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Phoenix Comicon 2009: Horror Panels

Author
Date
01-31-2009
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Nate and Steve Ringgenberg at the Not Dead Yet Horror Classics panel

Apparently I know nothing of what a convention panel is supposed to look like. I'd always thought of them as marketing tools -- years of attending San Diego Comic-Con will do that. At Phoenix Comicon, however, the panels were more esoteric, devoted to actually fan discussion mixed with nostalgia. There were three panels devoted to horror movies -- one general horror panel, one on horror classics, and one (ostensibly) about horror comedy. I had the honor and joy of being asked to participate in the latter two.

Still Fresh: Horror Films

Panelists: David Hayes (actor/writer/producer, Back Woods), Erin Gray (actress, Buck Rogers TV series, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday), Dean Lorey (writer, Jason Goes to Hell, The Nightmare Academy novels)

Also known as "the panel that I wasn't on," although I may have been the only one to call it that. Much of the first half of the panel was spent discussing Jason Goes to Hell, given that two-thirds of the panel were involved in making it. Lorey talked about how he was just a freshman in college when he wrote a screenplay that caught the attention of producer Sean Cunningham, who hired him to work for his production company. This lead to Lorey writing (or rewriting) the script for Jason Goes to Hell, a task made more difficult by the fact that certain sequences from the previous writer's attempt were locked in place for financial reasons.

Erin Gray basically stole the show, however, with her fantastic sense of humor and spirited attitude. She spent some time discussing filming the Sci-Fi Original Movie Ghouls in Romania with William Atherton, scaring her son on the set of the Buck Rogers vampire episode, and how a bout of righteous anger saved her favorite scene in a movie she did (which she didn't name, but a little investigative hunting reveals that it might have been the Code of Vengeance backdoor pilot from the mid-1980s).

 

David Hayes and Erin GrayDavid Hayes and Erin GrayDean LoreyDean LoreyErin Gray is delightedErin Gray is delighted
Dean Lorey considersDean Lorey considersHell hath no fury...Hell hath no fury...David Hayes respondsDavid Hayes responds
Click on a photo to open a larger version in a new window. Photography in this set by Erin Dow.


Not Dead Yet: Horror Classics

Panelists: Tess Fowler (graphic artist), Nate Yapp (this guy), Steve Ringgenberg (writer, Heavy Metal magazine), Jimmy and Bobby Calabrese (of the horror-rock band Calabrese), and Jenny Brundage (Horror Programming Director for the convention and our moderator)

I'll admit that going into this, I was nervous as hell. I'd never been asked to do something like this before and I was worried. How would we get started? What would I say? Would I have to fight tooth and nail to discuss Universal, Val Lewton, and Hammer instead of Freddy and Jason?

This hour of the convention was given over to talking about the history of horror and its influence on the panelists. The first question -- to describe how each of the panelists came into horror -- made it clear that this would be a very layered conversation. Both Steve and I were classic horror fans, although Steve had one on me by being able to see many of my favorite movies in the theater. The Calabrese brothers both came in through seeing John Carpenter's Halloween on television. Tess talked about how she actually didn't consider herself a horror fan because horror scared her so much.

Two particular questions dominated much of the discussion. The first came from an audience member, who wanted to know which classic horror film we would remake if we had to choose one. Both Steve and I reached into the annals of bad movie history for our selections, Blood Feast and Asylum of Satan respectively. The other question was about which "canonically classic" horror films we feel perhaps don't belong. Steve cited The Exorcist as one that's lost its effectiveness and I whole-heartedly approved.

The best result of the panel was that the six panelists and some well-informed audience members tossed out a couple dozen recommended horror films for newer genre fans.

 

Our panelists from left to right: Tess Fowler, Nate Yapp, Steve Ringgenberg, Jimmy Calabrese, Bobby Calabrese, and Jenny BrundageOur panelists from left to right: Tess Fowler, Nate Yapp, Steve Ringgenberg, Jimmy Calabrese, Bobby Calabrese, and Jenny BrundageNate is pleasedNate is pleasedSteve Ringgenberg makes his pointSteve Ringgenberg makes his point
Nate has something to addNate has something to addTess Fowler demonstrates hiding from monstersTess Fowler demonstrates hiding from monsters
Click on a photo to open a larger version in a new window. Photography in this set by Erin Dow.


So Scary You Made Me Laugh: Horror Comedy

Panelists: Jenny Brundage (moderator), Tim Seeley (creator, Hack/Slash comic series), Nate Yapp, Dean Lorey, David Hayes

This panel ended up being my favorite of the weekend, despite (or perhaps because of) a move from our original location to one much less suited for a typical panel. The panel's new digs were in the Canyon Room in the Marriott (the convention hotel), which looked like the kind of place where the continental breakfast is served. The acoustics were terrible and the audience seating was less-than-optimal, but it worked out in the end. All five panelists squeezed onto a couch and Tim Seeley had the crowd gather 'round as close as they could. This lent the entire panel a warm, intimate vibe that lead to an easy-going disposition and lots of laughter.

You'll have to forgive me if my memory of this panel is not what it could be. It was like great improv in a lot of respects, fantastic give-and-take between the participants, strong energy from the crowd, and in the end, you keep the emotion more than the individual moments. With that said, I'll try my best to recall the high points:

  • The panel's quick derailment from being serious discussion about horror-comedy to being comedic discussion about any horror.
  • Recounting our favorite funny moments in horror. The best-recieved: Dean Lorey's cheerful quoting of "Send more paramedics" from Return of the Living Dead.
  • Tim Seeley mocking me for my failure to see Tremors.
  • Audience question: What do you guys think of "gore porn"?
    Me: Can we not call it "gore porn"? Pornography has a very specific definition and I, for one, would like to enjoy it.
  • Tim Seeley talking about drinking with horror legends after various horror cons.
  • Dean Lorey talking about how Kane Hodder would freak out cast members of Jason Goes to Hell by posing as the last in a line of Jason Voorhees mannequins and then jumping out when they least expected it.
  • The entire discussion about Japanese horror, because Tim Seeley doesn't like it at all, because he says it lacks substance. His counterexample? Friday the 13th. Seriously. I didn't let him hear the end of that.

 

Tim Seeley explains things to NateTim Seeley explains things to NateDean Lorey and David HayesDean Lorey and David HayesHighly AmusingHighly Amusing
Click on a photo to open a larger version in a new window. Photography in this set by Erin Dow.

Next up on my series of increasingly hazy recollections of Phoenix Comicon 2009: the Con Culture, including the convention floor, various costumes, and pictures from the Repo! signing.

True classics don't change...

...neither should they. Nate, you haven't changed an inch over all those years. Good to see you're still ploughing the horror trenches. You've got an amazing site up now, with what reads like a tremendous staff. Not the slightest of doubts on my part you WILL make it till 1,000!

Take care,

-K

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