic horror world he left behind, everyone IS welcome and there’s definitely something special for everyone. A perfect world of Gods and Monsters!
- Joe Moe
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