The annual horror convention has come a long way since its inaugural event in 2005. Started by Grapeviner Loyd Cryer, Texas Frightmare Weekend has gone from the relatively humble environs of its first venue, the Grapevine Convention Center, to last year’s space, the Hilton DFW/Lakes Hotel, to next year’s site, the Sheraton Grand Hotel on — of all places — John Carpenter Freeway in Irving.
(John Carpenter directed such wig-flippers as ‘Halloween,’ ‘The Fog,’ ‘The Thing,’ ‘Christine,’ the post-apocalyptic action flick ‘Escape From New York,’ the comedy ‘Big Trouble in Little China,’ and dozens of other cult faves. Of course, the freeway isn’t named after him but some Dallas businessman and civic leader.) Cryer and company have just announced the location of 2009’s event and also the date: the weekend of May 1, 2, and 3. The locations, though, aren’t as important as what’s inside them. And what was inside this past year’s made the (handsome) location pretty immaterial, starting with probably the highlight of the entire weekend, Malcolm McDowell’s packed panel.
The star of Stanley Kubrick’s masterful ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971) — and less stellar endeavors such as ‘Doomsday’ and Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween’ — gave a lot of insights into his long career and just had a cool, British aura about him. His self-deprecating attitude worked well on the predominantly young crowd. (I kind of cackled when he said that during the filming of the helicopter scenes in ‘Blue Thunder,’ he “screamed like a girl.”) McDowell also talked about The Biz. One of his funniest insider yarns was about the HBO series ‘Entourage.’ He said that one of the reasons he didn’t land a guest-starring role on the poorly acted and DELETEed but occasionally funny comedy is that during his first – and only – audition, he made the mistake of pointing out star Jeremy Piven’s hair plugs. Evidently, according to Piven’s agent, the young star is very sensitive about his coiffure — or lack thereof. Piven, McDowell said, simply needs his ass kicked.
Of all the stories he told, I was pretty floored by the ones about ‘Caligula,’ 1971 porn flick masquerading as drama, produced by ‘Penthouse’ publisher Bob Guccione – whom McDowell called “probably the most evil man” he’d ever met. McDowell hated Guccione’s insistence on adding debauchery upon debauchery to the historical tale. After a scene with a nude orchestra, co-star John Gilgeud reportedly said, “I’ve never seen so much [penis] in my life!” And speaking of ‘Caligula’ “high” lights … well, one involves McDowell, co-star Peter O’Toole, and a trailer full of white smoke. ‘Night of the Living Dead”s George Romero wasn’t in attendance, but the Diary of the Dead panel had co-stars Shawn Roberts and Michelle Morgan, who, thankfully, had a lot to say about their work on the zombie-rific wig-flipper.
Roberts was cast at the last minute; Morgan said that when she was called to try out for the part, she didn’t even know who Romero was until her sister sat her down and played some of his old frights for her. The two panelists also chatted about how exactly a Romero movie is made, saying that the old-timer is a hands-off kind of director and also that he guides his zombie actors to act more “hungry” and less “demonic.” Unfortunately, the zombies have to be professional, paid actors, so Romero can’t just cast fans who would work for free. (Sigh.)
There was little for a fan like me to complain about, though the absence of marquee speaker Dario Argento sucked, Elvira’s bodyguard (but not her) was a pushy jerk, and special-effects guy Tom Savini treated his fans like cattle: “Here’s your autograph. Next!” A lot of the stars seemed to be having fun just mingling. Kristina Klebe (‘Halloween,’ ‘Rescue Me’) told me about one of her lovestruck fans, a 13-year-old boy who gave his good luck charm to her — she immediately put it around her neck, to the boy’s heart-fluttering awe. Dee Wallace Stone (‘E.T.,’ ‘Cujo’) was sort of blown away by Texas’ downhome politeness: “I love this ‘ma’am’ shit!” she said. “In California, everyone’s like, ‘Yo dude.’ “
Of the North Texas fans, McDowell said, with a grin, “The people here look terrifying but are completely harmless.” He probably was referring to all the mohawks, dyed hair, and outfits that mad you think a Hot Topic store had exploded. Local teenage actress Sina Johnson, there to show support for a friend in ‘Red Victoria’ (basically, a psycho-fright about a zombie supermodel), was blase. “It’s no weirder than my high school,” she said.
For more info, visit www.texasfrightmareweekend.com or check out a couple of stories we’ve written about the event: “Festival of Frights,” Nov. 30, 2005, and “Weekend of the Living Dead,” Feb. 30, 2007.