Wednesday , 26 April 2017

NJ Horror Con and Film Fest-A True State of Horror!

New Jersey has had a long and lasting association with horror. From Camp Crystal Lake to the Toxic Avenger to the Jersey Devil itself, the Garden State has given rise to many a frightful fare. And classics from the page to the screen – the shark from Jaws, the shape-shifting alien in The Thing, the vampires of I Am Legend and the White Walkers from Game of Thrones all have their origins in the place that’s home to Giants, the Boss and Tony Soprano. To give fans the opportunity to celebrate their love and appreciation for the genre they hold so near and dear to their bloody heart, New Jersey has served as residence to the biggest and most popular conventions on the East Coast – Chiller Theatre and Monster-Mania. Now, to help satiate our lust for all things scary comes a brand new offering – the New Jersey Horror Con and Film Festival. The inaugural celebration just took place in Edison and the Gore 4 was there along with a legion of enthusiastic devotees, filmmakers, guests and more.

This newest con to hit our shores comes from New Jersey filmmaker Ryan Scott Weber, hailing from Bernardsville, home to another alumni you may have heard of, Meryl Streep. As owner of Weber Pictures, Ryan’s own recent projects include the feature, Pretty Fine Things, the short, Ghoul’s Night Out and the TV series, Zombies Incorporated, all for which he served as writer, producer, director and more. Wanting to support and promote the work of other independent filmmakers, Ryan joined forces with another Jersey guy, Red Bank’s resident expert on pop culture memorabilia and collectibles, Rob Bruce. You may know him from his frequent appearances on AMC’s hugely entertaining Comic Book Men, where his extensive knowledge has come in handy when collectors stop by Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash looking to buy or sell some cool stuff. Rob’s also the co-founder of the East Coast (formerly Asbury Park) Comicon, so together, the two make up the perfect team in bringing the horror community together in the Garden State. What sets the New Jersey Horror Con and Film Festival apart from other cons is explained right there in the name. For one, it’s a convention like others with guest stars posing for pics and signing autographs, and dealers selling everything from t-shirts to figures to movies and all kinds of ghoul stuff. But this is also a festival running feature length films and a plethora of shorts throughout the day and night as they compete for awards to be presented the final day (Sunday). Many of the films shown spotlight local talent and is a great way for filmmakers to get their work seen. Lastly, this is a HORROR Con. While there is naturally some crossover into other genres, the accent is clearly on scary cinema, television and beyond. It’s just what the doctor ordered,  especially if it’s one dabbling in demented and deadly experiments. Now that you know what you know, it’s on with the show!

Before we get to some of the films that were screened, the NJHCAFF had a spooktacular lineup of guests for fans to meet and greet. The Gore 4 had an awesome time hangin’ out with the gang from Frankenhooker not that long ago at the Chiller Theatre 25th anniversary convention in Parsippany, NJ. So it was great again to see stars Patty Mullen, looking splendid in her purple wig, and James Lorinz, decked out in his mad scientist lab coat. Their chemistry helped make that film the cult classic it is today, and they still display that same camaraderie. Patty, the former Pet of the Year, is from New Jersey, and one wishes she’d show off her great comic timing once again on film. Lorinz, whose screen debut in another horror classic, Street Trash, stole the movie, took a break from acting for while, but is back in business, with recent appearances in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, and the TV series, Unforgettable and The Affair. Also on hand were two of the stars of director Frank Henenlotter’s other revered horror classics, Kevin Van Hentenryck, star of all three Basket Case movies, and Rick Hearst, star of Brain Damage. Basket Case 2 and 3 recently saw their Blu-ray debuts from Synapse Films, while Brain Damage sees a special edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video on May 9th, with brand new commentary, interviews and more. Henenlotter also informed us that a new special edition of the first Basket Case is in the works for a year end release to celebrate its 35th anniversary. We can’t wait to fill our cart with that Basket!

Next up, we had the pleasure of meeting the lovely Lynn Lowry, best known for her roles in George A. Romero’s The Crazies and David Cronenberg’s Shivers, along with Paul Schrader’s Cat People, right on up to festival co-creator Weber’s Pretty Fine Things and scream queen Debbie Rochon’s triumphant directorial debut, Model Hunger. In that, Lynn put in a gore-de-force performance as an aging actress enacting culinary revenge on those she feels wronged by. Read our review of Model Hunger for a more in depth look. Not content to rest on past laurels, one needs only to look at Lowry’s imdb page to see her busier than ever with a slew of upcoming projects on the way.

