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Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors: A Report

Lots of events and appearances, including a Lifetime Achievement award for makeup artist Rick Baker.

By Steve Biodrowski     August 15, 2000

If you're a horror fanatic, then the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors was the place to be this weekend. On the other hand, if you're just a cineaste who enjoys good horror movies, you might have found yourself shaking your head at the current state of the genre. The first day of the August 12-13 event, held at the Pasadena Civic Center (about fifteen minutes from downtown Los Angeles) had some excellent high profile guests, but a glance at the schedule revealed an emphasis on obscure, low-budget, direct-to-video offerings that would appeal mostly to gore-hounds and hard-core fans. But then, that's probably what a 'Fangoria Weekend of Horrors' should be about: providing a chance for fringe talent to step out of the shadows and take a placesometimes deservedlyin the limelight.

Case in point: THE BLAIR BITCH PROJECT, a hilarious spoof of the overrated 1999 horror hit. As the fliers for the film point out, of the numerous BLAIR WITCH spoofs, this is the only one to star Linda Blair, but outside of the Oscar nominated actress (for THE EXORCIST), the rest of the cast and crew are virtual unknowns. Fortunately, that didn't stop them from creating a wonderful send-up that condenses the plot twists and turns of its target down to twenty minutes filled with sight gags and surprises that had audiences rolling in the aisles.

Scott LaRose, who plays the stoner cameraman Mike in the movie, was selling VHS copies at a table with Linda Blair after the screening. Surprisingly, it turns out that he enjoys the original BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, and his spoof was not intended in a derogatory way. Nevertheless, he couldn't help repeating a joke by Chris Rock: 'BLAIR WITCH cost $38,000, and I want to know where the other $33,0000 went.' He also expressed amazement that the DVD for BLAIR WITCH contains outtake footage shot with a tripod and/or steadicam, which was abandoned in favor of the hand-held approach that left many viewers with aching eyes and nauseous stomachs. He attributes much of WITCH's success to clever marketing, which led people to think that viewers were being made sick by the horrific content of the film, not its shaky camerawork.

At the opposite end of the spectrum was a preview of THE CONVENT, billed in the schedule as 'the year's best horror/comedy.' The sequence screened contained neither horror nor comedy, consisting mostly of a prolonged 'ain't-it-cool' shotgun slaughter in a church (sort of like John Woo, minus the sense of a clash between the sacred and the profane). Director Mike Mendez, along with star Chaton Anderson, stood beside the screen during the footage, smiling broadly as the carnage played out, apparently quite pleased with his work. 'What's supposed to be funny about this?' someone whispered in the dark. As the lights went up, Mendez offered by way of explanation, 'As you can see, Chaton and I went to Catholic school.' One couldn't help wondering whether he would have had the nerve to stage the same action inside a synagogue.

If that didn't scare you off, there were many other interesting events that made the day worthwhile. There were previews of upcoming movies and TV shows, including Fox's DARK ANGEL, from James Cameron. There was a nifty little presentation called SCREAM QUEENS: THE MUSICAL, which offered songs and excerpts from an amusing stage show that recently ran in Santa Monica, California. Guests included actors Denice Duff and Kevin Blair Spirtas talking about SUBSPECIES, the Full Moon vampire video franchise; the Chiodo Brothers (KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE) previewing their FX work on the upcoming PINATA; actor Richard Lynch, perennial bad guy in films like BAD DREAMS, THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, and NECRONOMICON; Don Mancini, creator of the CHILD'S PLAY franchise; writer Peter Falardi (FLATLINERS, THE CRAFT'; and Moustapha Akkad, executive producer of the HALLOWEEN series, who was scheduled to receive the Fangoria/Creation Lifetime Achievement Award.

But the real highlights were appearances by Oscar-winners William Friedkin and Rick Baker, who also walked off with Lifetime Achievement Awards. (There was also a joke during the SCREAM QUEENS musical about Roger Corman not showing up to accept his Lifetime Award; with the surfeit of awards being handed out, the event started to resemble the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, which hands out Golden Scroll Awards to just about anybody who shows up at one of their screenings.) Director Friedkin spoke at length about the upcoming re-release of THE EXORCIST in an expanded revised edition (which will be covered in a subsequent report), and makeup artist Baker answered questions from the audience before accepting his award, which was presented by director John Landis.

