Monday , 8 August 2022

NJ Horror Con and Film Fest ready to hit the Boardwalk!

Are you tired of winter and ready to spring into warmer weather and beaches and boardwalks? And do you miss the devilish delights and ghoulish garb that come with the Halloween season? Well, then Atlantic City, New Jersey is the place for you. Forget March Madness. The Jersey Shore is where the truly mad and monstrous is happening when the New Jersey Horror Con and Film Festival invades the boardwalk shore town at the end of March. Now in its 3rd gorious year, this spring’s Horror Con promises to deliver an awesome variety of guests from the world of horror and sci-fi and an impressive lineup of independent shorts and features from talented, visionary filmmakers,  along with a variety of vendors selling all kinds of super cool merchandise. After holding the three previous conventions in central Jersey, festival co-founders, Ryan Scott Weber and Robert Bruce, opted for a bigger and bolder venue for last fall’s event, invading the newly reopened Showboat in Atlantic City. The show was a rousing success, with great crowds, proving the old adage, if you move it, they will come.

While the Garden State has long been known for holding extremely popular horror/sci-fi/comic book conventions for many years, with Chiller Theatre in the north, and Monster-Mania in the south, the NJ Horror Con made the wise decision to distinguish itself from so many others by adding a Film Festival to its lineup and title. Instead of just showcasing well-known stars of movies, television, comics and music, the NJ Horror Con and Film Fest spotlights up-and-coming filmmakers, giving them a chance to unleash their creations upon the general public and gain recognition by competing for the coveted awards in the shape of the Garden State designed by extremely talented artist, Chris Waters. Check out this unbelievably cool Legend Award given to Linda Blair of Exorcist fame at last fall’s convention.

The festival pretty much screens films around the clock throughout the day and deep into the dark of night. This gives attendees plenty of opportunities over the course of the long weekend to take a break and watch gore after score of horrific shorts and fantastic features. A tip of our bloody hat must go to film festival director Tony Goggles for not only going through all the films, but making sure this part of the convention runs as smoothly as possible. While the festival makes a point to spotlight local filmmakers in the NJ/NY area, they also show works from around the globe as well. Any and all are welcome, if you dare to submit your wares. Oftentimes, the filmmakers are in attendance to offer insight and behind-the-screams info on the spawning of their creations. Like last fall’s best NJ/NY-based film, The Pond, a black & white short that was short on dialogue that followed a disoriented guy lost in the woods, which we learned was shot on an iPhone 7 using special lenses. There was also the clever and disturbing little film entitled, well, Little, which featured some very effective and grotesque make-up f/x, which were done by writer/director, Sandra Brock’s mom.

Another terrifying short the Gore 4 witnessed this past fall at the festival was writer/director, Tom Ryan’s Abducted. The mysterious and frightening tale centers on a rural town where several people have gone missing. When one of the locals, along with his trusty canine sidekick, has an alien encounter in the woods, all is not what it seems. The short deservedly won the Best Actor award for its lead, Russell Hackett. Though you’d never know upon viewing the film, Russell is a hearing impaired actor who often relied on visual cues given by his director, Ryan. Abducted is just one of four horror shorts interwoven into the anthology film, The Theatre of Terror. Ryan and company held a special premiere screening of their film earlier this year at the historic Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, appropriate as the iconic movie house not only served as the linking thread to the individual shorts, but Ryan hails from the town where the theater resides. Another of the shorts, the environmentally conscious lupine tale, Endangered, will be shown at this March’s NJ Horror Con & Film Fest. It was also part of the lineup of films at the recent Grindhouse Nights Film Festival, another awesome Jersey event, held at the one-of-a-kind venue, Roxy & Duke’s in Dunellen. Presented by one of Ryan’s Theatre of Terror co-producers, Todd Staruch, along with Ryan himself, this is a rather unique, twice a year presentation of scary shorts and eclectic performers. The next one is due in September, and horror fans in the area are encouraged to check it out. And to own your own copy of The Theatre of Terror on Blu-ray or DVD, to watch within the safety of your own home, just go to the Theatre of Terror webpage and do what you have to do. Or, better yet, enter the Theatre of Terror booth at the Horror Con and pick up the film from one of the filmmakers on hand.

Another horror short the Gore 4 is looking forward to seeing at this spring’s NJ Horror Con is Jennifer Stang’s The Whistler, which won best short at last December’s NYC Horror Film Festival, which you can read all about in the Gore 4’s coverage right here. Other intriguingly titled films expected to be shown along with The Whistler include The Killer Clown Meets the Candy Man, Bitch, Popcorn & Blood, The Eyes That See in the Dark and Night of the Loving Dead, to name but a few. Speaking of butts, and other body parts and orifices, there will be a special focus group screening of Shakespeare’s Sh*tstorm by Troma Entertainment and Lloyd Kaufman late Friday night. With the irrepressible impresario Kaufman and the cast on hand, this promises to be a riotous, raucous event, just as their Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High, aka Volume 2 was in 2017. There will also be a special screening and accompanying Q&A of the killer clown movie, Terrifier, which has been streaming on Netflix, on Saturday afternoon, because you just can’t keep an evil clown down. For those brave enough souls, David Howard Thornton, who plays the deviously diabolical Art the Clown, will be available on Friday night in full clown regalia for photo ops, perfect to show your grandkids one day.

