Monster Mish-Mash: ScreamFest ’06
On the return trip from Screamfest 2005, my friend Byron and I were unanimous in our resolution that the only way we would head back to Ft. Lauderdale next year was if the 2006 show looked a lot more promising than the one we had just finished. Based on the promotional material, Screamfest 2006 actually looked less promising than 2005 but one major unanticipated change had occurred, it was moved to Orlando. The relocation to a far more convenient and attractive venue tipped the scales in favor of attending this year and with one year already under our belts, we felt confidant we could avoid several of the pitfalls we encountered last year.
Screamfest 2006 was held October 13-15 in Orlando,Florida. This year the venue was changed to the convention capitol of Florida and the admission was increased from $20 for the weekend to $25 per day or $30 for the weekend. The Wyndham Hotel on International Drive was the new host for the event. It was a very impressive facility and while it appeared to have ample convention space, the bulk of Screamfest was limited to one undersized ballroom.
Having learned from our mistake last year of arriving on Friday night to almost nothing going on at the show, Byron and I opted for a leisurely dinner in Orlando after driving in and saved the show for Saturday. We arrived about thirty minutes early that morning only to find that the surcharge we had paid for advanced tickets merely bought us the privilege of standing in a DIFFERENT line than the people buying tickets at the door! As we stood around waiting for wristbands and realizing we had wasted an extra $4.00 each for absolutely nothing, fanboy extraordinaire and Dr. Paul Bearer archivist Lonnie Dohlen joined us in line. This was the first of our many brushes that day with disorganization as Lonnie, who was also an advance ticket victim, was in the line to purchase admission because their were no signs indicating which line was which. We managed to spend the remaining wait time drinking Starbucks coffee and catching up on fanboy news until the show finally opened about 10 minutes after its scheduled 11AM start time.
While there were probably no more than 100 people in both lines combined at the time the doors opened, I made sure I was at the head of the pack to get some good pictures of the show. I made a bee line for the guest area, which took up at least half of the overall floor space, and found that only a few were already at their tables and set up. Special effects pioneer Tom Savini was one guest who was raring to go out of the gate so I spent a few minutes chatting with him and admiring the collection of props he had brought along including his .357 cod piece from “From Dusk ‘Till Dawn”. For as frightening as many of Mr. Savini’s creations are, none of them shocked me nearly as much as when he told me he does not charge for autographs!
Realizing we had a few minutes to kill before more guests arrived, we headed over to the dealer half of the room to check out the vendors. Unfortunately, much like last year, somewhere between a third to half of the merchandise was bootleg DVDs. It’s not so bad when the material is something unavailable or unlikely to be released on DVD but when it is something readily available at Best Buy for not much more or often less than what the bootleggers are charging, that is pretty low. A perfect example of this were the bootleg copies of Dennis Muren’s “Equinox” which was recently released in a two DVD definitive set by Criterion. The remaining vendors featured T-shirts, magazines, modern toys, and fantasy items. There was surprisingly little original movie memorabilia for this being a horror convention but I did break my no spend streak from last year when I purchased a 1970’s Monogram U.F.O model kit (a reissue of the awesome 1960’s “Invaders” spaceship from Aurora).
Byron got wise at this point and, after seeing there was nothing he wanted to spend his money on in the dealers room, decided to hang out at the Barbizon modeling seminar next door! Shortly after losing Byron, Lonnie and I ran into Chris Woods and discussed the differences between a broadcast channel and a website in regards to the current state of the Horror Channel. Regardless of terminology, we all agreed that in this mega-channel satellite and cable world, fans have been devoid of classic programming ever since the Sci-Fi Channel became the USA Cast-Off Network.
After a thorough but all too brief perusal of the vendors (we estimated approximately 30 dealers and 75 tables which would put this show about on par with last year) the majority of the guests appeared to have arrived. While Screamfest boasted a roster of about 50 guests, there were several that really had nothing to do with the horror genre and left us scratching our heads over their inclusion (if lines at the tables, or lack there of, were any indication, we weren’t the only ones confounded). The layout of the guest area was even worse than last year with almost no distinct boundaries so that fans seeking autographs often had no idea whose line they were standing in! Having no particular interest in victims or stunt people from the Friday the 13th or Elm Street franchises, there were really only four guests on my list to meet.
Ken Foree from the original (and good) “Dawn of the Dead” was at Megacon a few years ago but wasn’t listed on the guest roster. I was finally able to have him sign my original “Dawn of the Dead” movie poster and one from his excellent turn in “The Devil’s Rejects’. He confirmed that there are apparently no plans, or none that include him, for a special edition DVD of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre III” after the recent deluxe releases of one and two. P.J. Soles (from the original “Halloween” and “Stripes”) passed my nude photo signing challenge with a great attitude and flying colors. Even though I am not a particular fan of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show”, I did get an autographed photo of Patricia “Magenta” Quinn and also snagged a signed picture of “Lost Boys” vampire teen Billy Wirth for a friend’s wife. I actually did see (and captured on film for posterity) Lisa Loring (Wednesday on the original Addams Family TV show and very little since) sell an autograph within the first two hours of the show, putting her well ahead of the game from last year! Lonnie got to meet Tony Todd, best known as the “Candyman” but a darn fine actor and one of the few bright spots in the “Night of the Living Dead” remake from recent years.
The standout guest of the show for me had nothing to do with movies or television. Even if he had never done any work other than his paintings for the covers of “Famous Monsters” magazine, artist Basil Gogos would still have a permanent parking space in fanboy heaven. I was disappointed last year when Mr. Gogos was a no show at the 2005 Screamfest (he claims he got his dates mixed up and turned up a week late!). When I didn’t see him on the first pass of the guest area and a staff member I queried asked if he was “one of the bands”, I became a little apprehensive about his appearance this year as well. Fortunately he showed up late but loaded with beautiful prints of some his most famous classic monster artwork, lesser-known pieces, and some awesome B&W drawings. A little wheeling and dealing later, I walked away with five signed prints. Now all I have to do is decide which ones to frame!A little less than two hours after entering the show, Lonnie and I felt we had seen all there was for us and ventured out to find Byron before he got into too much trouble with the models. As we walked into the lobby, the final anticipated member of the PCR Brotherhood, Andy Lalino, greeted us. He had just arrived from Tampa so we only had a brief visit before he went to the show and unfortunately had to miss lunch. We did manage to trade some intriguing ideas about future fanboy meetings that may yet yield some positive results. Byron actually found us right as Andy was leaving but we never did find out if he decided to be a model or just look like one!
Bidding Screamfest 2006 farewell, we navigated out of International Drive and spent the rest of the afternoon visiting some of our favorite spots in Orlando. We introduced Lonnie to the awesome Crazy Buffet gargantuan oriental megabar for lunch and then parted with some of the money we didn’t spend at Screamfest at Acme Comics and Sci-Fi City. We could have easily worked in a few more adventures but we decided to quit while we were ahead and set course for Jacksonville.
The move to Orlando was a monumental improvement for Screamfest and possibly even its saving grace or at least a stay of execution. Unfortunately increased prices and decreased value are a deadly combination. There did not seem to be much improvement in organization, the guest list was down over last year, and the dealer room appeared status quo in both numbers and variety. 2006 should have been a year of resurgence for this show but it turned out to be a glorified coast. Even with a new, more convenient, location, it will still take some obvious improvements to get us back for 2007 and we certainly won’t be buying tickets in advance any more.