Landis, who is at least as funny in person as any of his films are on screen, made some heartfelt comments, but also took the opportunity to make jokes at the expense of Anthony (Tony) Timpone, regarding the rather inauspicious look of the award, a simple laminated plaque. Landis had given Baker one of his first paying jobs, providing the makeup for the Schlockthropus (played by Landis himself) in the low-budget genre spoof SCHLOCK!, and the two of them worked together again years later on the ground-breaking AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. The director began his presentation speech by recounting a personal anecdote about Baker:

'When I was twenty-one and he was twenty, he was at home in Covina. I was making a film called SCHLOCK. I had worked as a mail boy, worked in Europe, and I had been around real movies for a while. I was going to make a tiny little low-budget movie that was a satire. I knew [makeup artist] John Chambers because I'd been a mail boy at Fox when they were doing the [PLANET OF THE] APES movies. He said, 'Oh sure, I could do something.' He tried to figure it out, and it was something like $250,000 dollars, but my whole budget was only $60,000. So John said go see Don Post, who makes the monster masks. At that point, I thought Schlock could just be a bad gorilla suit, but they wanted 100,000I don't know, it was too much money.

'As I was leaving, Don Post, Jr., says 'Wait a minute' and gives me a card that says, 'Rick BakerMonster Maker.' So I called up. I spoke to Ralph, Rick's father; then I spoke to Doris. Finally, Rick called me back. I made an appointment to see him, so we went out to Covinawhich was like Ohio for me. We got to this 'Leave It To Beaver' Neighborhood.' Rick met me; he had real long hair. We went into his bedroomand I want to make a point of this, because I had been around Hollywood and I'd been around lots of professional makeup artists. I walked into Rick's bedroom, and he had monsters all over the roommodels and sculptures and masks. I remember it so well, because I turned and said, 'This kid is good.'

'Anyway, we made the movie together, and he has since gone on to an amazing career, a remarkable career. By the way, my favorite Rick Baker apeshe's done a lot of gorillasare GREYSTOKE, because they didn't have to have the anatomical correctness. I think those apes are incredible. Anyway, I'm dying to see what he does on this [PLANET OF THE APES remake]. So I'd like to present Rick with this'extending the award. 'You only have four Oscars?'

Baker: 'No, five Oscars.'

Landis: 'Five Oscars? Fuck youfive Oscars!'

Baker: 'And eight or nine nominations.'

Landis: 'That's what I thought. Tony [Timpone] says, 'We're giving him an award.' I go, 'He needs an award!' It's like Spielberg: every time I read about him, I go, 'He needs the money!''

Landis continued, 'The thing about Rick that I want to emphasize, because it's very important, is that he was a kid who had passion. In fact, my favorite story is that he wanted to be a mad scientist; he wanted to be Dr. Frankenstein. It was really an article on Jack Pierce when you realized, 'He made the monsters. Doctors don't make monsters; makeup artists make monsters!''

Baker: 'I was a stupid kid!'

Landis: 'No, it's a very sophisticated thing. And Rick was blessed with parents, Doris and Ralph, who were so supportive of this wonderful, weirdo kid who would be in his room playing with rubber, and he made the SCHLOCK molds in his mother's oven. Just really supportive parents, and they share in all of his success.

'And Rick, I'm proud to give you[appraising the plaque in his hand] gee, Tony, what a class thingFangoria's Weekend of Horrors, August 2000, Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to Rick Baker by Fangoria Magazine, etc, etc.'

Baker accepted the plaque amidst much applause and flashing of cameras, then addressed the audience: 'Thank you. There's a point I'd like to make as well. As you said, Covina wasn't the hub of the film industry. You don't know where it is, but it's probably twenty miles east of here. The more I found out about trying to get into the industry, people who were being realistic but very discouraging, said you pretty much have to be born into it, or you have to have friends in it. I one day met a real makeup artist who said pretty much the same thing: if you were born a Westmore, along with your birth certificate they would give you a union card, but if you didn't know anybody in the film industry, they said you're never going to get in so you might as well give up.

'As John said, I had very supportive parents,' I had very supportive parents. 'My father had to quit high school to get a job to help his mother and his family stay alive; he had a bunch of crappy jobs all through his life, but was a natural talent and was never really able to develop that. So he was very supportive of my creativity. Every day, almost every day I come to workcurrently on PLANET OF THE APES I have a crew of about seventy-five people, and we've got this building now that's 40,000 square feet, and I made it into this Gothic monster factory, like this big weird castle insideand I look around and I always thought I'd be lucky if I could get in the film industry, and I thought I'd be the lab guy at Universal stuck in the back making the rubber molds. I pinch myself every day. It's amazing; I really did make it. I'm doing what I want to do, and how many people in life get to do what they really enjoy doing and get paid for it and get awards for it.' Looking at the rather flimsy plaque in his hand, he quipped, 'Can you really call this an award?' Then he concluded, insisting that it is possible to achieve seemingly impossible goals:

'You really can. Anyone out there who really wants to do something like this, if you're really dedicated, you can do it; it does happen. Dreams really do come true. I'm living proof of that.'

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