BLOOD AND COMMERCE: THE 2004 DAYS OF DARKNESS CONVENTION IN BURBANK

The leagues of horror fans, most dressed in black (some driving renovated hearses sporting their favorite websites), smoking and carrying on deep and meaningful conversations about “the true meaning of horror”, look slightly incongruous in the bright California sunlight; I see a great deal of sunglasses and wincing, hands held up to protect from the vicious glare.

I’m feeling a bit conspicuous in my blue jeans and casual button-down shirt, but no one spares me a second glance. All eyes are on the huge black and red banner that adorns the front of the Burbank Hilton Convention Center: CREATION ENTERTAINMENT PROUDLY PRESENTS THE DAYS OF DARKNESS CELEBRATION OF HORROR. Two days of mingling and meeting the creators of such industry classics as “Night of the Living Dead”, “Nightmare on Elm Street”, and “The Stand”.

Admission is twenty bucks, but thanks to the power of the press, I’m allowed in for free. I cackle and rub my hands together with glee, drunk on the ego boost anyone gets when manipulating the system. Tables are lined around the lobby, and the first thing you see is Tom Savini, makeup artist extraordinaire come actor (see the brilliant “From Dusk Till Dawn” for his deeply moving performance as ‘Sex Machine’; really, it chokes me up each time I see it). His space is covered with 8 x 10 glossies of some of his best work, including his recent guest spot on “The Simpsons”. He’ll be happy to sign his autograph for you…for a price.

I didn’t really want to pony up the cash for a signature, but I had a question for him. This was a bad idea. I made the mistake of enquiring about a film he made back in the 80s, a really horrible but fun slasher flick named “The Ripper”, and the reaction was amazing. You’d have thought I kicked him in the balls, or called his mother a bad name. To put it politely, he went off, frightening small children and inspiring me to duck my head and slowly back away. Must have been a bad experience. I move on, past vendors hawking rare movie posters (some in French, some for movies even I hadn’t heard of), rare soundtracks, and t-shirts sporting the moniker “My Child Raped Your Honor Student”. Something for Grandma!

The convention center is 50,000 square feet, and the organizers are utilizing it well. There are two enormous halls, the first filled with more tables and vendors, the other an auditorium for the guests of honor, with an ingenious crypt set made of foam rubber on the main stage, as well as a giant screen that turns writer/director Mick (“The Shining”) Garris into a fifty foot tall behemoth. A charming man, Garris has brought clips of his latest Stephen King adaptation, a chiller called “Riding the Bullet”. He apologizes for the quality of the trailer, but shows it anyway. The crowd is indifferent, but polite. He gets a much bigger reaction by announcing that King’s book Desperation will finally be made into a MOW for ABC.

In the other hall, a tall, strikingly bald man with a goatee and wild eyes is greeting people with glee and shaking hands with everyone; this is the uber-talented Sid Haig, late of House of a 1000 Corpses and Kill Bill, Vol 2. The actor is personable, outgoing, and a total delight to listen to; despite the loud din that surrounds us, his booming bass is easy to distinguish. He’s surrounded by posters from ‘Corpses’, and the obligatory glossies, but he seems happier posing for pictures with his adoring fan base. Children in particular seem fascinated with him, and it’s no wonder; Haig looks almost like a cartoon character come to life.

The crowd of fans grows as the hour gets later. What was a fairly populated thoroughfare at noon has, by three o’clock, become a traffic jam of human cholesterol to rival the nearby 5 Freeway. Pushing, jabbing masses lunge forward in their eagerness to catch a glimpse of “Candyman” star Tony Todd, who is sitting next to a heavy metal/horror/gore band that shows the same video (perhaps their only video) over and over. He looks faintly bemused as he watches a bleeding priest assaulting a pretty young thing on the television next door.

A young lady with pierced lids and a look of utter contempt is hawking DVD’s, including “Shogun Assassin” and, wonder of wonders, “Eraserhead”. I look at the box, but there is no mention of the company that distributes it. I ask the young lady, who is watching me carefully, if this is the official DVD release. She smiles, a very cold smile. “It’s the version that I’m selling,” she says. ‘Nuff said.




Posted on June 2, 2004 in Features by

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