October 22nd: Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors (1986)
From the beginning of The October Ordeal I intended to review Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors at some point. This is one of my all-time great Astro Video finds. As you can see, it features a fine painted cover, complete with the two greats of slasher cinema, Freddy, and... Troll? This perplexing coupling indicates the schizophrenic nature of this one hour documentary (if it can be called that), which appeals to the lowest common denominator yet also yearns for legitimacy and respectability for the horror genre. This is why a typical (and unacknowledged) irony underlines the entire film (film?). Example: Robert Englund sincerely relates, "They're very intelligent... [the] fans" after we've seen a montage of fan chatter where a mustachioed stoner enthuses "Some movies have tasteless blood and guts… and the other ones where you see girls getting hacked up in bed… those are OK." What the hell? Moments later a kid who must be ten gushes “I like the blood coming out of the eyes, the mouth.”
These days, the convention circuit is of course a really big deal. Cable television channels report from the floors of Comicon and E3, which have both in many ways become live commercials for Hollywood properties. This is all supposedly in the name of "giving back" to the fan community, but this is rather transparent in its falsity. Comicon especially seems merely a cheap way to generate buzz, particularly the Internet-based kind. It's interesting here to see a con the old fashioned way. It's 1986, and there are no PR suits anywhere in sight.
While I doubt the fans in 1986 would approve of the corporatisation of the con, because of their perceived marginalization, the filmmakers here (including Fango editor-in-chief Kerry O'Quinn) seem above all committed to proving that horror fans are regular folks. While the mullets and stone-washed jeans are quite frightening, I doubt most people hold real prejudice against horror fans. Just to prove these people aren't dope fiends or gutter-punks, the filmmakers ask every attendee interviewed what they do for a living and--can you believe it--it turns out they have normal jobs like everyone else. They even have families and live in houses! Who knew?
That said, the fans do seem overwhelmingly nerdy, the vendors especially. They are asked to explain how they got into the business, and most relate the rather boring (and sometimes sad) stories of their lives. But there is something genuine about these gore-hounds; I'll take these denim-clad stoners any day over smug guys with Eli Roth haircuts who smell like Axe body-spray.
While an overwhelming percentage of the running length is spent with the fans, a fair amount of time goes to creator interviews as well. Englund's articulate, erudite, almost fey presence is by contrast quite interesting. He and Craven both have a lot to say about the horror genre, and elucidate certain concepts and theories in ways no fan present seems to be able to. Craven's riff on "rubber reality" (he compares the first Nightmare to Cocteau) is particularly good. Dan O’Bannon gets in-depth, positing the universal fear of death as the beginning of all art. Not all the guests are so serious, and its great to see Elvira, Dick Miller and Clu Gallager just having a good time. Effects-men are particularly idolized (this is Fangoria), and Rick Baker, Stan Winston and Tom Savini are given plenty of face-time.
While the on-the-floor stuff is fantastic, the center of the film collapses into a black hole of boring fan-films, culled from Fango's annual short film competition. As far as the technical aspect, while I'm sure that documentation by any means was the goal, the image and sound are fine, from what I can tell. I say this because the tape is completely degraded and fucked-up. Waves of rolling fuzz began to engulf the VHS at about the ten minute mark and never let up. The sound eventually became a garbled crunch and my VCR began to literally wince in pain, emitting a high-pitched squeal. Its a miracle I made it all the way to the end. Better retire this Media tape to the cabinet.
Despite a terrible Casio score, overlong clips from Nightmare and Return of the Living Dead, the dreadful fan-film showcase and its incredibly scarcity, this film--which is essentially a promo item--is a prime pic for a Halloween party; its a time capsule sure to please any horror crowd. And don't worry about exploitation, the filmmakers themselves are totally geeked-out and enthusiastic. Enthusiasm seems to be the theme of the piece, coupled with a plea for mainstream acceptance. Unfortunately, if these hardcore gore-heads could see where "fandom" would go in the future, they might choose to retreat back into their solitary dungeons (and dragons).