[Friday the 13th‘s Amy Steel, Adrienne King, Harry Manfredini, Ron Millkie, John Carl Buechler, Ari Lehman]

Now, while the New Jersey Horror Con & Film Festival presents film after bloody film, there are also a number of extremely entertaining panel discussions and Q&As held throughout the weekend. Last fall saw an invaluable Friday the 13th reunion, with the first two ‘final girls’ of the franchise, Adrienne King and Amy Steel, the composer of the iconic theme, Harry Manfredini, Officer Dork in the first film, Ron Millkie, the very first Jason (who rose from the lake at the end of the first picture), and alas, special make-up f/x master, John Carl Buechler, who directed F13 Part VII: The New Blood, and who sadly just passed away on March 18th.  Buechler, in addition to directing cult fare like Troll and Ghoulies Go to College, did f/x work on horror films, Mausoleum, From Beyond, installments in the Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street film series, Bride of Re-Animator, Carnosaur and Adam Green’s gloriously gory Hatchet.  It was so great to hear his insight on the work he did within the Friday the 13th franchise and other films, even though, unfortunately for most of us, it was for the last time. His contributions to the world of horror will no doubt last for generations. As for the rest of the panel, it would be great to see any of them involved in some way, shape or form, if the next Friday the 13th reboot ever gets off the ground. As for Ari Lehman, his aptly titled heavy metal band, First Jason, will be performing Saturday night during the upcoming convention in support of their new album, Lord of the Lake. It should make for a rockin’ night.

[NJHCFF co-founder, Ryan Scott Weber; Cassandra Peterson; artist Chris Waters]

Another enjoyable Q&A last fall was that of Cassandra Peterson, best known for portraying her beloved Elvira character. Moderated by Live Action Media’s Chris Stiles, who does such a terrific job with his knowledge and humor on so many of the convention’s panels, Cassandra kept the crowd enthralled with her stories of being the youngest showgirl ever in Vegas, working with Elvis, and how she came up with her iconic look, which was modeled after Sharon Tate in Fearless Vampire Killers, topped off with a Ronnie Spector hairdo and Valley Girl attitude. The Gore 4 asked if she had been inspired by any other horror hosts, and while she hadn’t seen any of the others when she began, she has since come to appreciate the likes of Svengoolie and even became close friends with the late, great Zacherley. Fans of hers will be happy to know that a 3rd Elvira movie is in the works, along with an animated series!

The NJ Horror Con‘s spring extravaganza also promises an incredible lineup of guests, panels and events we haven’t even mentioned yet. Mick Garris, one of the Masters of Horror, will be holding special discussions on both Friday and Saturday nights. The Gore 4 met up with Garris and saw his excellent horror anthology film, Nightmare Cinema, at the most recent NYC Horror Film Fest (which again, you can read about ***here***). We should get definitive word on when this latest masterwork of his will see release, as well as all his other projects, past and present. Garris recently held his annual Masters of Horror dinner, where the likes of John Landis, Joe Dante, Adam Green, Leigh Whannell, William Lustig, Don Coscarelli, James Gunn and Quentin Tarantino gathered for a meeting of imaginative and demented minds. Be sure to check out Garris’ podcast, Post Mortem with Mick Garris, where he conducts in-depth conversations with many of horror’s greatest names.

Speaking of great names in horror – nice segue, right? – the legendary John Russo was a guest at last spring’s NJ Horror Con and he brought along his latest project to show to a hungry audience. That film was the undead comedy, My Uncle John is a Zombie!, which he wrote, co-directed and starred in himself! The film is more fun than should be inhumanly possibly, with Russo delivering a side-splittling, gut-munching performance as an ‘evolved zombie, a pretty nice guy between meals.’ As his character states in the movie, “I’m having the time of my death!” It’s very clever, quite gory, and has appearances by Lloyd Kaufman, Debbie Rochon and Night of the Living Dead‘s Russell Streiner. Few people know as much about independent movie-making as John Russo. He’s written several essential books on the subject and his post-screening discussion and Q&A was nothing short of illuminating and entertaining as well. His and George Romero’s contribution to the horror genre with their Night of the Living Dead and its influence on film and television from Re-Animator and Dead Alive to The Walking Dead and on filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro, Eli Roth and Jordan Peele, cannot be overstated enough. Russo continues to be busy, writing more novels, comics and with two more directorial efforts in the making, a remake of his earlier, Midnight, and Escape of the Living Dead, based on another of his written works. The best news of all is that John will be a guest once again at this spring’s convention, so make way and pay him a visit.

