Sunday, April 10, 2011
My Thoughts on Monsterpalooza 2011
Today I attended my third Monsterpalooza in Burbank, CA, and it was amazing!
Last year, it was pretty busy, but this year was INSANE! It was literally wall to wall people to the extent that it felt like a horror version of ComicCon! Monsterpalooza has definitely outgrown its humble beginnings as a medium-sized convention, into a full-blown, massive horror free-for-all!
Even though I got there at noon, the parking lot was already overflowing! Thankfully, I got parked relatively close and walked over to pick up my Will Call ticket. Unlike previous years, this year, they were a little disorganized, and it took me awhile to actually find out where Will Call was. As the convention has grown so quickly, it's suffering a few small growing pains, so I readily brushed off this small bother. I also missed out (again!) on getting one of the Cinema Makeup School's cool free tote bags, but I seem to every year, so I grumbled for a few minutes, but then soon got over it. Compared to the other choice we L.A. fans have for conventions, *cough* Creation *cough*, even with these minor glitches, Monsterpalooza is still run like clockwork, and has incredibly helpful and friendly staff.
After wading through the sea of people in the lobby, I headed over to the theatre to watch the first panel presentation, if only to sit somewhere a little less crazy and get my bearings. Because there were so many more dealers this year, the panels were being held in another room of a building apart from the main area of the convention.
The first panel I saw featured the work of Michael Westmore, who was responsible for the majority of alien makeup on the various Star Trek incarnations. Actors Susie Plakson and Richard Herd were on hand to discuss how it felt to play various characters, and it was a very interesting panel. Did you know Klingon forehead bumps are based on dinosaur vertebrae? Neither did I!
The main area, working at a dull roar
After the panel, I decided to head back to the main area and brave the massive crowds. The dealers' room has pretty much tripled in size, and there were more rows and tables packed into the space than I've ever seen at a previous convention at that hotel! The fire marshal was actually having to keep lines of people outside because the space was near constantly at maximum capacity. I don't know who squealed this time, but they must have told a few thousand friends!
Loved these hairclips and I suggested to the artist that she make earrings as well. She wrote down my idea and promised if she does indeed make them, she'll send me a pair as a thank you. I gave her my card just to be sure - I've had enough with not getting credit for my awesome ideas. ;)
Having been blown away by Tim Gore's art at last year's show, I was even more wowed by his stuff at this year's! Someday, when I have disposable income, one of these pieces will be mine. Check out more here.
I was freaking out over these mini ouija boards, but by the time I got back to the table and was considering buying one, the guy had ONE left! Check out more of his work here. Just awesome.
One of the main attractions of Monsterpalooza is their amazing museum, featuring creations from various SFX shops:
Cool, freakishly lifelike Regan from The Exorcist
This is yet another beautiful Bill Malone creation, this time from FearDotCom. Bill has a long history as a model builder before turning to the director's chair, and his creations are always so intricate and fascinating. Although not on a panel this year, Bill was still hovering around the con, looking cute as always.
Ah, everyone's favorite walking meatloaf, Jack, from An American Werewolf in London. And he even talked! This is so awesome, I would totally buy it...if I had a big, fancy house to put it in!
As this is a convention aimed at special effects makeup, there were various demonstrations going on around the convention floor. It was fascinating watching people get transformed into various otherworldly creatures right before your eyes!
Smattered around the dealers' room were various celeb tables, and after having seen Creature From the Black Lagoon earlier this year and absolutely loving it, I knew I had to meet Ricou Browning! Mr. Browning performed all of the underwater "stunts" for the creature, and I told him how elegantly he swam, which is quite the hard feat whilst wearing all that rubber! He was a total sweetie, and when I asked if I could take his photo, he said, "Do you want to be in it, too?" And I replied, "Sure!" and dashed behind his table.
Also great today was that I got a load of compliments about my homemade "Mad Scientist" shirt! I was really looking forward to wearing it, especially at Monsterpalooza, and felt so cute in it! :)
Although the con was super crowded, the vibe was very friendly and warm, and after a few hours, I realized how much I was really enjoying myself.
Next to Ricou was Julie Adams, the "damsel in distress" who is swept away by the creature into his black lagoon. I told her how she was still just so lovely and she thanked me kindly.
