UnConventional (2004)

There’s a reason why horror conventions have become a year-round, 52-week business. As actor Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) puts it near the end of this documentary about the Chiller Theatre extravaganza, many horror fans feel somewhat isolated and even ostracized by society because of their singular tastes. At a show like Chiller, they can spend a few days among people like themselves sharing their interests, feeling comfortable with friends, and fully enjoying the genre they love.

A glimpse of that is provided in UnConventional, which focuses on the 13th annual Chiller Con, held as always at the Meadowlands Sheraton Hotel in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Tens of thousands of fans are attracted to the twice yearly event (expanding to three shows in 2005), which boasts appearances by dozens of genre actors, writers, filmmakers, and musicians; costume contests; parties; screenings; art exhibits; and signings as well as massive dealer rooms in which hundreds of vendors sell every possible type of horror-related merchandise available. For that weekend this unassuming hotel in “the swamps of Jersey” literally becomes a horror fan’s Mecca.

Documentarians Michael Furno and Daniel Doyle center their film around a small cross-section of convention attendees: Hansen, there to meet his fans and sign autographs; Tiffany Shepis, a Troma scream queen and all-around party girl; Bob Gonzo, a self-styled “micro-budget” filmmaker and (pretty bad) stand-up comic who somehow gets a bevy of sexy women to follow him around and appear in his movies; a husband-and-wife fan couple; and local character 42nd Street Pete, who helps run the convention and acts as the documentary’s narrator.
The film stays right on the heels of all of these folks and certainly gives the viewer an up-close look at many of the shenanigans occurring at the convention. There are plenty of odd, embarrassing, humorous, and even sweet moments; the dedication of some of Hansen’s fans alone is staggering (like the guy with the giant Leatherface tattoo across his back, which leaves the already taciturn actor speechless). Hansen himself is a good-natured, soft-spoken, intelligent, and thoughtful fellow while Shepis is exceptionally pleasing to the eyes (not to mention all natural) and tireless in giving her own fans what they want. Gonzo, on the other hand, makes himself and the women he hires look simply ridiculous with his leering and loud behavior.

For those completely unfamiliar with the world of horror conventions, UnConventional certainly delivers a unique perspective on what happens when thousands of like-minded people get together to share their life’s passion. We sincerely doubt a car salesmen’s convention looks anything like this!

UnConventional starts a one-week run today (Friday, October 15th) at the Crown Theater at 1271 2nd Avenue (66th St.) in Manhattan, New York.

(Revolution Earth Productions)
Directed by Daniel Doyle and Michael Furno
Starring Tiffany Shepis, Gunnar Hansen, Bob Gonzo, 42nd Street Pete

4 out of 5

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Steve Barton

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