Another author exploring the world of the undead and the ramifications it presents is one Neil A. Cohen. Originally from Hazlet, New Jersey, Cohen has written a zombie trilogy that takes place in the Garden State that explores how science, politics, the military and the mob deal with a zombie virus outbreak as it spreads across the state and ultimately beyond its borders. Heavily researched, Cohen infuses his tale with horror and humor, and offers a unique take on the state of zombiedom, no easy task for a genre that has seen so many adaptations. Neil will be available once again at NJ Horror Con with copies of his Exit Zero, Welcome to Nuke Jersey and Zombie Democracy, so be sure to shuffle on over to see him.

Another NJ Horror Con fixture and convention favorite is actress Tiffany Shepis. Hailing from the Big Apple but living on the other coast now, Tiffany, despite her busy schedule, always finds time for us here at the NJ Horror Con. She serves as emcee of the awards show, and her entertaining and sparkly personality always makes it one of the highlights of the weekend, whether she hosts alone or with sometime co-host, Comic Book Men‘s Ming Chen. Tiffany has recently appeared in such noteworthy horror fare as Sharknado 2, Tales of Halloween, Death House, Victor Crowley and an entry screened at last fall’s film fest, Killer Kate! Word is, she may also be showing up in the second season of FX’s hot Sons of Anarchy spinoff, Mayans M.C., for which her husband, Sean Tretta, serves as a writer and producer. To find out what else Tiffany is up to, don’t be shy, just drop on by and say hi.

One of the convention’s most popular events is the cosplay contest held on Saturday. Horror fans are among the most creative people around, and young and old alike dress up as their favorite characters from television and film, along with original ideas they conjure up themselves. While some get-ups are truly frightful, others are simply delightful. We’re always amazed at how much effort and imagination these talented people put into their creations. You will be as well.

Now, we’ve only scratched the surface of what to expect at the March ’19 NJ Horror Con and Film Fest. There will be reunions for Back to the Future, Gremlins, Ghostbusters, and Pet Sematary.  Guests include wrestler, Chris Jericho, Adrienne Barbeau of The Fog and Swamp Thing, Linnea Quigley from Return of the Living Dead, Shannon Elizabeth from Thirteen Ghosts and Scary Movie, Sleepaway Camp‘s lovely Felissa Rose, the voice of the Crypt Keeper from Tales From the Crypt, John Kassir, legendary drive-in movie critic, Joe Bob Briggs, Eddie Munster himself, Butch Patrick, musicians, CJ Ramone and Vinny Appice, the Amazing Kreskin, Father Evil and much, much more. Festival founders Ryan Scott Weber and Robert Bruce have to be commended for making this a must-attend twice-a-year event in only its third year. Weber is a talented filmmaker himself, having written, directed and co-starred in the feature, Pretty Fine Things. Depicting a family that stays together by slaying together, the film is led by a killer performance from Joe Parascand, a trio of talented actresses in Emilia Sylte, Camila Perez and Lauren Renehan, and appearances from Andrew Divoff, Lynn Lowry and gorgeous tattoo model, Mary Leigh Maxwell. In addition, Weber is behind the TV series, Zombies Incorporated. Along with Rob Bruce, of AMC’s Comic Book Men fame, and one of the foremost experts on everything related to pop culture, comics and collectibles, they make for the perfect team, which makes the New Jersey Horror Con and Film Festival such a fantastic event. Incidentally, Rob usually has his own dealer table at the con with loads of comics and cool collectibles for sale, and you can pick up Ryan’s Pretty Fine and other Things as well on the convention floor.

If there’s anything we failed to mention, just go to the New Jersey Horror Con and Film Festival website for a full list of guests, events, films and hotel information. And follow the NJ Horror Con Facebook page for more up-to-the-minute announcements. To read our write-ups on the first two NJ Horror Cons, here they are for Spring ’17 and Fall ’17. This spring’s event is right upon us and it looks to be the biggest and best yet. So, mark your calendars for March 29-31, 2019, and set your GPS for the Showboat in Atlantic City, NJ. And keep an eye out for cute, crazy and killer clowns because you’ll know you’re in the right place at the right time, which beats being in the wrong place at the wrong time anytime. The Gore 4 will see you there!

— written and directed by Brian de Castro


  1. Great recap thus far.

    • Brian de Castro

      Thanks Neil! Good to see you again at this spring’s event. Cool to see young horror fans interested in reading your take on the zombie apocalypse. I’ll have a more comprehensive rundown of this past convention in the coming days.