For anyone who hasn't seen Creature From The Black Lagoon yet, you MUST!
Dee Wallace was outside in the main lobby area signing autographs and promoting her new book, Bright Light, about energy healing and acting. She's always so lovely, and her book sounds pretty interesting!
Director Joe Dante was right beside her signing as there was a panel for The Howling today.
And here's über-cutiepie Robert Picardo, wearing a nifty Howling shirt. Having never seen the film (yet!), I didn't realize he played the main bad wolf dude. Now I MUST see this film!
Even SFX guru Rick Baker showed up!
My main goal today was meeting the awesome writer/director Larry Cohen. After hearing that he was coming to Monsterpalooza, I literally shrieked with glee and was even more excited to go. Cohen was going to be part of a Grindhouse panel later in the day, but I was hoping to meet him beforehand and maybe get a photo.
After a good perusal of the dealers' room turned up no Mr. Cohen, I asked at the front desk.
"Were you the one who asked before?"
I shook my head.
"Everyone wants to know where Larry Cohen is! I'm sorry, I don't know."
The woman apologized for not knowing more about the writer/director's whereabouts, and with this lack of information, I was left to wonder whether Mr. Cohen was indeed there at all. This was a little bit more of that disorganization/growing pains I mentioned earlier, but again, I decided not to worry about it, and headed off to another panel.
This was a very special panel featuring Godzilla himself, Haruo Nakajima. It was fascinating to see the man who brought the beast to life and hear him speak of his many experiences playing not only Godzilla, but a myriad of other monsters. Nakajima didn't speak a word of English, but he had his daughter and a great interpreter there to help. The actor related stories from the set, including the fact that "real actors don't cry." Although while playing Godzilla, Nakajima was injured multiple times and worked (and sweated!) inside a suit that was more than 50 degrees celsius, he never complained. He was so cute and really seemed to enjoy the attention. Much like when I saw Dario Argento speak at Weekend of Horrors, the crowd was filled with diehard fans, who absolutely ate him up. (I was really only there to hold a seat for the Grindhouse panel later on, but fully enjoyed myself all the same.) Mr. Nakajima was presented with a special ceremonial welcome message from the mayor of Los Angeles, and he really seemed touched. So sweet.
Next up was a panel on the werewolf classic, The Howling, including director Joe Dante, actors Dee Wallace, Robert Picardo, and Belinda Balaski, and one of the makeup artists who worked on the film. They had some hilarious set stories, which really got the crowd going. Even though as I said above, I haven't seen the film yet, it was such a fun panel, it definitely made me want to see it!
This is the magic that is Monsterpalooza - even though you may know nothing about what the panel is about or think it may be a topic that doesn't interest you, they're still so engaging, informative, and entertaining, that you leave having learned something, and wanting to know even more!
L to R: Jack Hill, Larry Cohen, and Jeremy Kasten. Not pictured: William Lustig and Joe Dante
Finally, it was time for the American Grindhouse panel, and I had my front row seat! After watching William Lustig, Jeremy Kasten, Joe Dante, and Jack Hill (MUST see Spider Baby, MUST!) file in, I was ever hopeful Larry Cohen would show. Moments later, I was in the presence of greatness. I contemplated bowing, but I thought that would be a bit much, so I opted for basking in quiet awe instead.
For anyone not in the know, Mr. Cohen wrote and directed some of the best, most original "B" movies ever made - The It's Alive trilogy, God Told Me To, The Stuff, A Return to Salem's Lot, Q: The Winged Serpent, the awesome Masters of Horror ep, "Pick Me Up", just to name a few. Cohen's ideas are so brilliant, because although they're fantasy "tales," the story's "feet" are firmly planted in reality, which makes them almost entirely believable. A huge winged monster that takes up residence in the Chrysler building? Delicious alien "goo" that promotes mind control? A killer baby? The way Cohen executes his ideas is the key, as there is always a kernel of truth which makes them wholly and completely possible. If you haven't seen any of his films, I urge you to go out and at least see the original It's Alive, which is a masterpiece.
I respect Mr. Cohen more as a writer than as a director, because his writing really gets right to the nitty-gritty of the story and doesn't bullshit around. His scripts are tight, plot-driven, and have great dialogue, the perfect recipe for a great screenplay.
