A small con in Virginia Beach renews one Truly Disturbing correspondents faith in the horror community.
May 10 through May 12 was the third Blood At The Beach convention in Virginia Beach. Nestled into one of the many hotels along the miles of suburban retail space, it’s a small convention that can easily go unnoticed by the rest of the residents of or visitors to the area. It doesn’t draw the kind of crowds that gum up the roadways or that provides the kind of economic boost that conventions like Comic-Con or Monster Mania do for the locales that host them. It’s a smaller, more intimate variety of convention, which is it’s greatest strength and probably it’s greatest weakness in the eyes of some.
I’m new to conventions. This is the first one I’ve ever attended. This being the case, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect, and now that I’ve been, I don’t have anything I can compare it to. What I can say about Blood At The Beach is that what I did see is something the horror community as a whole should be proud of and something the rest of the film industry can probably learn a lot from. The relationship between the people attending the convention as fans and the people attending as “talent” or “celebrities” is wholly different than anything I’ve ever seen in relation to fans or celebrities, and I was honestly shocked at how little it demeans either. The amount of respect, general good will and creativity that was on display is something sorely lacking in the way the rest of the film industry interacts with it’s audience and in the way the audience generally interacts with the talent in the rest of the film industry.
I arrived on Friday, around two in the afternoon, got checked in and dropped my stuff in my room before making my way back to the entrance to the convention center that was holding all of the actual events. This is the source of one of only two complaints I have with the way the convention was organized. Along with many other people who were in waiting to gain entry to the convention, there was a degree of disorganization to the entry process that isn’t a good way to start the weekend. The people manning the tables were missing lists of pre-registrants, which caused more confusion than was necessary, and in their confusion, they also caused some confusion in the people waiting to gain entry. This isn’t something that would be a significant problem for the majority of the people attending the con, but as I wandered around and talked to folks waiting in line, it was definitely a source of real and justified agitation for those who had specifically paid an added fee in order to gain early entry. They did end up getting in somewhat earlier than the regular ticket holders, but from what many of them were saying as they stood in line, it wasn’t a significant enough difference to have justified the extra cost. I do want to be absolutely clear that this didn’t seem at all like something that was put in place as just a simple means of squeezing convention goers for a little bit of extra cash. Being that I was covering the convention for Truly Disturbing, I’d gotten my pass early and was hearing both sides as all of this was occurring. The check in issues were definitely do to the growth of the convention from it’s previous dates, being short on volunteers and some degree of disorganization that could have been prevented. It should be noted that once the glut of early arrivals was inside, I only heard one or two attendees mention that they were unhappy with the fact that the “early entry” they’d purchased didn’t get them in very early. Once everyone was inside and the convention kicked into full gear, everyone was having too good at time to be bothered.
After things straightened out at with attendees checking in, I made my way to the vendors area, as the signing tables were still being set up and the celebrity attendees hadn’t all arrived yet. For what I understand to be small con, the organizers did a great job of insuring a wide variety of vendors were available, addressing the different tastes and interests of most of the horror community. I was particularly taken with the artwork of Tracy Lupton and Big Chris. Being new to the convention scene, one of the things I found most impressive was the amount and quality of creativity on display. Tracy and Chris have obviously spent years in practicing and improving their art and bringing to the level of professionalism it displays, but it wasn’t just vendors whose creativity was impressive. Many of the fans in attendance were displaying various creative endeavors of their own, from costumes to jewelry or clothing. Every few years there are new claims about the death of horror. There is no better evidence to prove that like the characters the horror community has embraced, it’s never going to die as long as there is as deep a creative strain running through it as was on display at Blood At The Beach III.
After deciding that I’d need to take out a sizable personal loan to be able to afford all of the things I found appealing in the vendors area, I headed toward the signing room as enough time had passed for the celebrities who would be in attendance on Friday to have set up. Most of the tables already had lines of fans waiting to meet and greet their favorite horror veterans, but I got a chance to talk with Josh Stewart, the star of THE COLLECTOR, THE COLLECTION and Bane’s right hand man in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, for a few minutes.
Josh was surprisingly friendly and warm in conversation. It was his first convention appearance and he was excited to be there and interact with the fans. He mentioned that he’s originally from West Virginia, which is a few hours from the site of the convention, and we both talked about how nice it is to have the beauty of the mountains there just a few hours from the beaches in Virginia. We began talking about the project he’s currently working on and will begin shooting soon, THE HUNTER. He went on to say he wrote the film while he was shooting THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. When I commented that it seemed like that would make for a pretty hectic schedule, he said that as an actor, most of the work for a film is done ahead of time. He does everything he can to prepare for the role and to get the character “inside his head” and then the rest is showing up and being there for the shoot. But that leads to a lot of down time, especially on a film as big as TDKR, and that he has to find a way to stay busy when he’s not scheduled in front of the camera, which gave him time to focus on THE HUNTER. He’s going to be directing the film and shooting begins in the next few months. Josh was notably excited about the project and it was really great to see someone who gained recognition in the horror community now being able to make a film they’re so passionate about that they aren’t trying to use as some kind of escape to legitimacy. He described it as a film that will definitely be interesting to horror fans, but mixed with other elements as well. His excitement alone piqued my interest in it, and I’ll be looking forward to news from the shoot as time passes.
