Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Seven Hours at Cinema Wasteland

The fall 2017 edition of the Cinema Wasteland convention was held in Strongsville, Ohio over the first weekend of October. Cody was there, briefly.

A lot has changed in my life since the last Cinema Wasteland I attended, which was last fall. Major personal losses have been accompanied by added responsibilities, especially financial ones. It was a given that I would be going to the fall 2017 Wasteland, especially since I missed the spring show - I can't go an entire calendar year without some Wasteland in my life. But with the show approaching, I had to take responsibilities and finances into account and decided that, instead of getting a room at the Holiday Inn the show is held at and staying the entire weekend like I usually do, I would just drop by for one day. That's what I did when I started going to Wastelands in the spring of 2006, I only went for one day, most often the Saturday. I didn't start spending the full weekend until the fall 2009 show.

So since I would only be at this Wasteland for around seven hours, I had to accomplish my goals there quickly and soak in the atmosphere as much as possible during this short window of time.

The trip to the convention was bittersweet. Although I was glad to be returning to the world of Wasteland, I was also feeling troubled because my mom should have been driving me. The first several Wastelands I went to, mom attended with me. When I started spending the whole weekend, she would still drive me over to the hotel on Friday and then return to drive me back home Sunday. Mom passed away in May, so this was the first time I ever went to the Wasteland without her. That thought weighed heavily on my mind the whole day.

Although I have gone to other conventions since last fall - I went to Days of the Dead in July to meet Larry Zerner from Friday the 13th Part III and to Horrorhound in September to meet several cast members from Friday the 13th Part 2 - I felt some anxiety when I finally got to Wasteland. After such a rough year, I feel like a walking disaster, and while it didn't matter that I was a disaster at those other conventions, I didn't want to seem like a disaster at Wasteland. It's different, it's more important. It's a special place. The anxiety was just my mind messing me, and I pushed through it while discussing my emotions in e-mails with the blog's own Priscilla.

SATURDAY (September 30th):

10:00am - Doors Open for all pass holders.

I had intended to reach Wasteland right around 10am, when the doors to the guest / vendor room would be opening, but I was running a little late, as I tend to, and ended up arriving at the Holiday Inn around 10:50. If I had made it to the show at 10 and made a trip around the room earlier, I might have sat in on the screening of I Was a Teenage Werewolf that started in Movie Room 1 at 10:30, but since I was late for that I just took a leisurely stroll around the guest / vendor room.

My first stop, as usual, was at the table of Ohio-based independent filmmaker Henrique Couto, who is always releasing new movies in the time between Wastelands. This time there were two new Couto films for me to pick up: the comedy / drama Nothing Good Ever Happens and the horror movie Amityville: No Escape.

Although my social anxiety has kept me from having any lengthy interactions with Couto, my frequent stops at his table have not gone unnoticed. While signing my copies of his movies, he commented that he hadn't seen me around the day before. When I said that I was only at the show for one day this time instead of the whole weekend, he jokingly said that the way to get the full Wasteland experience in just one day is to drink a lot of beer while I was there. Wasteland is known as the "party convention", and things get especially rowdy on Saturdays. Neither Couto or myself drink, but we still enjoy the Wasteland experience.

In addition to Nothing Good Ever Happens and Amityville: No Escape, I also bought a copy of the zombie movie Rotgut, which was directed by The Stink of Flesh's Billy Garberina, from Couto. I had come to Cinema Wasteland with two objectives, and my purchases from Couto accomplished one of them. Leaving his table, I went to accomplish the other one.

The Evil Dead special effects artist Tom Sullivan is a guest at every Cinema Wasteland, and even has his own room right off the main room (and across the hall from Movie Room 1) in which he displays his artwork. Whenever mom stopped by the Wasteland, she would always take a look in Sullivan's room. A few years ago, a documentary was made about Sullivan called Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist, and I have long been meaning to pick up a copy of that film. In memory of my mom, I went into Sullivan's room and finally bought a copy of Invaluable.

