So here I am coming to you live (a relative term) from Butler, PA, where I sit in my room at the Days Inn watching a woman walk some sort of upholstered mouse she believes to be a dog around and around a little patch of grass at the center of the hotel complex. I suppose it’s as good a way as any to start day one of a horror movie convention. Yes, it’s my annual outing to the Monster Bash, which, for anyone who doesn’t know, is an affair where folks like myself get together to debate such things as the merits of Bela Lugosi’s performance as the Monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. We do this to prove to the Trekkies and Star Warvians that they don’t have a lock on geekdom. It’s also proving to me that I’m getting too old for this.
Truthfully, what I’m probably getting too old for is the 600-plus mile drive to get here. The trip supposedly takes something like nine hours—20 of which take place in wild, wonderful, no T-Mobile cell phone coverage West Virginia. I know my notions of West Virginia are antiquated and born of ignorance to say the least, but I do find it amusing to be able to stop at the rest plaza on I-77 there and get a Starbucks café mocha. And every year I wonder what exactly makes Fayetteville the “coolest small town” (so the sign proclaims) and debate if I really want to know just what the advertised “Historical Asylum Tour” is. Nonetheless, the lengthy stretch of cell phonelessness makes me both apprehensive and uneasy—not to mention ultimately bored—despite the visual grandeur.
In any case—and after a minimal amount of “am I lost?” confusion during road construction areas—I arrived here last night to find the usual suspects gathering for what appears to be the usual event. What I am, of course, also finding is that each year there are a few less of those usual suspects. The absence of the late Richard Valley (who got me started coming to this thing in the first place) is once again keenly felt, as is the loss of the Grand Old Man of fandom Forrest J Ackerman, who departed our shores last year. Other figures have gone by the wayside, too. Many of them have just disappeared. Only this morning the question of “whatever became of” arose about a friendly black market movie dealer who once camped out on my floor. This sort of thing lends a slightly somber quality to the proceedings—something I don’t see getting better with the passing years. That’s the problem with being what we call middle-aged. (If this is the middle, then a lot of us are going to still be here into the 100-plus realm.)
Now I’m sitting here waiting to for the Bash proper to begin, which happens around 3 p.m. when the dealer room opens. Since I’m theoretically here as a member of Scarlet: The Film Magazine (named in honor of Richard Valley’s Scarlet Street and retaining many of his writers), I’m supposed to spend time a the Scarlet dealer table, hawking our third issue. And undoubtedly I will do a certain amount of this, but what I’ll really do is circle the room about 50 times over the course of the next couple days, letting my resistance wear down over questions of whether or not I should buy this or that “grey market” home-made DVD of some obscure title that the studios have yet to deem worthy of a proper DVD release. I have brought far too much money with me just for this eventuality—well, this eventuality and the harder-to-explain collectible ephemera one.
I will once again eye that linen-backed one-sheet from Return of the Ape Man—a film so wonderful that, while it promises to be a sequel to the previous year’s (1943) “hit” The Ape Man, actually bears no connection whatever to said film, offering not an ape man, but merely a defrosted caveman. I will not buy this, however, since it is in the $1,000-up range—a fact that would doubtless mystify everyone originally associated with the film. I mean, let’s face it, that poster is now going for more money than Bela Lugosi probably got paid for starring in the damned movie.
At the same time, this may be the year I succumb to the more reasonably priced one-sheet from the 1947 Lugosi opus Scared to Death. We shall see. I’m certain it will still be here. It’s been for sale for the last five years or maybe six. Owing to the fact that I finally managed to get the lobby card from Black Dragons (1942), that I dropped a hundred bucks on last year, framed and hung on the wall (within the past couple weeks), I feel I can justify an additonal purchase of this sort. And, yes, it will almost certainly take me a year to actually do anything with whatever I end up buying.
I’ve mentioned posters and other collectibles of that nature occasionally in this column—and I’ve toyed with the idea of a doing a piece specifically on the topic—but it’s an aspect of movies and the passion for movies that doesn’t afflict everyone. In fact, I have no idea if any of my readers “invest” in collectibles. I use the word “invest” advisedly. We like to think of these things as “investments” simply because it helps rationalize shelling out several hundred dollars on a 40 to 80 year old piece of paper that was meant to be thrown away after a movie had run its course. Of course, they are an investment, but let’s face it, we’re really doing this because we think it’d be neat to have a one-sheet from Voodoo Man in the living room. (OK, mine’s in the kitchen, but the principle’s the same.)
There are, of course, other reasons for attending a convention. Occasionally, they even show movies at these affairs. I’m considering taking in a Mexican picture called The Resurrected Monster (1953) that promises a kind of Frankenstein Monster that looks like Lon Chaney Sr. in Phantom of the Opera (1925). Now, you have to admit that sounds pretty darned enticing. There are also showings of Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1964), Hellzapoppin’ (1941), The Magician (1926), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and Ghost of Frankenstein (1942). The last is kind of a given since one of the guests this year is Janet Ann Gallow, who played the little girl whose brain the Monster (Lon Chaney Jr) somewhat mystifyingly wants popped into his skull in the film.
Guests like Janet Ann Gallow are also part and parcel of the convention. This year I think we also have Donnie Dunagan (the kid who almost gets tossed into the sulphur pit in Son of Frankenstein), Gary Conway (the teenage Frankenstein in I Was a Teenage Frankenstein), Ron Chaney (of the Chaney family), Butch Patrick (Eddie Munster), and so on. Indeed, I just saw Tom Savini in a bathing suit walk across the courtyard to the swimming pool. I’ll have to say that that isn’t a sight I would see in Asheville. Of course, it’s probably not a sight one would normally see in Butler, PA.
The guests and the movies and the dealer room are all fun—and they’re a large part of the draw for many people, especially the fans who only drop in for one of the three days of the convention. But really those of who are here for the whole event are mostly here for the camaraderie of the thing. For many of us, this is the one time in the year when we actually see people face to face whom we normally only encounter on message boards or in e-mail or occasionally via the odd phone call. And that really is the draw for us. Of course, some of the celebrity guests also fit into that category. I’ve spent some late nights in the hotel bar with Ron Chaney and his wife, Linda, before, and I may well do so tonight or tomorrow night—despite the fact that these days, at my wildest, hanging out in a bar consists of nursing two bottles of Guinness for the entire evening.
It’s not all sweetness and light, as I’ll be the first to admit. Fandom’s a small world and it’s often a jealous one. Slights are taken to heart and grudges have been known to last for years. There are people here that would gladly put a knife in my back quicker than the most rabid Will Ferrell fan. I, on the other hand, would never dream of such a thing in return. No, no, no. I much prefer the idea of insinuating some exotic poison into their soup. It’s strictly a matter of temperament, I suppose. In the main, howerver, the disparate factions of fandom have simply learned how to attend these things and more or less ignore the existence of those for whom they harbor less than friendly feelings. It comes down to pretty much just staying within your group, though it doesn’t hurt to keep your back to the wall whenever possible.
And now, I guess it’s time to tear myself away from the computer and go amongst them. I’ll let you know later how my reserve holds up on that Scared to Death poster.
Update: Since it took longer to get this ready for the website than planned, I can reveal that the Scared to Death one-sheet turned out not to be there to tempt me, but there’s this really nice lobby card from a reissue of The Raven (1935) and it’s only $250. Friends may wish to consider staging an intervention.