I wandered over to Bill Moseley’s table after finishing my conversation with Josh Stewart. It was great to meet the man who played both Chop Top in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE II and who played Otis Driftwood in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. Bill is a pretty gregarious guy and had a line of fans waiting for autographs, so I didn’t get to speak to him for very long. I did ask him about a project that many of his fans have been waiting to see called THE MANSON GIRLS, and he unfortunately said it’s running into funding problems and may not get released. He was good humored about though and mentioned OLD 37, another project he hopes will be coming out in the future and is in some financial trouble. I can’t for the life of me understand why it seems like a good idea to fund another remake, but let new material like THE MANSON GIRLS or OLD 37, that have an audience because of their stars, die on the vine.
At that point, the signing room was filling up, and after a few failed attempts, I realized none of the actors in attendance were going to have more than a few seconds to talk to anyone, so I headed over to the screening room. This brings me to the second of my only two complaints about the convention. It would have been good to have the schedule posted online prior to the convention, not just for me as a member of the media, but for the attendees as well. Since the schedule wasn’t available until the convention started, there was no way to decide on just how one might want to use their time. Friday night to Sunday afternoon sounds like a good block of time, but in the middle of the convention, as there is so much happening at the same time, it would have been great to be able to make a plan related to what each convention goer prioritizes. Given the chance, I probably would have spent more of Friday evening in screenings because I had time to talk to people all of Saturday evening. The time I spent in the signing room probably would have been more well spent watching some of the features and shorts they were screening. I did get to see one hilarious stand out short, CHICK’N-HEAD by writer/director Robert Elkins, who was in attendance at the screening.
I spoke to Robert for a few minutes after the screening. He has made a number of short films already, more or less getting together with anyone who’s willing to work with him on films that have essentially no budget and they’ve been doing all of their shooting around Petersburg, Virginia. He had just finished editing his latest feature, VENGEANCE IS A .44 MAGNUM, before driving to the convention, and it was due to screen the next morning. (Unfortunately, because it ended up beginning later than scheduled, I was in a panel and didn’t get to catch it.) He was excited about the reaction to CHICK’N-HEAD during the screening. The audience definitely had an enthusiastic reaction to it, and Robert said that made his weekend because that’s what he really wanted. To him, that’s what making his movies is all about, people getting together and having a good time for a little while. Some of Robert’s work can be found at his YouTube page, including one of his other features, FLESH OF THE LIVING.
By the time I was done talking to Robert, my stomach was making the kind of sounds one expects to hear in one of the ALIEN or INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS films, maybe even something out of DREAMCATHER, so I had to eat. After feeding my face, and quieting my inner gargoyle, I made it back into the hotel lobby where convention attendees were all gathered for a night of cocktails and chatting. I have to say that I was honestly shocked at the number of different convention guests that were out and about, conversing with their fans, having their pictures taken and genuinely having a good time. I got the chance to have some informal conversation with Lew Temple, whose sense of humor was winning over every fan he came into contact with. Lew was at the convention in between shooting days in Louisiana, on the film WICKED BLOOD. One thing became clear pretty much immediately, Lew knows how to work a crowd and was genuinely enjoying himself. There’s an old fashioned kind of Southern gentility to his manner, mixed with a slight bit of prankster that makes him unpredictable, a trait that serves any actor well and he was employing it deftly while talking to every interested convention goer.
Saturday was the banner day for the convention. I met up with Truly Disturbing’s Associate Editor AshleyD in the morning and we went to the signing room and talked to Derek Mears and Tyler Mane about the project they’ve just finished working on together called COMPOUND FRACTURE (which Ashley has already written about here.) Between the scheduled screenings, the panels and the VIP Party at night, it’s the day of the weekend that provides the most activity for all convention attendees. I had been hoping to get to the screening of Robert Elkins VENGEANCE IS A .44 Magnum, but since it started late, I wouldn’t have been able to finish it before the panels started. I sat through four hours of great panels (all of which will get their own separate posts once I’m done writing them up), grabbed some food and headed back to my room to in order to dump a bunch of pictures onto my hard drive and charge my phone.
Time came for the VIP Party, and that’s when the convention goers and the celebrity guests really showed off something different, in just about every way. There were some spectacular costumes and some real time and effort on display. Between Sean Whalen tearing up the dance floor with Kim Poirier, Theodus Crane going old school on some swing dancing with one of the convention goers, and Travis Love breaking it down, the dance floor had plenty of great action and a large group of folks having a blast.
