Whether they admit it or not, the horror genre has a special place in the hearts of most movie buffs. That affinity is usually traced back to childhood, a period during which we are far more open to spooky, supernatural occurrences; the terrifying possibility of a crazy guy in a mask wielding a chainsaw; or the likelihood of a maniacal, blood-thirsty leprechaun cracking jokes and skulls (conversely, as cynical adults we are far less likely to suspend our disbelief). Childhood is also often the first time we’re exposed to such elemental pleasures — we’re far less frightened the second or sixth time we see Friday the 13th Part II or The Beast Within.
No one knows this phenomenon better Nathan Hanneman, editor-in-chief of locally based fanzine HorrorHound and organizer of its popular offshoot, HorrorHound Weekend, an annual convention featuring a smorgasbord of “celebrity” panels, events, vendors, screenings and more that convenes this Friday-Sunday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Sharonville.
“When I was younger, my mom and dad enjoyed scaring us kids — they dealt with the horror of raising four children,” Hanneman says. “I remember being witness to my parents’ various movie screenings, including Creepshow, Night of the Living Dead and Psycho. I always loved the characters — Freddy Krueger was always a twisted gateway character for kids to find their way into the genre — and as I got older, these films seemed to be the only ones that never took themselves too seriously. Comedy has to be funny for it to work. Drama has to be moving or it falls flat. But horror just has to feature a masked maniac and bad acting. It’s universally accepted, whether it’s good or bad.”
A glossy bi-monthly launched in the fall of 2005 with Hanneman’s cousin/publisher Jeremy Sheldon, HorrorHound’s reputation and reach has grown to the point that it can now be found in most major booksellers in the U.S. and Europe and features over two-dozen writers and artists who contribute to its sixty-plus densely packed pages. The most recent issue (the 31st the duo has produced) has a retrospective on The Thing that includes interviews with genre master/director of the 1982 remake John Carpenter and multiple people involved with the prequel version (imaginatively titled The Thing) currently in theaters.
The Sept/Oct 2011 issue also has coverage on new DVD/Blu-ray releases; a roundup of toy and memorabilia offerings; an essay on the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and its spawn; a roundup of Halloween theme parks across America; a feature on prolific visual/pulp artist Norman Saunders; and an essay on the mag’s current Hall of Fame inductee, Predator.
There’s even a recipe section called Slash & Dine.
But let’s get back to this weekend’s convention, which Hanneman says was an inevitable extension of the magazine and the culture it celebrates.
“All great magazines had their own conventions, going back to Famous Monsters of Filmland, a popular horror magazine from the ‘60s,” he says. “When we launched the magazine, it was instantly something we wanted to tackle. In 2006 we were given an opportunity to do so, and our first event took place in Indianapolis in June 2007. Since then we have produced 10 shows. We brought our show to our hometown of Cincinnati in 2009, and it has grown into a fantastic — and crowded — event.”
Previous weekends have included appearances by such genre luminaries as Malcom McDowell, John Landis, Linda Blair, Danny Trejo, Elvira, Clive Barker and George Romero, which leads to the question: How does Hanneman lure such well-known names to take part in such an accessible, audience-friendly endeavor?
“People have begun to respect the HorrorHound name as movie studios have begun working with us in promotions,” Hanneman says. “In fact, at this November’s event we will have an unheard of seven movie studios and/or distributors participating at our show, as well as various independent filmmakers.”
The celebrity headliners this year include Anthony Michael Hall (Dead Zone and, uh, the ’80s movies of a guy named John Hughes), Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), Alex Winter (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) and Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects, as well as the blaxploitation films of Jack Hill and cameos in multiple Quentin Tarantino films).
In what is now becoming a weekend tradition, the HorrorHound peeps have also gathered casts and/or crew members from certain movies or TV shows — this year features AMC’s excellent zombie series The Walking Dead, the not-as-excellent Friday the 13th Part VI and the 1989 big-screen version of Stephen King’s Pet Semetary.
“It helps to have a magazine to add name recognition,” Hanneman says of the convention’s rapid growth. “We have become friends with many managers whose job is to specifically place their clients in appearances and signing situations like our events. We also try to use our name to lure in bigger or more obscure names who are not common to the convention circuit. We have been responsible for over a dozen celebrities participating in their very first conventions — a rarity for many promoters.”
Among the other attendees this year are William Atherton (Ghostbusters), Doug Bradley (Hellraiser), James Duval (Donnie Darko), Sean Patrick Flannery (Boondock Saints), Brian O’Halloran (Clerks), Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters), Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth), Margot Kidder (Superman), Philippe Nahon (High Tension), Tom Savini (From Dusk Till Dawn), John Saxon (Nightmare on Elm Street) and more.
So what is it specifically about the horror genre that generates such rabid fans — fans that often dress up in garish, ornately rendered costumes to meet celebrities of the genre and partake in what has become a unique communal experience?
“I haven’t figured that one out yet,” Hanneman says. “But it’s that love that helps people gravitate toward the genre and each other. When we do our conventions it amazes me how well these thousands of fans — all wearing black shirts, makeup and chains — all get along. There’s a respect amongst everyone that is really commendable.”
HORRORHOUND WEEKEND takes over the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Sharonville Friday-Sunday. For ticketing and scheduling information, go to www.horrorhoundweekend.com. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.