As I entered Sullivan's room, I found him in the middle of giving an enthusiastic recommendation of the 1980 film The Stunt Man to somebody else, and was able to help him remember the name of that film's star, Steve Railsback. As he signed my copy of Invaluable, he asked if I had seen any good movies yet, and I gave an endorsement of American Made. He wanted to see the movie, but hadn't had a chance to yet - it only came out the day before, and he was busy at Wasteland. He then asked me if I had seen Wonder Woman, which I have, and I told him it was definitely my favorite of the recent DC movies. He agreed, and said it had been inspiring to him.

It had even inspired him to come up with his own idea for a sequel, which would be set during World War II. The sequel he pitched to me is definitely a movie I would check out.

I usually have a canvas tote bag with me at these things, but I had failed to bring one with me this time, so after leaving Sullivan's room I carried my four new DVDs out to my car.

Returning to the show, I took a walk around the guest / vendor room, looking at the various items that were for sale and looking over the guests as they met with fans. Genre icon Tom Atkins, scream queen legends Linnea Quigley and Brinke Stevens, prolific director David DeCoteau, Charles Craig from Night of the Living Dead, Dyanne Thorne from the Nazisploitation Ilsa movies, her Ilsa co-star Howard Maurer, character actor Chris Mulkey, producer Craig Muckler, The Stepfather star Jill Schoelen, Martin Stephens from The Innocents, etc.

It was around noon by now, and in the lobby a table had been set up where you could buy burgers, hot dogs, chips, and drinks from noon until 6pm. This was the first time I had ever seen this done at a Wasteland, and I decided to take advantage of it. I got a cheeseburger, chips, a drink, and sat down in the dining area of the bar to eat and kill some time until the first event I wanted to attend.

That event rolled around about an hour later.

1:15pm - GUEST EVENT: Join Jill Schoelen, Craig Muckler, and Chris Mulkey for the first guest panel of the day in MOVIE ROOM 1.

These three shared a panel because they're currently working together on projects, and they provided an interesting mixture of information.

Mulkey discussed some of the hundreds of acting jobs he has had over the years, like the time he was cast in First Blood and feared that the production was going to be shut down because Kirk Douglas dropped out of the role of Rambo's mentor Colonel Trautman. As they scrambled to find a replacement for Douglas, William Devane was offered a "play or pay" deal worth a couple hundred thousand dollars. I believe Mulkey said that director Ted Kotcheff hadn't been consulted about the deal with Devane, though, and when he heard about it he shot it down. But Devane still got paid. Then Richard Crenna was cast as Trautman, the production was saved, and the Rambo franchise was born.

Muckler discussed the success of his two earliest producing projects, Microwave Massacre and Malibu High. He also talked a little about a documentary he had made about porn star Kay Parker, who is now a metaphysical counselor.

It was Schoelen who stole show, even though she said she was an actress who kept to herself, did her job, then went back to her room, so she didn't have many behind-the-scenes stories from the movies she was in. She did have a behind-the-scenes story about the casting process on The Stepfather, when she was cast and on location, ready and waiting to film, but her character's mom and the titular stepfather hadn't been cast yet. Meg Foster and Brooke Adams were considered for the mom, a role that ended up going to Shelley Hack. The search for the stepfather came down to Jeff Bridges, Treat Williams, and Terry O'Quinn. Schoelen did test readings with all three of them and felt that it went the best with O'Quinn. The director and producers apparently agreed, and O'Quinn went on to give a great performance in that movie.

Schoelen was asked about her experience working with Wes Craven on the TV movie Chiller and she talked about how kind and soft-spoken he was. She also talked about Robert Englund being great when they worked together on a version of Phantom of the Opera, and said that movie looks gorgeous.

Also covered was the fact that Schoelen was hired to star in the film Popcorn after the previous actress (and the director) had been fired three weeks into filming. Everything the original actress did had to be reshot Schoelen, however there was some corner cutting: the coverage of the other actors in the scenes with the character wasn't reshot, so for half the movie or so the other actors are still seen reacting to the performance of the first actress.

Schoelen had a very emotional moment during the panel when she encouraged everyone to follow their dreams, and advised the women listening to stay true to themselves.