Can you tell I'm a bit of a fan? ;)
The panel itself was really fun, although the moderator was a bit flaky. Mr. Cohen told a great story about how the marketing team behind the original It's Alive! campaign thought a story about killer babies would never sell, so they gave it a tagline of, "Whatever it is...it's alive!" Obviously, this approach flopped, but after a reworked campaign, the movie started selling out houses all across the country. Although I could've listened to the filmmakers' stories on various movie houses of yesteryear for hours, after seven straight hours of con-going, I was fading fast.
The last question to the panel was asked by a woman in the front row. When I looked over, I gasped with delight! It was Laurene Landon, a regular in many of Larry Cohen's films (and a fellow Canadian!). I had just seen her in Maniac Cop a few nights previously, and she still looked as stunning as she did in the mid-80s. I'm semi-kicking myself I didn't talk to her, but I'll forgive myself as I was a little preoccupied today.
After the panel was over, I steeled my courage and walked right up to Larry:
"Mr. Cohen, it's an honor to meet you. I just wanted to let you know how much I love your films and how original and wonderful they are," I gushed, my cheeks turning a shade of bright crimson.
"Well, thank you," he said kindly. "That's very nice of you."
I was a puddle of girl goo on the carpet.
Somehow, I managed to pull myself together enough to ask if I could take this photo and he kindly obliged. I had wanted to get a photo of myself and Larry, but thought two photos were a bit much to ask, and he seemed a tiny bit tired and wanting to leave.
Then, fate intervened.
A quivering, bespectacled fanboy materialized beside me.
"Is there any way you could possibly take a photo of me and Larry Cohen?" he asked breathlessly. His hands were literally shaking with excitement.
Thinking quickly, I replied, "Only if you return the favor."
"Done." He nodded.
And with that, a dream was fulfilled.
After having gone totally fangirl on Larry's ass, I beat a hasty, embarrassed retreat back to my seat. Just as I was packing up to go, I noticed writer/director/Facebook friend Jeremy Kasten nearby and went over to say hello. He gave me a big hug and told me he liked my shirt. :) We gushed briefly about how awesome Larry Cohen is, and that he almost doesn't realize how much he's inspired others with his work. Jeremy reminded me again today that he's one of the nicest guys in Hollywood, and one of the most down-to-earth as well. If you haven't seen his films you're missing out. I highly recommend The Attic Expeditions, which is my personal favorite, but all of them are really good.
After all of this excitement, I was exhausted, but decided to take one last look around the dealers' room before I left. Halfway around the room, a random guy stopped me, and said, "Didn't I see you at the last convention?" Momentarily flummoxed, I said, "Oh, I go to all the conventions!" and we chatted very briefly. Apparently, it's not only dealers who recognize me now, but fans as well!
Then, seconds after this encounter, I heard a voice say, "Hey, Elisa!" It was one of my blog readers, Brian! We chatted briefly about conventions, and it was really fun to finally meet him. It's nice to know I have a "con buddy" I will probably run into at future events! Brian was impressed I had been at the convention for seven hours, but I merely shrugged and said, "Hey, I'm a con hound!" There's also so much to see at Monsterpalooza, how can you not spend the entire day here?
Overall, like previous years, this year's Monsterpalooza was well-run, had friendly staff, and was extremely fun. My only qualm was the room they had the panels in this year was very dark and incredibly stuffy, and didn't feel as "homey" or inviting as the room they used previously. I know Monsterpalooza is experiencing some major growing pains, but this year, it felt like the panels were just sort of brushed off into the depths of the hotel, instead of being part of the convention itself. As I have said in my previous con reports, unlike other conventions, Monsterpalooza's panels are not just filler, they're one of the highlights of the whole show, so to have them moved off into the nether regions, away from the action felt like a bad decision. Honestly, I don't know where else they would have had them, as the dealers' room is just so huge now. Although the program lists the con will be back at this same hotel next year, it would probably be best to move it to a bigger venue, but one that hopefully still has that fan-run, friendly convention feel that is a big part of Monsterpalooza's charm.
Can't get enough Monsterpalooza? Read my review of last year's show