Another actress who’s always busy with a variety of cool genre offerings is the Gore 4’s longtime friend, Tiffany Shepis. She always lights up any convention floor she appears on, as she does in her many roles on screen. Some of her recent ones include the aforementioned Model Hunger, the anthology film, Tales of Halloween, She Wolf Rising, the superb SyFy time-travel series, 12 Monkeys and Sharknado 2. Watch out for her in the upcoming star-studded extravaganza, Death House, and the comedy horror, The Night Watchmen, currently hitting the festival circuit, where it just won Best Horror Feature at the Garden State Film Festival, and this very own NJ Horror Con and Film Fest, where it won 3 awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Tiffany – bloody congrats everyone! Be sure to keep an eye out for The Night Watchmen.

The Gore 4 was very excited (though you may not be able to tell from the picture) to meet up once again with film legend, Michael Berryman. Having met the man many years before at Fangoria and Chiller conventions, it was a real treat, without any trick, to hear more of his incredible stories from a long and varied career as a security guard for Bob Dylan, to his many roles in such treasured classics as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Hills Have Eyes and its sequel, plus Weird Science and Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects. He had many tales to tell and sage words of advice to give, and we could have listened all day – if anyone should write an autobiography, it’s the B-man. Michael is one of a number of horror icons to appear in the anxiously awaited Death House, and can currently be seen in the long-in-the-making, The Evil Within.

It’s pretty evident that with so many terrific guests on hand, and that was only a fraction of them, there was plenty to keep busy with, but we had some films to see – this is, after all, a film festival too. First up was the slasher feature, Deviant Behavior. When a man hires a boozy private detective to find his missing sister, the sleuth encounters a world of torture and serial killings. The movie’s not for the faint of heart, and features excellent performances from Eric Rodrigue as the world weary detective, Tania Monroy as his drug dealer/prostitute/kinda girlfriend, and Alex Heatherley as the deviant who lures girls to their grisly doom. Directed by the aptly named Jacob Grim, the movie features some interesting twists along with a few catchy, rockin’ tunes, often contrasting with the horrors seen on screen.

Next up were a series of shorts ranging in length from under 10 minutes to over 30. From Belgium comes L’Oeil Silencieux (The Frozen Eye) where a peeping tom descends into reclusion and depravity, featuring some squirm inducing moments amidst its darkly humorous ones. Following that was the delightful Still, from UK writer/director Carl Timms, wherein a living gold-painted statue performer uses his mastery of the art of stillness to survive a zombie uprising. We then moved on to more local filmmakers with the futuristic Impervia, as a family struggles to survive while staying ahead of the authorities. Writer/director Patrick Dempsey gives the film a dusty, washed-out palate which perfectly conveys the bleak setting. Starring Marc Abbott, Deana Demko and Kelly Rae LeGault, Dempsey throws in a few surprises, and it would be interesting to see this intriguing world fleshed out to feature length. Two Jersey-made films rounded out this batch of shorts. The Sin Reaper Halloween sees a woman receive help seeking revenge against her killer. It’s part of a horror web series from filmmaking brothers, Kevin and Matthew Forte. Last up was Her Apartment, from Naveen Uta, where a demonic banshee doppleganger, yes, that dreaded triple threat, terrorizes a couple. It merits saying that it is great that there is a place in this world for short films. Occasionally, you might see them included as a Blu-ray extra, and they may be available online, but oftentimes, the only way to see them is at film festivals. Sometimes, a storyline only has enough in it for a limited running time, while other shorts could be expanded to feature length if more money and resources were available. So, cheers to the NJHCAFF for screening so many of these wonderful shorts.

We next bore witness to the slow pressure cooker known as Bad Frank. Less an outright horror film, the NJ-made feature bears some similarities to Taxi Driver, as Kevin Interdonato’s Frank is gradually and inevitably pushed towards violence. From writer/director Tony Germinario, the film featured some familiar faces in Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan, Heat), Brian O’Halloran of Clerks fame, and former lightweight boxing champ, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini as Franks’ dad. You can learn more about what makes Frank so bad on their website.

The Gore 4 took a break from the next set of shorts to make the rounds and meet some of the filmmakers and other attendees of the con. We met up with Virginia-based filmmaker Jonathan Straiton, who brought along the cast of his comedy gorefest, Night of Something Strange for a Q&A after a midnight screening of the film. Sporting some of the coolest cover artwork we’ve seen in awhile, this is a tale of an STD (which could stand for ‘shun the dead’) turning the infected into flesh-eating monsters. Check out their official site, where you can order the film on various formats, including Blu-ray and DVD, and follow them on their social media platforms.

Next time you find yourself in Central Jersey, you may want to, no, you definitely will want to stop by Roxy & Dukes Roadhouse, whose offbeat décor is in keeping with the eclectic mix of music from rockabilly to punk, to performances ranging from burlesque to vaudeville. There really is no other place like it. We’ve caught a number of acts there, including one of our favorites, the Canadian-based horror rock band, The Creepshow. On hand at the NJ Horror Con was the awesome and cool Sandy (yes, she is both), and if you’re lucky, she may greet you at the door when you visit this one-of-a-kind restaurant and lounge. Check out the Roxy & Dukes website to find out what shows you’re up for.