Outside of the VIP Party, there was still a celebratory, but more relaxed environment as convention attendees talked to and took pictures with the celebrities for hours. Tyler Mane, Derek Mears, Naomi Grossman, Lew Temple, Priscilla Barnes, Ken Foree, Dave Sheridan, William Forsythe, Josh Stewart, Michael Berryman, Michael Rooker, Vincent Ward, Brandon Adams and Yan Birch were all wondering around, having conversations and taking pictures with anyone who asked.
That’s when I really understood what makes the conventions something different and what gives the horror community a leg up on the larger film community and it’s relationship to celebrity. I’ve heard grumbling about people paying for autographs before, and to be completely honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of it when I first got there. I was also somewhat nervous that I was going to spend an entire weekend watching people act in a completely cringe inducing manner because they were in proximity to celebrity. I couldn’t have been more wrong about either. The people attending that convention know that the actors and film makers who attend aren’t being paid to be there, the autographs are the only money they make. The actors and film makers in attendance treated all of the fans with great respect, and were always friendly, and not just when someone was paying for an autograph. They were out taking time, talking to people, having fun and taking pictures through the entire weekend. And the convention goers who’d paid to be there some of the people who helped make some of their favorite films, were just as respectful in return. They understood that even though they’d paid for the convention and many of them had paid for an autograph and a picture at one point through the weekend, there was still a certain space and time that everyone has to have. I was sitting in the hotel restaurant on Saturday night, and saw William Forsythe having dinner and a drink with Tyler Mane, and the convention goers were streaming by, noticing the two men were there, but having the decency to let them eat a meal in peace. That was the thing I was most impressed by through the entire weekend. It had less to do with the convention itself, except that the convention and it’s organizers create the place for it to happen. There was a kind of mutual respect and admiration between the fans and the talent that I honestly hadn’t expected, and it seemed really genuine in both directions.
It was shocking enough that when I got a chance to speak to Derek Mears, I mentioned it and he said, “It’s awesome. We all get to be here and we all get to do this just because we love the same thing. We all love horror. It’s not about ‘Oh, I’m a celebrity and you’re not.’ Pfft. Nobody needs that. It’s great because we can all just meet and enjoy this thing that we love and get to meet each other and hang out.” In speaking with him for a few minutes, it was obvious that Derek Mears is one of the most energetically friendly people one could hope to meet. If horror is ever going to have an ambassador to the larger world of film and culture, there would be no better candidate. Both he and Tyler Mane are giant people. Walking into a hotel lobby and bar packed with people, finding the two of them is the simplest thing in the world. Look for the largest people in the crowd and it was going to be one of them or THE WALKING DEAD’s Theodus Crane. And all of them, imposing size not withstanding, were incredibly friendly and warm with the people who had come to see them. In return, those people were respectful of their space and their time the things they needed to do.
Sunday morning was very much like Saturday, with fewer panels and fewer people in attendance. The convention goers were heading out of the hotel in a slow stream, and again, I saw people taking pictures with different actors and hugging different friends they’d made at this convention or one of those held previously. The autograph room was full for the first hour or so and thinned out pretty quickly, with everyone packing up and getting ready to head out.
That’s something the rest of the industry could learn from. Having seen all of this at Blood At The Beach, it made me realize why there’s so little salacious, tabloid journalism and gossip in the internet press that is dedicated to horror. I don’t think the fans, the people who are interested in these actors and film makers, would buy it. Sure, we might have more than our fair share of immaturity in the realm of opinionated declarations, there’s always some yahoo in a comment thread whose willing to go to the extreme of saying this or that film maker should just die because they made this or that terrible movie, but that’s immaturity, and universal in all of fandom. What we don’t have are people waiting to see those who’ve reached some level of success in the community fall, and fall hard, in an incredibly embarrassing way. There aren’t people in the horror community rooting for the fall of those who’ve reached some level of notoriety. I’ve seen a few thousand images posted on various social media sites from the Blood At The Beach convention. You know what I haven’t seen? I haven’t seen a single upskirt shot attempting to catch one of the actresses or other convention attendees without any underwear on. Nor have I seen anyone post pictures of the celebrity guests in some drunkenly compromised position. There’s no market for it, and that says something about the people who love horror. It says something really good.
All told, given my two relatively minor criticisms of the convention, it went off really well. Al and Nikki (the organizers) and all of the volunteers did a great job of putting together the convention and seeing to it that everything went well. It certainly seemed as if everyone in attendance had a good time. I know I did. I finally packed my stuff up, strapped it to my bike and headed home Sunday afternoon. I left feeling good about having joined the horror community as a kid and stuck with it all these years because of the way I saw people treating each other.
I would like to add, as a final note, that as someone going to their first convention and attempting to cover it as a member of the media, I very deeply appreciate just how friendly and forthcoming Josh Stewart, Derek Mears and Naomi Grossman were. I was honestly a little daunted at the prospect of having to attempt to talk to people I would generally consider as having reached a great level of creative success, and the three of them gave me an immediate way to get over that by just being as genuinely nice as they were. I’d also like to thank Al and Nikki for being as gracious as they were to the staff of Truly Disturbing who were in attendance.
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