When the panel ended, David DeCoteau's movie Nightmare Sisters, which stars Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, and their fellow scream queen Michelle Bauer, started showing in Movie Room 1, and the room was packed for that screening. I decided to step out and walk around the Wasteland some more during the movie, and my chair was one of the few vacant ones in there.

I roamed around for a while, then decided to take a break and sit on a chair in the lobby. That's when I crossed paths with fellow attendee Jason Siegel, who was on his way to change into a costume I was looking forward to seeing. He had worn this costume at the spring show that I missed.

Soon Nightmare Sisters came to end and it was time to hear from some of the people responsible for it.

4:00pm - GUEST EVENT: Join Dave DeCoteau, Linnea Quigley, and Brinke Stevens after the Nightmare Sisters screening in MOVIE ROOM 1.

All three of the people on this panel are incredibly prolific. Dave DeCoteau, as of right now, has 133 directing credits on his filmography. Linnea Quigley has 145 acting credits, and Brinke Stevens has 168. This is a trio that is definitely living the dream of working in movies, even if it wasn't a dream Stevens started out with - she wanted to be an oceanographer, and only started acting while waiting for science jobs that never came.

It was a lot of fun to hear them discuss their careers, especially since they were working in the glory days of the 1980s, when they could make goofball low budget horror movies like Nightmare Sisters that would then get major play on USA Network. Sure, DeCoteau had to shoot a bunch of new scenes to get Nightmare Sisters onto basic cable, since the movie lost a substanial amount of its running time when all the nudity was cut out, but he got it on there.

There are plenty of stinkers among their combined 446 credits, but there are some classics, too. Like Puppet Master III; Silent Night, Deadly Night; The Return of the Living Dead; and The Slumber Party Massacre. There are also movies on their résumés that have the greatest titles of all time, like Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, and Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity. I may not always like their movies, but I respect their careers and find them to be very inspiring. To me, the fact that DeCoteau has been able to make an average of 4 movies a year over the last 32 years is something even better than winning an Oscar.

As the panel came to an end, my time at Wasteland this year was also coming to an end. I didn't want to drive home from the Cleveland area in the dark, so I intended to get on the road when the sun started going down. I was conflicted, though. I didn't want to have to leave Wasteland so early. When I'm used to spending the whole weekend there, seven hours doesn't seem like very much. I'm done and ready to leave other conventions in two to four hours, but I'm never ready to leave Wasteland.

I decided to walk around the convention floor some more, and while doing that I ended up making another purchase. As mentioned earlier, one of the guests at the show was Charles Craig, who played a newscaster with a great voice for the job in the original Night of the Living Dead. During my walks around the room, I saw that Craig had a small stack of CDs on his table, "Ohio Echoes" by Chuck and Judith Craig. Curious what that was, I tried to look "Ohio Echoes" up online, but couldn't find any information on it. Now it had come down to a "now or never" moment. Either I was going to go to Charles Craig's table and find out what that CD was right then, or I wouldn't have another chance.

When I picked up the CD to look at it, he said "That's a whole different ballgame" (than the horror stuff) and told me what it was - folk songs that he and his wife recorded, telling the history of Ohio. In that moment, I decided to buy a copy. I figured that buying this would be even better than getting Craig to sign a picture from Night of the Living Dead, because I wold be supporting his own artistic endeavor and learning more about him as a person, his own interests and passions. So I got a copy of his folk music CD for $10. He was appreciative, and he told me to "Listen to it in good health."

During my final moments at the show, I got to see Jason Siegel in his costume, transformed into Brazilian horror icon Coffin Joe. I was even able to shoot video of him delivering Coffin Joe's opening monologue from At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, which he memorized in Portuguese. That's impressive commitment to his cosplay.

I got the DVDs I wanted, I saw the panels I wanted to see, I got to meet Coffin Joe. It was time to leave. After one last walk around the guest / vendor room, I reluctantly left the Holiday Inn that has been home to every Cinema Wasteland since the show began in 2000.

Life has changed, but Cinema Wasteland still feels like a home away from home. The Wasteland is still family. I will be back for more.

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