Recently, Your Humble Reviewer had the pleasure of attending the rarest of rare events: a cult movie convention that took place within a short drive’s distance from Schlockmania’s North Florida homebase. Said convention was called the Cult Fiction Drive-In and was held in Jacksonville at the Wyndham Riverwalk Hotel between May 20th and 22nd. The location was pleasant, the lists of guests and films plentiful and the experience one for the record books.
Your Humble Reviewer got a good deal by utilizing the hotel’s convention package so he arrived the afternoon before the festivities began. The upside of arriving early was getting to observe the convention’s guests before the event began. The evening produced a handful of fun images and impressions for the ol’ memory bank… Crossing paths with Sid Haig while getting off the elevator. Seeing Lynn Lowry talking with the clerk at the front desk. Overhearing Fred Williamson extolling the joys of golf to Jim Kelly in the lobby.
The hotel was pretty spacious, with nice bedrooms and plush beds. There were a few downsides to the accommodations – the lack of a in-hotel store for snacks and sundry goods, really weak Wi-Fi connections on the hotel grounds and drink machines that could be a bit erratic – but the hotel was a safe, comfortable place to stage this kind of event.
Friday was the first official day and it was briefest of the bunch, with the festivities beginning in the late afternoon. The first stop was a tour of the convention room, which featured individual tables where the convention’s guests were posted with memorabilia and photos ready for autographing. There were also a handful of vendors selling the expected posters, magazines, videos, etc. Your Humble Reviewer’s big scores from the vendors included a nice new copy of the Immoral Tales book and a copy of the now out-of-print Targets DVD.
There were also movies being shown via video projection in one of the hotel’s meeting rooms. The classroom-like setting worked nicely, with unusually comfortable chairs adding an unexpectedly high level of comfort to the surroundings. Your Humble Reviewer dropped in for the following screenings:
I DRINK YOUR BLOOD: only caught the last 20 minutes but that was okay as this flick is a longtime fave at Schlockmania headquarters. It falls somewhere between Night Of The Living Dead and early Cronenberg in concept, replacing zombies with townies driven insane by rabies. The finale is fast and furious stuff, with primitive but enthusiastic gore effects. The musical score is also a big part of the fun because it is loaded with creepy Moog synth noises that add to the blood-spattered kitsch enjoyment.
THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK: this interesting Spanish post-apocalypse film focuses on a group of wealthy elites who survive an atomic bomb attack because they’re in a castle enjoying a private bacchanal. When they venture into a nearby town, they discover that the bomb has blinded the survivors – who quickly become violent after being mistreated by one of the rich folks. As the rich survivors bicker and try to figure out their next step, they have to deal with an attack by the blind survivors. Paul Naschy is one of the stars but he’s not the lead – instead, he’s part of the ensemble here. The film’s a bit pedestrian in terms of direction and scripting but it has the kind of gloomy, hopeless feel that devotees of post-apocalyptic films love (you’ll see the ending coming from a mile away but it still has a nice nihilistic punch to it).
After those two films, the first Q&A session of the night was held in the same screening room. It was called “Dudes Of The Dead” and featured Day Of The Dead stars John Amplas and Gary Klar. It was an informal, relaxed affair that featured both actors paying effusive tribute to the joys of working George Romero. They also took the time to express a heartfelt appreciation for the horror fans they’ve met while working the convention circuit.
Amplas and Klar made an interesting and complementary team: Klar had a gregarious, “boy howdy” persona while Amplas was more deliberate and introspective in his responses (especially when Your Humble Reviewer asked him about working with John Russo on Midnight and how it compared to working with Romero – he had to be highly diplomatic in his choice of words to that query but was kind to Russo). According to Klar, Russo will tell you great stories if you happen to meet up with at the hotel bar during a convention so horror fans, take note…
The evening brought the most unique element of Cult Fiction: the Drive-In part. The organizers offered a personalized version of the experience by setting up a video projector to show films on a jumbo-sized inflatable screen by the river. It was a picturesque setting and the projection worked well. The two movies shown Friday were as follows:
INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (the Enzo Castellari film): arrived late for this one from the Amplas/Klar Q&A and only saw the last half hour but the experience was worthwhile. Castellari was always the best of the Italian filmmakers from this era when it came to staging and filming action sequences. The final half-hour is wall to wall action but never wears out its welcome thanks to cleverly conceived stunts and Castellari’s muscular, relentless direction. The presence of Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson as leads puts it over the top. If you haven’t already seen this, you need to – and there’s a beautiful edition from Severin that’s the perfect way to get acquainted.
HELL RIDE: the follow-up feature was this controversial nuevo-biker opus, exec-produced by Quentin Tarantino and written and directed by its star, veteran character actor Larry Bishop. The result is a bizarre head-trip of a film, in which Bishop indulges a variety of macho exploitation flick fantasies with the likes of Dennis Hopper and Michael Madsen while spouting off bizarre dialogue that suggests Tarantino-isms, gonzo improvisations and overripe Beat poetry thrown into a blender. It’s a total oddity and one that often rubs exploitation fans the wrong away but Your Humble Reviewer found it surprisingly easy to appreciate its go-for-broke excessiveness, particularly in this drive-in setting. Note: Bishop introduced the screening and looked EXACTLY like his onscreen persona.
Coming Soon: Part 2 – in which an avalanche of Q&A sessions with countless exploitation flick icons are cataloged, plus a review of the best drive-in flick Vietnam War allegory you’ve never seen.