No doubt, one of the most enjoyable and entertaining half hours of television not named Rick & Morty is AMC’s Comic Book Men. The show takes place at Jersey filmmaker Kevin Smith’s comic book store in Red Bank called the Secret Stash, where fans and collectors buy and sell cool stuff and we the audience learn things like when Spider-Man made his comic book debut. Lots of cool people stop by, from Stan the Man Lee to the Bionic Woman herself, Lindsay Wagner. Two of the show’s stars, Bryan Johnson and Ming Chen were at the NJ Horror Con. Bryan you’ll know as the quick-witted bearded fellow (who also happens to be a big fan of the sci-fi animated hit, Rick & Morty) who has appeared in some of Kevin Smith’s movies like Mallrats and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back as Steve Dave. In addition to the podcast duties he shares with Brian Quinn and fellow Comic Book Man and Stash manager Walt Flanagan entitled, Tell ‘Em Steve Dave, Bryan is a filmmaker in his own right, or should I say, write, as he wrote and directed the notorious film, Vulgar. Bryan hosted a screening of the film Friday night, and after viewing the askew movie, it’s safe to say you will never look at clowns the same way again. You can get a copy of Vulgar at Amazon, which is jam-packed with extras, including the infamous documentary, Judge Not: In Defense of Dogma. Now, speaking of clowns….

We ran into a squad of them, or rather, a quad. Available for parties, conventions, kidnappings or murderous rampages, the Circus Rejects, based out of Morrisville, PA, are sure to brighten any event with their demented shenanigans. Check out the Circus Rejects facebook page or contact them at CircusRejects@yahoo.com for all your clown needs.

The NJ Horror Con was a great place to meet many people excelling in various fields of entertainment. One such individual was the multi-talented Kinnik Sky. A former contestant on American Idol, Kinnik is founder and CEO of Dazzal Mi Entertainmet where she writes, produces and co-stars in a number of web series which aim to provide thought-provoking and socially-aware stories. Visit her Kinnik Sky website where you can watch her series like Power Couple Struggle and more. No question, Kinnik’s entrepreneurial spirit and many talents will grace us with plenty of interesting projects to come.

A name synonymous with horror for many years is Michael Gingold. The longtime managing editor of Fangoria Magazine  (whose website is still going strong-hopefully, the magazine will be someday again too) has now moved over to Canadian publication Rue Morgue. Michael’s insightful reviews of horror movies have been invaluable to many fans and now he has used his wealth of knowledge to tackle a subgenre of horror – the killer  shark movie. From the Steven Spielberg classic, Jaws to the recent SyFy Sharknados, there are a lot more shark attack movies than you would think. Compiling all these films into one blood red volume, Shark Movie Mania is available now to order online or at fine book stores everywhere.

While we would have loved to have seen more short films, like the intriguingly titled, and NJ-made, Let’s Play Dead Girl, there were just too many cool people to meet. When you listen to Michael Berryman tell of the time he alone heard Bob Dylan and George Harrison play together for 2 hours, well, those are times-you-ain’t-a-leavin’. And when you get to spend some time talking to the beautiful and delightful Felissa Rose, star of the Sleepaway Camp films, with many more projects to look forward to, you’ve got to have your priorities straight. Other amazing guests for the weekend included Ted Raimi of Evil Dead and Spider-Man fame, Matthew Lillard (Scream, Scooby-Doo), Kristanna Loken (Painkiller Jane, Terminator 3), a Back to the Future 2 reunion, the Amazing Kreskin, the irrespressible Lloyd Kaufman from Troma Films, and, with a special show Saturday night, the one and only John Waters.

Did we miss anything? Probably so. But the inaugural New Jersey Horror Con and Film Festival was a resounding success. Congrats to Ryan Scott Weber, Rob Bruce and all the staff for creating a stellar event to bring filmmakers and filmgoers together, and spotlighting so much impressive homegrown talent. Horror is alive and well in the swamps of Jersey, and there’s a new creature in town. They’re already got their next convention planned for September of this year back in Edison, and are looking to expand in the future, so check out the New Jersey Horror Con website, follow them on the NJ Horror Con facebook page, and when you’re not watching the skies, watch plenty of horror films!

— by Brian de Castro

About Brian de Castro

Brian worked at NBC in New York, writing and producing promotion for everything from Saturday Night Live to Letterman, Leno and Conan, as well as The Today Show and Nightly News. A graduate of Rutgers University, the New Jersey native, when he's not working on the Gore 4 website, can usually be found on a baseball field.

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